I am a mom of two girls under five. I missed out on the opportunity to have either of my births documented, and with that comes the loss of not knowing what reaction my husband had to becoming a daddy for the first time when Kate was born, and if he cried, smiled, laughed or was surprised the second time I gave birth, when Emma was born.
My births were complicated, so it was difficult for me to focus on anything but meeting my girls for the first time. I think this rings true to most moms, whether they have a complicated or fairly straightforward birth, the moment your child is born, mommies and daddies tend to have tunnel vision, and are memorized by this little life they've been waiting to meet for the last 9 months.
I have been photographing birth now for four years, and there are certainly many times when I am editing birth stories that I daydream about having a third. However, with the changes in health I've experienced with age and over two pregnancies, despite my dream of having three children, our family is complete.
Having thought this through so many times, I've prepared a list for you on tips you can consider when deciding who and/or what kind of photographer you'd like to hire to document your birth story.
There are many choices to make, so let me lay them out for you below
1. Daddy takes the pictures
Definitely the simplest way to save money when you're on a budget is to have your partner or spouse take the pictures. They'll be proud of themselves for having captured what will become some of your most treasured memories.
I could never be a doula, because doulas need to be incredibly resilient to emotions because their job is to support moms emotionally and physically during labor and birth. is When I put my camera down, I get emotional, I may cry, I may feel my hands shaking a bit.
Consider the emotions you may want your partner or spouse to feel as they are emotionally (or physically) supporting you during your labor, and how emotionally invested you may want them to be as they meet your baby for the first time.
Do you want your partner/spouse to be completely vulnerable and experience the raw and real emotions of becoming a parent for the first time ever to this little baby?
Holding a camera or phone and focusing on taking pictures that aren't blurry creates a degree of separation between the parent and the experience.
The focus on taking pictures helps me keep my composure during a birth so that I don't cry, so that I feel more like I am watching a movie rather than experience the birth in person. Do you want your partner or spouse to experience a degree of separation?
When daddy holds the camera, you would miss pictures of his emotional reaction to meeting your baby... like these:
2. Okay, so not daddy. How about best friend (or sister or aunt) takes the pictures?
Having a close friend, sibling, grandparent or doula photograph during your birth helps take the pressure off your partner and spouse. But the cons can leave parents heart broken, so be sure to read on...
If I had a dollar for every time parents came to me an told me they wish they hadn't let their friend/sister/doula/parent take the pictures at their last birth. The results can sometimes be great! But when you had your expectations set to having these moments documented and end up with blurry pictures, blown out pictures (too bright) or too dark pictures, or no pictures at all, it can be heart breaking.
If you're lucky, you may get a picture of the delivery - but you may never see his face because your photographer was very focused on taking pictures of your newly born baby
And sometimes, the one person who was suppose to take pictures didn't during moments that you realize afterwards, truly mattered to you.
and sometimes, that person becomes too nervous to take pictures.
maybe because they've never attended a birth before and had no idea they would react this way, and sometimes, even to those women who have had several of their own children and attended births before, friends/family who are doulas, paramedics, doctors, they never realized they'd be so emotional when it was their baby sister giving birth.
Pictures captured by family and friends and other inexperienced people who haven't been trained in capturing artistically beautiful angles during even the most complicated labors and births, tend to look more like they were from the birth chapter of an anatomy textbook.
3. So how about our family photographer? Or our wedding photographer?
You'll probably feel more comfortable working with a photographer you've known for a while now. Plus they will probably either charge you very little or not at all, this being their first birth
One of the number one drawbacks of hiring a photographer who's never photographed a birth before, is that most likely, they haven't been educated on the birth process and what to expect. They aren't aware of the very quick and totally unexpected changes in lighting, staff, space that all happen last minute.
Most photographers are trained to photograph in the best lighting conditions (and most wedding photographers use an external flash for dark receptions). But what most photographers are not trained in is to photograph gorgeous artwork when there is a lack of lighting to work with. A lack of space, a lack of timeline and everything is unexpected.
Circumstances surrounding how unpredictable birth is can cause very capable and experienced family, portrait and wedding photographers to very suddenly question their capability.
You also may realize you actually don't feel more comfortable using a photographer who takes your family pictures (or who photographed your wedding) because you're not comfortable with that person seeing you give birth, seeing you naked, and then doing future family pictures with them.
What to look for in an experienced, professional birth photographer
1. The first thing I would look for in an experienced, professional birth photographer is if I love their work. How many births have I seen from them? 1? 5? 20? What does an entire birth story look like?
2. Depending on the type of birth you plan to have (hospital hypnobirth, induction, cesarean, home birth, birth center) the photographer should be able to show you samples of previous similar births they have captured. Those proofs should be all of the same high quality and they should impact you emotionally.
3. Depending on when you are due, you should find out if your birth photographer has any prior commitments during that time. Do they already have 8 other birth clients or 10 photoshoots scheduled two weeks before and after your due date? Do they have an anniversary or a family or child's birthday during that time? Is there a major holiday (like Thanksgiving or Christmas) occurring during that time? It's okay if there is a schedule conflict. What matters is how your photographer approaches that conflict. Are they ok with missing their child's birthday party or Christmas with their family. Their answer to that is what's important.
4. Does your birth photographer work with a reliable back up? Emergencies do happen and if your photographer is unable to be present at your birth, you want to be sure they have a very talented and reliable photographer who serves as their back up. You also want to be sure your photographer defines the parameters of what constitutes an emergency worth missing your birth for.
5. How professional your birth photographer seems to you. If you're having a hospital birth, (or end up needing a transfer to the hospital during labor at home), are high risk or have any medical conditions that can result in extra medical intervention and even a cesarean birth, you want to know how your birth photographer will handle themselves around the most esteemed medical professionals in a hospital setting. If your photographer is inexperienced with working along side of medical professionals ranging from nurses to OBGYNS, NICU nurses, neonatologists and anesthesiologists, it can affect how much of your birth story they are allowed to photograph
6. How many births your photographer has been paid to photograph. Lets get real for a moment. I am proud of the work I did photographing my very first five paid births. I had older, less capable equipment to handle darkly lit rooms back then, and I had less experience, but the work was good. But to be real with you, as an artist, I don't think its as good as the work I capture now, four years later, over one hundred births later. The more births your photographer attends, the more experience they gain working with lighting, unexpected last minute changes, lack of room. You basically learn to expect more things not going your way at a birth as a birth photographer so you condition yourself to expect everything going wrong all at once and plan in advance how you will handle those situations.
7. Privacy. How much does your photographer honor your privacy and confidentiality? 70% of the births I have documented over four years will never be seen by the public eye Why? because 70% of the birth clients I have had over four years have asked me not to share their photos or films with anyone. I can completely empathize with this. I have a few cell phone pictures from my two births, of which maybe 3 have ever been shared publicly. I feel particularly guarded about my two complicated and emotional births and wish for these images to never be shared with anyone. Your photographer who value your privacy over their own publicity/brand awareness at all times.
8. Relationship. You should love your birth photographer. They should not feel like a stranger paparazzi the day of your birth but like an old friend who makes you feel safer and more supported because they are there for you. I don't believe in photographing births for families who don't feel comfortable having me in the labor room with them. So I go above and beyond to get to know my families better during their pregnancies by meeting with them in person and getting to know each member of the family before my clients ever go into labor.
I hope this list of tips on how to choose a photographer to document your birth has been helpful to you. Feel free to print it out by going to the top left of your browser, clicking File > Print.
If you're interested in learning about what kind of questions you should ask your OBGYN or hospital Midwife before you hire them and before you go into labor... you can find that here
For questions to ask during a hospital tour... you can find those here