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How I Became a Birth Photographer

I think it’s incredibly important to share photography knowledge.  You can’t steal my eye or replicate my vision, so keeping things a secret accomplishes nothing (I’ve never understood secrecy within the craft).  When you’re a birth photographer, you get lots of strange looks and tons of good questions.  I hope to answer some of those questions for you.  Let’s start at the start…

 

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Labor Day of 2010, I was in a canoe “raft” with most of our good friends.  Becky asked, “Would you photograph our next birth?”  Because it was Labor Day (there’s a no-kid rule for the weekend) and in a canoe, I was rather drunk and unable to run away.  I won’t speak for Becky’s sobriety because that’s rude.  But listen, it’s a weird sober question because back then there weren’t a ton of documented births outside of the funky 70’s hippy ones.

What did I know about photographing a birth?!  Hell, what did I know about birth?!  I wanted to wake up with a baby in my arms.  I don’t do well with blood and goo.  So the gentle rock of the canoe and the dozens of beers in my tummy helped me answer without a clue or hesitation:

Yes.  I’ll photograph your birth.

She got pregnant soon after and we discussed it again.  She was going to have Baby #2 at home.  “Are you sure?  You can always back out.” was said by both of us a number of times during the pregnancy.  My family constantly reminded me about the time I almost passed out from a small cut.  My husband just thought the whole situation was weird.  But I figured, Why not?  I could always leave if it got too crazy (she kept giving me the out), but I kept saying, yes.  And funny enough, I was never really worried about anything.

But honestly, I must have been crazy.  I had no idea what to expect.  You can’t judge a birth off of your own birth experience.  I was in a considerably amount of pain during my own, so I don’t have the clearest view of the scene.  I had no idea what her birth would look like.  She’d be in pain, probably naked, and I was assuming there would be blood/goo.  How would I react to all of that as she was my good friend?  I had no idea what to shoot.  I figured the baby, but no clue what else to focus on.  What do people do while in labor?  At home!?  Oh and their house is pretty dark.  Swell…

One morning, I got the text and drove over there.  I still had no clue how the hell I was going to photograph this birth.  I figured I’d wing it.  They’re good friends so my best would be good enough for them.

I remember picking up coffee for them and the barista asked how my morning was.  I responded, “I just saw a baby born, so it’s been pretty damn amazing.”  And every single time I see a baby born, I still respond the same way: Pretty damn amazing.

I will always be grateful that they asked me to be there for Silas’ birth.  The question in the canoe changed my life. After that morning, I found what I was supposed to photograph.  I’m not good at doing family portraits.  I can’t imagine shooting weddings.  But births?  Yep, that’s my jam.  If you’re interested in birth photography, try to find a pregnant friend.  There’s a lot of nuances that come with being a birth photographer and I can’t imagine learning about them with strangers.  But if you don’t have your own birth guinea pig, I’ll help you a little with this series.

I do not believe that every photographer should photograph a birth.  It’s not for everyone just like weddings aren’t for everyone.  I can’t imagine dealing with a bride, but dealing with a woman in pain?  Yeah, I got that.  So if you’ve got a birth lined up and afterwards you aren’t changed or moved, it’s ok.  Cross it off your life list.

But maybe, just maybe you can thank your friends for a life changing experience.

Birth Photographer tip:

Find a friend who knows the proper time to ask you to photograph their birth.  They know it’s when you’re tipsy and floating down a river.

 

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Silas’ birth post.

As a photographer, I’ve learned and changed so much since these photos.  Of course there are things I do differently.  I think every artist should be able to admit this if they want to grow.  But his birth will always be my favorite.  His birth gave my photography a purpose and gave me a vision even beyond the birth role.

Up next: Predictability or better yet the lack of predictability of a birth shoot

  • Xanthe - I remember this…. gosh it’s so beautiful. Tears of course!
    I love your work, your story telling and that you’ve now found your thing and you’re owning it! this is brilliant. This is going to be a great series of posts.
    SO desperate to capture a birth myself… one day I hope it happens…

    x.December 12, 2014 – 8:14 amReplyCancel

  • The Technical Bits in the Birth Photographer’s Pocket » Erika Ray Photography - […] Post One about Birth Photography […]December 22, 2014 – 9:36 amReplyCancel

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