As many of you know, my second son William was born just over two weeks ago.  His presence with us has been a pleasure!  So much of a pleasure that we barely get any sleep because we are hanging out with him all hours of the night, Mom especially!

I have had a few photo sessions with him and was going to do a post about the traditional newborn photos. However, I decided to go back a bit further to the very first moments in a child’s life.  There are some truly priceless moments that happen in the first 2 hours of birth, and it is important to photograph them so you can treasure them for life, as anyone with kids knows, they grow up too fast and it is all too easy to forget those moments when they are constantly achieving new life milestones.

What to capture in the first 2 hours of life.

If you have the luxury of seeing those first moments, either with your child or a relatives, there are some shots to consider getting.   It is a pretty intimate time in a families life so you may be hard pressed to photograph just anyone’s first 2 hours!  What I mean is, I wouldn’t suggest imposing your photo skills on random couples running to the maternity ward elevator to get “practice.”

So what shots are the most imperative to get?  I will say with Michael, our first son, I took hundreds of pictures within the first 2 hours, many were horrible, some were good, and only a few were great.  So I have narrowed it down to the list you see here.  Of course, there are plenty more to take, but make sure you at least get these!

The First Mother and Child Bonding Experience:  

This is a moment meant to be treasured by the family.  For this reason, I decided not to show it as I feel it is an intimate moment that I don’t necessarily want to share with the world.  This is the moment in time when the child first lays eyes on their mother and starts their bond that only a mother and child could have.  The most amazing thing about this moment is that the child will begin to move towards the mother’s breast when placed on her stomach.  It is the craziest thing seeing a baby not even 10 seconds old move toward their future and livelihood and immediately makes that bond.  Photograph this moment, of course, only if Mom will allow it!

Michael, the First Hour

The First time the Newborn has Settled down:

Birth is a traumatic experience for a child, things are a little hectic when they first arrive, but after that first bonding experience with Mom, things start to settle down a bit.  Take advantage of this moment.  Often the babies eyes are open, and they are more alert than they will be in the coming hours once the ointment gets put on their eyes.  This is also just before their first bath so keep that in mind when you are post processing the photos.  If you use the clone stamp tool to “clean it up” you are removing the life from the moment.

The Hospital Stuff:

Many hospitals allow the family to bond with the child for the first 1 to 2 hours before they even take measurements, weights, and give the baby the first bath.  You can use this time to take pictures of all of their post-birth setups like the empty bassinet and the unsigned paperwork.  It is also a good idea to take a picture of the room the baby was born in, either before the birth, shortly after or even after you are all packed up and ready to go home.

  The-paperwork   The-Empty-Bassinet  The-birthing-room

The Measurements:

This part can be fun, but make sure you get up close to the ruler and the object being measured.  Otherwise, it just looks like a sprawled out, naked, and really upset mini human with an overly large head for their body size being poked and prodded.  Get in close, work quickly and focus on the ruler.  While this may seem easy, those nurses work quickly as they do not like upsetting the babies too much during the process and you can’t really say, “Hey can you hold that pose there?”.  Hike up the ISO (1600 or greater) widen the Aperture (f 2.8 – f4.0), and you should be good to go.  Your goal is to try and get that shutter speed to around 1/100th or higher.

Head-Measure  Length-Measurement  The-foot-prints

Another shot to include in this batch is a wide open focal length shot of the baby being weighed.  Show the scale and the tiny little guy resting on it with the weight below.

The First Bath:

This can be tricky at first as babies hate the initial feeling of the water running on them.  Once they get over the initial shock, they usually calm down and begin to enjoy the bath.  They will often open their mouths which can make for some pretty darn cute pics.


All Their Small Parts:

All the little parts of babies are so stinking cute, their little ears, noses, lips, eyes, hands and feet.  Capture all of them, because they change drastically over the next few days, weeks and months.  For both Michael and William I made sure I got a picture of all their little parts even their hair, and I am glad I did.  A few weeks after Michael was born all his black hair fell out and blond hair came in, I mentioned they change drastically right?  Be sure to show a sense of scale in some of these photos too, like Mom or Dad’s fingers, or even the cliche wedding ring pics work.


The Calm After The Storm: 

After the baby has been put through all kinds of measurements, shots, ointment treatments, baths and tests they fall into a deep sleep.  This is the Calm After the Storm, the time when they look the most peaceful.  This is the “Awe Look at him moment” where you can pick up his little hands and play with his little fingers without him even flinching.  Both Michael and William fell into this coma shortly after the tests were complete and they were returned to us.  This moment is peace and grace in its purest form.


The First Meeting of the Siblings: 

Michael was an absolute heart breaker when he met his brother for the first time.  Not only did we photograph it, but we took a video as well.  He was so careful with him, so cautious of his every move around him.  He looked a little timid at first, but quickly got over it and was doing all kinds of big brother things to try and make him more comfortable.  It was great, and to this day (almost two weeks later) he still accommodates him and tries to help us where he can.  I know not all families are this lucky. However, it is important to document that first meeting, the time when the older sibling isn’t quite sure what this new thing is and where it will fit into their life.


Finally, Photograph the New Family:

This is not a beauty picture by any stretch of the imagination.  A team of hair stylists and make-up artists can’t cover up the lack of sleep the parents have had to overcome already.  Both parents will look distressed and this moment shows the truth and beauty of human life, capture it, treasure it, and look back on it and say, “Man we looked so tired, but look how happy we are.”


Quick Tips for capturing these moments.

The lighting in hospital delivery rooms is pretty dim after the baby is born since their eyes are adjusting to the new world.  Try these tips to ensure you get the best pictures.

  1. Safety First – Always keep the safety of the child in mind before conducting any newborn photos, especially in the first few hours of life.  Don’t go balancing the baby on a stuffed animal because you think it will be adorable.  Consider their safety before conducting any “staged” poses.
  2. High ISO – Hike that ISO up to ensure you can get a good shot with a decent shutter speed, anywhere between 1/60 and 1/100th should suffice, but the faster, the better!
  3. Widen the Aperture – Open the Aperture up to the widest your lens will allow at the given focal length.
  4. A Good Zoom Lens – I used a 24-105 for most all of the pictures above.  It gave me the liberty to get tight when I wanted to, but grant me the ability to widen it up if the picture required it.  Since you can’t quite stop the action that is taking place to change lenses, a good zoom should do you alright!
  5. Utilize Window Light – Whenever possible, open up those windows and let that natural soft box do its job.  The artificial light in hospitals is brutal and leaves much to be desired!  I would stay away from any on camera built in flash as they are not flattering and may make the baby uncomfortable.  A bounce flash may not be a bad idea from an off camera flash, especially if you can put it a safe distance away and wirelessly trigger it.
  6. Avoid Effects – While those effects on your camera may seem cool to use (monochrome, high key, etc) I would hesitate to use them.  You can do all of that stuff later in your post processing software.  Also, those filters typically take a bit more time to process which could mean missing a great shot while you wait for the buffer.

 Is there anything I missed?  Do you have nay great tips that make capturing the first few hours easier?

Blake Rudis
f.64 Academy and f.64 Elite are the brainchildren of Blake Rudis. While he is a landscape photographer, he is most passionate about post-processing images in Photoshop and mentoring others.

For Blake, it's all about the art and process synergy. He dives deep into complex topics and makes them easy to understand through his outside-the-box thinking so that you can use these tricks in your workflow today!
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