Documenting Baby's Developmental Milestones. A Photographer Shares her Secrets.

Watching your child reach developmental milestones can be so exciting! With my first child, I treasured every new milestone and did my best to document his growth and achievements. Both on camera and in writing. We're adding another member to the family this summer, so I'll be going through the whole process again -- and I wanted to share some tips with you on documenting baby's developmental milestones through photographs.

How to photograph your baby's milestones, tips from a photographer

First of all, I need to give you my one caveat about trying to catch, or document, everything on camera. There is a trade-off between quality time and photo documentation. The more time you spend trying to take pictures of your little one, the less emotionally involved and engaged you will be with your child. It's just something that happens when you try to do two things at once. So, keep that in mind, and remember to experience your child's developmental milestones actively, rather than just trying to document them for sentimental purposes.

New babies don't do much, right? Well, that may be true, but they are so adorable it is easy to find things to document. I've broken baby's first year down into four segments, and covered some milestones you may want to photograph or capture on video. Just keep in mind that every baby is different developmentally; your child is not going to suffer in the long term if they chose to†march to a different tune.  As long as your pediatrician is happy with the things your baby is accomplishing, you're golden.

Newborn Milestones (<3 months)

How to photograph your baby's milestones, tips from a photographer

  • Physical Appearance - document the size of their tiny hands, feet, and facial features. These things change so rapidly as a baby grows that you will want photographs to remember just how small your child was as a newborn.
  • Smile - at some point, your baby will start smiling. Every parent is thrilled to see this milestone -- it can be hard to catch on camera at first. Make sure to smile at your baby often; they do often respond.
  • Head control -babies get control of their neck muscles in the first few months (to some extent, right?) It's always fun to see them finally starting to lift up and support that big noggin. Make sure to take some pictures, whether baby is on her tummy, or being held in someone's arms.
  • Grabbing - I was so excited to have a photograph of my son with the first toy he grasped and held (disclaimer, I did place it in his hand). You can photograph babies grabbing onto toys, or better yet, a loved one's fingers. Those pictures are adorable as they also document the small size of your child's hands.
  • Gnawing - babies bring things to their mouth to explore the world. It's a fact of life. So, make sure to document a few of those "hands-to-mouth" moments ...use your parental discretion on whether the object being "eaten" is safe though. Hands in the mouth always make cute pictures at this stage.
  • Reaching -at some point, babies will start reaching for things, trying to become mobile. These may be good photo opportunities, but again, use caution in what objects you use as motivation.

3-6 months - Baby Milestones

How to photograph your baby's milestones, tips from a photographer

  • Rolling over - you will want your camera ready when baby starts trying to roll over. I used the video feature on my camera to document one of my son's first attempts at rolling. It's just one of those things that doesn't get adequately captured with a still picture.
  • Baby talk - again, this is a milestone where you'll want to take video. I have a couple treasured video clips of my son happily babbling away -- there is no sweeter sound. Laughing is something you'll want to document too!
  • Hand control - ok, so grabbing as a milestone for the newborn phase may have been a little optimistic. At some point, babies will really grab and hold onto toys, moving them around. Make sure to take pictures of this stage.
  • Sitting - it is wonderful to see babies learn to control their bodies enough to stay upright and sitting. Take lots of photos, the upright but not mobile stage may not last too long, and now is the perfect opportunity to get nice snapshots of your little one when they can't get away from you.

6-9 months - Baby Milestones

How to photograph your baby's milestones, tips from a photographer

  • Crawling - whenever your baby becomes mobile, you'll want to document this milestone with at least several videos. It's so fun to watch them learn to scoot and crawl around the room. Plus, my chiropractor tells me crawling is essential for development of proper curvature in the spine. So encourage the crawling!
  • Response to words - at some point, your baby will respond to his name, your name (i.e. mama, dada) -- and these are always great to capture on camera -- especially if the words elicit a smile.
  • Clapping - babies are always learning new ways to use their hands. You will want to have a photo to document some of the adorable clapping that happens at this phase.
  • Standing - all babies are different, but when your baby starts to stand, make sure to take pictures. This developmental milestone is really exciting! And possibly traumatic for parents, who now have to baby-proof a whole new level of their home. Make sure to have a padded floor below your baby if you are trying to get her to stand on cue for the camera.

First Year Milestones (<1 year)

  • Sofa cruising / Walking - some babies are early walkers, others won't master this until months later. Whether they are sofa surfing or walking independently, make sure to document your child's newfound sense of balance and independence. Photos and videos together will give you the best documentation of this important milestone.
  • Word mastery - video is perfect for documenting your child's first words. If your little one starts talking (i.e. "mama" or "dada"), your heart will melt. Make sureto capture an audio memory of this developmental milestone.
  • Food - depending on when you start food, your child will begin to learn the art of self-feeding. We followed the baby-led weaning guidelines for introducing foods, so rather than using baby food we went straight to appropriate table foods. It's always fun to document babies feeding themselves, and the messes they make. Instead of getting upset about the messy face or high chair -- take a picture first! You'll find it adorable later.
  • Pointing - when babies start to point, you'll have an easy yet memorable photo opportunity. This one will be captured perfectly with a still camera, so†just engage your child and get them interested in something when you have a camera at the ready.

I'm sure there are many more milestones you can think of ...all worth documenting. Some photo opportunities will present themselves at random times, so I always stress the importance of being prepared with a camera. Now, whether that camera is on your phone, or an actual digital camera -- that's up to you.

Personally, I prefer the quality of pictures from my snapshot/pocket camera to what I can get with my phone. I admit, I don't always have a camera on me. Make do with what you have. If all you have is your smart phone, then use its camera or video feature to document your baby's developmental milestones. If you have your digital camera with you, then you're golden!

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How to photograph your baby's milestones, tips from a photographer

Betsy Finn is a portrait photographer who lives in Michigan with her husband, two boys, and two cats (Betsy's story). Her photographs have received international recognition. In 2011, the Professional Photographers of America named Betsy one of the top 10 emerging photographers in the country. Visit to Betsy's fine art and portrait photographs, or read as she blogs about parenting, capturing memories, and finding contentment in the journey of life. Follow Betsy on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, and Instagram.