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…
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.
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