Photographer Nikki Cee’s first newborn photoshoot six years was a mess. The baby screamed throughout and snapping cute pictures of the infant was impossible. She felt defeated.
“It was a complete disaster, and I was like ‘OK I am never doing this again,’” the 33-year-old owner of N Cee Photography from Bowie, Maryland, told TODAY Parents.
But Cee always pushes herself (and she didn’t want to let an infant beat her) so she tried again. She researched how to get babies to sleep during photoshoots. She started with the easy stuff, placing them in baskets and swaddling them in blankets. When she felt like she mastered it, she introduced more creative touches. Then she staged her first elaborate backdrop: She sat a baby at a tiny school desk loaded with books. He wore a backpack and drooped over the desk, like a sleeping teen. She shared it online and suddenly it went viral.
“That is where it all started,” she explained. “Once I figured it out, I just started going on from there.”
Cee’s babies have been everything from Aladdin to the Fresh Prince of Bel Air to Black Panther to a burrito to fighter pilots to ice cream comes. Sometimes parents come in with ideas and she pushes herself to make the shoot as special as she can. But other times, she stumbles across a prop in a store and starts designing a scene.
“I don’t have a kid but I am always in the kids' section. I feel like ideas are made for me to find,” she said.
Just like when she found a copper bathtub and rubber duckies. She knew if she added some white fabric she’d have photo that looked like bathing babes. Other times pop culture sparks her creativity. When the “Ninja Turtles” movie was coming out she thought it would make for cute newborn photos. So she bought felt to make a turtle shell, a mask and a slice of pizza and searched for generic pizza boxes.
“What took me the longest was placing the baby on the pizza box and getting a good shot while not making the baby mad at me,” Cee said with a laugh.
Babies often get angry during photoshoots, but since her first disastrous attempt, Cee’s learned some tricks. She makes sure babies are “milk drunk” and uses white noise and heat to keep them drowsy. But her unflappability helps her the most.
“I have this weird amount of patience but it is only for kids and babies. If it is a shot I really want I will be very patient,” she said. “The baby runs the show. I just sit there and I cross my fingers.”
While she loves trying new, creative images, people often ask for replicas of their favorite pictures and she’s happy to help. She feels stunned by her pictures' viral popularity at times, but feels she’s learned about herself through her work.
“For the bulk of this business I have done it alone. It is not easy,” Cee said. “I have been referred to as the African-American Anne Geddes. But some days I wake up and I am just not creative. Constantly having to push myself and outdo myself shows me how strong I can be.”