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.”

Jenna Reich

How to Take Intimate and Unforgettable Photos of Childbirth — Establish Trust and Respect

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.

Pro Tip:

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)

How to Take Intimate and Unforgettable Photos of Childbirth — Be Invisible but Offer Support

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.

In The Light Photography (Jeanette Brown).
In The Light Photography (Jeanette Brown).

Pictured: [1] In The Light Photography (Jeanette Brown). [2] In The Light Photography (Jeanette Brown).

Pro Tip:

Getting to photograph a birth is an extreme honor. You have the opportunity to document someone’s entry into this world, capture their first breath, and provide a visual history of their parents’ first views of them. My advice to any birth photographer would be to become invisible and to blend into the background as much as possible, but there are also times where it can be necessary for you to make your presence known. Moms need so much support while in labor, and sometimes the birth team they have may not be providing all their needs. You are part of their chosen team as a photographer, and you have the ability to step up and support them when necessary.

I have held new mothers through contractions when their midwives and husbands have left the room. I have spoken up for them when the doctors weren’t hearing their pleas, and I have prayed with them when it all becomes overwhelming. I’ve even held a flashlight for a midwife while taking pictures at the same time. Be there for your clients in whatever capacity you can. This is a monumental and emotional time for them. It may be the hardest thing the mother has ever done. The more you can support her and her team, the more comfortable they will be with your presence. They will let their guard down, and you will get the most honest and beautiful images.

3. “I think, ‘What do they want to remember in five to ten years?’ And I aim to capture those moments.”

Erika Ray

How to Take Intimate and Unforgettable Photos of Childbirth — Accept You Aren't in Control

Image by Erika Ray. Gear: Nikon D600 camera, 35mm lens. Settings: Exposure 1/200 sec; f4; ISO 2500.

What’s the story behind this photo?

This woman’s previous birth was unmedicated and 27+ hours long; she assumed the second would be just as long. Her water broke, and within a couple hours, she was holding her baby! It was so fast that she didn’t have time to deal with reality. This photo captures the moment she could actually process her love for her new son. Her husband’s kiss was an acknowledgment of the strength he had witnessed.

Pro Tip:

Birth photography is not for every photographer. It’s about giving up control because there is very little you can manage during the shoot. There’s a respect you must give to the mother and to the midwives/OBGYN. I’m not part of the story. I’m there to capture it, and I have to make something beautiful from what I’m given. Many times, that means I’m smooshed into a tiny corner, straddling a laundry basket, or ducking under wires. I accept what I’m given. I find a flash intrusive for a woman having contractions, so I deal with the worst lighting. If you want to wait for the most beautiful/painful/powerful story to unfold in front of your lens, shoot a birth! But remember: you aren’t in control.

I always meet with my clients at least twice before the birth. We talk about the birth plan, and I assure them that I will only post or share images with their consent. Almost all of my clients have said, “I had no clue you were there!” I don’t like to overshoot. Not only does it give me more work in post, but it also feels disrespectful. She’s in labor! She doesn’t need fifteen images of the same contraction pose. When she rests, I like to give her that silence.

I think about my own births and about my mother and mother-in-law supporting me. I think about my husband calling friends (albeit with a flip phone) and my elated exhaustion. I think about all the details I forget, like, “What did I eat during and after? What was my first son doing at the time? What did I bring with me that was important?” These details are fuzzy now because I didn’t have someone photograph my birth. So I think ahead for my clients. I think, “What do they want to remember in five to ten years?” And I aim to capture those moments.

4. “Before the session, I speak with the client about my style of photography and how I work in the birthing room.”

Joyce Kang

How to Take Intimate and Unforgettable Photos of Childbirth — Plan Ahead with the Client

Image by Joyce Kang. Gear: Nikon D700 camera, Nikon 24-70 2.8 VR lens. Settings: Focal length 35mm; exposure 1/125 sec; f2.8; ISO 3200.

What’s the story behind this photo?

I love this intimate moment when the mom is nursing the baby for the very first time! You can feel the love, the tenderness, and the immediate bond between them.

Pro Tip:

Birth can be one of the most exciting and scary moments of a woman’s life. As a birth photographer, you are stepping into a very intimate space, so communication is key. Before the session, I speak with the client about my style of photography and how I work in the birthing room. I also ask the clients what they feel comfortable having me photograph because there could be a delicate situation during a birth. My favorite shots during a birth would be the firsts: the first time the parents see their newborn baby, the first time the mother nurses the baby, etc. I often rely on my “mom-photographer” instinct when I photograph births, remembering my own personal experiences.

5. “Try to stay invisible. You have to catch everything without disturbing the process.”

Tomsickova Tatyana

How to Take Intimate and Unforgettable Photos of Childbirth — Capture Moments Without Disturbing Them

Image by Tomsickova Tatyana. Gear: Canon EOS Mark III camera, Canon EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens. Settings: Focal length 24mm; exposure 1/200 sec; f3.5; ISO 1250.

What’s the story behind this photo?

This mother was in labor for a few hours, but she had a good spirit and was eager to hold her child. This is her third child, and she wanted to capture this moment and treasure it for life. The baby was calm from the beginning, and it was obvious that there was a strong bond between them. In this picture, the infant, a second after birth, is on the mummy’s belly, already sleeping.

Tomsickova Tatyana.
Tomsickova Tatyana.

Pictured: [1] Tomsickova Tatyana. [2] Tomsickova Tatyana.

Pro Tip:

It is important to meet the parents at least two or three times before the birth to get to know each other. It’s also important not to interfere while the mother is in the process of giving birth. In birth photography, there are no posed pictures, just simple moments of pure pain, joy, happiness, and intimacy. As a photographer, the first thing you have to learn is how to work with low light. Hospitals try to create a more comfortable situation for the mother by turning the lights down, and many times, a woman will give birth during the night.

Another important thing is to be sure you can control your emotions. It is an emotional moment, but you have to stay calm for two reasons. You cannot stress the mother, and you have to think soberly to get the best shot. You have to be prepared for nurses and doctors to be there. People will get in your way, so try to find interesting and unique angles without asking people to move around. Try to stay invisible. You have to catch everything without disturbing the process. Do not try to make small talk, except if the woman is up to it.

6. “Keep that camera on Mom and Dad, and shoot like crazy those first few moments when the baby makes his/her appearance.”

Ashley West

How to Take Intimate and Unforgettable Photos of Childbirth — Embrace Natural Interactions

Image by Ashley West. Gear: Nikon D3S camera, 50mm 1.4 lens. Settings: Exposure 1/320 sec; f2.0; ISO 1600.

What’s the story behind this photo?

This is actually the first birth photo I ever took. These are my best friends, and they were meeting their daughter for the first time. After three hours of pushing and 24 total hours of labor, the anticipation for this little girl to arrive was so high! I love this image because it is raw, real, and emotional. It is obvious they were overcome with emotion, and I just love how authentic their reactions were.

Pro Tip:

A birth is definitely an intimate and personal time in the parents’ lives. Being a new parent myself, I completely understand this vulnerability now. I work hard to make my subjects comfortable. I also do my best to stay out of the way and not interfere in moments that they are sharing together. There is no posing involved in photographing a birth. I just capture how they are interacting naturally and stay behind the scenes as much as possible.

My absolute favorite thing to capture at a birth is the look on the mom and dad’s faces when they meet their baby. There is nothing in the world more raw and amazing than that. Keep that camera on Mom and Dad, and shoot like crazy those first few moments when the baby makes his/her appearance. Those initial emotions and reactions are the best.

Top Image by Ashley West.