New photographers sometimes jump in and photograph everything they can. They will photograph a wedding one-day and commercial real estate on another. It isn’t until later on that they realize the importance of finding their niche and concentrating on the things that fuel their art and their passion and still manage to pay their bills.
Life can bring you lessons you didn’t even know you needed to be taught. I have been present as a photographer in hospital situations and you have to expect the unexpected. Whether it’s shooting images at a birth or documenting a medical procedure for a family, you should always be prepared for things to change.
If you are planning on being a birth photographer, not only is it important for you to discuss expectations from your client, but you should also find out what the doctor and hospital will allow. Your client might want you to photograph parts of the delivery, but the hospital or doctor may have very strict rules about photography. Births aren’t always smooth, quick, and without drama. You might plan on being at a birth for a few hours, but if labor stalls, you might be there longer. Expect the unexpected.
If you are allowed to photograph the birth you should be mindful of the doctor, the nurses, and all the other hospital staff that need to be in the room to take care of your client and the baby. Your job is to document, not to be in the way.
If complications arise and there is a need to go to the OR for a cesarean, make sure that your client has discussed this possibility with the doctor. The doctor and the anesthesiologist have the final say so as to whether or not you can go back with your client. Be polite and respectful. If you can’t go back to the OR, make plans to photograph the baby as soon as possible so that your client can still have those early moments recorded.
If you are allowed back in the OR, ask the anesthesiologist about where you can shoot from. Don’t badger them with questions and chitchat. Don’t try shooting over the screen to get shots of the surgery itself.
Once the baby is born just remember to keep documenting those moments. Mom is missing out on some of those and Dad might need to be with her. Don’t forget to capture the interactions of the new baby when they bring him or her over to Mom for the first time.
Learning to expect the unexpected has helped me when doing more photojournalism type shoots as well. Most recently I was hired to help a family document their six-year-old son’s Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy surgery. Surgery time was pushed back a bit and then waiting time was also pushed back. There was a lot of waiting.
After his surgery he did a lot of sleeping. There was a lot of pacing and worrying from family members and from me as well. His parents just wanted to stick close by and be there in case he woke up. They talked to him, they held his hand and they waited.
I shot images during his first time getting out of bed, his first time in physical therapy, and his first time crawling and standing after his surgery. Some of the moments when he was crying were so difficult for me, but I had to remind myself to keep documenting this for him and his parents to look back on. Lighting changed. People walked in. People walked out. He was awake. He slept. The situation changed routinely, but what was expected of me didn’t.
For some photographers shooting in a hospital setting might not be ideal, but I can tell you from personal experience that helping families to document their lives is one of the most rewarding types of photography you can do.
Stepping outside of your comfort zone can bring you a new awareness of the world around you and remind you of how wonderful photography can be to document life events. It will physically and emotionally challenge you. You will have to learn to move fast. You will have to learn that sometimes the shot doesn’t have to be technically perfect to tell the story. It’s very different than portrait photography because you aren’t in control of everything. You have to learn to give up some of that control and trust your instincts. Capturing those moments are such a precious gift you are giving to your clients, and you will reap the rewards by adding to your skill-set for future endeavors.