By Carrie

Do you ever have questions that you want to ask to experts but you don’t have the time or you hate talking on the phone. Or you don’t want to ask questions because maybe you are a bit embarrassed to ask, either because you think the question is stupid or maybe too personal.

Me too. Even though, it is extremely hard to embarrass me, I do get shy about talking to experts. But I am curious and I wanted to help answer all of the questions that I see in the BCT Facebook Group and from yoga clients.

So, this Ask The Expert column was born!

I thought I would start this series by talking to a friendly face. Nicole Gustafson of Bear and Dragon Photography has photographed my family twice. We had newborn photos taken with her when my son, Miller, was about 6 weeks old and again at her bluebell mini-session last year. Recommendations for newborn photographers are one of the top questions that I see in the BCT Facebook Group, so I know that many of you would be interested in getting to know a newborn photographer better.


Carrie:            How did you get started in newborn and family photography?

Nicole:            I studied photography, really, my whole life. I loved taking pictures. In high school. I photographed a lot of live shows. I used to go to concerts with my camera, and there was so much motion and energy. That was something that I really enjoyed.

As I continued to study and practice photography, one thing I noticed is that when it came to what I loved to photograph, it always involved people. I wasn’t necessarily into nature photography or landscapes, that sort of thing. I just really enjoyed photographing people.

This continued as a hobby until after my daughter was born, and I was looking for a newborn photographer. I did not find one in Brussels that I liked. Then I learned someone would come to our room and take pictures. They did, and about six months later, they came to show me the photos in my home. I was pretty disappointed. It made me realise there was a real gap around the kind of photography that I was very interested in. I committed myself to developing that area, and about a year later I launched Bear and Dragon Photography.

Carrie:            Where did the name Bear and Dragon come from?

Nicole:            Bear is my husband. His name is Bjorn, which means bear in Swedish, and my maiden name is Drake, which means dragon in Swedish. We always joked that if he took my last name, he could be called Bear Dragon. Very cool, but instead we decided to name the business Bear and Dragon Photography.

Carrie:            What makes you passionate about working with pregnant women, and newborn babies, and families?

Nicole:             That’s a really interesting question. I have a life mission statement which is to make the world a more beautiful place. That applies on a lot of different levels, but very concretely to photography.

I love to create beautiful pictures, and I love people’s reaction to seeing them. It’s just so much fun for me, and when I do get to see how my clients use the work, it’s just that much more special. People share with me their birth announcement, or send me a picture of a picture on their wall. It feels amazing to realize that you’re a part of creating something that they will have forever, as a memory of their family, which is as personal as it gets.

That feeling keeps me going. My husband always says that it’s really annoying that my passion is also my work, because I never stop. We go on holiday, and I bring my camera. I love to photograph my children running around, and everything we do. He’s says, “Stop working!” but I can’t because this is what I love to do.

Carrie:            How many newborn sessions do you think you’ve done?

Nicole:             Maybe fifty, or sixty, something like that.

Carrie:             Okay, yes, so quite a lot.

Nicole:             Lots of new babies.

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Carrie:            Yes. They’re always in these beautiful. We all know that newborn babies are not just little angels, things happen. Have you ever had a diaper blowout, or something, in the middle of a newborn photo session?

Nicole:             Well, yes, definitely. I always feel bad just for the parent’s reaction because they are often embarrassed. To me, it is a totally normal part of the job and its expected. As a newborn photographer, you have layers of waterproofing and lots of towels handy. You have to be prepared for everything. Luckily, the blowout total crisis is not all that common.

Carrie:             I know for yoga sessions, people are always worried that their baby’s not going to be well-behaved. We know they’re not going to be.

Nicole:             Yes, babies are …

Carrie:             Babies are babies.

Nicole:             Yes, exactly.

Carrie:            Is that common that you just can’t get photos?

Nicole:             It’s really not that common. Some days, it’s just not that day for the baby, and especially early on. For example, when they have sore tummies, and they’re uncomfortable, there’s just no way around it.

There’s a lot that we can do about positioning, and that sort of thing, to make the best of the time that we have. Always, to me, the most important thing is that we get the photos. In your case, when Miller was upset in the first session, we didn’t get that. Then it is best to take a little break, take a deep breath, regroup, then come back on a different day.

It shouldn’t be stressful. The experience should be fun. Now I think experience has taught me, even more, how to read new babies, and what they need, and I would say you get better and better all the time.

Carrie:             Yes, and I can say from experience, you got good pictures of my son despite him …

Nicole:             Yes, we did get there in the end. ☺

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Carrie:            What’s the question you get the most from potential clients?

Nicole:             Once people have an understanding of the offerings of packages, and have gone down the route they want there, it’s always about what do we wear? What do we bring? My advice is always the same, wear what you’re comfortable in.

I do really recommend having fun with color, in particular, and creating a color palette for your session, taking into account the environment. My studio is very bright and white. In different seasons, outdoors can be very green, or in fall, very orange and yellow. It makes a huge difference.

One thing I’ve started recently advising people to do is to take time to prepare yourself for the session. As moms we make sure that we have super cute new outfits for the children, and they look amazing. Then we come to the day, and you realize I didn’t have any time to do something for myself. Just put on lipstick, okay, I’m ready to go.

I think it’s really fun for moms to take some time for themselves before a session. The kids are going to look amazing no matter what. I think it is really special when we spend more time on ourselves, get a new haircut, buy a fun outfit. Just to feel like I’m really proud of myself, and my pictures.

Carrie:             That’s so true.

Nicole:             I do it, too. I’m like, “All right, everything is perfect. Now what am I going to wear? Okay, I have this and this. Oh, it’s dirty. Okay, take this one.”

Carrie:            What is the best way for people to get their photos printed?

Nicole:             You know, there’s an incredible variation in quality out there, even amongst professional printers. A quick Google search will show a number of different comparisons, where they’ll send the same photo to eight places. It could be Shutterfly, and your guy down the street, and a super expensive one, going to Carrefour, or whatever.

You will see that the pictures just look completely different especially from a color persective. Brussels has a lot of different photo printers, but I only use one. It’s called JJ Micheli, and they are very, very professional.

They actually look at your pictures, and make adjustment to their printing process to bring out the best in the picture. They check it after, as well, so if they’re not happy, they will reprint it. They are very good, and they’re not that expensive. It’s a bit more expensive than a normal down the street printer, but you know you’re going to get what your picture really looks like. When you have it up on your wall for years and years, then it’s worth it to spend a bit more money for it.

Carrie:             Cool, yes. For pictures that I’m just going to stick in a photo album, or do people even do that anymore, I don’t know, but maybe I want to have some pictures printed to mail to grandma and grandpa in the U.S, or somewhere else. I mean, we should be sending them very high quality ones, but do you have anyone you use that’s lower quality …

Nicole:             I print at Shutterfly for individual small prints to my family. I’ve seen their photo books. They’re not as nice, but individual prints are fine.

I’ve heard a lot of people recommending PhotoBox here in Europe, as being easy to work with, and decent quality, good quality, but I haven’t had any personal experience with them.

Carrie:             That is important. People need to keep in mind when printing pictures, that you do pay for the quality.

Nicole:             One special thing about professional pictures is that there’s a lot of work that goes into getting the colors just right, and also very rich, and that’s where you get into trouble using a lower quality printer.

The saturation, or vibrance of the colors in a professional photo might fall outside of a normal color range within a lesser printer, and so they look funny. When you look on your picture on your computer screen, and then you look at it printed, you can see this red looks like that, but when I’m looking at it on the computer, it’s like this.

Carrie:             Yes, especially if you have a really good computer, that has an awesome screen.

Nicole:             The screens are amazing these days, so you’re getting a really rich picture on a computer, and then sometimes it just doesn’t translate to when you are looking at a physical print.

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Carrie:            Can you explain a little bit about the process of taking a picture and then delivering the final product the client?

Nicole:             It’s an interesting difference in what happens in a professional camera, versus a camera you might have at home. I shoot in a format called RAW, which is completely unedited. It’s just all the data of what I’m photographing.

Then I do a lot of making sure the exposure is correct, contrast, color, and white balance. These are the basics. Then when you take it to the next level, it’s a lot about skin tone, balancing the light, especially skin tone with babies because they’re often more red, or more yellow, if they’re still going through a little bit of jaundice. I spend a lot of time on that.

You can take your editing really far, and get these fantastical looking images. My personal style is to try and enhance what’s there, rather than having a lot of strong filers, or new colors that aren’t really existing within the photograph.

I really believe that what people want are their pictures, what they look like, just with a little bit more impact. That’s what I try to do. Not like you make the eyes so blue that though it’s amazing looking, but it’s not the color of the child’s eyes. I think you can go too far on those things.

Carrie:            Yes. What advice would you give to someone about picking a photographer?

Nicole:             I think there’s two pieces to it. One is, of course, the style of photography.

It’s easy for me to go through a mental list of the photographers in Brussels, and say, “Oh, well this person is more classic. This person is more candid. This person is really fashion.”

It’s just about your reaction to someone’s work. When you look at the website, do you want to see more of the photos? What kind of feeling does it give you when you look at them?

There are some really practical concerns about the cost, about whether or not digital images are included. I think most photographers in Brussels now do include that, but sometimes you may work with a photographer who wants you to only make prints through them, which can become very expensive, or if you want to have the digital files, then you have to pay a lot of money. It’s just good to know that up front. What’s the full picture of the financials.

The second one’s a little bit harder to gauge. It’s just about how the photographer interacts with you, and how willing they are to listen to your ideas, and make an experience just for you. That is what keeps you coming back to a photographer, but it’s harder to gauge on the first interaction with them.

I think that is why people ask a lot for recommendations, because you can’t gauge that just by looking at someone’s pictures. I notice that when people do comment, or recommend me, it’s equally as much because they love the pictures, but also because they feel I am easy to work with and I took care of their baby in a way that made them feel comfortable.

Carrie:            Why is photography, and family photography, important? Why should people make the investment.

Nicole:             I actually feel that photography is a luxury, not a necessity.

Carrie:             That’s true.

Nicole:             It’s wonderful to have those pictures. If there is a case for “you need to do this”, it’s just about getting everyone in the same frame for once, in a good way.

I can’t even say the number of moms who have said, “I’m always behind the camera. I’m in no pictures.” I think that there’s a certain strong case about getting in the picture, have some fun, be with your children.

Looking back at family photos gives you a very special feeling. We have this beautiful moment in our lives with our family, and it goes so fast. I hear from clients who tell me they look back at their pictures often, and just think, “Wow, amazing. This is us.”

Carrie:            Is there anything else that you want to tell people, or anything that I’ve forgotten?

Nicole:             I think if I had any advice just overall, I would say, once you choose your photographer, and you know it’s someone you like, and you trust them, just to relax and have fun. Put yourself into their hands, to make a great experience for you. It should be as fun as it is beautiful.

Carrie:            Awesome.

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If there is someone you would like me to interview for a future Ask The Expert column or a topic you are interested in learning more about, please email me at Or leave a comment below.