Posed, Lifestyle, or Documentary Newborn Photography – Which is Right for You?

Infant gripping adult's finger, black and white photo.

When someone mentions ‘newborn photography’, an image comes to mind: a tiny sleeping baby naked or swaddled in a baby wrap, posed in a basket or covered in props. But what style of newborn photography is that? Is it posed, lifestyle or documentary? This article describes the main types of newborn photography and will allow you to understand the differences between posed, lifestyle and documentary baby photos and, more importantly, will allow you to know which one is right for your family when it’s time to hire a newborn or family photographer – read on for more info!

Styles of Newborn Photography

While newborn photography can be posed & involve props, there are other styles of newborn photography that will suit some parents more. From those using magical or Christmas decor in their studio to those photographing the raw moments of birth and the first hours of life, there is a wide range of professional photographers specialising in newborns and this article is a guide to help you figure out which one is right for YOU.

Now, let’s see have a look at beautiful photographs of newborn babies! 

Boy gently touching sleeping baby's head.

For the purpose of this article, I will show you examples of the 3 main newborn photography genres: posed, lifestyle and documentary. Within each of those, each photographer will have their own style, voice & process or call themselves something else entirely!

By the way, you might find it interesting that I know so many other photographers but the truth is photographers often hire other photographers for family sessions.

Differences Between Posed, Lifestyle, and Documentary Newborn Photography

The main differences between these three styles of newborn photography are the amount of direction/posing, location, and post-treatment.

Direction/Posing of Newborn, Siblings and Parents

Some photographers will direct you every step of the way, while others (like me) will ask you to act as if they weren’t there, capturing real moments as they happen.

Some photographers will sit right in the middle, giving you some directions, and then let natural moments & expressions unfold before the camera.

This being said, there is no doubt to me that the word “natural” can fit all 3 styles of photography.

Home or Studio Newborn Photos

Posed newborn photographers tend to work in a studio, but I know plenty of them who also travel to their clients’ home with their equipment.

Lifestyle newborn photographers tend to work in their clients’ homes using natural light and sometimes outdoors with older babies.

Documentary newborn photographers, by definition, document real life and will work on-location: either at home or in hospital, and if you happen to go outside during your session, they’ll follow you.

Parents and newborn in kitchen, tender moment.

There is no right or wrong when it comes to location. Some parents appreciate the idea of getting out of the house during those blurry first two weeks after birth, dressing up, putting on a bit of makeup, and feeling somewhat human.

Others would rather stay in the comfort of their home and not have to go out or want to capture part of their house in the photos: their newborn first home.

When you have older siblings, it’s a good idea to think where they may be most comfortable.

Photo Post-Treatment: From Raw to Flawless

I don’t like comparing real VS ‘perfect’, because, to me, real IS perfect. So I’m using the word “flawless” here to talk about post-treatment.

After taking & selecting the photographs and before showing them to you, professional photographers will import them into a software to make them look, well, professional :)

This might mean some basic edits such as colour correction, brightness, contrast, and cropping. Some photographers (like me), don’t edit out “imperfections” (dry skin, newborn’s acne, sleeping marks), because it’s part of your newborn, even if temporary.

Newborn baby asleep on his/her mother's breast after nursing - Documentary Newborn Photography Example

A lot of photographers will however spend quite some time making their subjects’ skin as flawless as possible. For newborns, it might involve removing dry skin, redness, etc. Anything that isn’t a permanent feature of your baby. It often gives a very soft & dreamy feel to the photos.

Sleeping smiling newborn baby with a father's hand on her head  - Posed Newborn Photography Example
Sleeping newborn baby with father's two hands cupped around the body  - Posed Newborn Photography Example

When a composite image is created (blending of 2 images), they also need to make sure that it is totally invisible.

When it comes to the adult subjects (mothers especially) the amount of post-treatment will depend greatly on the photographer.

Posed Newborn Photography

A good posed newborn photographer will create contemporary & timeless fine-art portraits of your new baby that will freeze all those unique features before they change.

Sleeping swaddled newborn baby wearing a flower headband with sibling's two hands cupped around the legs - Posed Newborn Photography Example

Traditionally, newborn photos are done while your baby is asleep, which is why a posed newborn photographer will aim to do a session within the first 3 weeks after the birth. There is no perfect date, but babies tend to sleep a lot at first, and then, not as much :)

Sleeping swaddled newborn baby with tiny feet sticking out on the tummy - Posed Newborn Photography Example
Posed newborn photo of a sleeping baby in a basket with soft fabrics around her - Posed Newborn Photography Example

It is recommended to book your newborn photo session a few months in advance. They will work around your due date rather than the actual birth date. They’re well used to it.

If taking photographs within the first three weeks is not an option, don’t worry about it. Babies don’t stop being cute. The newborn phase IS very special, but you will treasure baby photos too.

Once you have booked the right photographer for you, trust them and let them guide you. They should have information on what to wear, what to bring, what to do before the session.

Four big brothers looking at their newborn baby sister sleeping and lying on top of a big basket - Posed Newborn Photography Example

As I said above, posed newborn photographers will direct you every step of the way and position your baby precisely to create photographs similar to what you would have seen on their website. They often try new things and offer ways to personalise the photographs with different colours and/or props.

While the baby is the focus of the session, posed newborn photographers can include siblings and parents. Don’t shy away from the camera, however tired you may feel. You will one day treasure these images like no others!

A good photographer will know how to put you at ease and make you feel comfortable in front of the camera.

A mother and her sleeping newborn twins lying on grey tulle fabric and looking at the camera - Posed Newborn Photography Example
Mother and father posing for the camera with their sleeping newborn baby in the mother's arms - Posed Newborn Photography Example

Posed newborn photographers are experts in creating the ‘perfect’ photo and while sometimes a pose can feel a little awkward on the day of the session, when you see the results, you’ll understand why they asked you to pull your chin forward and down (no double chin!) or tucked your baby’s feet a certain way.

To me, those timeless newborn portraits are like a bit of magic. They are not meant to capture real-life, but rather celebrate the amazingness of a new life and their fleeting features.

Posed Newborn Photos Safety

Currently, there are no safety regulations in place for the newborn photography industry. 

It is very important to choose a newborn photographer who puts safety at the forefront of their business.

Many cute newborn poses that you see online are ‘composites’ which means the photographer takes two photos and blends them together in post-production. A parent will, for example, support the baby’s head from the top, then from the sides and you cannot see it in the final result.

Posed photo of a newborn baby sleeping and wearing a woolly hat - Posed Newborn Photography Example
Posed photo of a newborn baby, wide awake with a funny expression - Posed Newborn Photography Example
Sleeping newborn baby with a knitted blue hat in a popular newborn pose - Posed Newborn Photography Example

It’s worth noting that within this style of photography, there is a wide range of experience and expertise. While I know, admire, and trust the newborn photographers featured in this article, I also know there are photographers who “take photos of newborns” but shouldn’t call themselves “newborn photographers”.

If you are in any way worried about the safety of your baby during your photoshoot, you should immediately talk to the photographer for reassurance, or ask them to stop.

The last thing I want to mention is the length of the session. While it may feel now like “it’s only a few pictures”, babies can be unpredictable and you don’t want to feel rushed or stressed if your baby needs feeding or his/her nappy changed.

Talk to your photographer and make sure their sessions are baby-led. Communication is key!

Posed Newborn Photos by:

Lifestyle Newborn Photography

Lifestyle newborn photography is how I started in 2014-2015.

I am sure the photographers featured here would all describe this style of photography differently, but I’m the one writing the article, so I’ll use my words :)

Lifestyle newborn photography strikes a perfect balance between posed newborn photography and documentary photography, offering just the right amount of direction while preserving the natural essence of the moment.

Sleeping newborn baby on a father's shoulder with the father's hand resting on the tiny body - Lifestyle Newborn Photography Example
Mother bottle feeding her newborn baby while looking into her eyes - Lifestyle Newborn Photography Example

Lifestyle newborn photographers choose the ideal lighting and backdrop for parents to stand or sit in, employing minimal posing techniques. Their next step involves guiding their subjects to relax and encouraging genuine moments with their newborn, aiming to capture images that authentically reflect the essence of the moment.

Lifestyle photography will focus on connection, details, and love.

New father holding their newborn baby and smiling at home and mother gives him a kiss - Lifestyle Newborn Photography Example

Lifestyle photography captures the ‘good bits’ of real life. It captures the sweetest moments of a new arrival, in the best light, so that parents can remember the beauty of it even if they felt so tired they didn’t know who they were anymore.

Lifestyle photographers will photograph the family together as well as the baby on his/her own, on a bed, or in a parent’s arms. They won’t use props unless the parents want to, and will not use complicated poses for the baby if they pose him/her at all.

Two mothers holding their newborn baby's hands on the bed with the sun lighting their faces - Lifestyle Newborn Photography Example
Mother holding her newborn baby and stroking the tiny pink feet and toes - Lifestyle Newborn Photography Example
Big sister holding her baby sister under her big girl's bed in the middle of her toys - Lifestyle Newborn Photography Example

This will vary between each photographer, and their portfolio should help you get a feel of their work & process.

Lifestyle sessions can be great for families who have older children, and know that getting them to pose in a studio would be a stressful experience.

I also know plenty of parents who feel more comfortable with less direction.

Lifestyle Newborn Photos by:

For those who would rather have no direction at all, this is when documentary photography comes in.

Documentary Newborn Photography

I’ll finish with my favourite style of newborn photography. It is also sometimes called real-life photography or candid photography and can take place in your home, at the hospital (Fresh 48), or even outdoors (if that’s where you’re going!).

Mother smiling while watching her newborn baby in a hospital bed after birth - Documentary Newborn Photography Example

Just like the other two styles, you will find that photographers within that genre will have different styles and processes. Each and every one of us will have our own voice, and while our goal is to capture real-life, real-life looks different for each client as well.

Because I cannot speak for everyone else, I will speak about what documentary newborn photography is to me.

Mother breastfeeding newborn, older child watching tenderly.

It is about capturing how it feels rather than capturing how it looks.

Real-life with a newborn baby may feel very peaceful and involve lots and lots of baby cuddles and feeds. Your heart might feel like it will explode every single day.

Family time at home with pet dog

Real-life with a newborn baby may feel very chaotic and involve lots and lots of tantrums from your toddler while you have to take care of a nappy explosion.

Real-life with a newborn baby may feel like you will collapse from tiredness and will never get a chance to shower ever again. Maybe you can’t stop smiling, maybe you can’t stop crying.

Real-life with a newborn baby may feel like pure joy. Or survival.

Mother giving a medicine to her newborn baby at home - Documentary Newborn Photography Example
Mother preparing the bath and bottles for her newborn baby in her kitchen - Documentary Newborn Photography Example
Mother breastfeeding baby with toddler beside her.

It may not be happy & light all the time. It may not look picture-perfect. But it’s YOUR experience, YOUR life and you might not realise that one day, you’ll want to remember this, exactly this.

Those feelings evolve as quickly as the newborn and everyone involved is figuring things out, and eventually, you will only remember snippets of it, while everything is swallowed by that brain fog of the early weeks.

Two older sisters meet the new baby for the first time in hospital and want to hold the baby - Documentary Newborn Photography Example

I want to capture it all, and I’m so glad my clients want this too.

Raw, honest, and real. Whatever ‘real’ is.

Documentary family photographers will never judge. They will be a spectator that has ‘seen it all’ and don’t expect you to smile if you don’t feel like it, or your toddler to ‘stay still’ if that’s something they never do.

Mother feeding baby with bottle at home.

A documentary photographer will work around you and your family (and pets!) and capture moments as they happen, without interfering or asking you to stand a certain way.

This can be so liberating for some parents, who are not comfortable in front of the camera when they realise they are not expected to ‘do’ anything.

And you know what? Without any direction, the moments we capture are often better than anything we could have staged.

And cute details and features are also captured, look!

Sibling tickling baby's tiny foot - Documentary Newborn Photography Example
newborn photography styles,documentary newborn photography

I do know that it can be hard for parents to imagine someone coming into their home so soon after birth. I think the key is to ‘let go’ of any expectations and just trust that the photographer is not going to add any stress, but just capture the precious memories forever.

Also, when it comes to documentary photography, the newborn session doesn’t have to happen within the first 3 weeks.

Some documentary newborn photographers will include 10-15 minutes of lifestyle portraits if you ask too, so you get the best of both worlds.

And, finally, there is nothing wrong with getting both posed newborn portraits and documentary ones at a later stage. Follow your gut on this one!

Documentary Newborn Baby Photos by:

How To Find The Perfect Newborn Photographer For You?

I would start by asking for recommendations from your friends and family, especially if you have seen them share photographs that made your heart go ‘awwwww’.

Keep in mind that your friends might have different tastes than you do, and that’s ok! But having someone tell you how well the shoot went, and how comfortable they were during the session is worth gold!

If this doesn’t help, Google “newborn photographer + location” and have a look through websites & portfolios until you get that feeling of excitement while looking through their photos and reading their words.

Ideally, you want to feel like there is only one possible choice. I know it’s easier to find the right fit in a bigger city.

If you still cannot find the perfect match, go and ask in a local Facebook group and try to include the style you are looking for.

Man washing dishes, woman holding baby in kitchen.

Lastly, if a photographer isn’t the right fit, they should tell you and may have recommendations for you, so don’t hesitate to ask.

Newborn Photography Styles – Summary

Thank you for reading this article – I hope this was useful!

As you can see, there is no right or wrong when it comes to newborn photography styles. The different styles will simply suit different families or suit the same family at different stages in their lives.

I did start out wanting to do posed newborn photography, then started incorporating posed newborn photos during a lifestyle newborn shoot to finally embracing the fact that I was drawn to the ‘in-between’ real moments during each photoshoot.

If that’s something you are also drawn to, and you live in Ireland, check out more about my documentary newborn photography sessions and my photography packages, or get in touch with me!

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