Ultimate Guide to At-Home Milestone Shoots

December 04, 2020 8 min read

Alexa, play Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Staron repeat. We’ve got some great things happening, and it calls for some calming tunes!

Ever wonder how moms get those adorable milestone photos that give you tingles (or dare I say, baby fever?!). When I was first learning, I have to admit, it wasn’t pretty. I made tons of mistakes, like when all of Mr. H’s 2 month pictures were so dark you’d have thought I took them in a closet, or that time I fed him pureed carrots right before I wanted to take his 6 month pics. (Surprise, surprise, that didn’t end well.)

After doing monthly pics with two kids, I’ve learned a trick or two, or ten. Mistakes aside, one of the sweetest things to come from all of our less-than-perfect sessions, is flipping through photos with the boys. They downright LOVE to see themselves as babies, and to ask all sorts of questions about what they were doing. And I LOVE that those moments from years past are still finding their way into our present.

But let’s be honest. Getting the perfect shot is tough! That’s why professional photographers exist, who are trained in lighting, posing, safety, etc. You know what totally rocks about making milestone photo props though? I get to see those pros in action AND I get to see what the everyday, normal Nancy, mom-tog is doing. Let’s take some baby steps together so you can start creating beautiful milestone memories with your little one.

(Disclaimer – I am not a photographer, I’m just a mama who has had made milestone props for many, many baby shoots and who occasionally gets to peek in on them.)

STEP ONE: MENTAL HOMEWORK

Long term, we want you to have enjoyable experiences with your babe, and a boatload of beautiful pictures to remember them. So to do that…

  • Take a minute to think through exactly what you want at the end of a year’s worth of photo shoots. Do you want each week or month to be different? Or do you want consistency, that gives you a cohesive look across all pictures?
  • Look for inspiration. Find some sample pics you’d like to try to recreate­­; check out our Instagram or Pinterest for ideas, or browse through some of our review photos in our Etsy shop.

Short term, we need to get you through the photo shoot with your sanity intact. With that in mind…

  • Exercise your patience, my friend. If you’re feeling rushed, or baby’s not feeling super cooperative, be flexible. You control the schedule. Well, sort of. But you can wait to shoot another day or time when you’ll both be happier to spend time together – no one will know if your babe is 1 month + 2 days.
    • Quick tipavoid sessions that are right after shots, or times when you know your babe enters ‘the witching hour’.
  • In addition to the physical week or month you’re trying to capture, think through new milestones they’ve hit from both a motor and a developmental standpoint. Did he just start lifting his head, is that smile new, did she just discover her fingers or toes? Is he sitting with help or unsupported, rocking, or pulling to stand? Wherever they are, plan ahead to get shots that mark more than just the number.
    • Quick tipdon’t forget those little detailed shots of fingers and toes. They grow so quickly!

STEP 2: SUPPLY ROUND-UP

Are you one of those people who shops without a grocery list? Virtual high-five to you if you are! Rounding up some supplies you might need can help your sessions go more smoothly. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Cushions and filler – bath towels, hand towels, wash cloths, pool noodles, beanbag, boppy, items you can use to prop up or support wee ones
  • Filler – wraps, soft blankets, these can be layered under or around baby for added depth
  • Vessels – think baskets, bassinets, buckets, containers, things you might want to put a small babe into
    • Quick tip – also grab a weight if you’re using something with higher walls
  • Backdrop – this could be a stretchy sheet, a soft blanket, just make sure you like the color and texture
  • Stabilizers – clothes pins, clamps, chip clips, even tape; depending on where you’re shooting you might need to secure your backdrop
  • White noise maker – a fan, sound machine, or an app that plays white noise can help a sleeping baby stay that way
  • Noise maker – rattles, maracas, your best singing voice, things that will grab attention for those awake moments
  • Heater – warm rooms can turn a raging baby into a sleepy one, but never leave your baby unattended
  • Soothers – pacifier, quick snacks, a favorite blanket
  • Props – milestone markers, a stuffed animal, small toy, greenery or flowers, things you won’t mind being in the shot, but that won’t steal the show
  • Outfit – clothing, accessories like shoes or headbands, wraps, or just the birthday suit

STEP 3: FIND YOUR LIGHT

Do you remember getting your picture taken at school, and those giant lights they had that looked like umbrellas? I sure do remember being a deer in those headlights. In lieu of artificial lights, here are tips for at-home lighting.

  • Find an indirect source, like a north facing window, a sliding glass door, or weather permitting, an open door. We want to avoid having the sun send shadows across your babe’s face like it’s a dance floor.
    • Quick tip – if you do see those shadows or lines, try moving a little farther away from the source.
  • Or if your natural light source is blindingly bright, add something that will soften or diffuse the light – like sheer curtains or a super light-weight sheet. (Here’s where those clips or tape will come in handy.)
  • No natural light to be had? Lamps or other man-made sources can work, just be mindful of where you position them in relation to your little one, and the shadows they might cast. If all else fails, there are some easy editing apps that can help you brighten your pics.

STEP 4: CUE MADONNA AND STRIKE A POSE

You know what no one tells you about baby pictures? That you need a plan in order to get the shot you want! Seriously, it’s better this way. What absolutely melts your heart when you see a milestone photo – is the baby sleeping, swaddled, or wide awake and smiling? Here are a few tried-and-true methods to get what your heart desires, depending on the age of your little one:

(*Please keep in mind these groups are broad estimates; however old your babe, and whatever their development, they are exactly where they need to be.)

For sleepers (newborns - 3 months)

(There are countless ways to wrap a baby, so assuming you’ve got that part covered, let’s trudge onward!)

Quick tip – wrap baby in one stretchy wrap that will be your base layer; if you want to different setups with different colors or textures, a second wrap can be added or changed (usually without baby being any-the-wiser).

Position baby on the tummy or back -

  • Build a cocoon underneath your backdrop or top layer; this could be a pillow, beanbag, or rolled up towels to make a little nest. For example, if you’re snapping pictures of your babe on a bed, throw your top layer to the side and make a donut out of your cushions. Pull your top layer back over your donut, and wah-la! You have a baby human nest!
  • Position your babe in the nest and gently add additional cushions under your backdrop to give support to baby’s head, neck, sides, or bottom.
  • Move these cushions around depending on whether baby is on his back or tummy; we’re going for a sense of cozy immobility.

In a vessel –

  • Build the same nest for baby, with a weight in the bottom if the walls of your container are tall.
  • Angle baby inside so that her head is higher than her body.

For sitters (4 months – 9 months)

On the tummy or back –

  • Like with sleepers, a nest can work for young ones, and these poses can highlight their ability to hold their head up.
  • Laying in a vessel – baby arms are known to flail, so make sure edges are soft and smooth, or covered with a cushion to prevent tears. Try something low to the ground, letting their tootsies dangle over the end or edge.
  • Grabbing those tootsies – help baby find his toes, and gently but firmly hold them there for a few seconds before letting go (better be quick with the snap on this one!).

Sitting in a vessel –

  • At a certain point, babes might become resistant to laying down for the shot. Go with it; these motor milestones are important too and it will be a good memory jogger to remind you just when baby started sitting up.
  • Depending on their balance, add fillers and cushions.
  • Baby should be able to move off or out of the vessel easily, and without injury, otherwise they might be too high. Safety first. Repeat. Safety first. Consider having a partner or spotter with you to help position, adjust, and guard baby.

For movers (10 months and up)

Sitting –

  • Give them something to hold that you don’t mind being in the shot – maraca, rattle, teether, little toy, a small mirror, the prop that shows their age – anything that will occupy them long enough to stay in one spot.

Standing –

  • Like being able to sit, this is a big motor milestone to capture.
  • Try incorporating props baby can stand next to, or hold onto if those knees are wobbly – a wagon, a crate, or a push toy can add interest to the scene.

For all ages:

  • Add some fizz – get baby’s attention by singing songs, playing peekaboo, making animal noises, flashing snacks, shaking a rattle, dancing the hokey-pokey, anything to encourage them to glance in your direction.
  • Get them engaged – let them have fun, hand them a flower, dangle their favorite toy, think of ways to build their excitement to capture their changing expressions.
  • Never leave baby unattended, or in danger of falling out of a vessel, or off of a surface.

STEP 5: MAKE THE SHUTTER CLICK

Can you hear that? It’s the beautiful sound of a squealing mama getting ready to snap a milestone picture! Ok, it’s probably a muffled squeal with a happy dance, she wouldn’t want to wake her babe! Are you ready?!

  • Angle baby’s face toward the light, so that any shadows are on the side of the face that is opposite to the light. If you see dark bags under the eyes, try twisting your setup or moving things around.
  • Smooth out any distracting wrinkles in the backdrop; tighten and tuck.
  • If you’re using a hefty camera, wear that strap to avoid dropping on your babe. If you’re using your phone, pretend you’re back in driver’s ed – keep both hands on the wheel.
  • Like all the most flattering selfies, position your camera so you are shooting down the length of baby’s nose, instead of up it. When you are in the right spot, there should be a teeny shadow just under the nose and above the lip.
  • Soak it in, and go with the flow. You’re getting to spend time with one of your MVP’s here, so take your time and give extra snuggles when needed.

 

 

CONGRATS! YOU'VE EARNED EXTRA CUDDLES

It’s time for a toast! Cheers to the beautiful pictures you just took! *clink*And cheers to the connection and memories you just made! *double clink*

Visit our shop for milestone props and announcement signs for more ways you can turn those memories into physical reminders of your greatest keepsake – your babe!

Is there something still stopping you from creating milestone memories with your babe? Don’t have a photographer’s eye? Lack of time? Didn’t do them with your first? I missed out on so many shots when our boys were young, and that’s time we won’t get back. But the good news is that the milestones keep on coming! And thanks to the support of a few photographer friends, and a community of new mamas experimenting with their own cameras, the sky’s now the limit. If you have any questions, head to our contact page and send us a message, we’d love to help you connect with your wee one.



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