Young children are notoriously difficult photography subjects, but many photographers find the challenge worthwhile. Uncover the secrets of these six pro photographers as they share their favorite tips for capturing charming portraits of babies.

Since the dawn of the camera, one portrait subject has remained elusive: babies. Small children are, and always have been, difficult to photograph. Consider this: back in the Victorian era, when typical exposure times easily reached well over a minute, mothers often stepped into the frame to hold their infants still. If you look hard enough, you’ll see that many antique photographs of babies from this time have a cleverly-hidden adult helping with the portrait session; often, they’re obscured behind a sheet of fabric or made to blend in with the furniture.

Of course, modern cameras have come leaps and bounds since those Victorian days, but perfect baby portraits still require patience, creative thinking, and a pinch of ingenuity. Behind every great picture of a small child, there’s a quick-thinking photographer, and most likely, a supportive parent. We asked six portrait photographers to tells us their stories and secrets for making one-of-a-kind pictures of young children, ranging from newborns to toddlers.

1. “For the best newborn shots, you want the baby to be asleep so that you can pose them.”

Katrina Elena

6 Photographers on Taking Cute and Authentic Baby Photos — Sleeping Babies are Easiest to Pose

Image by Katrina Elena. Gear: Nikon D4 camera, Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 lens. Settings: Exposure 1/200 sec; f3.5; ISO 200.

What’s the story behind this photo?

This photo wouldn’t have been possible without the talent of my friends. My boyfriend made the wooden moon prop, and my friend from WillowsGarden on Etsy handmade the PJs and crocheted teddybear.

Pro Tip

For the best newborn shots, you want the baby to be asleep so that you can pose them. Generally, a full tummy, heat, and white noise will help to do the trick. A great tool that I use is a “Baby Shusher.” It’s especially good to use when the baby is being fussy but can be used throughout the entire session. Photographing the baby within the first ten days of birth will also improve your chances of getting a sleeping subject.

6 Photographers on Taking Cute and Authentic Baby Photos — Soothe with White Noise

Image by Katrina Elena.

For composition, avoid shooting (and lighting) “up the nose.” Keep your light and your lens aimed down the baby’s nose. When photographing their face straight on, keep both eyes on the same focal plane to avoid having one eye out of focus. Also, for certain poses, newborn photographers often shoot with their cameras at an angle so that the baby’s face will be higher than the feet in the final composition.

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2. “If you want a sleepy baby, make sure the room is warm and cozy.”

Hannamariah (Barbara Helgason)

6 Photographers on Taking Cute and Authentic Baby Photos — Keep the Room Warn and Cozy

Image by Hannamariah (Barbara Helgason). Gear: Canon 6D camera, Canon 28mm to 80mm lens. Settings: Exposure 1/250 sec; f10; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

This sweet little boy was only a few days old when his mom brought him into my studio. He was wide awake and alert. Mom fed him, and then I spent a good part of that first hour trying to get him into a deep sleep. I shushed and rubbed his little forehead and back while holding his little legs tucked in to keep him nice and snug.

When he finally did fall asleep, he was like putty in my hands. Photographers usually call the time around sunset or sunrise their “golden hour.” Newborns in a deep sleep are my golden hour. I took numerous images of this little guy on various blankets, wearing different hats; however, this sweet and simple image was my favorite. No frills, just a brand new baby and his sweet wrinkles.

Pictured: [1] Hannamariah (Barbara Helgason) [2] Hannamariah (Barbara Helgason)

Pro Tip

Crank up your thermostat. If you want a sleepy baby, make sure the room is warm and cozy. Babies also love white noise. I found some womb sounds online and play them on my phone, which is tucked in under the blankets near the baby. Make sure to enable “do not disturb.” A hungry baby is never a sleepy baby. To make sure the baby has a full tummy, I ask new moms to come and be prepared to try and feed the baby before we start and then again as needed.

6 Photographers on Taking Cute and Authentic Baby Photos — Feed the Baby Before the Shoot

Image by Hannamariah (Barbara Helgason).

I always get Mom to spot the baby for safety. Even newborns are known to do a froggy kick and can propel themselves forward. Next to safety, lighting is simply the most important aspect of getting that great picture in all genres of photography. Although natural light can be beautiful, it is not always available. All my newborn babies were photographed with studio lighting and a softbox.

A beanbag is a wonderful tool to pose babies on. I love being able to slide my hand under the blanket and re-adjust a baby’s pose by simply adjusting the beanbag. Other props include solid-colored blankets, knitted hats, and diaper covers.

Getting the baby into the desired pose has always been, by far, the greatest challenge in photographing newborns. The best advice I can give anyone is to have patience. Lots of patience. Moving slowly, gently stroking their forehead, shushing, and swaddling can help settle a fussy baby. And if all else fails, I go ahead and photograph a crying baby. Some of my best-sellers on Shutterstock are of crying babies.

In the end, when the lighting is right and the baby is finally in a deep sleep, posed to perfection, grab your camera and start shooting…it’s absolute magic.

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3. “…babies and young children do not pose intentionally, so you’ll get the most natural expressions through playtime and interaction. “

Olga Bogatyrenko

6 Photographers on Taking Cute and Authentic Baby Photos — Encourage Playtime and Interaction

Image by Olga Bogatyrenko. Gear: Canon EOS 5d Mark III camera, 35mm prime Canon L lens. Settings: Exposure 1/160 sec; f4; ISO 125.

What’s the story behind this photo?

I specialize in studio photography of babies and children, so this shot was planned with a broad pretend play/picnic theme in mind. I picked props that would be fun and interesting for the little model to play with, such as plastic plates and food, and I added a couple of friends (stuffed animals) and put together a cozy tent for the background. My little model had so much fun serving pretend food and sharing her pink headband with her teddybear!

Pro Tip

One of the most important considerations when working with newborns, babies, and young children is to establish trust with the parents by preparing and educating them about the nature and the flow of the session. I also remind parents to bring snacks and bottles of milk in case their little one needs a break, as well as a favorite toy or two. I make sure to answer any questions and discuss setups and expectations before the session so that during the shoot, we can focus on the child and the photos rather than logistics.

6 Photographers on Taking Cute and Authentic Baby Photos — Take Breaks

Image by Olga Bogatyrenko.

Remember that babies and young children do not pose intentionally, so you’ll get the most natural expressions through playtime and interaction. Playing peek-a-boo and saying silly words and asking little ones to repeat them works well. Think of a session as interactive playtime, and you will do great! Young children love jingle bells, blocks, crayons, and craft paper or stickers. For better eye contact, I sometimes put a funny sticker of the child’s choice on the radio trigger right above the camera.

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4. “Remove your giant reflection from the photo.”

Michael Pettigrew

6 Photographers on Taking Cute and Authentic Baby Photos — Edit Yourself Out

Image by Michael Pettigrew. Gear: Nikon D800 camera, Nikkor 24.0-70.0 mm lens. Settings: Focal length 36mm; exposure 1/100 sec; f2.8; ISO 200.

What’s the story behind this photo?

I was playing peekaboo with this baby using the blankets. She was laughing so much that I had to take photos and capture the moment. By the time I set up all my gear, she wasn’t interested in playing peekaboo anymore. At that point in time, she was more curious about exploring the environment. I think it shows in the photo.

I set up four strobe lights pointing to the ceiling, and they were probably blasting at full power. The light under the sheet cover became diffused. The baby enjoyed exploring and pushing up the blanket. I wish that I would have experimented more with this setup and tried it with white sheets as well. This scene has potential for further poses. For example, I can imagine a mother on one end and the baby on the other playing peekaboo.

Pictured: [1] Michael Pettigrew [2] Michael Pettigrew [3] Michael Pettigrew

Pro Tip

Remove your giant reflection from the photo. I always modify my silhouette in the reflection in the eyes so I don’t become part of the photo. Also, if you’ve made 35 fantastic portraits of a baby in the same session, pick one or two and submit those for approval. Your photos will not stand out if you send in 35 similar photos.

6 Photographers on Taking Cute and Authentic Baby Photos — Pick Your Favorite Images

Image by Michael Pettigrew.

5. “Let him crawl around, or hold the baby up (kind of like an airplane)—most babies like this and will giggle.”

Paul Hakimata Photography

6 Photographers on Taking Cute and Authentic Baby Photos — Try to Earn a Giggle

Image by Paul Hakimata Photography. Gear: Canon EOS 40D camera, EF 24-105mm f/4L lens. Settings: Focal length 75mm; exposure 1/200 sec; f4.5.

What’s the story behind this photo?

In this case, Mom was laying on the floor holding the baby up and occasionally blowing on his tummy, which made him giggle. The little sideways laugh gives it a human element and doesn’t feel so staged, which is what buyers are looking for.

Pro Tip

I love working with babies for the simple fact that they are funny. Their expressions are so pure and genuinely from the heart, and that radiates throughout the photo. The key is not to pose the baby.

6 Photographers on Taking Cute and Authentic Baby Photos — Let the Baby be a Baby

Image by Paul Hakimata Photography.

Let the baby be him or herself. Let him crawl around, or hold the baby up (kind of like an airplane)—most babies like this and will giggle. Have the parents involved. I also like to make funny noises. Anything to grab their attention. From there, it’s hoping for that magic shot. Keep taking photos, but don’t expect a high success rate in terms of usable photos.

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6. “Make friends with them, and put your camera aside in the beginning.”

Hafiez Razali

6 Photographers on Taking Cute and Authentic Baby Photos — Set the Camera Aside at First

Image by Hafiez Razali. Gear: Nikon D750 camera, 50mm 1.8g lens. Settings: Exposure 1/125 sec; f4; ISO 200.

What’s the story behind this photo?

This image was spontaneous. My youngest daughter was playing with books and pretending to read, and I saw a great opportunity to get a good picture. I took out the camera and approached my daughter. I was lucky because she was in a good mood, and she gave me various facial expressions.

Pro Tip

When you are taking pictures of babies or toddlers, you cannot force them to do this or that. Make friends with them, and put your camera aside in the beginning. Once they get comfortable with you, that is the right time to take out your camera. Follow their rules. Instead of telling them to smile, be a clown, and that way, you will get a pure smile or expression from them.

6 Photographers on Taking Cute and Authentic Baby Photos — Build Trust and Comfort

Image by Hafiez Razali.

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Top image by Michael Pettigrew.