Photographing a birth is a great way to create a timeless keepsake of new life, and there are many precious moments and expressions to be captured. But that doesn’t mean that birth photography is simple or straightforward, so here are some birth photography tips to help you out if you’re thinking to document birth.
1. Make Sure You’re Emotionally Prepared
While the process of birth is amazing, it’s also extremely stressful and potentially gory. So here’s the first of our birth photography tips: If you’re not prepared to watch and photograph a painful and potentially life-threatening situation which comes with nudity, raw emotions, and uncertainty, then this line of photography may not be for you. It’s better to realize this beforehand and never book a birth than to run into last-minute panic which causes you to bail out on a client.
2. Choose The Right Gear
If you’re photographing a home birth or you’re at a birthing center, keep in mind the fact that lighting levels may be extremely low. If you’re at a hospital you may have more light to work with, but it may be harsh and unpleasantly direct.
Choosing a lens which can adapt to a wide variety of shots is smart during a fast birth, as you may not have time to swap out lenses. It’s also wise to use a lens which has a wide angle, as hospital rooms can be small and cramped. If you want to know more about how to take the best photos in a delivery room, we recommend reading our article on indoor photography tips and tricks.
3. Respect Hospital Staff
After you’ve arrived at the birth, introduce yourself to the nurses there, as well as any family members, doulas, or other people present for the birth. Let them know why you’re there, and that you’ll listen to their requests. Knowing why you’re there can help them do their job better, and they may even be able to give some birth photography tips or help you grab some awesome photos as well.
Furthermore, even if you have strong opinions about birthing choices, now is not the time to speak up. Let the mother and her partner make their own decisions with the help of their doctor or midwife, and keep any of your thoughts to yourself.
4. Learn Other Types of Photography First
The speed, intensity, and other challenges presented by birth photography make it less than optimal for beginning photographers. Even with tons of birth photography tips, it may be wise to hone your skills more first if you’re still not sure exactly why type of gear would be best for the conditions described above.
Low lighting, awkward angles, small spaces, high stress, and other aspects require you to already know how to use your camera, choose your lenses, and adjust for odd lighting and angles long before you show up for a birth. You can’t set up shots, give posing advice, or do-over anything during childbirth. No amount of birth photography tips can compensate for a poor understanding of your camera.
If you need some inspiration for the shots, you can also give our baby photography tips a try – but don’t forget to also ask the parents for ideas, since they will surely have specific frames in mind; which brings us to the next birth photography tip on this list:
5. Know Exactly What Your Client Expects Beforehand
While you may have time to chat with your client once her labor has begun, there’s a good chance she won’t want to discuss anything photography related by the time you arrive. This is why it’s important to know what’s expected of you long before actual labor begins.
Talk beforehand about what types of photos are important to her, and whether or not she has specific ideas about what she wants. Make sure you know when she’ll expect to get the photos back. Ask about her about her privacy wishes, and whether or not she’ll want you to use clever angles to hide nudity and blood, or whether she wants an uncensored style of delivery room photography. Some might even have specific needs like macro shots or black and white photos.
If you want to know more about different techniques in photographing a birth, you should check out our black and white photo tips.
6. Pack Your Gear Beforehand
Labor isn’t predictable and can begin at any hour of the day. For this reason, it’s smart to have your gear packed beforehand so that you’re able to leave as quickly as possible. Make sure you know how to get to the hospital or birthing center, and how to park and get to the right area with minimal delay. Babies don’t always take their time, so being prompt is important.
Keep your phone charged, on, and with you at all times, and avoid any areas with poor cell reception. Stay away from anyone who is ill or may be carrying germs–you don’t want to have to cancel due to illness, but you should never attend a birth if you’re feeling sick.
7. Prep Backup Gear
Here’s one of the more important birth photography tips. This is a once-in-a-lifetime event, so you don’t want to miss it due to faulty gear. Bring extra of everything, just in case something goes wrong. Extra batteries, a backup camera, extra memory–all of these can save you from screwing up the birth and missing precious childbirth photography opportunities.
8. Stay Out of the Way
With delivery room photography, your conduct matters. Ask the nurses or midwife where you can set your gear to keep it out of the way. Remember that you are the least necessary person in the room, as you are neither patient, family, or medical personal. Stay out of the way, stay quiet, and do your best to blend into the background while you’re doing your work. It’s better to miss a photo or two than to be an annoyance.
9. Be Ready to Wait
Even though some babies are born in an hour or less, many take far longer. Labor can stretch out to many hours or even days, so you’ll need to be prepared to wait. Bring snacks, charging cords, and books, handiwork, a laptop, or something else to occupy your time during those long hours.
10. Capture the Mundane
If the birth is a long and slow one, take time to photograph the quiet hours. Birth photography tips often highlight the whirlwind moments, but these are important too. Even though they may feel uneventful, they’re a big part of childbirth photography.
Take photos of anything the mother uses to stay calm, of the walks down hospital corridors, of her partner and family while they wait. While the busier moments can provide plenty of action shots, these quiet moments can add emotional depth to your work.
11. Follow the Baby
Once the baby has arrived, do your best to follow him and get several photos of his first moments, facial expressions, checkup, and the reaction his parents and family have to seeing him for the first time. These moments take place very quickly, so you’ll want to shoot quickly and frequently to capture all these memories.
Catch the first introductions later on as well, when other family and friends come to visit and get their first look at the baby. Their expressions and smiles upon first holding the baby can give you some awesome photos.
12. Expect the Unexpected
Even the most planned-out births can rapidly change once labor starts. A totally natural home birth can end up at a hospital with an emergency c-section. A birth planned for a hospital may take place at home before paramedics have a chance to arrive. While it’s impossible to prepare for every scenario beforehand, do your best to be as flexible as possible when doing labor and delivery photography.
Childbirth photography is a rewarding job to have, even if it is unpredictable and hectic. If you’ve got your own birth photography tips, or you’ve got questions about the skill, then share them below!