A Brief History of Newborn Photography

January 04, 2024  •  Leave a Comment

A Brief History of Newborn Photography

Lorraine Jardim

Ellie J Photography

 

I am not a historian, but I do enjoy history and of course, I love photography. On our 'home' island of Madeira (where my hubby was born) there is a magical place, Atelier Vicente's, the oldest photography studio in Portugal. Originally established in 1865 the studio is now a museum and is the photographer's dream - full of original props, sets, cameras, specialised furniture and more from the earliest days of photography. It is a fascinating place, and on our last visit a few weeks ago it got me thinking about the history of my specialist area, the newborn photography genre. I'm always looking for subjects to talk about on my website, so I thought I'd write a blog on the subject.

Newborn photography as a specific genre is incredibly popular today, but that has not always been the case. While photographs of babies have indeed been taken since the first days of photography in the 19th century, today’s more creative and stylised approach to newborn photography has developed much more recently.

In the 19th century, during the very early years of photography, the techniques and equipment used made it difficult to capture the quick movements of young children, wakeful babies, animals, and in general, anything that moved quickly. Long exposure times meant the subject had to remain very still while the photograph was being taken, and so the photographers of the day tended to focus (excuse the pun) mainly on portraits of adults and older children. While there are photographs of younger children and babies from this era, the majority of these are very formal and posed.

There are always exceptions of course and for me as a newborn and child photographer today, one name that stands out amongst those first photographers is Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879).

Julia was a British photographer who, while she may have died long before the advent of contemporary newborn and child photography, is regarded by many as one of it's pioneers. She is notable for her expressive and intimate portraits and her body of work includes portraits of children, captured using her distinctive style of soft focus and artistic composition. Whilst not a newborn photographer, Julia’s images of children were a departure from the more formal posed portraits of the time. Her work often showed a sense of emotion and connection, much in the way we modern newborn and baby portrait photographers look for emotional depth in our work today. Julia also wasn’t averse to using props in her images, as can be seen here, and for me she certainly helped lay the foundations for the stylised and artistic newborn and child photography we have today.

Angel_of_the_Nativity,_by_Julia_Margaret_CameronAngel_of_the_Nativity,_by_Julia_Margaret_Cameron
20150712_18513220150712_185132

As photography technology improved in the early 20th century, capturing images of babies and young children did become easier, however the practice of specifically photographing newborn babies was still relatively uncommon, and whilst young children and babies did begin to appear more in family portraits, newborn photography was still far from being a distinct genre.

The mid-20th century saw advances in camera technology and film that made it easier to capture spontaneous moments. As more affordable cameras were introduced, increasing numbers of people took up amateur photography, and family albums began to include more candid shots of newborns and young children.

The photo on the left here shows my own grandad, looking rather miserable because he'd been told to put his hands in his pocket and stand very still circa 1915

With the advent of colour photography in the late 20th century and the increasing popularity of family photography there came a rise in more personalised and creative photography styles. In the 1980s and 90s, the use of themed setups and props for newborns began to appear. One of the most famous pioneers of specialised newborn photography in the early days of the genre is photographer Anne Geddes, who found fame when she began to specialise in newborn and child photography in the early 1990s.

In her best-selling photography book “Down in the Garden” published in 1992, Anne shared her now iconic images of babies posed as flowers, fairies and other whimsical characters. She went on to publish more books, calendars and other merchandise featuring her styled newborn photography which helped to spark a wider interest in creative newborn photography, thus helping it become the popular and specific genre it is today.

The dawn of the 21st century and the transition from film to digital photography transformed the whole photography industry making it easier to capture, edit and share images. Specialised newborn photography studios began to emerge, offering stylised sessions with carefully designed props, backgrounds, and lighting setups. The advent of social media platforms, which made it easy for parents and photographers to share their newborn images, also fanned the flame of popularity for the newborn photography genre.

Over recent years as newborn photography has continued to gain popularity, there has been a growing emphasis on the importance of safety. As one of the army of professional newborn photographers advocating safe practice during newborn portrait sessions, this is one development I am very pleased to be witnessing. Our industry remains unregulated, but I am pleased to see that many more new parents are not just making financial decisions when booking their photographer, but are also questioning training, experience and safe methods of work to ensure that their baby’s safety, wellbeing and comfort is prioritised.

Newborn photography today is a specialised and much sought after service providing parents with wonderful memories of their baby’s earliest days. Advancements in technology has enabled newborn photographers to create unique and personalised sessions and of course, technology is constantly evolving!

The recent progression of AI has brought about numerous advances in the field of photography and I know that not all photographers have welcomed these latest technological advances with open arms.

While AI has undoubtedly impacted various industries (including photography to some extent), I believe it still has a very long way to go before it replaces professional human photographers, particularly in the area of Newborn Photography. A photographer must possess knowledge of not only the technical skills of their craft, but also have artistic expression, creative vision and an understanding of human emotion and storytelling.

In addition, as professional newborn photographers, we not only have to understand and work with the needs of our tiny models, but we must also recognise and empathise with all of the emotions a new baby brings that may affect the wider family. Alongside overwhelming joy and excitement, during a session we must also consider the physical and emotional demands that come with new parenthood; the exhaustion due to sleepless nights, the jealousy an older sibling may be feeling, the struggles in the early days of feeding and so on. It is part of our job as newborn photographers to understand all of this and work with it to ensure we can produce the gorgeous, personalised images and memories of a baby's earliest days that our clients will cherish.

While AI can certainly make my life as a newborn photographer easier by automating certain parts of my job, I see it as just another tool to help rather than something that will replace me. Ever since the first photographer pressed the shutter and asked his clients to ‘Say Cheese!’ the human element; empathy, creativity and the ability to connect with our subjects to put them at ease, remains indispensable, and AI still falls a long way short of those qualities.

I hope you've enjoyed my rambling and thank you for reading!

 

Lorraine Jardim LBIPP QGPP

Newborn Photographer


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