People in Egypt became familiar with new-born photography in the 1990s through posters of infants photographed by renowned Australian photographer Anne Geddes. Today, this type of photography has found its way into many Egyptian homes, creating a new market for photographers, photography accessories, and clothes designers.
Even though the profession of new-born photographer began to spread in Egypt some time ago, it was not available in a way that allowed it to thrive until comparatively recently.
“I have struggled since I decided to specialise in this field seven years ago and have had difficulties finding the props I need for photo shoots and articulating the proportions and sizes I need for craftsmen,” said Yasmine Thabet, a professional new-born photographer in Cairo.
“For example, if I order a tiny bed to photograph an infant, the craftsman then promises to make it bigger so it will fit the child when he grows.”
“It has also been difficult to find photo-shoot clothes, accessories, and supplies, and I have had to buy them from abroad at exorbitant prices. I have also had to use items from my house, even dishes to put the babies in and photograph them.”
“Although the idea is more common now, I still have difficulty introducing parents to new-born photography,” Thabet explained. “For example, one mother approached me about photographing her infant at the age of six months. She wondered if his age was appropriate for photography or if she should wait.”
“The ideal time to photograph a new-born is between the ages of four and 11 days. After this period, the child’s nerves mature, which makes it prone to waking up at the slightest touch when I adjust his position during a photography session. That is why I always write down the age every time I post a picture to raise awareness among parents.”
“Another issue is that some of the positions in which the child is placed, such as the ‘potato-sack position,’ are only really suitable for children from four to 40 days old. However, a two-month-old baby may be bothered by swaddling or suffer from colic. In this case, we have to change our plans. If we want to photograph a baby lying on his stomach and then find it isn’t comfortable for him, we need to change the angle of the camera and the entire plan.”
“We may also try another idea because the baby can’t always do what the parents plan. For instance, some parents want their infant to hold onto its favourite toy, but when photographing the child, we find that it cannot clench its grip.”
Although photographing new-borns may appear simple, it is more complicated than other types of photography. “When dealing with children, the situation can be delicate,” said Heba Fattouh, a children’s photographer.
“There are numerous factors to consider regarding a child’s comfort and safety. I have to keep an eye on the child’s breathing and circulation during the shoot. I check the temperature of the baby’s limbs and nose to see if it needs additional warmth.”
“If the baby’s foot is turning slightly red in certain positions, this indicates that this posture places pressure on the foot, so I need to change it. At other times, someone need to hold the child in order to ensure its safety. In those circumstances, I edit the person’s hands out of the resulting pictures.”
Various issues should be addressed before the photo shoot starts. “Due to the baby’s young age, a photo session can be tense for the mother as well, as she does not want anything or anyone touching her new-born child. This means we need to set aside time for the mother and child to relax.”
“Moreover, if the child is only a few days old, I arrange for the photo shoot to take place at the baby’s home. I arrive with a large amount of equipment, including a heater to keep the new-born warm during the shoot. If the child is older, I ask the parents to show up an hour before the shoot to familiarise their baby with me and the location.”
photo: Yasmine Thabet
SKILLS: Photographing children requires additional skills and tricks to calm them down and communicate with them during a shoot.
“As a result of six years specialising in the field, I have acquired the experience necessary to capture a memorable picture of a child. There are specific techniques for handling a new-born at the age of two days, or a baby at the age of two months, for example. You can pat them on the back for distraction, so that they do not move their hands during shooting,” Fattouh said.
However, there are certain ages that are harder to deal with than others. For example, at three years old, children can walk freely, but are still too young to understand what is expected of them. “I benefit from the baby’s ability to move and interact with its surroundings at one year old. We might let the child act naturally by bringing a cake and capturing its reaction,” she added.
“My daughter was born during the coronavirus pandemic, and I couldn’t celebrate her arrival with my friends like I did with her sisters, so I decided to do a photo shoot for her. I saw a picture of a baby wearing a lace bodysuit and immediately wanted one for my daughter,” Rana Khaled, an assistant general manager and the mother of three children, said.
“Sometimes there are difficulties photographing two children together, such as during sibling photo sessions, as one of them might close their eyes or move suddenly. In this case, we assemble separate photos to get a complete picture that brings them all together,” Fattouh said.
“The photo session was fun and entertaining,” Adam Fattouh, 14, and Talia Fattouh, 10, recalled of a photo session for their infant sister.
“The coolest part is that the baby grows in size after one month, so these photos immortalise a memory that fades quickly,” Adam said. “It was better than I expected. The photographer was able to easily put my sister Nadia to sleep, and the photos turned out exactly as we had hoped. I always show them to my friends and relatives so that we can enjoy this memory together,” Talia added.
Doula Al-Shakankiri, an interior designer in Cairo, said that she “wanted to record that unforgettable moment for my children, and I made my older son Selim, who was five years old at the time, participate in the photo session with his new-born brother Ali. These were irreplaceable memories for both of them.”
Selim, now nine years old, recalls that: “I was sitting down holding my brother, and I remember him being very light. I have put the photos on my table, and every time I see them my mind instantly goes back to the day we took them. It was a fun experience,” he said.
Unlike adult photo sessions, children’s sessions are often unexpected. Sameh Yousri, a children’s photographer, said that “before photographing a child, I learn about the course of its usual day, so I get to know when it wakes up and what time it eats and so on, and accordingly we schedule the photo shoot.”
“Regardless of prior planning, each child naturally directs the session in its own way. Some children are natural explorers, so I give them things to examine and take pictures spontaneously, while others prefer to relax and can pose for pre-planned pictures,” Yousri added.
“A children’s photographer must be patient and skilled in dealing with children.”
“As a result of photographing children for the past seven years, I have grown accustomed to giving them space to move around and explore before the session. I also videotape the photo session and give it to the parents so that when the children are older, they can view it as a living memory and learn about their parents’ feelings and the circumstances surrounding the shoot,” he concluded.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 9 February, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly