Where to Go for Professional Baby Photos on a Budget

It seems nothing is cuter than photographs of newborns (human or otherwise). Wait until the last minute to book a photo shoot, however, and you may find the options limited to an amateur or a professional with fees far outside your budget. Here's a tip for frugal parents-to-be: Schedule an appointment months in advance, especially if you have a particular photographer in mind.

Many people recommend taking newborn photos seven to 12 days after birth. As one poster on the Baby Center forum points out, this gives the baby's skin time to even out but still leave you with cute "sleepy" photos. Common spacing for follow-up shoots include three months, six months, and of course, the first birthday.

Choosing a Studio.

Although you'll probably be able to get some memorable candid shots at home, professional photographs lend a whole different look. The proper lighting, equipment, and a skilled photographer with tricks for getting infants to cooperate and placing newborns in safe poses, plus their ability to do post-shoot touch-ups and add special effects, is really what you're paying for. Options are limited when it comes to national chains, especially since Sears Portrait Studios went under in 2013.

Local studios and individual photographers often offer a variety of packages, from a simple set of printed photos to framed pictures, wrapped canvas prints, and CDs loaded with the entire shoot. If you opt for a CD, you can print the photos on your own or set them in a digital picture frame.

Photo studios at Target and JC Penney are run by Lifetouch Portrait Studios. Pricing is the same at both stores (always check online for coupons which can save you a bundle) but you may prefer one store over the other due to convenience or an available gift card. Single sheets start at $9.99 and there is a $9.99 per person sitting fee; a $29.99 membership waives sitting fees for the year. Reviews posted at sites like Yelp for various locations express overall satisfaction with the photo session and the results, with a few grumpy comments sprinkled here and there about things like feeling rushed and lackluster images.

Picture People operates in 34 states and offers a variety of photo packages. Individual sheets cost $18, which makes them a pricier option than Target or JC Penney, but customers generally have good things to say about this chain. A personal finance blogger reports that the service was convenient, friendly, reasonably priced, and the pictures were praiseworthy. He warns of the potential up-selling, however, and how hard it can be to say no to an adorable picture of your baby, no matter the cost.

Another option is to book directly with a local photographer. Although he or she may not have a full studio, they still bring the expertise and professional equipment. The sessions are often conducted at your home or somewhere outside, and some photographers bring along props. Hiring a photographer directly is often more costly because you'll need to pay for the session in addition to prints or CDs. Fees depend on location and photographer; one we found in San Antonio charges $125 for a newborn session while another in New York City charges $400 (some prints included). Always ask about the photographer's experience with baby photos and positioning (babies' necks are very weak and extra special care is required when setting up poses) and the props and lighting they use. And don't neglect to request references.

How to Plan for the Baby's Photo Shoot.

The chances of getting the results you want demands a bit of parental preparation. General advice posted online by others who have been through the process includes bringing simple clothing and a backup outfit in case of accidents (nude photos are quite acceptable in some circles), favorite toys or other objects you want in the picture, and possibly a cap or headband. If you want to be part of the picture, or at least have your hands seen holding the infant, dress appropriately. Schedule the photo shoot around the infant's normal nap and feeding times, if possible, and bring pacifiers, diapers, and comfort items like the favorite blanket. Lastly, avoid tight diapers, mittens, or socks prior to the shoot, as they can leave marks when removed.

Finding a Deal.

A comparison of the few national chains and local photographers showed that JC Penney and Target offered the cheapest options by far. Prices for a single sheet are 44 percent less than with Picture People, the main competitor, before accounting for promotions, which are always running. When we spoke with a Target representative she was quick to tell us about the current 40 percent-off coupon, a waived sitting fee for one person, and the different packages available. She also told us to keep an eye out for deals on Groupon and similar sites. A quick search on Yipit, an aggregator of Groupon-like sites, can help you quickly scope out what's available.