Looking for tips on how to take stunning images of labor and delivery? These six childbirth photographers offer their experiences in capturing the beauty and emotion of one of life’s most intimate moments.
“Birth photography has become increasingly popular since I started,” Offset photographer Erika Ray admits. She’s right; in recent years, more and more families have chosen to document the labor process with help from a professional. For the parents, of course, these photographs are invaluable. Years down the line, they’ll remember every detail more clearly. Their children will be able to look back at the exact moment they entered the world.
But beyond individual families, the demand for birth photography has also had powerful effects on our culture. In the last few years, images that show the realities of childbirth in its many forms have gone viral on the internet, educating people on the intricacies of labor and prompting discussions about the fortitude and beauty of parents. In the end, photographs of real, authentic births teach us that all those messy, unplanned moments behind the scenes are actually the most extraordinary of all.
We asked six photographers to tell us about navigating such a pivotal and intimate moment in the life of a family. Here, they share some stories and their best tips for capturing images that last a lifetime.
1. “Establishing trust and respect for one another beforehand is absolutely imperative.”
Image by Jenna Reich. Gear: Canon EOS 5D Mark III camera, Sigma 35mm 1.4 Art lens. Settings: Exposure 1/250 sec; f2.0; ISO 4000.
What’s the story behind this photo?
In this image, the dad is reacting to seeing his daughter for the first time. The baby happened to be born on my birthday, which made this birth particularly special.
One of the most important things I’d recommend to photographers interested in birth photography is to get to know the subjects beforehand. Birth is such a sacred event, and an invitation to be a part of it is an absolute honor. Establishing trust and respect for one another beforehand is absolutely imperative. In particular, going over the birth plan helps you learn what’s important to them and gives you a basic blueprint for how the story could unfold. I say “could” because birth is completely unpredictable. One of the reasons I love photographing births is that the subjects aren’t interested in my camera. It’s more likely that I will capture authentic images because the clients are generally consumed by the emotional and physical demands of the process.
Another advantage of birth photography is that you generally have a lot of time to consider each scene, at least in the early stages of labor. I like to take advantage of this by walking the corridors, studying the environment, and observing the relationships between my subjects before making a decision about how I’ll capture an image. Having the time to interpret the scene and anticipate the next image is a huge advantage. Something that proved helpful to me before shooting my first birth was making a shot list. Since I have personally experienced giving birth twice, it was helpful for me to jot down a short list of shots that would have best told the story of my birth experiences and then use those ideas to tell my client’s story.
2. “My advice to any birth photographer would be to become invisible and to blend into the background as much as possible…”
In The Light Photography (Jeanette Brown)
Image by In The Light Photography (Jeanette Brown). Gear: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, 24-105mm L series lens. Settings: Focal length 104mm; exposure 1/160 sec; f9; ISO 2000.
What’s the story behind this photo?
This image is about the peaceful reward of labor. The work is done, and the mother and child have a quick yet meaningful time to bond as if they were the only two in the room. I love that the image centers on the calm, vernix-covered baby as she rests on her mother. The image also includes other significant details that show how the mother was supported in prayer by her friends. The bracelet resting in the water was made with love by her support team, and each tile had a scripture or word of support for the mom to meditate on during labor. The henna tattoo is also a symbol of her friends and family, who were praying for her during labor.