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Baby photographs that are picture perfect

Billy Lewis Pierre, 5 days old at time

Billy Lewis Pierre, 5 days old at time of photo, son of Jeoan and Bryan Pierre of North Belmore. Photo Credit: Summer Lyn Photography

"Are you ready?" the woman asks her new client -- a newborn, fast asleep in his car seat on the floor of her Port Washington studio. "Come here, monkey," she coos, unfastening the straps and carefully lifting him into her arms. His parents stare on adoringly.

Over the next three hours, Summer Lyn Raddock strokes baby Rocco's forehead and cheeks. She hums, rocks, feeds and burps him. When nature calls (twice), she changes him.

Raddock is no au pair. She's a newborn photographer with patience of steel, who precisely molds baby bodies, fingers and toes into perfect poses.

She's "The Baby Whisperer," says Rocco's father, Timm Schroeder, 37, of Long Beach.

And he's not alone in that thinking. In less than two years, Raddock, 31, has photographed nearly 300 babies, carving out a reputation as one of Long Island's most sought-after newborn photographers. Expectant moms book sessions up to eight months in advance, penciling a sitting in just after their due date.

"You get your sonogram pictures and you call Summer," says Jeoan Pierre, 28, of North Bellmore, who signed up her son, Billy. "You don't call your mom first. You call Summer if you really want to get your photos."

Cop to photographer

"I never knew anything about photography," Raddock says matter-of-factly, sitting on a leather couch in her home studio, which is dotted with images of babies and children. She spent five years as an NYPD officer. That uniform -- complete with shield and gun -- is a far cry from today's ensemble of a T-shirt, jeans and flip-flops, hair swept into a loose ponytail.

While on maternity leave with her second daughter in the summer of 2008, the wife and mother of two began taking photos of friends and family. By winter, she'd launched a website.

"When people started hiring me, I was still shooting on auto," Raddock says. Criticism on photography forums prompted her to improve her technique. "I had no choice but to read books and learn my camera."

And she had to learn quickly to keep up with the demand. In the weeks leading up to her scheduled return to the force, she had lingering doubts, "I don't think I can go back to work. . . . It was a huge decision."

Now, she says she wouldn't have it any other way.

"What is not to like? I swear I will cry at every newborn session. Just like their little tiny fingers and their little lips -- and breast-feeding newborns get this little blister on their lip. It's like the cutest thing," says Raddock. "It's nice to be able to capture that for somebody; that can really embrace the miracle of having a baby."

Photographing babies

Raddock typically photographs 10 to 15 newborns a month -- many who are merely days old. It's not unusual for parents to call or text-message Raddock from the delivery room, hashing out a specific date and time to bring the new arrival to her studio. She normally does not photograph newborns more than 13 days old.

"That's when the babies are the sleepiest . . . you can do anything you want to with them," she says. "Beyond two weeks, they're really starting to stretch and building muscle tone. And then, there's the newborn acne thing and the colic thing."

Preparing for newborn sessions is like re-creating the womb. Raddock uses a space heater and a white noise machine, in addition to keeping her studio at 90 degrees. Her home office houses an assortment of accessories and props, from knitted hats and flowery headbands to an old milk crate and a wire egg basket.

Sessions average 2 1/2 to 3 hours, with breaks for feeding so the baby stays full, sleepy and pliable. "I've gotten to know what a sleep cycle is. . . . They'll go through the muscle-twitching stage of sleep and right after that stage of sleep is REM and then you can start touching them and molding them," she says. "You just learn this stuff."

For most poses, the babies are nestled on a large bean bag that's covered with layers of colorful blankets, absorbent cloths (for accidents) and a heating pad. She observes a newborn's reaction to signature poses such as being curled up in a scarf attached to a barely suspended faux branch that gives off the whole stork delivery effect.

At baby Rocco's session, new mom Sue Zenzerovic, 33, of Long Beach, was stunned to see Raddock spend several minutes positioning her son's arms and hands until he was able to hold up his own head.

"Oh, my God!" Zenzerovic shouted. "I can't take it. I just want to eat him up!"

Parents' reactions

Raddock's clients say they appreciate her close attention to detail -- peeling fingers, tiny nails, eyelashes, wrinkly toes, even hairy sideburns.

"When they're older and they're all grown up and they don't have these features anymore, you can look back at these photos," says Leah Makarius, 30, of Port Jefferson. "You can be a gifted photographer, but you can't fake having that connection to a newborn baby."

Nikon's consumer content specialist Diane Berkenfeld seemed to agree. Raddock's work was highlighted in the Learn and Explore section of Nikon's web site -- a designation only 10 to 20 photographers across the country experience annually.

"Her work is full of expression and emotion," Berkenfeld says. "We want to post photographs that educate and inspire others ... and her work definitely fit the bill to a tee."

Karen DeStefano, of Bethpage, was a bit nervous bringing her 15-day-old twins, Madison and AJ, along with her other daughter, Lindsey, for a photo shoot, thinking it might be chaotic "Once I saw her with the twins, my nerves faded away. She's very calm," says DeStefano, 32. "You just go there and you feel comfortable."

Of course, the sessions come with a cost. Raddock charges a $275 sitting fee for time, talent and post-production. Clients must purchase at least $300 in photos. Packages start at $1,000and go up to $2,100.

"It's a little prohibitive," says Michelle Valente, 37, of Centerport. "After you see the finished product . . . not only do we have the most beautiful photographs to display, but we have an amazing experience that we will never forget."

It's the kind of response that keeps Raddock going.

"To me, there's nothing better in the world than what I do," she says. "I totally scored."

Summer Lyn Photography

Specializing in maternity, newborn, child and family photography.

INFO: 516-241-1191, summerlynphotography.com

Tips from Summer Lyn Raddock for photographing newborns

1. WAIT FOR SLEEP: It's ideal to photograph a newborn while the baby is sleeping. Keeping the baby's stomach full will help him slumber soundly.

2. PATIENCE: Don't get frustrated - wait it out to get the shot that you really want.

3. ATMOSPHERE MATTERS: Keep the room as warm as possible by using a space heater to imitate the toasty feeling the baby was used to in the womb. Use a sound machine that makes womblike noises while photographing.

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