Cincy is Creative: Oh, baby! Former nanny earns respect for artistic portraits of babies & children

FORT THOMAS, Ky. - They may not hang in trendy art galleries, but professional portraits by a caring, well-trained photographer can be a spectacular way to document the miracle of new life and visually tell the story of milestones in the life of a family. 

Kacy Cierley

WHAT: Portrait photographer, specializing in newborns, babies, and toddlers
WHERE: Studio in Ft. Thomas, Ky.; shoots at outdoor sites throughout the Tri-State
LATEST: Newborn portrait of Riley Mehn
GREATEST: Baby feet close-up with parents’ wedding rings

Not all professional photographers know how to capture portraits of infants that exude warmth and personality. Many pictures of newborns look flat, cold, and clinical.

Portrait photographer Kacy Cierley understands the art of shooting beautiful baby portraits. At her studio in Ft. Thomas, and in outdoor locations throughout the Cincinnati area, Cierley specializes in creating contemporary portraits of expectant mothers, newborns, infants, toddlers and their families.

Cierley knows much patience and resourcefulness can be required to get exceptional photos of subjects who aren’t yet old enough to take suggestions or follow instructions. The former nanny loves being around babies and children, and is booked weeks in advance to shoot newborns. Many clients schedule follow-up shoots to record how much the baby has changed at three months, six months, nine months, and one year.

The sensitivity to get it right

Photographing newborns, infants, and toddlers requires empathy with both the parents and their babies. New parents want the world to see their new child the same way they do: as a precious, unique, and lovable little human.

On the other hand, newborns, infants, and toddlers are easily unnerved by the photo shoot:

“What are all these cameras, lights, and props? Why is everyone fussing over me, trying to get me to smile or laugh?”

Some babies can be coaxed into smiling. Other babies remain wary, no matter what silly human tricks the photographer and parents attempt.

“Every baby is completely different,” Cierley said. “I prefer newborns to be between 5 and 10 days old for their photo shoot, and absolutely no older than two weeks.”

After two week, babies have grown quite a bit, sleep a lot less and tend to get baby acne and very dry skin; not ideal for "newborn" photo shoots.

“It’s important to get them into the studio while they are still squishy and new and want to sleep a lot,” says Cierley said. Her goal is to have newborns sleep through the photo session so they can easily be posed. Of course it doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes part of the three-hour photo shoot is spent rocking the baby back to sleep.

From weddings to babies

Cierley earned a degree in photography from Antonelli College in Cincinnati in 2006. At that time, students mostly learned to shoot film for commercial, architectural, or editorial assignments. When brides-to-be called the school seeking wedding photographers, Cierley often took the job. After building a rapport with couples and delivering great wedding photos, Cierley was sometimes asked to shoot their babies.

Weddings require an entirely different skill set than photographing babies. But, Cierley quickly discovered she had a knack for baby portraits. More importantly, she loved doing it.

She has focused on doing it well. Each year she attends a national educational conference for portrait photographers or regional seminars that teach the nuances of artfully photographing babies.

During her first years as a photographer, Cierley worked the equivalent of two full-time jobs. In addition to spending many hours a week shooting for clients, she worked as a nanny or in office jobs.

By the end of 2011, she had gained enough confidence in her technical proficiency, people skills, and business knowledge to start focus exclusively on photography. It was a brave decision to make because it meant competing with photography enthusiasts or part-time professionals who didn’t have to earn enough to make a living at it.

Making a living

Today, Cierley shoots about 10 to 15 newborn sessions a month, accepting bookings from women who are about midway through their pregnancies. Many bookings come from expectant mothers who see Cierley’s captivating photographs in their friends’ Facebook feeds.

Cierley happily shares a studio space in Ft. Thomas with her friend Sarah Richardson of Sarah Anne Photography. The indoor location is perfect for the year-round shooting of newborns.

When the weather is nice, Cierley prefers photographing older babies, toddlers, and families outdoors in natural light. She schedules shoots in Ault Park, Sharon Woods, and other popular locations. Fall weekends are particularly busy as families start thinking about holiday cards and gifts.

Cierley appreciates it when parents trust her to use her own creative instincts to bring out the uniqueness of each

child. While it’s fine to bring a few photos from Pinterest for inspiration, most professional photographers aren’t eager to duplicate poses and settings created by someone else. Part of the photographer’s job is to help us see people, places, and things in a fresh and meaningful way.

Work that matters

Children’s portrait photography often doesn’t get the same respect as fine art photography or photojournalism. Yet, photographer Anne Geddes has sold more than 19 million books worldwide featuring images that convey the purity and vulnerability of infants. Babies evoke a sense of optimism and new beginnings.

Cierley knows her work is deeply valued by her clients and their families. She believes many new parents come to her studio because they realize, “their itty-bitty babies aren’t going to be itty-bitty forever, so capturing their first days is a work of art that they can cherish forever.”

She wishes she could have had such pretty pictures of herself as a newborn:

“Instead, I have one hospital photo where I have bruises on my face and swollen eyes.”

One of Cierley's clients, Ai Borchelt, said documenting “the belly to baby journey is priceless, and the first year is a totally magical year because babies go through so many milestones.”

Said another client, Katie Vogt:

“I love all the milestone pictures because the babies change so quickly and they will never be that age and exactly that way ever again. Going back and seeing all of the photos over the course of a year bring back little bits of personality that have already changed.”

Keisha White doesn’t have many pictures of herself as a child and wants things to be different for her son.

“I think he will get a kick out of looking back on the milestone photos once he is older. They are special memories that I’ll cherish forever.”

Connect with Kacy Cierley Photography

(Photos courtesy of Kacy Cierley Photography)

Follow WCPO Contributor Eileen Fritsch on Twitter: @EileenFritsch

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