NEWPORT NEWS, Va. - Before taking pictures of 10-day-old Fletcher, Julie Harberts turns on a portable heater, swaddles the newborn carefully and gently places him into a heart-shaped basket on her studio floor.
Her camera is safely around her neck and the baby is never more than an arm's reach away.
Harberts, who owns Purple Owl Photography, began taking newborn photos more than a decade ago. She says she's photographed thousands of babies, usually between 7-14 days old.
"I tell all my clients when they first come in, the baby is the boss and they’re going to tell us what they want, how they like to be posed," she says. "It’s a whole different ballgame. Just because someone can take beautiful wedding pictures or beautiful landscape pictures doesn’t mean they’re qualified to take newborn pictures."
Newborn photos have become more and more popular as of late and even though it might look easy, it can be dangerous for the child if someone tries it at home, untrained.
“I try once a year to go to some sort of training," Harberts says of the various workshops and online course she takes.
Sure, some poses can be cute as can be, but the final product doesn't always tell the full story, Harberts warns.
"There’s hands on the baby at all times, supporting head, chin, arms and then we move our hands in various positions and I take pictures and then merge them together in Photoshop," she said of the famous 'frog' pose. "You’ll see [babies] on all sorts of things; on the back of horses, or the back of motorcycles. These brand new little babies. Hopefully those shots were done safely and they were what we call composited in Photoshop.”
An inexperienced or amateur photographer might not know this and could end up injuring the baby or cutting off their airway. Doctors say babies this small don't always have the motor skills to get out of these positions.
Harberts says that's why it's important to interview prospective photographers before booking a newborn session.
"Take a look at their studio, their space. Is it clean? Do they have what they need to photograph a newborn? Ask them how their sessions run. How do they prepare? Do they have a heated space," she said. “Ask questions like, 'how long have you been in business? How many newborns have you photographed? What kind of experience do you have specifically photographing newborns?'".
These are the important questions that can keep a joyous occasion from turning dangerous.