5 Foolproof Ways to Take Beautiful Newborn Photos & How One Mom Turned her Dream into a Reality
Photo Credit: @catalinaphotog - Mariliana, posing with her growing bump, in New York.
Mariliana Arvelo, Brooklyn-based photographer from Venezuela and owner of Stylish & Hip Kids photography studio, shares her valuable experience of navigating motherhood, pursuing her dream career, and beautifully combining her two different cultures.
1. Tell us about yourself in a nutshell. Where did you grow up? What did you study? Do you have any siblings? What was your childhood like? Where else did you live other than NYC?
I was born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela. I grew up with my parents and my two brothers and one sister in a neighborhood called El Cafetal because of the old coffee plantations. We had mango trees whose branches drooped with ripe fruit, and jasmine that greeted us when we entered. It was a great place to grow up. After high school though, I had the urge to get out and explore. I grew up dancing flamenco, so I left Venezuela and lived in Madrid, and from there I moved to Boston with my sister and her family. In Boston, I got a degree in photography and finally moved to NYC about 10 years ago.
2. You are so talented! Have you always been a photographer? What made you want to pursue photography?
Yes, I grew up with two passions, photography and flamenco. My mom took me to flamenco classes, and my dad and I would sit for hours looking at pictures in the National Geographic magazines he kept. He loved photography, and when I was a teenager, he gave me my first camera. Since then, I never stopped. In Boston, and when I first moved to New York, I was dancing professionally and building my photography business. As Stylish & Hip Kids Photography grew, I decided to focus on it and my other photography projects.
3. What do you find most exciting about photographing newborns, moms-to-be, and families?
I love the energy around my work. Photographing newborns is definitely an art of patience. They don’t care about your agenda of trying to capture a moment with the camera. They’re going to cry, or sleep, or do what they’re going to do. There’s something liberating in knowing that you can’t force it. My job is to think about space, light, and composition, and then to be present with the family and the child so that when the moments come, I’ve got them. A lot of photography with families is like a meditation. These pictures are so important. They’re the ones you come back to for lifetimes. We have old black and white pictures of my great-grandparents that someone took, and I smile to think that the pictures I take might similarly find their way in the hands of generations down the line.
4. Can you share your Top 5 Tips to take foolproof beautiful photos of babies?
- Use natural light by the window that is the best.
- No clutter!! Move everything that can show up in the background. Make it clean.
- Place the baby in a blanket and shoot from above. You might need a step stool.
- Don’t forget to do photos of the details, like the feet and little hands.
- Play with small props. Cute stuffed animals look good.
5. Share some of the funniest and/or most challenging photo sessions that you have been involved in and why? Dealing with little kids, pregnant women, newborns...you must have countless stories!
I’m not sure if this is the funniest story, but it was hilarious when it was happening. Aside from dancing flamenco, I studied a lot of contemporary dance. I find it funny to see how dance and movement slip their ways into my photography. I was doing a fashion shoot for a couple of kids brands, and I was working with four kids. I wanted them to stop posing, to really become part of the moment, and to feed off of each others’ energy. So I thought of a warm-up activity from contemporary dance, where you’re supposed to follow someone else around the room. It becomes a game of you following someone, someone following you, you splitting off to follow someone else, and all the while you’re exploring the space and the connection between the dancers. I threw that at the kids. They dug it, and forgot that they were doing a photoshoot for a moment. It especially drew out one of the girls who was a little younger and a little more shy, and it got us some gorgeous shots.
6. You recently photographed new mom, Aya Kanai, the Creative Director of Seventeen Magazine, who grew up in NYC with Japanese parents. As a mom who grew up in a different culture, what are your feelings about blending in your unique background while raising your own daughter in America?
It’s interesting and a challenge as well. My daughter is American (or a New Yorker?!), and after 15 years here, so am I. But, it’s important for us that she has a sense of history and culture, which includes Venezuela, but also my mom’s family that came to Venezuela from Lebanon, and her dad who came from California and has his own desires to share that experience with her. I often think how to combine the best of our worlds for my baby, and language is one of our big fronts. My husband and I speak to her 100% in Spanish, her nanny also speaks Spanish, and we have books in Spanish that my sister brought from Venezuela for her kids. We know that she’ll learn English when she goes to school, so we want to give her a strong foundation in Spanish now. We also eat Venezuelan and Lebanese food, and we dance merengue and salsa everyday. And of course she’s growing up in this exciting city and we do our best to take full advantage of it. We go to the playground and museums, where she gets opportunities to hang with kids and parents from all over the world. That’s what I love about NYC.
7. In your own work, you interact with so many moms-to-be, new moms, and families. What about your own experience of growing your family? What are some of the biggest surprises about being pregnant, giving birth, breastfeeding, and postpartum in general? Is there anything in particular that you feel like telling all of your not-yet-mommy friends right now? Your two cents about pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding/postpartum?
It took us a long time to get pregnant, and when it finally happened I was overjoyed. I stayed active, worked, and was swimming every week. I loved seeing my belly grow, and it felt like a miracle to have two hearts beating at the same time. It makes you feel like you have super powers! You are growing a human being inside you. It’s weird and awesome. The birth was fast and easy, but when she came out, my daughter had fluid in her lungs and couldn't breathe, and the doctors had to rush her to the intensive-care unit. That was one of the scariest moments of my life. She showed me she was a warrior from the start though.
Breastfeeding took weeks before I figured out how to do it well and so it stopped being painful. We watched lots of YouTube videos and had friends who were lactation consultants who were invaluable. Once the pieces of the puzzle came together, I started really enjoying it. I was lucky I was able to breastfeed Anaya until she was 15 months. I miss it!! The only thing I don’t miss was pumping. That, I hated.
Community, and talking with other moms going through the same situation, helped tremendously with postpartum feelings. When I was pregnant, I did a photoshoot of another mom-to-be that was having her second baby. She insisted that I join the Baby Hui group in my neighborhood. I found a great group of moms, and kids that my daughter is now growing up with. At the beginning, I felt weird talking to people I didn’t know in this online space, especially since being a new parent - things can get personal really quick. But it took no time for us all to become a strong amazing community. I remember so many of us chatting at 3am and 4am when the babies were up, crying or nursing. We were basically awake all the time and we had no clue what we were doing, all we knew was that we had this huge responsibility of taking care of these babies. We still talk and share fun stories, as we keep asking questions that concern us. With some of these moms, I’m sure we will always be friends.
8. Tell us how things have changed after Anaya was born? How do you manage to follow all of your passions: dancing, yoga, book clubs, traveling, work, and being a mom?
Things got better! She is often my lunch date and being with her makes me the happiest person in the world. I enjoy being a mom a lot more than what I thought I was going to. The book clubs I used to go to have now become storytelling in kids bookstores (I’m obsessed about how beautiful kids books are), traveling took a little pause with just doing closer trips to home, but I’m excited because we are ready for Europe by the end of the summer! For work, I’m fortunate to make my own schedule, I’m thankful that my husband’s job is flexible, and that he enjoys helping and being present for our daughter. I think it's very important for them to have their own time without me. Saturdays, while I’m at photoshoots, I know they are having a great time together, always looking for new things to explore and have fun. I’m also lucky because a few days in the week, we have help from a nanny that we love. It’s difficult for sure though. I have a lot less time to work in the daytime, I work more in the evenings and on the weekend than I would like, and I have to be super organized so I don’t waste my work time. It would be nice to have more time to hang out with my husband and to go to bed earlier. After a year and a half, we’ve slowly gotten back into a rhythm where dancing, yoga, and meditation happen every week, although at somewhat random hours and more at home than out in studios or clubs.
9. What has been your experience so far as a working mom? How do you juggle your work and family (and your other passions)? How has your perspective on working motherhood changed from pre-kids to post-kids?
There aren’t enough hours in the day to do all that I need to do, let alone what I want to do. It’s very difficult to find the balance. I need to keep working, and I love my work, but I also want to spend as much time as possible with my baby. Owning my own business means that I’m more flexible and that helps a lot, but it also means that the pressure is on to keep engaging and building relationships that are the foundation of the families I work with, and to do all of that with less time and less flexibility in my schedule. I’m with my daughter a lot, so I don’t know if I feel guilt-ridden, maybe just a little crazy at times.
What easily can go out the window though are those things that bring inspiration, like reading, traveling, art projects, or taking a dance class. I need to keep myself artistically inspired, because that keeps me believing in my work and enjoying it, and it also helps me be the type of mom I aspire to be. But it takes lots of discipline, because I’m always going to feel like I’m behind with work. I’m never going to finish what needs to be finished, so sometimes it can feel like I’m crazy to take an hour to read a book. Like I said though, we’ve slowly been figuring out how to work those things back into our lives. It also helps that our daughter is now taking longer naps and sleeping through the night.
10. You have been performing flamenco and modern dance in many theaters along with pursuing photography. Can you share more about your passion for dance? How did you get involved and what do you get out of the experience?
Since I was a little girl, my mom brought me to see flamenco shows. At the age of 10, she put me in ballet and flamenco classes, and I instantly knew that I wanted to pursue flamenco. I went every afternoon after school, I started to dance in companies all over. I went to Spain to study and dance, and I kept dancing with other companies in the States, and even traveled to Japan. Then about 8 years ago, I had to make a decision because I couldn’t keep dancing and photography with so much intensity. Making a living as a dancer in NY was amazing, but also tiring and often kept me out late because I’d be dancing in bars and restaurants. My photography business was growing, and the more attention I put towards it, the more I saw that it could be sustainable by itself, and still allow me to stay engaged in art and movement and many of the exploration of humanity that happens in dance.
Unfortunately though, I don’t dance much flamenco any more. It’s hard for me to be a casual flamenco dancer after so many years where it was my world. I notice too much where I’m rusty. Plus, flamenco is loud with lots of percussive stomping—not the dance that will endear you to your downstairs neighbor, so you need lots of studio time to practice. I’ll still go to a modern dance class from time to time, we dance a lot at home, and I try to get out to see flamenco when dancers come to town, like during the NYC Flamenco Festival.
11. In addition to being a mom, running your photography business, and dancing, you teach photography to seniors, cancer survivors, and HIV positive kids. What motivated you to get involved and what has this experience taught you?
A year after my dad passed away from cancer, a friend introduced me to The Creative Center. They are a wonderful non-profit that works with cancer survivors doing art workshops. I started teaching, and I fell in love with the program. In the class, I have people from all ages and social class. They all had cancer at some point in their lives, but what brings them together is photography and the desire of learning and telling stories through their images. I look forward to our yearly workshops. Teaching seniors has been another fulfilling experience. They became my family. And the workshop I did with HIV positive kids was when I went to Calcutta, India. My friends there organized it and it was an experience and memory I’ll have in my heart all my life.
12. You are a passionate person full of love, compassion, and dreams. What’s next for you and what are your dreams for Anaya?
Thank you for your sweet perception of me. Next, I hope to grow my little family from 3 to 4 people. Would love to have one more in our crew. My siblings are a fundamental part of my support system, and I would love for Anaya to have at least one sibling to grow together with. Dreams: To keep having small and big adventures, to enjoy subway rides to Jackson Heights for Indian food as much as trips in the countryside of Portugal. But honestly my biggest hope is to be able to raise kind, loving and compassionate kids.
13. As a working mom, what do you think a brand like Mitera means to fellow moms?
It feels good to feel pretty and stylish, a brand like Mitera spoils you with pieces that are beautiful and functional. Fashion can provide confidence, and Mitera does that. You can look gorgeous for work and also breastfeed your baby in the same outfit.