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Photographer captures newborns' first smiles

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Alayna Grace Crum recently slept through most of her modeling debut, as a professional photographer snapped numerous glamour shots of her in a fashionable floral outfit. The fact that she was less than two days old made the whole process quite remarkable.

At CAMC's Women and Children's Hospital, infant photos no longer are the mug-shot-looking pictures of the past.

Denise Burgess, director of obstetric services, said Our365, a national photography company, takes photos of every baby born into the 52-crib nursery. As the name implies, photos have been taken 365 days a year by a staff of four photographers since 2003.

"They even take pictures of our NICU babies," Burgess said. "The parents can see photos in the room -- they can dress the babies in the outfits they want.

"They are so good to our patients, the parents, and there are different packages so there's an affordable package for everyone. Each patient can have that memory," Burgess said.

As visitors enter little Alayna's room, they spot a sign hanging from the doorknob that reads, "Portrait Session in Progress."

Alayna and her mother, Brittany, and proud daddy Jonathan Crum all participated in the session. Photographer Joni Harless includes everyone in the photo shoot.

A former real estate agent who photographed houses, Harless made the switch to babies a year and a half ago and thoroughly enjoys capturing the newborns' sweet expressions.

"It's a dream job -- I play with babies all day," Harless said. She directs traffic in the hospital room cluttered with a bedside table, bassinet, nurses' cart and other paraphernalia.

"Daddy, you're my backdrop man," she says to Crum. "You stand on that side. I'll get her into place and happy." The photographer/baby whisperer cradles the newborn to calm her as she gets her into a good spot at the foot of mama's bed, ready to start snapping photos. Daddy holds a clean, white sheet up behind Alayna to block out the hospital atmosphere.

"OK Daddy, she's got her eyes open -- get that background ready," she urges. Little Alayna sighed as she settled back into sleep, napping through a peek-a-boo pose from under a special blanket.

Harless takes about 30 shots, and picks eight that she inserts into a pre-programmed slide show on her computer. Her cart, complete with large monitor and storage for the camera equipment, allows her flexibility to get to each room before baby leaves the hospital.

"It's my office on wheels," Harless quipped.

One of the couple's favorite pictures features tiny Alayna cradled in Crum's muscular, tattooed arms. Another shows Alayna cuddled in Brittany's arms as she places a gentle kiss on her daughter's head.

Once the couple has selected their favorite photos, there are many ways to share them -- a password-protected website allows visitors to see the photos and order prints. The photo sessions are free, with no obligation, and portrait products start at $17.95.

The slide show brought tears to Brittany's eyes as gentle music played in the background while beautifully composed photos of the family passed by.

"That was just awesome," Crum said, emotionally.

Reach Sara Busse at sara.busse@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.


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