The Art of Birth Photography

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A couple months back I had saved enough of my doula money that I was able to make the move to upgrade my camera equipment. I had researched and talked to many birth photographers before selecting the camera body, and lens that I wanted to purchase. Everything came just a day or two before my client went into labor and I had just enough time to practice and be comfortable enough with using it in her birth. I was very pleased with the results. The thing is, I was still capturing beautiful births before on my older camera. In fact, I took a lot of pride in knowing the ins-and-outs of that camera and knew how to push it to the limit during birth. The point is that you can have the fanciest, newest, most spectacular camera out on the market but one must understand the art and technicalities of a birthing environment.

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Setting The Tone

I was a birth doula first. A lot of families find hiring me in both roles as their doula and photographer have huge benefits to their birthing space. Having honed in on what a positive birth environment looks like and what may or may not bother a laboring mother in birth is important. You don't want a photographer at your birth that messes up the vibe or oversteps her boundaries, nor do you want a photographer that takes "being a fly on the wall" too literal - afraid to get up close and capture the raw moments. A good birth photographer connects with her clients and knows how to make you comfortable when shooting your birth.

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Capturing The Emotions

Forget about the perfect settings, fancy camera, or where you are birthing. Birth photographers are not afraid to get close and intimate to capture the emotions of your birth. Capturing the emotions and feelings surrounding labor and birth are the most important aspect of your day. Knowing where to turn the camera in different moments in the birth can really separate the novice family member or friend from someone who is a professional photographer and particularly someone who specializes in birth.

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Finding The Details

When you rely on Dad, midwife, doula, or other family member/friend to take photography during the labor and birth process they are usually occupied with higher priority items like supporting you and your attending to your medical care. If they are given the task of taking some photography they are usually focusing on the big moments. All of the small details that shape and mold the memory of the day can easily be lost. Having an experienced birth photographer or documentary style photographer really allows your story to be told in great detail. We know that capturing the environment, atmosphere, and things used in the birth space is critical piece of the story.

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Prioritizing What's Important

A birth photographer needs to be quick, swift, and know how to think fast on her feet. There are a lot of slow moments in labor but when things start to kick into gear things can happen very quickly and this is the moment you will be quite happy you hired a professional to not get caught up or overwhelmed in the moment and know which shots to take and who to take them of. We are not perfect by any means and can miss a shot that a mom was really hoping for, but we are always thinking three steps ahead and are prioritizing what the most important shots are in the heat of the moment. 

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Understanding What's Going On

Having a knowledge of birth, and the rules of the environment you are stepping into is quite important. We are guests in someone's home or territory. You don't have to have given birth as a birth photographer to be a great birth photographer but it is pretty important to understand the stages of labor, what is normal, what mother's may feel or experience during birth, and the terms and procedures that may be talked about or done at the birth. You want someone who knows when to meet your family and how to be a positive factor in your birth space. Photographers who specialize in birth or who are doulas as well, such as myself, have a very solid knowledge of the birthing process and the unwritten rules of being in someone else's space - having good rapport with hospital or birth center staff.

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Working in Low Lights, Ugly Colored Rooms, and Medical Equipment

This is a pretty big one. It what separates birth photography from a lot of other forms of photography. Studio photography or portraits are are completely different world than documentary style photography. Nothing is staged and we often do not have ideal controlled lighting or equipment set up around the birth space. Most of the time everything we are capturing for you in the moment is attached to our hip. We have to learn how to take photos when the big overhead spotlight is turned on during pushing in the hospital. Babies love to come in the night and women find comfort while laboring in dim/dark settings. We have to learn how to embrace the beauty of grain, how to find the light, and learn the art of black and white photography. We can occasionally bring in some light such as flash, a lamp, or a let some light in through a window but we talk with our clients before labor to know what to expect and what they want allowed in their birth space. Hospital rooms are not exactly glamorous looking either. There is a lot of medical equipment to get around and yellowish awful walls that throw off the white balance (color) of the photos. Birth centers often are not any better with their funky colored birth spaces that can contrast our photos in awkward ways. Birth photographers are experts in difficult lighting situations, and fitting into tight or awkward spaces.

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It's a real investment to hire a real birth photographer. It is an investment not just for yourself but your child as well. Your child will someday ask you about the day he or she was born. It will not be a one time occurrence. It's a curious important event in your lifetime that you have no memory of. How amazing is it to share your child's birth story with them with the visual help of their first moments and the journey that got them there through photos and video. Photography on your child's birth day help you as parents remember much clearer the events that took place. They are priceless memories. Savor them and share them with your close friends and family. Freeing Dad or any family member of the duty of trying to take photos of that day allows them to enjoy the birth much more and not have the burden and stress of not taking a good photo. You can be assured that if you hire a birth photographer you will have the quality and expertise of a professional.