A week after Riel was born I took her to my friend Sunny for a newborn photo session, and to take part in a short video for the Sunny S-H Photography website.
Aside from leaving the hospital, this was the first time Riel had been out into the world. It was also my first time out in more than seven days. I was both excited and nervous as I got her ready and packed her into her car seat. The notion that this baby was mine was one that was still so surreal as I walked out of the house with my jam-packed diaper bag around my shoulder and my teeny-tiny sleeping baby safely fastened in her little bucket, I felt shiny and on top of the world. I walked with a little bit of swagger, the same way a kid does when they get a new bike or something.
I had just made this perfect, tiny little human.
I was ready to show my little girl off to anyone and everyone. Seriously, picture that scene from the Lion King where that monkey, Rafiki, holds newborn Simba up at the edge of a peak, presenting him to the entire pride while the Circle of Life plays in the background. At that moment, and even sometimes now, that's what I want to do with my baby cub.
Given these strong instincts getting out of the house -- to a photographer's studio no less -- was a whole new level of exciting.
I drove about ten kilometres under the speed limit the whole way because I was so paranoid about getting into an accident. I glared at other drivers who passed me and I cursed at the ones who got too close. While it was a typical Saturday morning drive down Portage Avenue, on that day everyone around me was a menace in my eyes. I felt like I was navigating through a highway of disregard.
I white-knuckled it the entire way.
It's funny when you have your newborn baby in the car for the first time; suddenly the world is a whole lot more threatening and every other driver on the road is reckless. You have to navigate through the danger zone (which is the entire road) because you're the only one not driving like a jerk. Or at least that's how it feels. In hindsight it was probably me who was being the jerk with my slow and overly cautious driving.
When I got to the studio I was excited to see what Sunny would do with Riel.
Sunny and I have been friends for years, I've known her even before she became a professional photographer. I've seen her work evolve from good to outstanding, so I knew that the pictures would be beautiful. However, I was a little nervous about how Riel would respond to being dressed up, positioned, and photographed all afternoon. I barely knew my daughter at the time, so I couldn't even predict how she would react.
Sunny told me not to worry, we would work for as long as Riel would let us, stopping to feed or rock her back to sleep if need be. The key to making this entire shoot work was patience.
I was amazed at how comfortable Sunny was with my newborn. She was nurturing and gentle and she was a lot more confident with my baby than even I was at that point. She didn't flinch when Riel peed on her, or when she projectile pooped all over the beautiful rose coloured sheet she had been positioned on. Sunny just laughed like a veteran and claimed she'd seen worse.
I watched as she gently sculpted my sleeping daughter into each position like a artist does with clay. If you've ever tried to take pictures of a newborn baby, you'll know that positioning them isn't an easy task. Yet when Sunny did it, it seemed so simple, my daughter's little body melted into her touch. It was magic.
This wasn't even the first time Sunny had met Riel. She was there the night Riel was born, camera in hand, capturing what was undoubtedly the most important night of my life.
"Text me when the baby's here," she messaged when I went into labour. "I want you to have something more than cell phone pictures."
At the time I didn't realize just how important those images -- her images -- of that night would be.
Chris and I both had our cell phones ready, and we got some really great pictures immediately after Riel was born. But Sunny's pictures offer a different glimpse of the night, her pictures are raw, and beautiful and they're artistic. Looking through them now, two months later, I get emotional when I see my tiny daughter in her first hours of life.
We were really lucky that Sunny offered to do that for us.
Sitting in Sunny's studio, seven days after their first meeting, Riel had already changed so much. Unlike the first shoot, this one was choreographed with outfits and props and backdrops. Our photos turned out beautifully, and have since been printed off and framed, sent to friends, used for invitations and thank you cards, pasted in her baby book, and looked at about a thousand times.
I didn't mean for this blog post to be an ad for my friend Sunny if it comes across that way. She is a helluva a good photographer and Riel and I had a couple of amazing experiences with her, we are so lucky to have a friend like her. I wanted to share that.
If you can afford newborn photography from Sunny, or another photographer that you'd like to work with, I'd highly recommend investing in pictures for yourself and for your little one from when he or she grows up. If you can't afford it, and let's face it many of us can't, don't let that stop you from taking your own staged or candid photos.
My greatest advice to you is to just keep taking pictures of your children. Never stop, because they grow and they grow and they grow so quickly.