Capture Labour in the Best Light
Whenever I mention to anyone that I work in birth photography, I am met with one of two responses: either a scrunched up nose and a shake of the head ‘Oh, no I couldn’t do that’, or a smile, and ‘I wish I had had a birth photographer’. The birth element of birth photography is just one part of the story, that happens in an instant. Capturing the story of labour as it unfolds however, is just as important.
With my first child I would not even have entertained the idea of a birth photographer. I was not sure what to expect and I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of having my Mum in the same room, let alone a photographer. My second was born quickly, and almost in the car park. With my third, I looked into a photographer but couldn’t find any close to us, or within our price range. As it happens, my Mum was in the room when my third was born and I couldn’t have done it without her. It is, however, a regret of mine when I look back at those out of focus, grainy images that I didn’t have a photographer present. I missed key moments, and the first photos are a few hours old. But taking photos wasn’t my priority, giving birth was.
Perhaps like me, you would love to have a photographer present but maybe you don’t feel comfortable. Or maybe the birth happens so fast, a photographer cannot make it in time. Then there a few tricks to help capture those precious shots.
Prepare for the Unexpected
The most important factor to remember when photographing a birth, is be prepared for the unexpected. You need to be able to move quickly and react to any changing situation. Comfortable clothes and shoes are a must. As is the ability to read the situation. Be prepared to sacrifice the shot, as the mother and baby must always take priority. Take practise shots during the early stages of labour and play with the settings on the camera, to see what works best in the current situation.
I shoot in shutter priority mode as I find births can be quite fast paced, and adjust the ISO dependant on the room lights. Some women have very active labours and move around the room, so move around with them. Have an idea in your mind of the image you want before you take it, and adjust yourself accordingly; be that crouching down, sitting on the birth ball, or even standing in the corner of the room. Your position will also change how the end photo looks. You might consider using a tripod, but due to the unpredictability of labour I have never used one. I like to move around as the birth happens, and often find a tripod can make Mum more nervous.
Lighting is the real challenge in birth photography as it can change instantly. From soft lights, to harsh clinical lights dependant on how the labour is progressing. I practised with lights and movement by taking photos of my children playing in the bath. Bathroom lights were the closest I could get to hospital lights, and the movement of the children playing and splashing helped my understanding of shutter speed and ISO. Another way to practise is at night using street lights as your light source. If you can’t practise beforehand take the opportunity to practise in the early stages of labour. Alternatively you could record a video and take stills from the video afterwards.
Have a Shot List
My favourite part to capture is not the moment the mother meets her baby for the first time, although that is really special, it is actually the moment the partner or birth partner holds the baby for the first time. This is something that only a third person or birth photographer can capture. Often a midwife will offer to take the first family photo for you, or you can always ask them. I have a few photos I try to always capture:
- The clock on the wall that states the time when the baby is born
- The first time the mother sees her child
- The first time the birth partner holds their child
- The cord cutting
- Hands/feet close ups
- Baby on the scales
- Family photo
Many Mums ask for the first feed to be photographed too. Whilst I try to capture these types of shots, I am also very mindful of the room, so it might not be possible to take a photo of the cord cutting for example.
I also try to capture the little details of couples holding hands, rubbing backs, and glances between each other, as these are the moments that a mother in labour forgets. It is also these special moments that can help a mother (after birth) see the positive from her labour, and can help those who have PND.
Looking at your labour in a whole new way, at the love and strength that happened, helps to refocus the mind on the positives. Loved ones who you perhaps would have loved to have been a part of the birth story, also feel like they were there, and a part of something special. A photo can bring back powerful memories and birth photography captures those raw emotions. For me, it is such a privilege to be a part of that story.