Erika Ray Photography » blog

The Technical Bits in the Birth Photographer’s Pocket


I spend a lot of time saying, “I’m lucky” when I talk about my birth photography photos.

But that’s a bullshit thing to say.  That’s not giving me an ounce of credit.  If you said that about yourself, I’d rip you a new one.  I’d say, “How dare you?!  You’re a fantastic photographer.  Sure luck is 10% of life, but don’t sell yourself short.  Now say it!  Say you’re a damn good photographer.  SAY IT!”  If you’ve been around me long enough and if you’ve uttered a bad comment about yourself, you know damn well this is a version of what I’d say.  Tip: Don’t try to put yourself down around me.  I don’t stand for it.  So I won’t with my own.

Talent helps, but so does working it.  Practice always helps.  Hell, go to my Flickr account and click on my first picture.  I won’t ever delete it or the other photos I hate because they tell me to always keep working it.

  • Think about what you want to show the couple.  Really think about it.  And when you’ve figured it out, sell it.  If you believe it, you won’t be doing a cheesy “car salesman” sale.  You’ll be giving them your vision (yeah, I got artsy-fartsy).  For me, it isn’t the baby.  It has never has been the story I wanted to sell.  Figure out your angle and believe in it from your toes to your eyeball.  Once you know your route, finding shots is easy.
  • If you’ve never been at a birth, watch a couple of videos.  There’s a birth moan that shocked me the first two times.  I can’t describe it.  I’m no longer shocked by it because I know a baby is coming soon, but I wish I would have watched something.
  • Stay out-of-the-way.  Be quiet.  Stalk the birth.  I’m used to shooting in cramped and uncomfortable angles because I need to be in decent outta-the-way spots.  Oh and be quiet!  If you’re silent, your story is easy to find.  I’m not paid to help the Mom.  I’m paid to watch her and show her the event.  So I’m really quiet…  This means I hate my shutter.  God, I hate it.  I apologize to every single mom during early labor.  I even explain about the shutter sound in our Face-to-Face meeting.  They all say they get it, but once they’re in labor my guilt ramps up.  I hate that this tiny sound might interfere.  You don’t think the shutter is loud?  Get into a silent room when a woman is having excruciating moments of pain.  It’s like a bomb goes off every time I snap.
  • For me, I never use a flash.  Why?  I’d fucking kill someone if a flash popped and my legs were open mid-contraction.  This gets tricky.  Photos need light.  So I crank up my ISO and use a fast lens (50mm, but I recently got a 35 mm).  Sometimes I’m able to adjust the light.  I discuss this during our Face-to-Face.  Everyone agrees to more light, but everyone also loves to labor in the dark.  I usually ask the midwife to address this if I think it’s going to be a problem (I really don’t like talking during a birth).  If the light is real crappy, figure out a way to use it.  Frame people in it and then try really hard to make it work.  I bring white balance gray cards.  Most times things move fast and I don’t have this luxury, being a birth photographer means you gotta roll with it, so I’ve also gotten very good at finding a neutral gray in the scene.  Lucky note: most of my husband’s always have on a gray t-shirt and it has usually produced decent results.  And when in doubt, convert to black & white.
  • I hate over-shooting.  I’m so lazy.  Over-shooting means I have to cull a lot of images.  What Mom needs 20 pictures of her in one particular labor position?  None of them do.  Get your shot and get out.  Know when the couple needs to be alone (hint: be quiet and you’ll learn).  I shoot all of mine with a fixed lens which means I have to get close.  Learn when to be close during the early labor.  Once it ramps up, she won’t notice.  But during early labor she needs space.  So I sneak in, shoot quickly, sneak out and wait for the next moment to shoot.
  • Now that I’ve done enough births, I have my own image list.  I know what I need to shoot for the family.  I try to do a family shot, but that becomes difficult if all kids aren’t home or unsure of new baby (I would never force a younger child to sit for a picture during a birth).  I know we need to get weight and measurements.  We need to do a Mom/Dad shot.  I have my mental list, but that does not mean I get everything I want.  Birth photographing is really good if you’re okay at letting things go and living without a plan.  But I try to hit the big ones.  Make your list and try to nail it.  And if you don’t?  Let it go.  You just photographed a birth!!


There’s so much more, but it’s the holidays and I’ve got sugar cookie dough to make.

So just ask.

What technical questions do you have?

Post One about Birth Photography

Post Two about Birth Photography