Predicting when your baby will smile – a photographer’s guide

baby smiling in crib, resting chubby newborn cheeks on his little hands Oh that enviable newborn smile. We all crave them. Scientists study them. Researchers have dedicated countless hours to trying to figure out what they mean and when they start, and why. A baby’s smile is capable of melting anyone’s heart, so naturally we’d all love to understand them better. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could know just when a newborn baby is going to smile so we can take pictures and freeze that precious moment in time? Well, we can! I’m about to share with you a little secret I’ve learned in my years of photographing newborn babies: we can predict when babies are going to smile, down to pretty much the second! There’s a trick to it, of course. I’m not a psychic, and don’t claim to read anyone’s mind. Though I do wish on a regular basis we could know what those sweet little babies were thinking and dreaming about. Don’t you? Before I dive into one of my best kept secrets, I want to explain why it’s such an important factor for me and my business, first. When I go to my client’s home to photograph their family and their new addition, I go with a few specific goals in mind. First and foremost, I want to make sure I capture all the important details and sweetness of the new little baby. Every newborn session includes solo shots of baby for this purpose. Babies grow so fast in those first few weeks, so all those perfect little newborn features that change so quickly are one of the main focuses of my newborn sessions. Now let’s talk about baby expressions. Another important element of my newborn sessions. I want to capture all those unique attributes for your baby, including thier facial expressions. The smiles, the yawns, the pursed lips, the side eye, all of it. This part is a little less of a guarantee, since it’s really up to baby, their personality, and what expressions they’ll make in our time together. But if they’re going to smile, one thing is for sure. I’ll know when it’s about to happen, and can pretty much promise I’ll be ready for it when it does. How can I be so certain? Well, your baby tells me! No, I’m not suggesting babies talk to me. Or that I’m some kind of baby whisperer (though clients have called me as much). Babies actually give us little clues when they’re about to smile, and I’ll teach you what they are so you can look for them too, and hopefully capture more of them in photos for yourself!Mom and dad holding newborn baby boy in nursery beside baby's cribNow this part is based on research, so it’s verily predictable. Newborn babies have very unique sleep patterns in those first few weeks. These are known as active (or light) sleep and quiet sleep. In the first 3 months, newborns are sleeping for anywhere between 13-17 hours out of the day, and more than half that time is spent in the active sleep phase! In this phase, which is much like the REM cycle in adults, babies are very expressive. They’ll make noises (grunts, groans, or even little cries), faces, and movements throughout this light sleep cycle. One of those movements is the eye roll. And many babies will sleep with their eyes, or just one eye open in this cycle, will flutter the eye lids, and give you the perfect view of their eyes rolling back during sleep. Watch for this. This is the secret sauce right here. When babies eyes roll back this way, there is almost certainly a smile to follow. newborn baby smiling on ivory newborn pose drop, wrapped in ivory newborn wrapEach one of the images in this post were captured with this knowledge in mind. Anticipating the newborn smile would be much less predictable without this little leading clue. It gives me just enough time to get my camera in position, set my focus, double check my exposure, and snap that photo as that brief baby grin makes its appearance. And ohhhh man, is it worth it. What’s sweeter than a baby smiling, really?! Dad smiling while holding smiling baby But don’t worry, if baby isn’t giving us the cues, not all hope is lost. There are some other tried and true ways to get that grin. Sometimes gentle stroking of their cheek or forehead will facilitate the smile as a reflex. Another trick is to gently blow air around the baby’s face, causing them to pause, and the tickle of air on their face may illicit a cheek lift, a brief grin, or if we’re lucky, a full blown smile. Finally, babies love hearing their parent’s voices and smelling those familiar smells (especially mom’s), so I may ask one of them to hold baby, and whisper gently in baby’s ear, nuzzle their cheek with her nose, and give some gentle kisses. While I can never guarantee baby will smile during your session, I’ll do my best to facilitate it with any or all of these methods if necessary. Aren’t newborn babies fascinating? Read on for some other elements we focus on in a newborn session with me. Equally important in photographing newborns is the connection between the parents and baby. This can seem like a daunting, if not impossible endeavor to new parents, because who wants their picture taken when they’re sleep deprived, covered in baby bodily fluids, and not sure the last time they showered? But providing a few simple, fun prompts to help parents interact with one another and their baby allows for the focus to shift from any anxiety about the camera, and having their photo taken, to marveling at their adorable baby, facilitating genuine emotion and some beautiful, authentic imagery. As parents to a new babe, you want to document in photographs all the love you have for this new life you’ve brought into the world, into your family. And with some gentle direction and prompting from me, I’ll help you to do just that. If there are any siblings involved, photographing the connection and relationships between them and the baby is another important element in my newborn sessions. You’re all acclimating to this huge shift in your life, bringing a new baby home. It’s such a monumental change for everyone involved, an adjustment for siblings and parents alike, and one that we rarely see with clarity until it’s in the past. So documenting it in the present for my clients is really important. Depending on the age of siblings, this can be done in a variety of ways, but one of my favorites is to get everyone together on either the couch, or the parent’s bed, where there’s room for everyone, and have a sibling hold the baby, or lay the baby down, with sibling(s) beside them. I invite everyone to look at the baby, sniff their head (that newborn smell is addicting for all ages), or gently stroke their cheek/hands. I may provide one or two conversational prompts to facilitate natural connection too. Siblings photos can sometimes be stressful for parents, especially with younger kids. You’re worried you’ll need to wrangle and tame them, but you can leave the sweating and stress to me. With four kids of my own and years of practice, I’ve got these siblings photos down pat, in even the most chaotic circumstances, with the most energetic children, I’ll manage to capture some sweet moments you’ll love of your kids together. Are you ready to have your baby photographed? Or want to learn more fascinating facts about newborn photography? Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, or sign up for my weekly newsletter, I share all the best info about all things baby and photography related, and anyone on my email list always gets first dibs for the best deals, so follow along!

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