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Photography Wed Oct 02 2013

Naja Lerus Photography: The Newborn Niche

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Have you ever just nonchalantly walked by or scrolled past a picture of a baby? Of course you haven't--you can't! But if you'd actually admit to being able to resist the urge to belt out an "Oooh!" or "Awww!" at the sight of a little one, report to 'The Wizard' immediately, Tin Man!

Photographs of babies are indeed automatic attention-grabbers; it is nearly impossible to see one and not gush or gasp out of pure excitement, no matter whose baby it is. For Chicago-based newborn photographer Naja Lerus, gushing and gasping are more than welcome; as a mom of three, she understands the emotions of new parenthood. "I know how important those first pictures are of your new baby. There is no love in the world like the love one feels for their new baby," said Lerus.

Lerus grew up in France and has now laid down roots in the Windy City. With a professional photography career that is just over three years old, she has photographed dozens of Chicagoland newborns and boasts a clientele that includes Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose and Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte. Here, Lerus discusses her passion for newborns, challenges on "the set," and photographing the babies of two major Chicago sports figures.

How did you get into photography; more specifically, how did newborn photography become your niche?

After the birth of my third child in 2010, I was always taking pictures at events family events and things like that, so I always had a love for the camera. After I had my daughter, I said, "Since I love this so much, why not turn it into a profession?" So I started doing weddings and things, but I really fell in love with newborn photography.

From perusing your website and your social media pages, it is very obvious that you are really passionate about newborn photography...

I am passionate and I am happy that it shows. It's just the newness of them--and just being a mother myself, I know how fast time flies, so the best time to photograph the babies is within the first ten days of life because they are so fresh out of the womb. They're just so tiny and perfect and innocent and I just love to turn these little "things" into art--I just love it!

Your clientele is rarely over 7 days old--why not a little older--say around, three months old or so?

I have had babies five days old and the latest would be three weeks old. It's best to keep it the earlier the better, only because the older they are, the more awake and alert they are. The "sleeping stage" is such a short window so it's best to get them early.

Newborns, of course, are very delicate--during the photo sessions, are some of the parents very hands on? How soon is it before they trust you, let their guard down, and just let you do your thing?

Prior to all of my sessions, I either meet with the parents or we do a maternity session prior to the actual newborn session; actually, I find that this makes the parents at ease because you really want to be able to trust the person that you are handing your child to. I explain to them that I have done many workshops on posing newborns so I really know what I am doing. I have a little seating area but I don't tell them they can't come in; sometimes they may wanna come in and take a peek and because I am a mom myself, I understand that and have no objections to it. But I find that really, the key is to meet the parents prior to the newborn sessions, because it just puts them immediately at ease with me.

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Are you your own artistic director, too? I noticed your cool props and that you collaborate and have business partnerships with maternity boutiques, professional knitters, etc.

I do believe in partnerships--it helps a lot. I find that the more I work with newborns, the more creativity comes out with the props, ideas, mixing and matching colors and things like that.

Do you receive or welcome creative input from parents? Or, if they suggest something that you don't think would necessarily enhance a scene, do you ever try to talk them out of it?

Sometimes, the parents will ask, "Do you think you'll like this?" And I'll say, "Well maybe this will go better." But these are their pictures and they're paying for their memories, and I definitely don't want them to have a memory of [for example], "Well, we wanted this hat, but the photographer said she didn't think it would look good." If they like the hat, I will definitely make whatever they have work. These are their memories--this is not for me--this is for them.

Even at such a young age, are there any major differences between boys and girls? Is your approach the same with either?

I have noticed the tiny ones, like the five- or six-pounders, are extremely feisty, but I still work with them just as well. But I've also noticed the girls are feistier than the boys; the boys are more 'chill', but the little girls are feisty! As you work with the babies, you know their personality more or less; some babies don't like to have their feet touched or some don't like their hands touched. So you kind of get in tune with them and you have to know how to handle each individual baby.

What challenges are there with photographing newborns?

Sometimes babies are gassy and colicky, so that's challenging because there's not much you can do. I'll just reschedule--which I have only had to do three to four times in my career--but that's okay. I don't want them to be in pain and want them to be as comfortable as possible. I usually allocate three hours for each session and those are not rushed at all. I take my time. If the session needs to go over three hours, that's fine, too, because I am just listening to the baby and what the baby's needs are.

Do you have any funny session moments you can share with us?

Oh let me see... Well, I pose babies in the nude, so one time, I was holding a baby boy and he peed right in my bra--I mean, it was a straight shot! [Laughs]. I have moments where I hold babies and they poop in my hand. I have a lot of funny stories, but I work with newborns--newborns with no clothes--so it's really something I'm used to.

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On your website, you write short blurbs about your sessions; with your photographs already speaking for themselves, do you write those blurbs just as something extra?

I just want to make sure I have a little back story with the picture and I like to always thank the parents for trusting me with their babies because it really means so much to me.

Speaking of your clientele, one of the babies you photographed just happens to be the son of none other than Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls--what was that session like?

When I saw him, I just fell in love. Within my career, I have never seen a baby with that much pretty hair. He was so squishy and lovable--I could've hugged him all day!

How did you meet him?

Derrick Rose's girlfriend [Mieka Reese]--I had actually photographed her cousin's babies the year before. I didn't know any of the "connection." I also photographed her best friend's twins, too, so it was just funny how that all came about--word of mouth worked its magic, I guess, and so that's how I was able to meet them.

When it comes to his personal life, Derrick Rose is usually, pardon the pun, guarded--how did you get him to share those photos of his son with the world?

Actually, I was really surprised because they had declined the model release and for his privacy, I totally understood. But when he actually released them on Twitter, I was so happy! I asked if I could share the ones that he shared and they agreed. I was so honored and appreciative; the baby is absolutely gorgeous, so I'm really happy they agreed to share.

You also recently photographed the newborn baby of Chicago Bears' running back Matt Forte--can you share a little bit about that session?

The Fortes are amazing and they are the nicest and most genuine people you ever want to meet. The session went well and their little girl was a dream to work with--I like to call her "my little sleepyhead." That session went so smoothly; I think I was done with her in less than three hours.

What's next for Naja Lerus Photography?

For now, I'm enjoying being a mom to my children, so that is my priority, but business-wise, I just want to see what this venture can bring me. I really truly love what I do--I want to see just what this love brings to me...


To view more adorable newborn images, be sure to visit Naja Lerus Photography or Facebook.

Photos courtesy of Naja Lerus Photography.

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Darryl Hammond / October 2, 2013 1:56 PM

As a fellow photographer, I really enjoyed this article. Great job, LaShawn Williams. Articles like this pushes me more and more.

Keith D / October 3, 2013 5:37 AM

Fantastic and beautiful shots of the babies. The first one is simply addorable :)

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

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Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
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