Everyone expected Aasavari to cry but the she lay silent and happy on her stomach on her father’s forearm, her tiny legs dangling. Her father Sagar Singh extended his arm as suggested by the photographer Arvind Shinde. From across the bed, the baby’s mother Priyanka Bhave placed her hands on Aasavari’s head, appearing to bless her. As the family of three held the pose and smiled, Shinde clicked away.
Aasavari, who was just two days old during this photo session in early June, remained blissfully unaware of Shinde’s camera. Shinde had lights strategically placed around the room so that he would not have to subject the new baby to a direct flash.
The location of the shoot was in the room at the the maternity hospital Cloudnine in Mumbai where Aasavari was born. Like many maternity hospitals, Cloudnine offers photo shoots as part of the range of maternity care services. The hospital chain, which has 15 maternity facilities across India, has a photo studio with a full-time photographer at each centre, Shinde being one of them.
“Today, pregnancies are very precious as parents have fewer children,” said Surinder Dang, regional director of Cloudnine Hospitals.
And many parents are keen to document every possible moment of their child’s arrival and growth. Singh for instance, was in the operating theatre with his camera during Aasavari’s birth.
“We were clicking her since she was born,” said Bhave.
With parents-to-be willing to spend money on professional photography of their newborns, hospitals are wooing expecting couples offering such services in-house. For instance, Cloudnine offers a photo shoot for free and even gives new parents two free photographs. If the couple wants more photographs, they have to pay about Rs 600 per extra photograph.
Freelance photographers who specialise in baby photography charge anywhere between Rs 20,000 and Rs 1 lakh for a photo shoot.
A decade ago, maternity hospitals looked like any other medical facility – green curtains and floors smelling of disinfectant. However, today private hospitals are focusing more on aesthetics.
“When it comes to pregnancy, the woman is a customer and not a patient,” said Dr Geetika Gangwani, business head of Fortis Mamma Mia, which calls itself a “unique concept which aspires to deliver full-fledged support to women during preconception, pregnancy and postpartum period”.
If earlier the most compelling reason to choose one hospital over another was the availability of a good doctors and the medical infrastructure, now the frills of maternity care are a major attraction.
“With the advent of boutique hospitals in India and the increased spending capacity of patients, healthcare is changing,” said Gangwani.
Maternity hospitals are now called “birthing centers” to avoid the word “hospital” and its association with illness. Most plush birthing centres have apparel stores with maternity and baby clothes and also toys.
Couples who go to Fortis Mamma Mia for their pregnancy care are given the option of taking yoga classes. The hospital also offers maternity photography services.
Namaha Hospital at Kandivali in Mumbai also offers baby photo shoots as a part of its maternity package. The rooms in the maternity ward are decorated with balloons to welcome and a photographer is prepped and at-hand to capture everything starting from the baby’s first yawn. Newborn photo sessions here are serious business.
“The photographers had got the costume and even dressed her up,” recalled Suvidha Hosabettu. Her newborn daughter had a bow encircling her tiny head during her photo shoot. She was wrapped in jute-like brown cloth, making it look like she was ensconced in a cocoon.
“It is alright to have balloons, photographers and cake cutting, but the focus of a hospital should remain in providing excellent medical care,” cautioned Dr Bhupendra Awasthi, a senior neonatologist from Mumbai’s Surya Mother and Child Care hospital. The hospital has just opened an in-house photo studio.
“These activities can still be done by some other agency but medical service is the primary duty of the hospital,” said Awasthi.
While you were sleeping...
Sanya Sundar is an independent photographer who specialises in baby photography. Sundar likes to take photos of newborns while they are sleeping.
“When they are sleeping, it is easy to curl them into poses,” she said.
Sundar used to practice for photoshoots by handling newborns at hospitals where her gynaecologist friends work. “I would just hold the babies to practice,” she said.
She likes shooting outside the hospital environs, preferring to experiment with backgrounds instead of using pre-made digital backgrounds inside a hospital room. “I do simple photography on couples who want day one photo shoot but if the baby is a few days old, I prefer creating a special backdrop.”
Shinde, who has been a photographer for more than 20 years, has his own formula for a successful baby photo shoot. “We ensure that the baby is well fed before the shoot, so it doesn’t start crying,” he said.
He also takes several shots at a time and will often digitally juxtapose them to create the final image.
“It is not easy to get a perfect shot as the baby can’t be always placed in a pose that the parents want,” said Shinde. “So, we click several pictures and edit them into one perfect image.”
Shinde finds that working inside the hospital is challenging and restrictive. However, he has discovered that one of the poses that work best is when the baby is on the father’s forearm – just the way he made Singh and Aasavari pose.
“The baby looks extremely tiny and beautiful at the same time,” he said.
In the times of social media
The popularity of baby photography is, unsurprisingly, driven by social media. Sundar gets most of her clients from her Facebook page and finds that most of her clients are keen to upload the photographs on social media platforms.
Said Shinde: “Because of whatsapp and Facebook, everyone wants good photographs to upload.”
Khyati Shah delivered her child at Cloudnine Hospital a year ago. She had one photo shoot two days before she went into labour. When her son Aviraaj was born, Shah and her husband got the photographer at the hospital to take nearly 100 photos of him. Shah has used each of these photos as her display picture on Whatsapp and said that. “If I don’t change the picture frequently, my relatives inquire,” she laughed.
The couple put in great effort for their baby’s newborn photo shoot.
“We got a relative to shop gender neutral clothes from the United States for the photo shoot,” said Shah. “We wanted the photos to be unique.”
Since the baby’s arrival, the Shahs have taken a photo every month at the same spot in their home and wearing colour-coordinated clothes. They have created an email account to which they send these photos. “We will give Aviraaj the password once he is old enough to access the account,” said Shah. “I hope he is thankful for our efforts. After all our lives revolve around photos.”