Swaddled newborns tend to doze through their first photo session at Kalispell Regional Medical Center, oblivious to the camera capturing the first images of their lives.
Photographer Dianne Dotter prides herself on her ability to “read” babies. She knows the nuances of documenting the details — from the infants’ ears to their toes — without a peep of protest.
Her recipe for success, she said, combines heat, white noise, a full tummy, a clean diaper and a proper snuggle in a cozy blanket, along with her 18 years of photography experience.
Dotter’s services are contracted by the hospital; photo sessions are included with new parents’ stay at the hospital when they deliver, and come with one complimentary print of their favorite photo of their newborn.
Her 30-minute sessions produce around 40 images for new parents to pore over. Parents with an especially sleepy baby may get a few extra shots. Soundly sleeping infants allow her to play with their positioning a bit more.
“It’s babies,” she added. “You never know what you’re going to get.”
Dotter fits as many new baby photo sessions into one day a week as she can, scheduling a session every 30 minutes.
A professional baby handler, Dotter estimated she’s photographed more than 1,000 infants over the last two years at the hospital and has only had to reschedule three sessions due to fussy infants.
Despite her tight schedule, she said she makes a point never to push the babies beyond their point of comfort for a photo.
She puts them only in natural poses, only opting for a tummy pose or occasional stretch with the sleepiest babies.
“The goal is for them to feel safe and be safe,” she said.
Most babies, she added, sleep as she snaps away with her camera, but some take a contented interest in her work.
“Happy and awake babies are my favorite,” she said. “I love the eye contact. It’s so much fun to kind of see into their little souls.”
Though few things top happy, playful babies, Dotter said one of the favorite parts of her job is working with new moms and seeing the delight and pride they take in their children.
“How many people can say their job always brings joy?” Dotter said, quoting her husband.
A photojournalist by trade, Dotter said she discovered after getting her degree that she preferred the artistic side of photography to the journalistic side.
When the contract at KRMC opened up two years ago, she was working as a family and event photographer, though her career included almost every type of photography.
Intrigued by the prospect, Dotter submitted her portfolio and became the new baby photographer for the hospital in the spring of 2017.
Since then, she has drawn on her background to document every tiny detail of the newborns she meets — eyelashes, fingernails, lips, noses and toes.
“I love that it is a way of doing art that you can also turn into a successful business,” Dotter said.
On the days not spent at the hospital, Dotter works as a full-time mother to her daughters, Lily, 7, and Emi, 4, sometimes practicing sleepy baby poses on her giggling girls.
Dotter’s oldest daughter, Lily, was born premature and spent time in the neonatal intensive-care unit (NICU) before going home.
After realizing she had no photographs from such a significant time in Lily’s life, Dotter decided to take advantage of her position at the hospital to serve other NICU parents.
When contacted by parents of struggling babies, Dotter takes her talents to the NICU to document their journey, providing photos to those parents free of charge.
She walks with the parents through the babies’ NICU graduation and then returns to photograph them in a normal newborn session when they reach full term.
Families that take advantage of Dotter’s newborn sessions at the hospital have the option of purchasing any or all of the photos she takes, in addition to the one complimentary print.
Thanks to the small editing time-frame for each photo and gallery, Dotter said she can offer parents special pricing through the hospital to help them keep the memories she captures.
“I think everybody should have at least one good photo of their baby when it’s small,” she said.
Though her time with each infant is limited, many return for one-year photos or hire Dotter to document other life events as they grow.
“People pay me to do what I like, which is amazing,” Dotter said, “and I get to meet wonderful people in the process. I get to watch babies grow up.”
For more information about Dotter’s photography, visit http://www.dolliphoto.com/ or call 406-490-4814.
Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.