There seems to be a myth regarding newborn photography that leads to a lack of appreciation for its monetary value. Not because people don’t want their newborns photos done, but because they want them photographed for next to nothing. I’m here today to tell you the basic costs and realities of this industry. I’ve wanted to write this blog post for a really long time, so I hope that I do it justice. Feel free, that if you as a photographer have facts to add to this, please send me a message directly from the contact tab. I hope that I answer any questions that you’ve been thinking about, but are too afraid to ask or just haven’t gotten around to.
Before we get into anything, I wanted to let you know that I’ve made a youtube video with everything that this blog post is about! So if you aren’t much of a reader, then check out this youtube video:
Now I’m going to specifically break down Newborn Photography because that’s what I specialize in. I will list some key items that are essential to starting your photography journey versus the items you really shouldn’t waste your money on!
Lets begin. Many think that newborn Photography is inexpensive and there is low overhead. So it’s a great business idea for anyone that has a DSLR camera! You take pictures and that effectively should be quite cheap right? Reality – Here are the Basic Costs of running a Newborn Photography Business:
Let’s talk gear
Camera – DSLR. A full frame camera body is essential in running a photography business. Full frame cameras have a larger sensor, letting in more light and allowing the camera to focus in darker lighting situations. This will save you in more ways then one, trust me! You could buy a cropped sensor, but after a year of doing shoots you’ll be looking to upgrade in no time and wish you had never bothered with a cropped sensor. Most full frame camera bodies start at $3500. When researching camera bodies for your business look at all of the bodies and their specs for “cropped sensors” vs “full frame”. There are many available to choose from.
Lenses – Newborn photographers need quality lenses, not cheap kit lenses. The average L Series lens is a minimum of $1000. It costs money to have good glass. The more experience you get – you’ll wish you had invested in the right glass in the beginning! Here is a list of lenses that will be a great starting point; there is a lot of speculation on whether you MUST have an L series lens to receive quality. IS the big money necessary? The 50mm lens is an excellent focal length lens for shooting newborns. BUT there are 4 different 50mm options to choose from when considering this focal length and they range in cost of $350-$2000+
Here are some options to consider or test out while doing your own research on what to invest in:
- 50mm f/1.4 USM – This is the middle of the line for Canon 50mm focal length lenses. Its roughly $400-$500 Canadian, depending if it’s on sale or not. This is an excellent lens and should not be underestimated. It’s sharp and crisp. The bokeh is quite nice as well. This IS my go to lens for every newborn session. Early on I would have NEVER bought this lens, because I couldn’t see how it could compare to the fancier more expensive L series 50mm f/1.2. BUT after my research and speaking with many who owned this very expensive lens I found out that it was a soft lens. What does that mean? It means that the focus is not always sharp or that the focus isn’t tack sharp. How would you feel if you spent $1500-$2000 on a lens and it rarely produced a sharp image? I’m sure that it would be a very devastating experience for you. I have read that there are rare occasions where it is sharp. That’s nice if you are the lucky one who got a sharp lens! Is it worth the risk? There is a way around this. You can have your camera body and lens sent into Canon and have them calibrated to each other. That is something to consider if you are determined to own this lens.
- Sigma 50mm f/1.4 HSM Art Lens for Canon – The sigma Art lenses are considerably cheaper then the 50mm f/1.2 lens, however there have also been rants and raves of the reliability of this lens. And not JUST this focal length. The 35mm ART lens is something I’ve owned TWO copies of. I purchased them BRAND NEW from the Mcbain Camera store. I was BEYOND excited but thoroughly disappointed quickly. Perhaps because I shoot with Studio Light. I found that in brighter situations the lens was capable of focus for the most part. BUT when shooting a newborn session with studio light, I would have to take 25 shots to get ONE in focus. It was horrid! It gave me undue stress. I HIGHLY recommend researching this lens before investing in this lens. Please keep in mind that you want to invest in something that you can easily switch between natural and studio light.
- Lastly I would recommend a Canon 35mm f/1.4. This is a SHARP and beautiful lens. It’s very useful for your entire session and perhaps certain shots that you may want to compose. It is a wider lens and one of my all time favourites!
Studio light – Although this is not a requirement, it really does take the guesswork out of your photography. IF you are looking for consistency, and want to perfect the quality of your work, then I would recommend studio lighting. You may wonder Why? What does it matter? As someone who had to learn the hard way, I will explain. When you are using natural light, you must factor in if the sky is overcast. What time of day are you shooting? What time of year is it? If you are in Canada, your days are quite short. Is your natural light source blocked in by buildings or does it lose light quickly? Are you able to shoot directly next to your natural light source? Perhaps you are using a window or a set of french doors. Is your window facing, North, East, South or West? As you can imagine, all of these will play with your white balance settings from minute to minute. A cloud covering the sun can nearly eliminate most of your natural light from one shot to the next. I must say that some are blessed with perfect and steady climates. This does help! But if you are like me and live in Alberta, Canada… please consider the information I’ve just posted. Don’t get me wrong, there are certain styles of photography that I will ONLY use natural light. Such as newborn lifestyle photography in peoples homes. *I will make a separate blog post about which lighting equipment I have*
Dedicated studio Space – Many choose to dedicate a room in their home to serve as their newborn studio. I was one of those photographers! I spent 6 out of the past 7 years using a home studio space. When I first started this business I had dedicated my upstairs living room space as my studio. This was NOT an ideal situation. I used the living room windows as my light source. I also had to move my living room furniture into the kitchen EVERY time I had a session. I also did not have a closed in room and because of that it was very difficult to control the room temperature. This also negatively affected my family. It was difficult for my children and husband when I would have a session because I would have to send them out. However, many people have large homes and have more then enough space to dedicate their entire basement or a large room. Once we moved from our first house to our second, I specifically had my bonus room customized for a newborn studio. It was roughly 20 feet by 10 feet; it had hardwood floors, and a glass door to keep the heat in. Unfortunately, having 4 children, I found having people coming into my home was becoming stressful. I did personally have a harder time because I had twin 2 year olds, a 5 year old and a 7 year old running around downstairs with the babysitter.
Computer – Now every single person will have a different opinion on this, But all I can do is let you know from my own personal experience. When using Adobe Photoshop to edit your images, Mac’s are the computers best suited for this heavy duty software. I personally had a PC laptop when I first started, and then moved into a desktop PC. Photoshop was such a big program that it killed the first two computers I used. Granted, I’m not a computer scientist so I did not have super built computers. I just had something you would buy from the store. After my second computer died (even though it was only 9 months old) and it was around $1000 computer my husband said, “Just buy an iMac!” So, that’s what we did.
I haven’t personally done research on which computers are best and why, but I do know that the design of photoshop and Mac’s go hand in hand. They work flawlessly together.
My 27″ iMac was an absolute dream to work on. But of course, with the years going by, and my circumstances changing I yearned for a mobile computer. So 1.5 years ago I purchased a USED Macbook Pro for $1000.
I LOVE both of the Mac computers that I purchased. I have zero complaints, other then going from a 27″ screen to a 13″ screen. But I’ve realized that I prefer to sit on the couch versus sitting at a desk.
I use the touch pad on my laptop to edit. I do not use the Wacom tablet with a pen because I like to have full use of my USB ports. I’ve also found that the touch pad is just as good.
Software – This was a lot more difficult to swallow 7 years ago when Adobe Photoshop was $800! And then you would have to pay for the upgrade versions if you wanted to stay current. Now Adobe Photoshop CC has a beautiful monthly program for all of those that want to use it for only $9.99/USD. This is incredible in my opinion. You will always have the most current and updated software at your fingertips. You can also have Lightroom as well.
Lightroom vs. Adobe Camera Raw
- Lightroom is an excellent way to organize and catalogue your sessions. You can also nearly edited entire galleries of images in Lightroom. It also offers the option to save directly from Lightroom with out ever opening photoshop! This is a huge time saver if you shoot only lifestyle photography or outdoors. The negative issue with Lightroom and Newborn photography is that most newborns need extensive skin retouching. This can include fixing jaundice skin, or very red skin. There are times you may need to do a composite image. Or you may need to clone in part of the backdrop. Every single time you open an image from Lightroom into Photoshop, you would need to save it from photoshop into that same folder. They do not necessarily work together as a team. But for other types of photography Lightroom is very convenient option. And the brush tools are much better then ACR.
- ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) is the partner to Photoshop CC. The key is to upload Adobe Bridge, and use that as your organizational method. You can also cull your galleries in Bridge. Then you open into ACR, Apply your presets or tweaks to the image – Then open into Adobe Photoshop. You can then open again to ACR if you so desire back and forth as many times as you please with out EVER having to save the image first. This is a HUGE time saver!
Props & Supplies – This is by far the most expensive ongoing cost of your business. This is something that you will continuously be purchasing. Let me list the basics of what you should focus on:
- Bean Bag or Dog Bed This is the link of the dog bed I use here . This is what you will cover with fabric and pose baby on. Most use a newborn bean bag. Prices of beanbags that are made specifically for newborn photography can cost anywhere from $200- $800 depending on if purchased with a frame. Frames are important because you want to clip your fabric to them to create that seamless look. But Dog beds are the new trend and very effective and affordable!
- Wooden Bucket (message me to find out the measurements that I recommend) Average cost of a good wooden bucket is $60-$150 depending on if its been hand made, if it’s antique and if it’s from overseas. Also consider purchasing a smaller wooden crate. Try looking in your local antique stores. Or join photographer prop vendors groups on facebook! Wooden hand carved bowls are also an ESSENTIAL photography prop. If you only had a Bucket, a bowl and a crate – you’d be good to go! Eventually you could build up your prop collection if you desired. You might also wonder why a wooden bucket? Why not a metal one? Start with a wooden bucket because they are sturdier and usually have a larger rim to rest a newborns arms on. Metal buckets tend to be slippery and are not as easy while you are a beginner.
- Fabrics (Start with jersey knit or sweater knit fabrics and neutral colours) Once you are confident with your posing, then move on to different colours because you will be more capable of understanding colour casts. You’ll also need to comprehend what will be too harsh to photograph again a newborns skin. I recommend checking instagram and following the hashtag #newbornphotographyprops or #propvendors #newbornposingfabrics etc. Instagram is a great way to see what it looks like “in use”. Purchasing online although convenient, is usually double the cost plus shipping and currency exchange. I recently purchased one piece of fabric from a US prop vendor, and the one piece of fabric cost me $87! I would recommend checking local fabric stores and searching the “sweater knit sections”.
- Flooring & Backdrops – Start off with a neutral 107″ seamless paper backdrop. Don’t cheap out and get the short ones – you’ll hate your life when editing. A good neutral colour to start with is “Savage BONE” Wooden flooring can be as simple as going to home Depot and getting 3 -8 foot length Barn wood pieces and cutting them in half. Eventually you can buy more and have enough to make a backdrop as well. Paint the other side with a cream chalk paint and rough it up! There are a million backdrop companies out there that offer options such as vinyl, poly paper or fabric backdrops. If you want something simple and durable, just take a drive to your local Home Depot. You’ll be investing around $50 Canadian.
- Bonnets – Only purchase bonnets made from natural fibres such as brushed alpaca, merino, or mohair. This will show quality in your photographs. Cheap acrylic yarn tends to photograph with a shine. This is not an appealing look. You want to product a high quality image!
- Tiebacks – Think of small and dainty versus an oversized flower next to a tiny newborn head. Also look at the quality of the tiebacks and you should be able to tell if they are made with plastic or cheap looking flowers. You will be paying an average cost of $20 for each tieback or newborn headband. I recommend buying dainty jersey tiebacks at the beginning because they are less frustrating to work with. Tiebacks that are made with jute or twine are harder to keep in position if you have a baby that is sensitive to the touch or grumpy. I also recommend searching on Instagram to find excellent vendors!
- Posing Beans – Now I’m new to this trend. It is not necessarily a something that you need! But it does tend to streamline posing when used consistently. I used to roll up receiving blankets for posing newborns with under the fabric. If you are on a budget, use what you want to. However posing beans are neat to use and convenient. You can order them from China or photography vendors! Always check instagram for these items. You’re looking at spending around $25-75 Canadian.
- Space Heater – This is IMPORTANT! Use a space heater that has the option to stay on. You want to be able to keep the heat going full blast until the room has reached the desired temperature and can maintain that room temperature.
- White noise – To buy the Baby Shusher or not? If you don’t want to spend the additional money, buy the app on your phone! It’s called “baby shusher”. The app plays until you shut it off. Use a wireless blue tooth speaker for louder white noise. This is very important. White noise will help soothe baby while you are working and it really does add needed comfort!
- Education – This is one of the most important things on the list. You need to know what you are doing. You can not take a newborn baby and automatically know how to pose them, light them, soothe them and safely transition to different positions. There are various courses online available from experienced newborn photographers. You could also consider mentoring in person with an established photographer. You’ll soon realize that newborn photography involves a lot of patience, the proper work environment and a consistent workflow. You can expect to be paying anywhere from $400 USD to $3500 USD for online mentoring to in person workshops. Practicing on your own is good, but please understand that safety of newborns should be your priority. So invest in some Education so that you know what you are doing! This way you can safely and happily offer newborn photography services to your clients. Also note – When booking or looking into in person workshops try and find ones that are either 1:1 or 1:2. You’ll regret large group workshops especially if you are a newbie! I didn’t mention that you could try and searching on youtube. There are plenty of videos to get ideas from! Check out this video that I posted of a “side lying pose”
- Insurance – I probably should have listed this at the top of the post, because thats how important it is! You need to protect yourself and protect your clients. Monthly insurance with roughly $2 million liability costs around $50/month in my area. This also provides protection for damages to my gear as well as other things. Please do not even consider opening a business without first protecting yourself! This is just common sense for good business practices!
- Websites & Hosting – This is an obvious one. You need to have your own domain name, that costs about $30/year. Check out https://ca.godaddy.com/ You can easily set this up with them. Then you need to purchase web hosting. Depending on the hosts it can cost hundreds per year. This is a necessary product. This can be purchased through godaddy.com as well. You also want to design a website through a platform that is designed for Search Engine Optimization (SEO). WordPress is one of the excellent websites choices to choose from. Of course navigating a wordpress.com website design can be overwhelming! I recommend purchasing a professional designed theme if you can afford it, Otherwise go with ProPhoto. Prophoto gives you an easy to use customization platform. You can easily design your website to your liking without the need of a professional! I’ve also heard that showit is excellent. I’ve personally used Prophoto! Prophoto starts at $249 USD. This is a one time fee until you choose to upgrade in a few years.
- Gallery Proofing Site – This is not necessary but will make your life SO much easier! It’s an online Proofing Gallery system that allows you to upload fully edited high resolution images with unlimited downloads for your clients. You can also archive galleries if you want to, for a small monthly fee. Shootproof is around $12 Canadian/month. I’ve been using Shootproof for the past 5 years and wished I had started earlier! The great thing about this program is that it allows you to set up product sales as well!
- Blogstomp or Albumstomp – This is an excellent software that you will be grateful for when it comes to blogging and making Albums! It will save you time and energy and a lot of frustration. I believe the two programs together are around $150. It’s honestly worth every penny if you ever decide to start selling albums. Blogging is a necessity. So if you choose to only invest in one, I’d advise to order Blogstomp first!
- Contract – You need a contract. You need to protect yourself. Check out the Lawtog for your contract needs.
- External hard drive – Upload all of your galleries on your external hard drive! Computers crash! Don’t be that person that doesn’t have your clients gallery backed up!
Saturated Newborn Photography Market
All newborn photographers have a saturated market with thousands of newbies trying to make a name for themselves. The problem is: people then assume, because there are some charging peanuts and some charging thousands, then why pay for it when they have such a grand scale of options?
Here is an example:
Jane Photography is charging $100 a newborn session. Suzy Photography is charging $800. Suzy Photography must be CRAZY to think she’s worth that much money! Why is she so much cheaper then Jane?
Lets dig deeper:
Jane is Booking 30 newborns in the month and burnt out. She’s spending almost every penny she’s making on props and supplies and business expenses. She is not paying her taxes because to her this is just fun money while her husband works full time to support the family. She’s now too exhausted to spend time with her family, and happily enjoy her children. She’s photographing newborns during the day, and up editing until 3 am every night just to keep up with her workload.
Suzy on the other hand is running a well founded business. She has calculated her business overhead. This includes her hourly commitment to each session, hours of editing, time spent searching for props and supplies that she needs to maintain and invest in. She’s also furthering her education to better her client’s services. Now with all the cost of doing business calculations, she needs to be charging a minimum of $800 to make a small profit (or a living wage) to help put food on the table and spend time with her family. Suzy also needs to set money aside for vacation, and for rainy days. Now Suzy is booking 4 sessions a month and charging her minimum rate of $800. Suzy is working less and making more money than Jane.
Do you wonder who will be in business in 2 years? My bets are on Suzy. What newbies need to understand is that your time and work are valuable! The cost of doing business needs to be carefully calculated.
You would not go to a massage therapist and expect to pay $5 oppose to $100 because the person is working out of their home instead of a clinic. You might reason, it doesn’t cost them any money to rub lotion on my body! Why should I pay them $100/hour?
If you as a photographer have invested your time into Education & Resources to open and run your business – Why do you think its important to give it away for next to nothing?
New photographers might think, “I’m new and I need to build a portfolio”. That is true. Every photographer HAS to have a portfolio in order to book paid clients. THAT is the key – You should not be charging anyone if you do not know what you are doing. If you are learning, then offer model calls. Have the model’s sign a model contract release and use those images for your portfolio. This is very beneficial because it gives you creative freedom and takes the pressure off. But you are not lowering the industry standard at the same time.
Every photographer no matter the style of photography needs to have a creative outlet with model calls. It gives them the opportunity to remember why they chose this as a profession in the first place. Once you feel confident with your portfolio, You charge for your work! This will also benefit your client by providing beautiful high quality workmanship.
The question we all need to continue to ask ourselves is – Do I value my business enough to cause it to prosper? Or do I want it to burn out in 2 years because I’ve ran out of money or energy.
Alot of women are photographers. And especially most newborn photographers are women. I recently heard a statement, and I apologize because I can’t remember where it was from. “Do you think a man would give away his photography work for free?”
I must say, I don’t think so! Why do us women automatically think that if we don’t offer it for next to nothing – that nobody will book us? The truth of the matter is – If you value yourself, put the effort in and offer quality – You will be busy. People will begin to appreciate that newborn photography is truly an Investment. And they will want to invest in you!
I’ll leave you with this quote to think about – “Knowledge is of no value, unless you put it into practice.” – Anton Chekhov
~Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. I hope that it offers some insight into this industry and answers some of your questions. If you have something you want to add – Please let me know through the contact tab! Now don’t be shy! Check out my youtube video to solidify everything you’ve just read! Please also take the time to subscribe to my youtube channel and request videos that you want me to make!
If you have wondered what some of my work looks like – Check out a recent blog post here
Edmonton Newborn Photographer serving the area in and around Edmonton. Leduc Newborn Photographer, Sherwood Park Newborn Photographer