Getting this off my chest… | Rachel Vanoven Blog

Getting this off my chest…

This blog is going to sound funny coming from someone who teaches other/new photographers newborn photography for a living. I *may* be all over the place, so bear with me, k??

I am getting increasingly annoyed, disturbed and confused with many new photographers. It’s like, photography is no longer a passion or a job, but a race. A race that many are trying to cut corners and do a crap-job to attain some silly “Facebook Celebrity” status. Obsession with getting “X” amount of likes on your page. Obsessing over what JoeBob Photography down the street is doing and how it *kinda* looks like what YOU did last week. Obsessing over what JoeBob Photography charges compared to you. The list goes on.

Honestly, I’d be fine if that was where it ended. Really, I would. But it doesn’t end there, especially in the world of newborn photography, where cutting corners is placing a very small and very fragile HUMAN at risk. Where trying to win some invisible race means going for crazy stunt poses before you have even mastered an easy, “level 1” shot of baby just laying and hanging out.

If I hear/see ONE more person talk excitedly about their first newborn session coming up and can’t wait to try this:

…I will scream.
Okay, I won’t scream, but come ON people. Have we forgotten the saying about learning to crawl/walk before you can run? Do you have only 5 months to live and want to be a famous newborn photographer in that amount of time? I really don’t get it. I’m giving you the same speech I give every photographer who attends my workshops or purchases an eWorkshop. I pretty much tell EVERYONE after leaving a workshop that I don’t want to see them attempt this pose until they are solidly producing flawless easy poses. I tell them do not post pictures from workshops as their OWN poses, or else parents will want them (or the props used) and it’s simply false advertising.
Do you know it was TWO. YEARS. of doing photography before I attempted this pose? I hesitate to ever post online how this is done as a composite, only because I have seen so many new photographers rush out and skip ALL the basics because they have some weird obsession with nailing the above shot. What they typically produce is a badly composited shot of a baby still looking wildly uncomfortable.
Can someone just tell me WHY? Like honestly, is this not precious?
You have no idea how many people can’t pull the above shot off, but want to jump straight into attempting the “head in hands” pose or the hanging baby poses (which I don’t do for no particular reason).
I thought it might be helpful if I include a quick timeline of my newborn work…from when I first started through two years into it. So you can see the types of poses I worked on. You can see I didn’t have much in terms of cute props and fun blankets. I was just starting out and I had enough sense to know that you could have seven grand worth of blankets and hats, but a crappy pose is still going to look like a crappy pose. On the other hand, if you only have a cream blanket and a black/brown blanket (what I was working with for months) if you could nail a pose/angle, your clients will love it and the focus will be on both the adorable little human you’re photographing AND your hard earned effort at getting newborn posing down to an art.
2008
2009
below is the first time I attempted this pose. It happens to be a composite, although in my inexperience I didn’t think that all had to be composites. This was nearly two years after starting…
below is the infamous “three month old NICU twins” that I like to tell other photographers about–it was a good 5 hour long shoot to get about 15 images!
2010
I hope this blog post doesn’t ruffle too many feathers. The photography community has enough mud slinging and petty drama as it is. I hope, truly, that it’s a wake up call for people who may not have realized how long many of us established photographers have been doing this—and how EVERYONE has to start somewhere and the smart place to start is at the beginning. You wouldn’t run a marathon without training for a 5k first…take advanced calculus without a solid foundation in lower math classes..newborn photography is no different and has the added risk of throwing a new little person into the mix.
For parents/clients will be reading this. PLEASE do your research. With workshops/mentoring today, a photographer can attend a class and photograph a baby that the teacher actually posed, slap it on their website and “trick” clients into thinking that they took it. Make sure the photographer YOU choose for your little one has many many images of different babies looking comfortable and happy. Or, if you are trying to save money and use someone who is portfolio building or just starting–make sure to stay with your child at ALL times. Please speak up when your baby is placed in a potentially dangerous or uncomfortable situation. Unfortunately, I *have* heard horror stories from random people about their experiences with another photographer…newborns “toppling” over, or rolling off props. ALL photographers should have spotters with their hands on or within inches away from baby at every moment of the shoot.
For photographers looking to take a mentoring/workshop. PLEASE do your research. I can’t tell you how many “workshops” have popped up all over the country by people who have little to no newborn experience. Like less than a year or two. This simply isn’t enough time to really grasp all the complexities that make up this profession.
I’m leaving you with some more images that I consider “the basics”. If you can’t nail these consistently at every session, then hold off on the harder ones. This isn’t rocket science!
  1. Shelley says:

    I’m a little behind the times but just came across this blog post. Love it so much. Thank you 🙂

  2. Christy Walls says:

    Inspiring as always!

  3. heather Hazie says:

    Loved this post! I started my photography journey in 2011, so I am just under 3 years in, and while I have done the chin in hands pose, I’ve only done it a handful of times, and only after about 2 years in. The main reason I don’t do it very regularly is because if I attempt it one time, and baby squirms or resists the pose I stop. I just tell parents that some babies just aren’t comfortable going into that pose and I will never force it. And, I must be a weirdo too because I never have done a hanging baby, and to be honest I really do not have any desire to! 😛 This whole post really spoke what is on my mind as well. I am not fb famous, and I am in no rush to get there. Sure someday I would love to rank up there along side some of my favs, but I will get there in my own time as I continue perfecting my craft. I only recently started following you on fb, so I look forward to seeing your work in my newsfeed! 🙂

  4. Jennifer filinger says:

    I love the “head in hands” post as much as the next mom and all of your photography work is AHHHHMAZING! But, of everything you posted, that photo of the baby in cream with the big, open eyes, is TO.DIE.FOR.!!!! And that’s a simple, yet beautiful pose. THAT’S the photo photogs should strive for! It’s stunning! Great, great post!!

  5. carmen says:

    Well said Rachel!!! I have been a newborn photographer for over 2 years now. Certainly a very short period of time, in my opinion. I haven’t attempted the froggy pose yet and I dont think I ever will. Its not my style so I am happy to leave that up to other newborn photographers out there. Your work is beautiful and it demonstrates to me that you have a real passion for what you do. Its important to be authentic and true to yourself. And I absolutely agree with the whole weirdness of new photographers who offer workshops too – its so strange and it just baffles me.

  6. Adrianna says:

    Rachel, I just want to say how much I truly admire you (in a not so stalkerish way). Photography has become about racing to have the most fans and people forget about the art. I love newborn photography, but you know, people are going crazy over having the best props and items that it just takes the focus away from the baby and it becomes all about the props. Not going to lie I have done some newborn shots but I never once attempted doing something that I was not comfortable with. I only do the simple poses because that is what I like. I rarely ever use any props besides headbands, wraps and hats because I don’t trust using buckets or boxes at the moment. I also want to say I truly admire your timeline of work. You are focused and dedicated and you show that you don’t need to bling out the baby to take amazing shots 😀

  7. Karissa says:

    Thank you Rachel for sharing this! Its great for me to see just how far you have come and where you started. I am too scared to even do that shot and I have already told a mom ‘No’. I just apologized that I had never done that shot and unless I attend a workshop from you or another photographer, I will NOT be doing that pose. We all have to start somewhere. Thank you Rachel, sometimes I get on myself for not being able to master things. But I have alot of practice to do and I want to someday be a unique photographer, not what everyone else is!

  8. marci says:

    Great post! I agree, there is so much self-imposed competition with photographers..always trying to one up each other and mud sling. I follow a lot of Photographers on Facebook and I end up unfollowing them when things start to get nasty. I admire photographers who are able to do the posed newborn shots..but it’s not for everyone! While I do love those shots, I’m not even going to attempt them because it’s just not my style and I was anxious enough around my OWN newborn so I’m certainly not going to try to manipulate someone else’s newborn! People just need to know their limits and style and realize that it’s OKAY to not do what everyone else is doing! Anyway, I found this post because one of my friends liked it on facebook..and now I am going to follow you because you do lovely work!

  9. sherelle says:

    Well out Rachel! Newborn photography is my passion, and I have been following you for quite some time now. I only hope that one day I will be half as great as you are!! You truly are incredible. I have never tried any type of pose that I don’t feel comfortable doing. Especially this pose. And I will not try it until I am able to attend a workshop and learn exactly how it is done. I even tell parents I won’t do it. A fellow photographer in my town just started newborn photography and was asking me if I knew how to do the hand in heads pose. And I told her no! She told me she would youtube it!! Now that’s an extremely scary thought…. I won’t even youtube it and I have been working with newborns for around 4 years!! You are amazing, I love reading everything you write and your photos are inspirational Xo

  10. Stacy hart says:

    Great post! I am still trying to nail all the great, simple, but incredibly adorbs “basic” poses you showed. I will say that I have been in the newborn industry for over a year and a half now though and had my itty bitty boy four months ago so my husband and I did the composite shot with him. It turned out great and we were uber careful (made sure all was safe and read safety tips and tutorials). I haven’t done it since for the reasons you listed above; I want to perfect the simple poses. Speaking of which, when do you open your 2014 workshop dates? My friend and I are in desperate need of a road trip and we were thinking your workshop might be the motivation. Love your stuff Rachel!

  11. Megan says:

    I personally don’t even like those unnatural shots. Not that I think they look bad, but if I was going to hire someone to take pictures of my newborn, I would probably go out of my way to ask that we not do a shot like that. It just looks so unnatural for a newborn to be in that position – why would I want a picture of something that is completely unrealistic. I am a much bigger fan of the naturally posed shots.

  12. sue says:

    YAY! Thank you for posting this article. I have been a studio photographer for 17 years. I recently sold my studio and have decided to pursue newborn photography in the family’s homes. Boy – is this different than studio shots! In the studio I knew just exactly how to set up my lights, meter, etc. I had had all my props at arms reach. In the client’s home, using window light – the learning begins again. Newborn photography (2 weeks and under) is so different than photographing the one month old. Seems like people around here are reluctant to bring their newborns out to a studio.(I actually would be also) I usually got them in when they were 1 or 2 months old. then they are too old to curl up in a ball, blah blah blah. I do go on sometimes. Enough said – Thanks for posting!

  13. magdalena says:

    Great post! Really! I deall with a photography for few years, but started in newborn few month ago, when my daughter arrived (I guess it’s typicall start for most of newborn photographers). Newborn photography is soooo hard work. After every photo session I am tired like after night shift in a coalmine. I want to say, that I would never go for a baby photography if not my daugther, because earlier I was simply afraid of touching the baby 🙂 and now, I know how to lift baby, hold im in hands etc… I can not imagine how someone who doesn’t have experience as a parent, can deal with newborn photography. But, to the end… What is good about this post, is that you show, that you have been beginner too 🙂 and that all takes time. I think now, when man can see great newborn photographers and their work from all over the world, he/she may want to do the same straight away. And it is not so easy and not so safe for baby. All takes time. And that’s why I believe there is a hope for me 🙂 still got few years to reach at least half of your level 🙂 Very good work! congratulations!

  14. Amanda davis says:

    Thank you for this post. I’ve been a photographer for over 20 years, have a BFA from a prominent art school and have been mostly specializing in landscape and architectural photography for all this time. I have only this year begun to branch out into portraiture and even after doing this for 20+ years, I AM STILL LEARNING! I, personally, think many of the newborn poses are very odd and unnatural looking and often wonder why on earth anyone would want a photo of their child looking so strange. I’m pregnant with my first child right now (I know, a bit late to the parenting game, lol) and although I am very excited to have my new little “model” to try out some new photography (not to mention just to have him here to love and hold and help grow!), I want to capture the moments of his life, his REAL life!!! It also amazes me the amount of photographers who have cropped up in the past few years, some are doing some nice work with little to no training & I have to say it does bother me a bit sometimes, since I am still paying off the student loans I took out in the 90s to get my BFA!! I am so glad you made the point that we should never compare ourselves to what others are doing or try to “keep up” – even after all these years, that is something I still have to remind myself of constantly. True art comes from the heart & soul, never from imitation, equipment, manipulation or misrepresentation. There are probably some photographers out there who would find my portraiture work to be “amateurish” but if my clients enjoy their photos, that’s all I need! Blessings to you, I plan on looking into your workshops as this blog post is the first I have seen of your site.

  15. shavahn says:

    This is a great read, even if it is over a year old! You should re-post it as a reminder. I really enjoyed seeing your progression, and showing that you didn’t start with the trickier poses until you were comfortable with what you were doing. I really admire you, and it’s excellent to see where you started and how far you’ve come. xx

  16. April says:

    I really enjoyed this article. I have only done one newborn shoot before, and there really wasn’t even any posing, just baby sleeping in her belly. I am due to have my baby in a few days and I am excited to take some photos of her. I will take your advice and keep it simple. Being that newborn photography is something I am unfamiliar with(but am increasingly interested in) I would not have known that some of these poses are not to be attempted by newbies. Thanks for the advice!
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