The Mystery of Birth Photography:
Four Commonly Asked Questions About Birth Photography?
I get it, birth photography may not be something you commonly hear about. I know so many friends who before following me on facebook or instagram hadn't even heard of it as a thing. So there is no surprise that some things about birth photography are still clouded in a bit of mystery. But something that's even crazier to me is how few people know anything about birth itself. Birth is truly the mystery in our culture.
This mystery of birth spreads across culture, religion and gender. Men are raised to know a pretty limited idea of how they came into the world and how one day their child may enter the world. There are a lot of cultural reasons for this; to list a few, vaginas, modesty and sexuality :P
Women are raised to wait pretty much to the last second to learn about birth. For women their is a lot of fear of pain, loss of control and insecurity that comes along with birth. You don't want to know how many times I've been asked if, "women poop on the table." by men and women a like. As if that aspect of birth must be the most embarrassing thing in the world. Even throughout birth I've photographed women in their most powerful, vulnerable and goddess like nature still feeling insecure about it. This is culture, that insecurity is deep ingrained in us even when we are people, passionate about our birth; We can still be clouded by those outside forces. Women also struggle with the same cultural fear of modesty, as if the most natural thing we can do, the most natural thing our body was created to do (ie. further the human race) is something to be kept private. This is where birth photography comes in. To me birth photography is apart of the normalization, education and glorification of birth. It is the way we find art and beauty in the most essential aspect of creative creation in existence; "making a baby."
If you know me personally at all, you know I'm pretty honest and sometimes a little direct. So when people ask me questions about birth photography, whether they are my best friend or someone I just met, I like to openly answer and start a dialogue. A lot of this blog is about that, those questions that start a passionate fire inside me.
I am a believer in the idea that birth should become a normal part of culture.
That there is strength and artistic beauty in capturing stories of real birth.
And that capturing these stories can be educational both in our communities and globally as we start to talk honestly about and see birth in a new light.
1. Do you actually photograph the baby "coming out?"
This is by far the most asked question I hear. And when it's not asked, I'm sure it's the first thought on their mind. Everyone is very fixated on the "crowning" shot. I like to call this moment the glory moment. The simple answer is yes, when I have the opportunity to photograph a vaginal birth I do indeed capture the baby coming out. Though I like to point out that in the whole of what I photograph at any given birth (maybe 100-300 photos) there are perhaps 5-10 that are capturing that exact moment. And these moments look vastly different from one birth to the next.
If now you are thinking, "wait why?" or "well that's why birth photography could never be for me." Then please read on!
When I meet with each mother or couple, I love first getting to know them, hearing about what parts of their story they want told. We talk about the parts of their first birth that became so hazy over time or the celebration they want to have captured when they see their first baby for the first time. We talk about babies being born after years of infertility and struggle and babies that have been prayed for, their whole lives. There is always a beautiful "why" to every family's choice to have their birth photographed and it's important to me to tap into that first thing in a meeting. And then yes, eventually we talk about the "glory" moment. Some couples want to see the real scientific/transcendent moment when baby is between womb and earth. Some couples want to skip that step almost completely. Both of those responses are 100% fine with me and ok for birth photography. I try to make it clear with both my images and my meetings that birth photography is so much bigger and more beautiful than one specific moment.
And If we minimize birth photography to just one crowning moment then we miss out on so much beautiful story and of course culture will always be weirded out by it.
2. Why is Birth Photography such an investment?
This question comes up a lot in photography and there really are a lot of different things to consider.
1. Value: "When you value a certain level of expertise, quality or artistry then you are more willing to save and invest." This is true for so many things not just photography. Take furniture buying for example, I've had many years of goodwill tables, thrift store dressers and hand me down sofas. I still have a lot of those treasures in my home, but with each year I start to want to invest a little more in the next purchase I make. For example, Chris and I used to work on these two very uncomfortable and inefficient old work desks. One was an old writing desk with literally no extra room after putting my computer and key board on it and the other an old sewing table with the sewing machine still inside. For the first couple years of marriage we both worked from home and used those two desks. Finally we got to the place in our life where investing in something both quality and efficient seemed worth it to us. We found a designer online who built beautiful desks out of reclaimed wood and bought two. Photography is mostly about value, I never lose sleep when a potential client finds my prices a little too high. I know I've done my best to create pricing that is both livable for me in the long run and is equal to the quality I deliver with every session. It simply means that in the season they are in or even the interests that they have , they aren't at a place where they value the photography I create.
2. Time: This is a huge one! A lot of people mis understand how much time goes into photography. And births are the most unpredictable form of photography I can think of. They can last anywhere from 3 hours to 30 hours. They require not just a flexible schedule but long hours that are often taxing. Pricing for birth photography reflects the flexibility we have to have so that we can be by your side constantly through the ups and downs of birth and then of course the editing. For the birth photography I create I try and allot at least 2 hours of editing to every 1 hour photographing. So as you can imagine that can be a lot of hours.
3. Lifestyle: Birth photographers live a very special type of lifestyle. It's unpredictable, exhausting, exciting and dedicated. When we take on a birth that means we are putting our routines on hold for up to 4 weeks or more. We often sacrifice family time and family obligations to be with you when baby decides it's their birth day. We definitely for-go a lot of sleep trying to stay half awake waiting for a text telling us that "you're in active labor" and we rarely take a good long vacation. For me I wouldn't have it any other way but to be honest my pricing has to reflect that lifestyle. Unlike other types of portrait photography these sessions can neither be planned or rescheduled, they happen on their own beautiful timeline and as birth photographers we make sacrifices to live this lifestyle.
4. Running a Full time Photography Business: A big part of my personal journey into birth photography didn't come when I fell in love with birth. I had been in love with birth for so many years before I could truly start offering birth photography regularly. This is because it requires you to run your business full time, no part time jobs or just shooting sessions on the weekends. This meant my livelihood solely relied on the photography I created and the prices I charged. I don't want to go into details about what it means to be self employed but it's not simple. Take into consideration taxes, insurance, licensing and of course the big one equipment...
5. Equipment : Photography is not a cheap hobby to start in. Quality equipment is an ever growing expense (think I-phones but Cameras and lenses have been around WAY longer and getting way better with every year) As a birth photographer my cameras have to be able to handle a lot of unpredictable lighting situations. This means even more expensive lenses and camera bodies that can handle photography that isn't well lit or photographed in the perfect time of the day. And honestly I want to be able to offer the best of the best to my clients, with every year I add to my equipment because as I become more experienced so should my equipment.
6. Professionalism : I'm sure you're looking at some of the above reasons for investment and thinking well why shouldn't I just hire a beginner then. Every birth photographer started as a beginner and I'm honestly excited to see this genre of photography growing all over the world. But at the same time birth can be scary, emergent and tricky to navigate sometimes. You want to have a photographer who has both a respect for your sacred birthing space and knowledge of how to respond under pressure. You also want a photographer who has an experienced intuition when it comes to experiencing births. So a large part of the investment that goes into hiring a professional and experienced birth photographer is that knowledge, education and experience.
3. Do I have say on sharing my images with social media?
Yes of course you do! I know a lot of people wonder how I choose the images I do for sharing. the answer is that I have unique permission from every single birth story I am a part of. My clients can decide how much nudity they're comfortable with and where any photo is shared. You can also keep the entire birth story private to you and your family if you'd like. I honor your desires and requests.
Of course I come from a love for birth and want the rest of the world to be inspired by your strength and journey. So I try to encourage all of my families to share even just some part of their journey. These stories of birth are the first steps in changing the lack of education we have about it. The first steps to helping our sons and daughters be a lot more comfortable with something as natural and essential as birth. And inspiring a world of women and mothers to see themselves as powerful, strong and glorious in the way they birth life, nurture life and raise life.
4. Yeah but Why Birth Photography?
You're probably saying great, you've started unfogging a bit of the mystery that comes along with birth but still why photograph it? And hopefully I've been able to give a couple reasons why but there really is nothing more powerful to convince you than the images themselves. The photos that tell the story of the unforgettable moments all throughout every birth story.
Throughout your birth story you will learn so much of your power, endurance and strength. Seeing the way you pushed through fear and overcame pain is a beautiful legacy to leave behind.
There is nothing more beautiful than the closeness and support constantly given throughout birth. The simple acts of rubbing your back, walking with you, speaking calm words of peace and courage, wiping your tears and letting you squeeze their hands until they are numb!
You'll probably never see some of the details I'll be able to capture of your birth story. Birth is a hazy time where you and your partner are so focused, a lot of whats around you is remembered as a blur. But seeing the place of your birth story, the details of baby's sweet fingers, toes and the umbilical cord before it's even cut; are all pieces of your beautiful story.
Birth can be such a beautifully affectionate time. The touches throughout birth are passionate, intense, tender and emotional. So much story is packed into those sweet gestures of love.
The First Time you Lay Eyes on your Baby
This is the number one most loved moments in all birth photography. There is nothing else like it in the world. That feeling of relief, shock, pride and pure happiness.
Your Partner's Reaction and Connection
The way your partner reacts is something you will never want to forget, the tears, the look of admiration, and of course the overwhelming sense of joy. Then in those sweet moments when your partner finally gets to hold baby in their arms for the first time, it's like the whole world stands still. You're filled with so much love for your person and the little creation you've just brought into this world it's an incredibly beautiful thing to capture.
Those skin to skin moments and that first latch are some of the most peaceful and bonding moments of every birth story. Seeing your motherhood grow and your beautiful bond start taking form is a beautiful and powerful thing. It is intimate, new and feels in so many ways like a beautiful reunion, from womb to being in your arms.
Smiling becomes almost uncontrollable after your baby is finally put into your arms. but did you know that there really are moments of pure joy throughout labor as well? It's not just pain and exhaustion there can be much hope, laughter and peace mixed in as you look forward to your little ones arrival. I'm always looking to capture those smiles and the way your partner might makes you laugh.
The Baby Faces
Of course we cannot forget the babies themselves! Did you know that the way your little one looks in those first hours and days changes so rapidly. They are growing and learning with every second they are earth side. I've been lucky enough to photograph births and then come back the next day for a Fresh 48 session and I swear that baby looks already so vastly different from the day before! So much beautiful change and cuteness!
The Meeting of the Family
Whether it's a big sibling coming to meet baby or the whole extended family. Having those sweet firsts is something you will always cherish.
So this is me sharing a little of my heart, reason and passion. I believe in the power of birth photography and love talking about it. If you are interested in birth photography and in the Raleigh, Durham or Chapel Hill surrounding areas I would love to hear from you!
If you are not in my area but interested I would definitely urge you to check out Birth becomes Her's incredible "Find a birth Photographer" feature. I'm on there and so are so many amazing birth photographers all around the world!
I would love to make a part two of this one day so PLEASE feel free to leave your curious questions about birth photography below in the comments! I respect everyone's decisions and opinions about birth and choice of birth photography. My hope is to grow a positive dialogue and of course do my part in unfogging the mystery of birth.