When I first started my newborn photography business in 2011, my first shoot comprised portraits of a family member’s new baby. Even though I started my business because of my love for weddings, I thought I needed to have a diverse portfolio to attract more clients. At that time, the newborn photography industry was filled with traditional, studio-style, posed newborn sessions, focused solely on the baby and their tiny details while in a deep sleep. Like most new photographers, I boxed myself into shooting in that same style, as it seemed to be what newborn photography clients were looking for at that time. The babies looked like little angels, the photographers were busy and seemed to be running very successful photography businesses. Learning how to soothe a baby, working closely with the parents to ensure the baby is comfortable, understanding safe posing and the amount of time that goes into post processing are all major components of a shoot, and you can’t just step into posed newborn photography without fully understanding those components first.
I tried and failed miserably. I wound up walking away from my first newborn session swearing to myself that I would never photograph another newborn again because I was just trying to recreate what other photographers did. I didn’t understand what went into creating those popular newborn photos, and I wasn’t thinking about what newborn photography meant to me.
For the next four years, I focused solely on building my wedding photography business and defining my own, unique photographic style along the way. I worked hard to create a wedding portfolio that was filled with the perfect mix of intimate and authentic moments that would stand the test of time—a portfolio that I am very proud of.
It wasn’t until 2016, a year after my son was born, that a strong desire to photograph families filled my heart. It all stemmed from some very special dances at weddings: the parent dances. I watched a mother dance with her son, the same way she likely danced with him as a baby, the same way that I rocked my son to sleep after the challenging, bewitching hours. I began to think of the importance of documenting that connection between a parent and their child, regardless of their age, and thus began my journey to become a wedding and newborn photographer. I photographed newborns the way I wanted to photograph newborns: in their parent’s arms, fussing, sleeping, sometimes smiling and always feeling secure.
Today, I want to share three tips on how to expand your wedding photography business to be a wedding and newborn photography business.
BUILD A PORTFOLIO THAT SPEAKS TO YOUR VISION AND WHAT CLIENTS ARE RESPONDING TO MOST
Charging what your time and talent is worth is something I constantly preach. When expanding your photography business to a new genre, it is important to build a strong portfolio to show you are worth every single penny.
When I first began to build my newborn photography portfolio, I offered significantly discounted sessions to friends, family and past wedding clients that recently welcomed a baby. For locations that I was specifically targeting, I put out model calls. I photographed my session in a way that showcased that connection between parents and baby. I photographed the mother holding her baby close and gently kissing the top of the baby’s head, the father’s big reaction to such a small yawn, and the look the parents gave each other when I asked them how it felt to be photographed for the first time as a family of three. Even when the baby fussed in the portrait, I documented the parents rocking, soothing and cuddling their baby.
I used simple backgrounds—bare walls, neutral furniture and big windows—to make sure eyes were drawn to the people in the image and not what was going on around them. I wanted to bring the closeness component from my wedding work into my newborn work: simple, intimate portraits to show there is beauty in both the calm and chaos of growing families.
To this day, my clients’ favorite images from their newborn session are tightly cropped portraits in front of a simple background. New clients always highlight these same images as what made them contact me. They know when they hire me as their newborn photographer, they will be getting those portraits that made them fall in love with my work. With this understanding, I began defining and branding my newborn photography as “simplistic beauty amongst the calm and chaos,” and it is easy for me to sell that to potential clients because I believe in it. You can’t sell something you don’t believe in—that translates easily into your portfolio.
Believe in the work you create and why you create it, and that same confidence to sell it to others will come pretty naturally. With your vision, bring it consistently throughout your galleries and final product. Your portfolio should be specific to you and your business.
MAKE DIFFERENT DEPARTMENTS UNDER ONE WEBSITE DOMAIN
You have a growing newborn photography portfolio and you need a new place to show it off. Let’s talk through this a little. Do you really need a whole new website separate from your wedding photography website? Have you ever heard the saying, “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage”? Well, it’s 2019 and those things don’t necessarily always happen in that order, but I like to refer to it as “the circle of love and life.”
Recently married couples may be thinking about the next chapter in their family. Couples who recently had a baby may be thinking about getting married. Because of this, I believe it is important to keep these two offerings in one domain.
I wouldn’t have one gallery jumbled with newborn and wedding images, though. I like to compare this situation to a department store. Imagine if you went in looking for children’s clothes but it was mixed in with the men’s and women’s clothing. A little challenging and overwhelming. Directories for different departments not only show you where you can find what you’re looking for, but they show you other departments you may want to visit later.
See how that translates to breaking out your offerings on your website? Your main page is your directory; your subpages are your departments. I personally have a link from my main page to newborns and another link to weddings. Breaking out these two genres into separate pages lets potential clients get all of the information they need for the type of photography they are interested in, but they can also see the other offering. That will make them think about the future, or maybe even someone else they know who’s looking for that type of photography. I receive a lot of inquiries from friends and family members of current wedding clients. The same separation and visibility technique should apply to your blog posts, too.
SPRINKLE YOUR NEWBORN MAGIC EVERYWHERE
Your work can never be shared too much. When your name and imagery keeps popping up around the web, it will be noticed. The more it is shared, the more likely you and your business will be remembered by someone. They may not be looking for a newborn or family photographer right now, but maybe they will next year. Whether they save a pin of yours on Pinterest, or see a photo you shot of their friend’s 2-month old as their Facebook profile picture, it is important to get your work out there as much as possible.
You can’t guarantee that someone will share your images, but there are ways to encourage it to happen. Here’s how I encourage my newborn work to be shared:
1. I send five to seven preview digital images to the parents within a few days of the session, expressing how excited I was to share some highlights from their shoot. I have never met parents who weren’t excited to see their session images as soon as possible. I also post one of those images on Instagram with a brief recap of the session. Often, the parent will share some on their account as well.
2. I include a discount on prints for the first 30 days once I deliver my full galleries, and I state that they are encouraged to share with their friends and family members that may be excited to see the images. Sometimes, just putting it out there like that can help make it happen. I always ask for them to tag me so I can see their favorite photos, too.
3. Instagram stories and highlights are great for recapping your sessions when you simply don’t have enough time on your calendar to blog every session. As soon as I deliver a gallery, I create a simple grid of 12 highlight images from one session. I share that grid in my Instagram stories and add it to my story highlights. I like to put all 12 images in one grid so that it only requires one story. I personally find myself swipe-advancing (basically ignoring stories) when browsing through other photographer’s highlights that are broken out into one or two images for each story. Try different methods to see what works best for you and for your audience.
4. Tag popular but relevant motherhood- and baby-related accounts on Instagram and use their repost hashtags. Poll your followers on Instagram to see what accounts they like following if you aren’t sure where to start. Focus on attracting those who are similar to the ones already following you. Again, you can’t guarantee an Instagram account will repost your images, but using their hashtags and tagging them has a significantly higher probability of it happening than not doing it at all.
5. Submit your work to blogs. There are many blogs out there dedicated to motherhood, newborns and all things baby. But the best blog for me to submit to will be different than the best blog for you to submit to. Identify what those blogs are looking for and if your work is the right fit for it. Don’t be discouraged if something you submit gets declined, and don’t be afraid to ask why it wasn’t the right fit. Use that feedback and grow from it.
6. Pin your images. Ok, I will admit I am not as active on Pinterest as I should be. I definitely prioritize the other points above, but Pinterest can be an incredibly valuable tool. One particular image I pinned went viral and brought me some of my favorite clients. Never pinned before? Google best practices—better yet, browse around on Pinterest for some tips.
7. Don’t dig a grave for your blog. I try my best to get a couple of blog posts up a month, alternating between weddings and newborns. My most popular newborn post is my year-end recap, where I share some of my favorite images from the past year. Your website and blog is your virtual store and should be updated regularly with your work.
8. Don’t limit your reach to just one channel. Prioritize the ones that are most important to you and your business. Keep track of referral metrics (where your website traffic is coming from and how leads are finding you) to help you identify how people are finding their way to you and your website. I personally use Squarespace metrics and a “who referred you” on my inquiry form to help with this. Be conscious that the internet is constantly changing and you never know when the “thing of today” will be the “thing of the past.” If your referrals are drying up, try sharing your work somewhere new for a month—and always do your research first! Diversify and sprinkle your work everywhere.
Michelle Lange is a wedding and newborn photographer and educator based in Albany, NY.