Birth Photography {And why you should consider doing it!}

I am surprised that birth photography is becoming more widespread and more popular. I didn’t realize that it wasn’t something that most photographers offered. I have been doing birth photography for people..well, since before I became a “professional” photographer.

I worked on labor and delivery for a long time. I was a doula for about 14 years. I attended home births and hospital births, and even water births. One of the things I always did was have the parents show me their camera before the baby was born so that I could take photos for them after the baby had arrived and they could just be “in the moment”. I felt that this enabled them to have those first bonding moments worry free and that their images would contain their family unit, not just mom holding the baby!

When I tell people that I do birth photography, it usually elicits one of two responses. The first is “Wow, that is so cool. I bet you have lots of great stories”. The second response is usually “Eeeewwww”. Yes, eeewww. (Some people don’t like anything medical!). The first time I heard that I was shocked. When I think of birth I don’t think of anything gross. Body fluids and blood don’t bother me, I have a pretty strong stomach.

My goal when I take these images is to capture those first few moments after the baby is born and to capture the welcoming of the new baby into their family. No matter how many babies I have witnessed being born, each birth has been unique. To me, that means something huge! That means that no two births I photograph will be the same. I might use some of the same concepts, but they won’t be the same. As an artist, that means I have to keep thinking and coming up with new ideas! Birth photography is a wonderful art. You are not posing people, you are not creating a stage to showcase them…it is life and it is unfolding before your very eyes. What could be more wonderful to capture?

Once I show some of the birth images to the people who said “Eeeewwwww” I usually get a great response. They usually get so wrapped up in seeing the newborn that their mind goes from the medical part of it all to the baby and family component, and that makes me smile!  I view birth as an event, not a medical procedure! It’s a celebration.

I usually only show black and white images on my website, because some people can’t take the sight of blood or anything like that. I also think it draws the attention to the subject of the image more. It conveys the day and it stirs emotions. No distracting colors, just straight and simple. I do give the parents the images in color and in black and white. Some images I love in color and might show a few that way too. It all just depends on the birth, the baby and how it all looks!

If you are thinking about birth photography,  I can tell you that it is a wonderful experience. The hours can be long, but the end result is amazing! There is no time table you can chart for how long you will be at a birth so you should make sure it is something you can commit to before jumping in. You will need to make sure you can clear your schedule fairly easy two weeks before the due date and two weeks after (they don’t like to come according to the schedule we give them!), make sure you have child care lined up for your own children, and if you work another job, you might need to be off work. You can also be working into the wee hours of the morning, so be prepared for whatever gets thrown your way!

Before the big day (just like shooting a wedding or any other important event), you should discuss ahead of time what images the parents might really want. Discuss what happens in the event that your client have a cesarean. The anesthesiologist is usually the one who decides who can go in the OR and who can’t. Make sure you have a back up plan for your client in the event you are not able to go back with them.

There are times that birth doesn’t go as planned and things happen. As photographers, we must be sensitive to the families and to the mother as things change. No one likes to think about those things, but as a birth photographer you should talk to your client ahead of time about the “what ifs”, but not in a scary way.  You can also take cues from them by watching their body language. You will be able to tell if something is making them uncomfortable. And sometimes, they do need private moments together. Don’t be afraid to give them that space.

The most important thing for you to realize that the day isn’t about you or what you envision for the shoot. Don’t drag lights in the room. Don’t use your flash. Crank up your ISO and let the moments happen. (I really love those grainy BW shots, because I know they were taken in low light and that it was the best light for Mom to relax and then once baby is born, it is what gets them to open up their eyes!). Take the “fly on the wall” approach. (I have seen photographers NOT do this and it makes everyone very uncomfortable when they start making the day about them and what they have done or their own births!) Remember that these images are about a precious newborn, and once that newborn has arrived, make sure you capture all the sweetness of him or her. Tiny little fingers and toes, little bitty ears, tufts of wispy hair on their head, big sleepy yawns, eyes opening and closing and taking in their new world, first cries, and those moments of being held for the first time by mom, dad, grandma and other family members. If you have children, you can probably remember almost everything about that day. As a birth photographer, I watched the events unfold and I can recall them just like they were yesterday.

Birth photography is one of the most special things you can offer a family. You are witnessing one of the most pivotal and life changing moments they will have. Honor those moments with respect, grace, compassion and love. Not only are those moments life changing for the family, but they will be for you as well. You will no longer just be the observer of the day, you become the storyteller for the family and for that child’s birth. It becomes an amazing gift for the child, the family and for you as well.

Here are just a few samples of some birth photography I have done. I love these images!

(I have to say I love the black and white one where mom is staring at her son. She had a cesarean and even though she couldn’t hold him or touch him, he was her focus.She was very in tune to him and where he was and what he was doing. Dad brought him over for her to give kisses and love to immediately. Precious moment!)

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