8 Tips for Successful Birth Photography
Birth photography is on the rise and for that I am so thankful! The moments during labor, birth, and postpartum are so incredibly special. As a mother, you will remember a lot of the details from your perspective, but to have them immortalized in an artistic way is nothing short of priceless.
Recently, my dad and I were talking about this. We realized that back in 1985 when I was born, the only pictures that most people had of their newborn before leaving the hospital were the little ID picture every baby received so that the hospital staff didn’t mix up the babies, or snapshots taken by excited family members through a thick glass window. Needless to say, they’re pretty generic.
I have compiled these 8 tips to help you improve your birth photography; turning the generic into the unique. By remembering these tips you will create a priceless birth story that’s unlike any other. Whether you are a parent with a new baby on the way who’s planning on having a close friend or family member document the birth or you’re a professional photographer hoping to take the leap into the birth story realm, once you finish this article I promise you will end up with a gorgeous story to look back on for years to come. (Side note: Moms and dads, if you aren’t planning on hiring a professional, make sure to pass this article along to whomever you’ve chosen to document your birth!)
The first tip is geared more toward the soon-to-be-mommy.
1. Delegate a photographer early on.
When choosing you’re birth photographer, be sure it is someone you are comfortable having in the room with you. This will be a very vulnerable time for you and you don’t need any added stress or discomfort. If you are hiring a professional, do not hesitate to ask to schedule a consultation prior to booking. Most professionals will offer this free of charge. It’s just as important to a photographer that they mesh well with their clients as it is for you to get along with her!
Make sure to discuss the fact that you could be calling them at any time through the day or night. Most professionals will have it a contract stating that they will be on-call for the last few weeks of your pregnancy. No matter who you choose, be sure to keep them updated as your due date gets closer.
2. Get clearance from your doctor.
Be sure to speak with your doctor early on about having a photographer in the room during birth. If you’re the photographer, this responsibility lies in the hands of your clients, however you should make sure to remind your client that they should have it cleared by their doctor before moving forward.
As the parent, notify your doctor that you’ll have a photographer and ask if there are any specifics the photographer should know ahead of time. 99% of doctors won’t mind a photographer being in the room as long as they stay out of the way. As the photographer, please remember that, though you have been hired for a job, the doctors and nurses have the right of way, so to speak. Their job is much more important than yours. Respect them and they boundaries they’ve created and you will end up with great photos! I promise they will help you get the shots you need as long as you work with them when they need you to.
Also, I feel like I should mention one more important topic. C-sections. If a c-section happens, whether scheduled or not, you may not always be allowed into the OR. Some hospitals allow a photographer in the OR, but typically you won’t be able to take pictures until the baby is on the table under the heat lamp and being cleaned up. As a photographer, it’s a great idea to contact all of the local hospitals to find out their policy on this ahead of time so you all know what to expect from the get go.
Now that you have chose a photographer (or you have been hired!) and it has been cleared with the doctor, we can talk about the actual photos!
3. Details, details, details!
Can you tell I think details are important? That’s because they are! You’ll be reading a lot about details throughout this article! The details are what pull your birth story together. Without them you will end up with just a series of beautiful pictures. They’ll be nice enough, but the story won’t be complete.
Here are some important details to be sure to capture:
- The time you arrive at the hospital. Most hospital rooms will have clocks on the wall. Use that to your advantage!
- The clock periodically throughout labor so the viewers will have some sense of time.
- Baby/mommy heart rate monitor.
- Special treats to make labor a little more bearable. Things like ice chips, popsicles, mints, mom’s water bottle, her special stuffed animal or pillow, etc. Whatever mom has brought along to make things a little more comfortable.
- At some point (typically when you first arrive), make sure to get a good shot of the outside of the hospital and the room number. Keep in mind, though, it’s against HIPAA to photograph people entering or leaving the hospital so be sure to wait until the doors are clear of other people.
These are all just ideas to get your brain moving in the right direction. Take pictures of anything and everything that you feel adds to this family’s unique story!
4. Emotions and interaction!
Emotions and interaction are the most important aspects of birth photography. No matter if you have the top of the line camera and lenses, the ideal setting/lighting, or all of the knowledge in the world, if you don’t have that emotional connection and the interaction that creates those priceless moments, you don’t have a story worth telling. So more important than anything else, you make sure you are finding those moments! These will happen on their own. Just step back and watch the emotions start to unfold. You’ll see special moments between mom and dad, other family members that are there for support during labor, even interactions between the medical professionals and mom. Make sure to capture the interactions between everyone involved. They all are playing an important role in this new baby’s story!
Remember, if mom is in pain, don’t be shy, snap a shot. If dad is exhausted from being up all night awaiting his baby and he starts to doze off, don’t you dare put that camera down. These are all important pieces to the story. So make sure you get the shot of dad rubbing mom’s back, and holding her hand to comfort her. And don’t leave out the walk she takes down the hall or those few minutes of relaxing on the yoga ball to ease some of the pain.
5. Stand at the head of the bed!
Once active labor/pushing begins, I highly suggest standing at the head of the bed to be sure you’re out of the way of the medical staff. You’ll still be able to get good pictures of the baby taking her first breath without getting all up in mom’s business. A few key moments to try your best to capture are:
- Facial expressions of both mom and dad seeing their baby for the first time. Remember things will be moving a little fast, which means you need to be ready to either use a very wide angle lens to capture both expressions at once, or learn to pivot! My high school basketball skills come in handy these days!
- Dad cutting the umbilical cord.
- Mom and dad holding their baby for the first time.
Again, just go with the flow and follow that baby with your lens. Wherever baby is there will be magic that you don’t want to miss.
6. Measurements, bonding, and other details!
After baby is born, there are several pieces of the story you’ll want to be sure to add. Again, these are just to get your brain warmed up!
- Any interactions with the new baby.
- Baby getting her weight and other measurements, foot prints, as well as her first bath, if they do this right away. Some hospitals won’t give the baby a bath for several hours.
This is a great time to grab some details shots of the baby. Her adorable little feet and toes, hands, facial details, hair, etc. You should also be able to catch some awesome, intimate moments between dad and baby. Typically mom will still be in the bed or tub, but dad will come help keep the baby calm and begin bonding with her. Don’t miss capturing these priceless memories!
7. Portrait time!
Before wrapping things up, you’ll want to do a few shots of the baby alone, as well as one good family portrait of the parents, new baby, and any siblings if they’re in the room already. You can place the baby in her bed, on mom’s bed, or even in her parents’ arms and do some close up portraits of her. Babies grow so fast especially as newborns, they will change in the matter of a day or two. It’s easy to quickly forget what their little fingers, toes, noses, and mouths looked like when they first entered the world. So be sure to focus in on all of those details during “portrait” time as well!
8. No flash!
Lastly, if at all possible, do not use flash! This is so extremely important. Flash will be annoying and distracting to mom and the medical staff. The very last thing you want is to cause more stress to a laboring mother. And I have already touched on importance of becoming a friend of the staff.
The other reason it’s best not to use flash is that you are trying to document this story as realistically as possible. That means portraying the story as it actually happened, using only the available light in the room. If it’s a home birth and the only light is coming from candles, go with it.
I should mention that as a professional photographer, lighting is important and this is a topic that should be discussed with your clients well before labor. Make it clear to them that if they plan to use only candles, for example, the pictures will undoubtedly be very dark. Discuss with them how they will feel about turning on a couple of dim lights to help with the quality of their photos. If they are against the idea, then do your best to portray their birth story with the light you are given.
So that’s it! This is obviously just a few tips that I found most important in helping you feel more confident during your experience with birth photography. Your biggest lessons will be learned through raw experience. Don’t be afraid to jump in and start gaining experience. The more birth you attend, the better you will become at handling the unpredictability of labor and birth. If you incorporate all of these tips into your birth photography, I promise you will end up with a beautiful birth story that will be timeless and surely cherished forever!