Few things in this world are as joyous as welcoming a new baby. Seeing such a tiny and perfect little human being stirs emotions in everyone. It’s no wonder that there has been a significant rise in the number of photographers offering their services not only for pregnancy and newborn images, but for photographing the birth itself as a way to complete the story of that particular moment in time.
A Guide to Birth Photography
1. You are on Call
If you are interested in birth photography you will want to make sure that you have the time to set aside for it. Births can be short or they can be very long. There is no set time for them (not even with a cesarean because a doctor’s schedule can change if there is an emergency!). Make sure you have arranged for child care for your own children and that you can clear anything off your schedule if the need arises.
2. You Cannot Set the Scene
Nurses, doctors, techs, interns are all walking in and out of the room. You cannot ask them to stay out so you can set up the perfect shot. You have to just go with it and work within the space you have and around the people in the room.
3. No Flash Photography
Mom-to-be is working hard. Flash is a distraction. Enough said.
4. It’s not the time to Learn about Medicine or ask a lot of Questions
Asking questions about procedures, medications, or input of your opinions on childbirth or what they are doing is not necessary or needed. You are there to document, not to quiz medical professionals.
5. If at all possible, arrange to meet the Doctor before the actual Birth
Meeting the doctor ahead of time can give you an opportunity to talk to them and find out if they have any particular rules for photographing or recording labor and birth.
It also gives you a chance to talk to them about what happens if your client has a cesarean. Some doctors will arrange it with the anesthesiologist to get the photographer back into the OR in non-emergency cases. (In an emergency, you will not be allowed back there.). In most cases the anesthesiologist has the final say because you would be in their area to shoot. Don’t take it personally if they say no to a photographer in the OR. They are looking out for your client.
6. Have a back up plan in the event of a cesarean and you can’t go into the OR.
This means making sure you know where the nursery is and where your client will be brought to after delivery. The doctor will fill you in during your meeting about their standard protocol, but make sure you know where everything is once you are there.
7. Be Prepared for the Unexpected with Birth Photography
Babies pay no attention to your time frame, the doctor’s time frame, or anyone else’s. They come when they want to. Be ready for a short labor and be even more prepared for a long one. Make sure you have battery supply for your camera and your phone and extra memory cards. Make sure you have money for vending machines.
It’s better to have all of that and not need it as it is to not be prepared and find yourself on hour 13 and needing something to snack on and your camera battery has only 10% charge left!
8. Make sure that your Images are telling the Story of that Day
Flowers, balloons, visitors….they all help tell the story. Capture the moments that you think that they will want to remember. Even take a photo of the dry erase board where their nurse writes her name and their room number. They will want to remember their nurse’s name. If there is a shift change, take a new photo of it.
Record it until the baby is born. They may have a favorite nurse and you will help them remember her name. Some parents send thank you cards to the staff and it’s nice when they can include the names of the people who took care of them.
9. Remember that this Day is NOT about You
Don’t try to chat with everyone and make the focus of the day you. It’s easy to get consumed in the activity and not even realize that you have taken focus from the real star of the day….the mom-to-be. Let her know that you are there documenting everything she wants you to. That makes her job a little easier and allows her to focus.
10. Convert the images to black and white, but give them the color versions as well.
Give them color versions, but also black and white. The reason is very simple.
Some people do not like medical stuff. Some people can’t stand the sight or even the idea of blood, or even the vernix (that cheesy type substance that covers newborns).
When they put together their scrapbook for the birth, they might want black and white. Don’t let them be the ones to convert the images. Take control of the edits and make sure they have the images in black and white. They might use all the color ones, but give them the option. Make sure you capture the little details of the baby like toes and ears when you take the photographs as well.
Those are always loved and appreciated by the parents.
Birth photography is unlike portrait photography. You may not get everything perfect. People may walk into the shot. Someone may turn on a light or turn off a light. Things happen. The scene can move quickly.
Make sure you are prepared with camera in hand and make sure to expect the random things that may happen. Document the moments and learn from your experience. The next birth will be easier and you will gradually learn to adapt and easily navigate your way through the whole birthing process and tell better stories each time. Your clients will love you for it and you will grow as a photographer, an artist, and as a person with each moment you help bring to life.