A thrill of hope. Could any line better describe what the holiday season is supposed to be about?
As this year winds to a close, and we anticipate the awakening of the next, I wish you this: that you allow yourself the stillness and space to seek and experience a thrill of hope.
And a few favorite outtakes.
Suddenly my phone was lighting up with texts from the airline saying my flights the next day were likely to be canceled due to a winter storm and I should change my travel dates. There was no room for error with this trip; I had sandwiched it between two other cross-country trips and had planned to be gone just 12 hours total to get home to my own nursing baby. And now a winter storm threatened to derail the whole thing. I had to get to New York City to photograph the newborn son of my best friend, Rachel!
So I scrambled and pushed the flights back by a day. And when that day arrived, the storm had passed and the sky was a bright, brilliant blue—perfect for a natural light session. I hopped a sunrise flight up the coast, made it to the apartment by mid-morning, did the session, grabbed lunch, took a short stroll in Central Park and was on the ground in Chapel Hill by early evening. Despite the weather hiccup, it couldn't have gone more smoothly.
One of the best parts of being a newborn photographer is having the honor of witnessing some of the earliest moments of a baby's life. Of course I would have made a trip up to meet Max anyway, though it probably wouldn't have been when he was just a few days old. And getting to catch a glimpse of some of Rachel and Ben's first moments of parenthood—the joy and love and fear and everything else that goes along with this humbling transformation? Well, let's just say there were some tears on my flight home.
Above and below: Front and back of birth announcement
Below: More black and white favorites from Max's session.
To view more newborn and maternity lifestyle portraits, click here.
So what if it took me 3.5 months to post these 1-year shots of Piper? I met my goal of taking portraits each month for the first year. Maybe by the time she graduates from college, I'll print them in a baby book for her? Maybe.
Good thing I wrote a few words on her birthday, because now it's a blur, like everything else from the first year:
"And just like that, she turned 1. She has been a dreamy baby—exuberant, energetic, affectionate—and has brought so much joy to our family. Now I'm sitting here watching her feed herself Cheerios, drink from a cup and wreak silly havoc all over the house. So this is what it feels like to look in the rearview mirror and see our family's babyhood phase. We're leaving it behind quite tearfully (on my part), but oh how excited I am to see what the next year brings. Happy Birthday, sweet Piper Skye!"
A week after her birthday, she took her first steps. And then she started to run. And, oh my word, it's wild around here. I've completely lost track of when she started to say specific words, but a few of my favorites from real time as I'm writing are “turtle,” “yogurt,” “thank you” and “good girls.” Also “toot.”
Piper loves to be helpful. For example, when I fold the laundry and dole out the big girls' piles for them to put away, she demands to put away her own laundry, as well. This process entails her dragging me by the hand to the stairs while practically smothering herself with her pile of clothing, dropping every item so many times while trying to navigate the stairs that she eventually abandons them all, arriving at the top of the stairs and making a break for her sisters' Legos, then finally reaching her room, riding her rocking horse with a nervous smile plastered across her face, banging on her dresser drawer until I open it, standing on her tiptoes and shoving the laundry in. Then making another break for her sisters' rooms in an attempt to eat a crayon.
She adores Finn, our yellow lab. She flaps her hands and yells, "Buh-buh!" when she sees a butterfly. She shrieks "neighhh" at every horse she comes across. She climbs up on our lowest sofa by herself, where she "reads" book after book. Then she runs over and shoves a book at me, turns around, backs up and sits on me, even if I have not yet sat down to read. (Repeat, for hours.)
There is something else she does regularly, which I hesitate to put into writing. It's something we are quite unfamiliar with. It's something we never experienced with our first two kids. She sleeps! (Let's pretend she sleeps because of something we did, shall we?)
One of the neatest things about having a baby who is almost 4 and 5.5 years younger than her sisters is that we are all in awe of her, together. It's something we have in common—the adoration of this little creature. I was worried that since Cricket and Nora are inseparable and think of themselves as twins, Piper might be the odd one out being so much younger. But as it happens, she is this little twinkling star we find ourselves huddled around, just ooing and ahhing at her sweet and silly antics, taking in everything about her perfectly chubby baby self, together.
Our lives would be so much less ridiculous without you, Piper. We couldn't stand it! Happy Much-Belated 1st Birthday!
This spring I embarked on "Newborn Tour 2017." The tour involved crisscrossing the country—Minneapolis to New York to Berkeley—to meet and photo three babies—two nieces and my best friend's son—in a span of three weeks. Yes, it was exhausting, but it was the good kind of tired. I'll always remember those three weeks, because it was such an honor to be a part of some of the early moments of these three lives.
I spent April into May editing hundreds of photos and designing two birth announcements. And then, you know, life happened, and I'm just getting around to blogging some of my favorite images. I'm posting in the order of the trips and am excited to share the photos and birth announcement of my niece, Gwen, with you today.
(You might remember the session and birth announcement I did for her big brother, Theo, two years ago.)
If you follow my work, you know I feel strongly about creating portraits with meaningful context. Well, this time and place is one my sister and her family will never forget; I knew I had to capture it in these photos. Last winter, they were smack in the middle of a cross-country move. They had landed at my parents' house and, after a few houses they were pursuing fell through (we know all about that...), they were still staying at my parents' when Gwen made her debut. It certainly wasn't the plan, but it was kind of funny. And, of course, it was very comfortable and they were able to get plenty of help with the kids when the time came to move a few weeks later.
Often lifestyle portraits are taken in the parents' bedroom. But in this case, they were taken in the grandparents'! Their bedroom feels like it's in a treehouse, with a large bank of windows and window seat. As soon as I realized we'd be taking the photos at my parents' place, I knew those windows and window seat had to be involved. (You can see them on the front and back of the birth announcement.)
Above/below: Front/back of birth announcement
Below are a few images I loved but didn't make it onto the the birth announcement.
If you've ever participated in a newborn session with a 2-year-old sibling, you know the outtakes are pure gold. Let's be clear: my nephew is ridiculous. And I mean that in the best way ever.
Let's end with the moment when I asked him if I could take some photos of his gorgeous blue eyes. He happily agreed, scrambled up on the bed and did this:
I couldn't decide where to take Piper's 11-month photos. It seemed we'd used all her usual stomping grounds in the house, but the weather wasn't nice enough to be outside. And then I had a brilliant idea. I'd just keep my camera close for a day and snap photos here and there as she got into her usual trouble—always with a smile on her face.
I kid you not, 45 minutes later I had enough material for an entire book. The girl doesn't stop. Ever. These images, a small slice of the number I took in those 45 minutes, perfectly illustrate life with a mobile baby. And she's only one-third of the chaos around our house. There's a reason I probably haven't called you or been able to complete a sentence in the last 6.5 years.
This series is so ridiculous it calls for photo-by-photo narration. Let's start with someone leaving a bathroom door open, shall we? Ahh, the simple joy of toilet paper.
Time to help fold the laundry. Oh, wait. This basket is clean? I only like to throw around dirty laundry.
Just going to scavenge to see if anyone left crumbs lying around the kitchen floor now. Yep.
Found: Cheerio. It's a good day.
Checking my high chair for more scraps. Maybe I'll push it around the kitchen for a while?
The high chair got boring, so I decided to push this kitchen chair around the living room.
This stuff looks like it hasn't been washed yet, so I'll take it out and throw it around.
Jackpot! Mom left her phone lying around.
Time to crawl behind the furniture to make sure nothing interesting is happening back there.
Found a stay pacifier and Mom's leg to climb on.
Found: a good book in my room to nibble.
Just gotta flail around and laugh for a while.
Another open bathroom door? It's shaping up to be an excellent day.
A little hide-and-seek.
The other curtain!
What's going on out there?
Getting a little exercise on the dining room table jungle gym.
Time to water the bath tub.
I guess I'll play with an actual toy for a second.
Who put this gate on the stairs? Let me up. Now.
I get teary thinking about Piper's 1st birthday in April. Some parents just want to survive the chaos and sleeplessness of the first year, but I've actually found nurturing babies to be my strong suit. And since we expect Piper to be our last child...Wow. It hits me like a ton of bricks to think my baby-mama days are drawing to a close. The older women who stop you in the grocery store to tell you the days are long but the years are too short know what they're talking about. Expectant parents, take note!
Now for Piper's 10-month photos. This month she became an expert eater of Puffs, so I wanted to showcase the newfound skill in her session. I also wanted the session to take place on the back porch, since we were able to spend most of this warm, climate changey February outside in short sleeves.
In these photos, you'll see how proud Piper is to feed herself with that tiny pincer grasp. This stage could be summed up as " development at 100 miles per hour." Every day brings new motor skills, language and teething. She's getting dangerously close to walking. (Please, let us have a couple more months before she makes it official...) Her babbling is producing more words. For example, she loves to pull up at the window and watch our sweet yellow lab, Finn, while screaming, "Dog! Dog!" (Which sounds more like, "Daw! Daw!") She's also taken to calling Cricket "Kick" and Nora "Girl." I have no idea why she calls Nora "Girl," but it's hilarious. Her third tooth arrived painfully, and her fourth is about to cut through. Nights are always interesting and lively around here. Mornings, not so much.
The full weight of having three kids didn't hit me until Piper became mobile. My mom always says that's the case with a new baby, and she's right. I haven't accomplished much creatively over the last few months, but now I'm an experienced enough parent to know that another thing those older women in the grocery store say is also true: there is a season for everything. Right now, my season is raising three girls to be strong and good. Lord knows the world needs them to turn out that way.
As of today, I'm all caught up on posting my backlog of Piper's baby sessions. The location for her 9-month session was a no-brainer: outside in her first snowstorm. It was dark and snowing during these photos, and she had no idea what to make of it all. Mostly she just looked around in confusion, but she knew I wanted some smiles or I'd never put the camera down.
As usual, I can't remember anything that happened during this month and didn't write down any details. Poor third child. My Instagram feed tells me we celebrated Christmas, went on some hikes, played around the house and had a continuous and stacked string of colds. Piper continued to hone the following skills: eating puffs without choking and spitting them up, speed crawling, escaping up the stairway, babbling and making everyone laugh with her impressive baby jokes (for example, after she saw her sisters put underwear on their heads and run around laughing hysterically, she found a—thankfully clean—laundry basket a few days later, tossed a pair of underwear on her head and laughed and laughed until everyone noticed).
We went out for another play session in the snow as the sun was setting.
If Piper were my first born, I would be noting all her words and milestones to the day: funny things, developmental strides, activities we did, places we traveled. But she's my third. I've got to rely on photos and texts I sent to my family along the way to piece together her historical record: "She cut a tooth!" And: "She waved!"
According to these primary sources, Piper was doing the following at 7 months old: scooting and crawling around the house (preferably directly to any and all electrical outlets); waving and saying, "Hi!" (She's actually been doing those things for quite a while, but I can't remember when she started either); using her two bottom teeth to torture her mother during feedings, then laugh in her tortured mother's face; and telling jokes by shoving her pacifier and other toys all the way into her mouth or at funny angles until everyone is in hysterics. Somewhere along the way she became one of the girls. She and her sisters play busily and constantly all over the house together, and the distinction between the things the big girls can play and the things the baby can play are already beginning to blur. It amazes me how much they've doted on her since day one and how seamlessly they've incorporated her into their routines and games.
Lifestyle portraits: 8 months old in her crib + 6 tips for taking more memorable photos of your baby by creating context
Eight months was a time of transition for Piper. We moved her to her crib in her own room. After a few nights of watching on the monitor as she cried herself to sleep sitting up—hilarious—we had a night or two of okay sleep. We thought, "We've done it! She's a crib sleeper!" And then. Her first ear infection hit, and we've been spiraling downward on sleep ever since.
Piper has clearly entered the "full speed ahead" developmental phase; every new day brings new skills. Other than the constant string of colds and ear infections and not much sleep, life was pretty exciting at 8 months. She started to pull up on anything and everything. She was babbling up a storm and added "Mama" and "Dada" to her repertoire. She happily gobbled up her two little bowls of oatmeal and fruit puree each day. She began to crawl at unimaginable speeds, continued to play tricks to make us laugh and loved to grab contraband items like power cords and carbon monoxide detectors for attention. We can't get enough of her.
Since it's probably unrealistic for you to hire a professional photographer to take monthly portraits of your baby, I'd like to use this session to demonstrate how you can take more meaningful photos yourself just by creating context. What I mean by creating context is deliberately using every aspect of action/activity, setting and wardrobe to capture complete moments. It may sound complicated, but it doesn't need to be. The baby sessions of my girls take a few minutes of planning and about 5-10 minutes of shooting.
Here are six tips to help you create context for more memorable photos:
1. Identify a developmental milestone, activity or action that is representative of the month. What is something new the baby is doing? Is there a milestone this month that is fleeting, such as lying on her tummy and lifting a wobbly head? Since we created a crib non-sleeper this month, I wanted to capture Piper crawling around in her crib instead of sleeping in it.
2. Select a setting where this milestone, activity or action occurs. Here is where some of the artistry comes in. You want to find a place where the baby does this activity but that is bright and not too cluttered. If her favorite place to zoom around at full crawl is the dark basement playroom, think about her second or third favorite place. You need a lot of light to capture motion. Shooting outside will give you the most light. If you're inside and don't get a lot of light, consider opening an outside door and placing the baby in the light that streams in. Luckily Piper's room gets a lot of light.
3. Choose an outfit your child actually wears on a regular basis during this stage. In my favorite photos of my kids, they're wearing what I think of as their "uniforms" for that season—outfits they wear all the time that I want to remember them in. I don't buy fancy clothes for them for portraits that they don't wear regularly; I want the context to be accurate and meaningful. That said, you'll want to avoid clothing with cartoons or writing. Choose something you love to see them in that is simple, has some good texture and either coordinates well with the setting or gives a nice contrasting pop of color. For Piper's photos, I chose an outfit she wears just about every other day that I love and that also coordinates with her blueberry walls, white crib and pale pink sheets. I didn't want the outfit to distract or make the photos feel busy, but I wanted it to remind me of this phase.
4. Pick a time your baby is happy, and the light is bright. Photographers chase light, and you should too. But light is no good if it arrives at a time when the baby is fussy and uncooperative. Once you choose a location, keep an eye on the light in that space at different times of the day. Find a time that the space is filled with bright, indirect light and the baby is likely to be full of food, well rested and cooperative. Piper's room gets a lot of light, so I picked a time when the room would be bright but the light would be indirect, not glaring into the crib. We took these photos in the late morning when the light was right, and Piper had just woken up from a nap and eaten.
5. Prep the setting. You want your photos to represent the setting, but that doesn't mean it should be a mess. Even if you're typically buried in mounds of Legos and trains, you don't want the mess to overshadow the baby. Sure, if the activity you want to capture is the baby playing with a train, leave the train out. Just tuck away the extraneous clutter. We actually don't use Piper's room yet for much other than changing clothes and trying to convince her to sleep, so thankfully this corner didn't require tidying.
6. Take a variety of photos: close-up, pulled back, different angles, details. Creating context means not only shooting in a meaningful location, but also capturing important elements of that location so it's identifiable. If I had just taken close-ups of Piper's face, I'd never remember where she was when I looked at the photos a decade later. I wanted her to be able to see where she slept (or didn't sleep) when she was a baby. So I let her crawl around and pull up to her heart's delight while I got up close, walked all around the crib and crossed to the far side of the room. You can see the full crib and a bit of curtain in the most pulled back photo, and you can see the details of her eyes in the closest. (Make sure the eyes are in focus.) I used the crib bars to frame the shots in a variety of ways.
Good luck using these tips to create more meaningful photos of your baby! Feel free to tag me on Instagram or Facebook to show me your portraits.
I can't encourage you enough to take monthly portraits of your babies for at least the first year. I use these images to capture new developmental milestones, facial expressions or places we visited. Then I organize their baby books around the sessions and add some candids, so the books end up a mix of quality images and very real moments. I haven't actually started Piper's book yet...but when I do, it will be easy to start with the photos I've been sharing with you.
Now please excuse me while I inundate you with several more of these sessions as I catch up on posting. Piper was 6 months in these photos (though she'll be 9 months next week!). We take an annual fall Blue Ridge Mountain trip with my sister and her family, and this year we rented a house outside Blowing Rock, NC. Well, we thought we were just renting a house; we ended up with an entire private spiritual retreat center tucked into its own hollow (pronounced "holler" in these parts of Appalachia), complete with huge waterfalls and a creek wrapping around the property.
It was dreamy. The girls played with their cousins. The adults soaked in the quiet wherever the kids weren't playing. We hiked. We ate. We visited the town.
In our large family, there is never a lack of someone needing a little baby time. Piper always obliges. At 6 months, she was quite interactive, laughing her little cough-like laugh at anyone who would play, beginning to scoot around and sitting solidly. (At Piper's well check that month, the pediatrician tried to show her intern how 6-month-olds are usually unsteady while sitting, but Piper was sturdy and unflappable.) She also got her first tooth a week before turning 6 months. Let's call it a night to remember and leave it at that.
P.S. These shots don't capture the full glory of the waterfalls, because they are a ways behind her. The one in the back is several stories high and stunning.
P.P.S. For these photos, I dressed Piper in the same outfit Nora wore at this age for our holiday card photo that year.
I'm Julia Soplop, writer and photographer. I believe there is something profound in bearing witness to moments of joy and pain in others’ lives. My husband, three girls and I live outside of Chapel Hill, NC. You can read more about me here.