Birth photography tips for newbies.
First of all, I’d like to repeat some things I said on my Facebook group recently.
I was taking a walk today and thinking about when I first started my birth photography journey. I’ve also been looking through some past journals and just reflecting on how overwhelmed I felt, and how stressful it felt to put myself out there in front of people and put my work out there in front of people.
I remember always thinking, “What will people think?” no matter what kind of image I was posting. If people felt it was inappropriate I would let that affect me. And then there was the thought that I knew I wasn’t charging enough. I was just reflecting on all of those doubts and fears and things that I’d worry about, especially with a genre like birth photography.
As you guys are growing your businesses, I just want to encourage you that if you have this fire inside of you to do birth photography, I strongly believe there is a reason for that.
I know a lot of photographers who do not have that. They are not interested in birth photography. It is not something that they want. So if you have this desire inside of you, I really think there’s a reason for it. Don’t give up on that. Don’t let these interferences or these obstacles defeat you. Follow that passion and that drive that’s inside of you to keep going and really make this happen.
I just wanted to give you guys that little bit of encouragement because I was thinking about where I used to be and where I am now. Just continuously putting one foot in front of the other has really gotten me where I am today, which is having photographed over 100 births and actually turning clients away at this point because I take a limited number of births per month and per year. I remember those struggles of the early days though, so I just wanted to encourage you guys.
Now, Let’s jump into my top 5 birth photography tips for newbies.
Birth Photography Tips for Newbies
#1 Birth is unexpected, so prepare for everything.
This sounds self explanatory, but as a new birth photographer I want you to remember that you might get to a birth and think labor is going to go really fast, and it doesn’t. I’ve made this mistake before where I think that the birth is going to go really fast so I don’t grab snacks or any water, and then it ends up being 20 hours.
I highly recommend keeping a bag ready to go with snacks, clothes, a jacket and blanket (hospitals are notorious for being cold), chargers for all of your stuff and your phone, and backup equipment for everything. I want you to prepare to be there for 24 hours, so bring a toothbrush, face wash, and anything else you might need to be there for 24 hours.
Birth Photography Tips for Newbies
#2 Remember, you’re walking into a birth.
This is not a wedding. This is not a portrait session. This is a birth. You have no idea what the situation is going to be when you walk in there. Keep that in mind. You need to mentally prepare for the kind of situations you might be walking into, and remember that you’re at a birth. Treat it as the sacred event that it is.
- I slowly open the door. I peek in. I wait a second. I don’t speak until I’m spoken to. I don’t just bust in there like it’s a wedding or some other party or event.
- Try to be a fly on the wall. That’s what I really strive for, and that’s what I tell my clients. I don’t really speak until I’m spoken to. I sort of sit back, and sometimes when I first get there I’ll use a longer lens to get those detailed, up-close shots without having to actually be up close.
- Know the kinds of photos the mom wants before you get to the birth. The birth is a time when you should already know exactly what she’s expecting, and you should come in knowing what she wants because you’ve already talked about it, so you aren’t asking her a bunch of questions while she’s in labor. You already know who’s going to be there at the birth, if her family is in the waiting room, if she wants shots of placenta. Things like that are what you should talk about during the consultations.
Birth Photography Tips for Newbies
#3 Get the details, be artistic, and feel free to bring a shot list.
So, details. This is what really can make your images look artistic and what can really set you apart.
I’m always looking for little details of things that are unique to that birth. At a birth I attended earlier this year, the mom had a hospital cup and someone had written “mom” on it, so I got a shot of that with her belly in the background. Pay attention to those little details that are happening around you. Of course, there are things like equipment, the building outside, and the hallway. I’ve even gotten photos of moms texting. Usually she’s texting about labor, and I always thought it would be fun to look back on what cell phones looked like.
I also like to get baby details after baby is born. Little ears and fingers, a closeup of when they are measuring baby after the birth, and all that good stuff.
As a new birth photographer—and really even as an established photographer—it’s okay to have a shot list.
It’s okay to have an idea of what kind of images you want to want. Talk to mom, write it out and bring your list so you don’t forget anything.
In any situation I’m always varying my angles. For example, with mom laboring in a hospital bed, I can take a shot of that while I’m standing, but I can also crouch down, zoom in, zoom out, or stand up on something and shoot downward. Vary your angles in different situations, and that’s just going to give different perspectives and make everything more interesting.
Birth Photography Tips for Newbies
#4 Be ready for the “I Did It!” moment.
This is a big one. One thing that I wanted to be sure and touch on is that as a new birth photographer, being ready for the “I did it!” moment means a lot of different things, but just know that it might happen at a different time than you think.
Sometimes it doesn’t happen immediately after baby is born. Sometimes it happens 5, 10, or 20 seconds after, or even 5 minutes after. You know, mom has just been through a lot and she’s like, “Holy crap, I just had a baby!” and it might take her a few minutes to have this reaction. So don’t expect it to happen immediately after the baby is born.
Sometimes I’ll even say, “Hey! You did that! You just had a baby, good job mama!” and that’ll snap her out of it, and she’s like, “Oh, I did it!”
This is what I call the “I did it” moment. I don’t know if anyone else calls it that, but when I say that, you know what I mean.
Now, when you have a mom who’s having a natural birth, and even some that aren’t having a natural birth and are just in a position other than lying down, think about how baby’s going to come out and where mom is going to be for her “I did it” moment. For instance, if she’s having baby on her hands and knees and you’re behind her when baby comes out, you’re going to miss her reaction. Just be aware of those variables while she’s delivering. Is a nurse going to step in front of you and start wiping baby off? Be aware of that. Those are all things I learned through experience and through shooting a lot of births, so I wanted to tell you guys that so maybe you don’t have to learn the hard way.
So, above all things, be ready for the “I did it” moment. This is what birth photography is, this is what sells birth photography, and this is what moms think of when they think of birth photography. They’re interested in the rest of it, in the story of the labor, but this is what clients really want. At least, this is what my clients want.
Birth Photography Tips for Newbies
#5 Communicate with the staff/birth team.
This is super important as well. It’s especially important before mom gives birth that she checks with her doctor and makes sure it’s okay that a photographer is in the room. That’s really, really important. I always have my clients check and make sure the hospital doesn’t have any policies against it, and that the doctor doesn’t have any policies against it.
Beyond that, once I get to a birth, I introduce myself to the nurse, “Hi, I’m Tavia. I’m going to be taking pictures for so-and-so. I want to make sure I’m out of the way while still giving her great photos, so just let me know where I can stand.”
I want the staff to know we’re on the same team.
I want them to know I’m there to serve the mom just like they are. So I’ll just have a little pow-wow and say, “Hey, I’m Tavia, and here’s what I’m here to do. I’m not interested in being in the way, and I’m not interested in shooting when you don’t want me to shoot. I want us to work together to make this mom happy.”
Most of the time, the staff is cool with that. Just make sure communication is open. Same goes for a home birth team.
Bonus Tip: Get Sharp Images without Grain
Someone in my Facebook group asked me how to photograph births without getting a bunch of noise in your images. I know this was a big concern for me when I first started, especially since I shoot with a Canon Rebel which does not handle ISO noise super well. I thought that I needed to get a more expensive camera ASAP because that was going to make my images so much better.
I have two things to tell you about that, and neither one involves getting a new camera:
That’s what I’ve been doing for a couple of years now, and I know that it seems super scary to add a new element in, but don’t be afraid of it, and maybe try to play around with it. It really will enhance your images significantly.
I did a Facebook Live all about using flash, so you can go back and watch that. I would not use a pop-up flash though; I’d use a speed light or some sort of on-camera flash that you can rotate and bounce the light.
Thing number two is to slightly overexpose your image.
Instead of freaking out because it’s so dark and your image is kind of dark to begin with, go ahead and bump your ISO a little bit and lower your shutter speed a little bit to get more light in the actual image.
Overexpose your image just a little bit and you’re not going to see as much of the grain. The grain comes through when you when you shoot a stop too dark and you’re trying to lighten it while post-processing in Lightroom or Photoshop. When you’re trying to brighten it back up, that’s when the grain really comes through.
I got one of my favorite images during a home birth that was very, very dark. It was the middle of the night and there was maybe an overhead light on in the bathroom and a lamp, but the image was still quite sharp. My settings for this particular image were: ISO 320, f/3.2 (honestly more narrow than I usually shoot), and 1/200. I did use a flash in this image.
Just imagine the possibilities your life can have shooting birth at 320 ISO. It just opens a whole new world of possibilities.
Bonus Tip #2: Getting the Right Shots
Also in my Facebook group, I had a member say her biggest fear is not having the eye for creating beautiful images and capturing emotion and detail like she has the desire to.
The emotional, detailed images you see from me and other established birth photographers come from learned skills. That’s something you can practice and replicate. I’m not saying you should copy some of these images, but I’m saying that the more you do it, the easier it’s going to become. Also, don’t forget that shot list. I know it sounds cheesy, but if you have a shot list and you know what you want going into it, and you’re expecting the “I did it” moment and all those other things we’ve talked about, it’s going to be a lot easier to capture beautiful images.
So don’t be intimidated. Don’t feel like any birth photographer just goes in and automatically knows how to do it. They learn, they spend time analyzing birth photos and different situations, and they practice a lot. It’s a learned skill, so don’t feel intimidated.
I know that’s easier said than done, but it really is something that you can learn.
Q: I keep missing the “I did it” moment at the hospital because nurses are stepping in my way and covering the baby with blankets. Any way to avoid this?
A: A couple of things. One is you can get a small stool. Make sure it’s okay with the nurses, but you can get stools at places like Ross or Marshall’s that are small so they’re not in the way. That will get you up a little bit, which will help in hospital situations.
Another thing is, I stand almost on top of mom’s head, to the side a little bit, opposite of dad. So when the nurse is standing there, I’ll say, “Is it okay if I stand right here so I can get an image of mom?” When I say that, she’s more aware of stepping in front of me. If I don’t talk to her she’s less likely to think about me, but if I say, “Hey, here’s my goal, is this okay? Will this work out?” she’s more likely to be aware of me.
The wiping off of baby? There’s nothing you can do about that. They’re gonna come in, they’re gonna wipe off the baby, and the best thing you can do to combat that is to get a little stool.
Q: Do you pose at all or just capture what happens?
A: At the end of the birth, I try to get some kinda-posed images. I just follow the baby around. Wherever baby goes, I go, and I’m just ready for emotion or for things to happen.
At the very end I’ll try to get a family shot with everybody looking and smiling, especially if they don’t have a newborn session booked with me. I know from personal experience from my own children’s births that this is a huge regret of mine, so even if mom doesn’t want to, I kind of insist. I say, “You’re going to thank me later, you’re going to wish you had this. I know that you’re exhausted, but let’s just get this really, really quickly. I’ll make it fast and we’ll be done.”
If she insists further I will stop, but most moms are like, “Okay” and they really are happy later.
That’s it! As always, hit me up on Facebook if you have any questions at all!