Life as a newborn photographer – Klara Valkounova

I met Klara from The Second Star Photography for the first time earlier this year, via a Whatsapp video call (that’s lockdown for you!). I was immediately struck by her warmth and commitment to her work and it’s been lovely to collaborate on Lockdown Babies Oxfordshire and our fabulous ‘new life from lockdown’ giveaway for Oxfordshire mums (details on my Facebook page). Here, I find out a little bit more about what makes Klara tick and a get some insights into her fantastic work as a family photographer.

What inspired you to get started in maternity, new born and family photography?.

This for me came as a complete coincidence. I used to specialize in pet photography and was asked by my friend if I would be able to photograph her friend’s baby. I started educating myself and learning about newborn photography and immediately fell in love with the genre. Newborn photography is one of the most challenging genres, as babies don’t listen to photographers instructions!. They are time consuming and everything is run by the baby, it takes a great patience and skill to pose a newborn – and I love a good challenge. Newborn photography as a specialist genre is also fairly new and it keeps evolving which is very exciting. It is also all about safety and preserving this short newborn chapter in families’ lives which is so fleeting yet so very life changing. I find it very humbling that families allow me to document this special moment in their lives. 

What I love most about maternity and newborn photography is the ability to preserve this short fleeting moment in families’ lives so they can remember it forever. Those teeny toes will soon grow and all the little details you fell in love with so hard when you first held your baby will change in the blink of an eye, but your maternity, newborn and family portraits are beautiful timeless reminders, a tangible memory to hold onto for years to come. 

 

Tell us a little about you and the story behind The Second Star Photography?.

I never dreamed about becoming a photographer. My dream career was to become an investigative journalist or a writer. I have always had a passion for photography, ever since I was little. I was incredibly lucky that my parents and grandparents were also passionate about photography and videography, not on a professional or even semi professional level, but they always had a camera or a video camera in their hand and so I am one of the fortunate souls that has boxes and boxes full of memories and printed photographs. I still remember the thrill when we received an envelope with developed film. That’s why I am so passionate about providing my clients with printed photographs, not just digitals. I know how incredibly precious these memories are and having them printed on a fine quality paper – or even better on a large piece of stunning wall art – with gorgeous rich colours and being able to physically feel the photograph is priceless.

I always ran around with disposable cameras, film cameras and digital cameras ever since early childhood, but it wasn’t until I was 18 that my passion really kick-started with my parents giving me my first DSLR as a graduation present. I started experimenting and playing around, learning about the settings and photography basics and fell deeper and deeper in love with this hobby of mine.

It wasn’t until 2017 that I started pursuing photography as anything other than a hobby. I would take photos of anything and everything, but I found particular interest in pet photography at the beginning of my journey. I spent many years playing around with my camera, learning how to operate it, trying new things, watching numerous hours of educational and training videos and studying other photographers work, but my passion for my niche, newborn photography, didn’t spark until 2017 when I was asked by a friend of mine to photograph her friend’s baby.

Is there a favourite photo session that sticks in your mind and why?.

It is very difficult to pick favourites because I love photographing every little client I photograph just the same. I have photographed so many babies and their powerful stories, it is hard to just pick one. But if I had to pick one that sticks out the most it would be one of my recent babies who was a beautiful rainbow baby and I got to incorporate some personal keepsakes the family had of their previous angel babies. It was very emotional and I feel incredibly humbled that the family chose me to capture their beautiful rainbow baby and that I was able to incorporate these special keepsakes so the little lady knows she has two guardian angels looking after her. 

What’s the most unusual, funny or surprising thing that’s happened during a photo shoot?.

When it comes to newborn photography, it is always great fun. I have been spit on, pooped on and peed on many times – it just comes with the job. Once fun memory I have is when I photographed a new baby girl and the family asked me if I could incorporate their cats as well – the cats were so very intrigued in the whole set and in fact posed really well for the camera, like real pros!. We had a great laugh photographing this – of course this was done as a composite (photographing certain elements of a photograph separately and merging them together to create a final piece) as working with animals can be unpredictable and safety of the baby is my top priority.

When is the best time for a new born photo session and what should parents expect?.

The ideal window for newborn portraits is between 5-14 days of age which is what we always try to aim for, but I know that this cannot always be achieved. Different babies have different needs. I usually advise that a full newborn session with my full newborn workflow is achievable within the first 3-4 weeks of the baby’s life, but the earlier the better. But I also have an option for those who missed out on this ideal full session newborn window – I have a swaddled mini session option for slightly older babies up to 8 weeks old. It is strongly recommended to book your newborn session during your 2nd trimester as many newborn photographers get booked up far in advance. Don’t leave it till the baby is here – you may risk that you won’t be able to get the photographs you want  from your chosen photographer because they simply won’t be able to squeeze your little one in their busy diaries. It is best to book during the 2nd trimester to allow your photographer to plan your session and also to ensure we can accommodate you as soon as your little one arrives. 

I always provide my clients with a thorough brochure detailing what they can expect in different stages of booking and the whole process, as well as a prep guide and other information and documents to help them feel relaxed and excited for their session. I know choosing a newborn photographer for your baby can be daunting and it is so important to feel comfortable and confident in the whole process and so I always ensure that I am 100% available for my clients to address any of their concerns and that I am upfront, providing materials to help them feel prepared and educated on what will happen during the session to put their mind at ease. 

As mentioned above, I generally recommend booking your newborn session during the 2nd trimester. I take a note of your estimated due date and pop it in my calendar,  but allow enough wiggle room as we all know that babies aren’t best known for their immaculate time keeping 🙂 Prior to your session and leading to your due date, I will be in touch to send you information brochures, pre-session questionnaires to find out what colours and styles you love.

Once your little one arrives, you will get in touch with me and we will set a date and time for the session. My sessions conveniently take place at my clients homes for comfort as I know that the first few weeks after birth can be very stressful and so I want to make things as easy as possible for new parents by bringing my mobile studio to you. I set up my equipment and when I am ready for your little one, I start gently working my magic.  My approach to newborn photography and posing is completely baby led and so I always work at individual baby’s pace, ensuring they are safe and comfortable the whole time. A typical newborn session can last anywhere between 2-4hrs, allowing plenty of time for cuddles, soothing, nappy changes and feeding. I like to get my clients involved in choosing headbands, bonnets and accessories they love for their little ones and strongly encourage parents to participate in parent and family portraits as well as these are always the most precious photographs from each session.

After the session is over, I aim to share a sneaky peek taster photograph within 48hrs of the session so parents can get excited for the remainder of their gallery and they can share it on social media with their loved ones should they wish. The full edited viewing gallery is usually ready within 2 weeks. Parents will get access to their private gallery when it is edited and they can choose which photographs they want as a part of their package, they can order wall art, prints, albums etc. Your purchased photographs and products will be hand delivered in a reveal session in the comfort of your home.

What gives you joy outside of work?.

I love reading, writing, exploring nature with my partner and our little Pomeranian, I enjoy music and love going to concerts and festivals with my partner, spending time with my family and traveling. 

Where’s your dream venue for a family photo session?. 

I love nature. Woods, fields, meadows – anywhere and everywhere. We are so lucky that the Oxfordshire countryside has so many stunning locations to offer. I don’t really have a dream venue, my main focus is getting families relaxed so they feel comfortable and confident to allow me to capture their genuine smiles, bond and emotion. A pretty venue is an added bonus, but when the connection and expressions are real, you can get some beautiful portraits anywhere. That’s why my approach to family photography is a little different than most photographers – I like to let kids be kids, be wild, I try to act like a fly on the wall, only gently guiding each family and giving prompts to trigger emotions, but not necessarily pose them as such as I think many times posed photographs end up looking fake and uncomfortable. I like to capture the real families, their happy memories and love, real emotions, real laughter and smiles, allowing them to make beautiful memories and documenting those for them in a relaxed way. 

What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?.

My first DSLR camera from my parents – it started my journey and my passion.

Klara’s 3 top tips on how to prepare for a wonderful new born photo session: 

  1. Book early – don’t leave it till baby is here, be prepared and book during your pregnancy so your session can go ahead as soon as your little one arrives
  2. Sit back, Relax & enjoy the experience – try to relax and not worry. Try to enjoy this experience. I know putting trust with your baby in somebody else’s hands is always worrying. I have a first aid paediatric course and years of experience with safely posing babies, so you can rest assured your baby is in good hands. I always work with babies and their individual abilities and what they are comfortable with. I will never push a baby to a certain pose to achieve “the shot”. Safety and comfort of your baby is my top priority – always. 
  3. Have nappies and milk ready – if you’re not breastfeeding, please have a bottle on standby in case your little one gets hungry. We will take frequent breaks if your baby gets peckish to ensure they are full and happy the whole time. If you choose to use a dummy, please have one handy as well, in case your little one needs some extra comfort during their session.

Contact

Get in touch with Klara Valkounova at The Second Star Photography, Bicester, Oxfordshire | 07940 238 283 | Instagram: @thesecondstarphotography | Facebook: @thesecondstarphotography | Email: thesecondstarphotography@gmail.com


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