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5 tips for taking amazing birth photos

Today’s post was kindly written by Jaydene of Cradled Creations birth photography.

Note: these images are amazing! Click on them to see them bigger. 

Birth Photography is uncharted territory for most photographers, but it’s gaining popularity. As people are warming up to the idea of adding real-moment photos to their family albums, photographers are warming up to the idea of adding this hectic genre to their roster. So if photographing births is something you think you are ready to try, then make sure you are also ready to be on call (that means no trips out of town for the weekend, possibly getting a 2am wakeup call, and not knowing when you’ll be home).

If you’re ready to take the plunge and accept your first birth client, then here are 5 tips to get your started!

(1) Pre-determine Your Angles – Prior to the birth, sit down with the client and ask them what kind of photos they value. If she wants a photo of the baby the second it’s born, then the best angle comes from squeezing yourself behind the hospital bed. If she wants to see the dad’s reaction then position yourself beside the doctor at her feet. Ask her if she minds if certain body parts are showing. Some people want to see photos of EVERYTHING!!! While others want to be able to show their birth photos to their father-in-law, in which case you will have to frame out naked body-parts by finding creative angles.
(2) Tread Lightly – Keep in mind you do not run the show here, so move quietly, find space around the doctors and nurses and be as inconspicuous as possible. When I arrive in the room, I introduce myself to the staff working and don’t say a word after that.
(3) No Flash! – So you’ve finally made it to the hospital (or home) and the room is quite dark. Rule number one: No Flash! A labouring mother doesn’t want a flash to break her concentration when she’s pushing and she certainly doesn’t want a flash in her newborn baby’s eyes. So if you are in a dark room (which is very likely) get your settings right. Use a lens that lets in as much light as possible, and shoot at a high ISO (I set mine at 3200) Practice at home at night with only a corner lamp on. Can you take crisp images of a moving subject? Make sure you can before taking on clients. If you are in a pinch for light at the ninth hour, then take initiative and just turn on another indirect light, but beware – don’t disturb the mom to ask if it’s okay. If she doesn’t like the extra light, she will speak up!
(4) Pack a Hospital Bag – Don’t bank on the hospital gift shop or cafeteria to be open in the middle of the night; bring your own snacks and water. I also carry a small folding stool (this is if you are short like me, so you can still get a good view of the baby.) And I always have a few printed doctor/nurse release forms.
(5) Emotion – An emotion might only show itself for a second, so you have to be ready to focus and snap at a moment’s notice. In the photo below, a mom just walked in to congratulate her daughter on having her first baby, and first grandchild. I already had my camera focused in that direction and snapped at the perfect moment. This is what birth photography is. Capturing the perfect moment when the real emotions appear, whether it’s joy, fear, frustration, laughter, boredom or relief. It’s the raw, real emotion that makes this type of photography unique.
Once you have seen the miracle of birth for the first time (on this side of the camera) you are going to be hooked. It’s the most amazing thing in life that one can capture. Lastly, get ready for a lot of editing once you get home. This form of photography is about the story so clients are going to want all the photos!

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  • Perfectexpressionsphoto

    I just photographed my first birth two weeks ago and you are so right, I am hooked!  It was incrediable and these tips are spot on.  I wish I had though about the stool earlier.  Even though I am not short, the doctor raised her bed up so high I was stretching to see.  I would add, dress in layers.  You never know what the temperature of the labor suite will be.  Some moms get very warm during labor and crank up the ac.  I nearly froze as I waited 18 hours through the night with my client.  It was worth it, but I would have really appreciated a jacket.

  • Mamaduso5

    I just did one too. I was at the hospital before labor started, then went home to be called when it started. The mom decided that she didn’t want anyone in the room during labor so they called as soon as baby was born and I went down. Being there prior helped me get a feel for the room environment.  Once baby was born I took all the important shots, baby getting weighed, foot prints, with dad, with mom, being held up, etc.  I did crank my ISO to 3200 also. I had no idea how my pictures were going to turn out (it was a free trial shoot-so  wasn’t risking anything).  But they turned out GREAT!  I was so pleased.  Thank goodness for my now working 7D! But I did realize that my life didn’t afford the spontaneous nature of birth photography. My kids are old enough to stay home, but young enough to have lots of activities I need to get them to. Wouldn’t be fair to them to make them miss because I was on a shoot.  It was a good experience though.

  • Mamaduso5

     PS-mamaduso is Susan Dusseault on fb and lily fields photography!

  • MCoopPhotography

    Im so glad you posted this! I am doing my first in a couple weeks (using a friend of mine as a trial). I think this info will really help :)

  • Lea Hartman

    I photographed my first live birth in April and it was AMAZING! I could totally see being addicted to this genre of photography.

  • Leerobertsphoto

    I’m scheduled to shoot my first birth in September and I’m SO looking forward to it!! Does anyone have any other resources or suggestions they could share? I would really like as much information as possible before then! :)

  • Jennwhite

    How do you go about pricing something like this? I am a postpartum nurse and currently shoot maternity/newborn sessions. I am already addicted to babies and LOVE the emotion of births… Thanks! This was truly great.. thanks for posting!

  • http://www.cradledcreations.com Jaydene

    I personally provide my clients with a disc of all the photos from their birth (approx 150) Thesefiles can be printed up to 8×10. They can purchase enlargements through me. Most birth photographers provide a full disc of images for between $450 – $1000 depending on the market they live in. (Hope that helps)

  • PurpleCouchPhotography

    could you share some more information of the nurse/doctor release form? I do mostly home births, so it would more often be doula/midwife

  • Sabrina

    Do you feel all the photos in a birth shoot should be in black and white? I love them, and I get why they’re that way, due to the emotion and all. I just wonder if clients would ever want color photos of anything. Thanks!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/tammy.rasmussen1 Tammy Murphy Rasmussen

    I also done one and have two scheduled in May one at the end and one at the beginning. I would love to see what the doctor/nurse release looks like. I give my client a photo book with their birthing story photos each one edited and arranged in the book (I used Mixbook on the last one) I charge extra if they want a CD with the photos.

  • HeatherM

    I there , im about to photograph my first birth and was wondering if you had any advice on the best Lens to use? or which one you favoured the most!

  • elizabethhalford

    Hi Heather! I would prefer a 50mm on a full frame lens or a 35mm on a cropped sensor camera.

  • Milla

    Just starting out as a birth photographer, but I’ve been a doula for a year now, and one thing I would definitely add to your excellent and helpful list of tips is that your presence in the room can alter the atmosphere for better or worse. If you are scared, nervous, worried, disapproving of the couple’s birth choices, or expecting some kind of bad outcome, nobody will know, but your negative energy will pervade the space and can cause the mom to tense up and become negative. Remember the positive influence you can have just by nurturing in yourself an attitude of positivity, gratitude, enthusiasm and humility. And remember that as a photographer you are quite within your rights to say to the woman giving birth that she looks beautiful or strong or really calm, any positive words that you know she would appreciate hearing. In the same way, it can be a HUGE benefit to the mother-baby relationship if you say to her out loud that she is AMAZING, and that hers is the most beautiful baby you’ve ever photographed. (Every baby is the most beautiful one you’ve ever photographed.) She knows that you attend a lot of births, so it’s possible she will be very sensitive to any words you say and facial expressions you make. She may feel that you are comparing her in your head to other women, and she may worry that she is doing something wrong, or that something that is happening is not normal. If you’re having trouble with your camera or any other aspect of getting the perfect shot, be very aware that you don’t sigh in frustration or scowl in concentration, a labouring woman stores every word, sound and image away in her limbic brain to use for survival later on. Let your face be placid and your words always positive.

  • Julia Dewolf

    Thanks for the tips. I did set mine to 3200… but what are you print sizes? I photographed at a birth center, used a 50mm 1.4 at 3200. I often needed the 1.4 or 1.6 honestly. I printed 8x10s to look at the quality, which are okay (i’m a tough critique). But do you think they notice it’s not super crisp and the little bit of grain? What do you do then???

  • Julia Dewolf

    Really why a cropped sensor camera over full frame?

  • Karley

    I have a Nikon D3300. Is this camera sufficient enough to take birth photography? I really want to do a birth but am unsure if this camera can do the job. I have a 35mm dx lens also, that I love, and I’ve heard it is a common lens for birth photography. Also, how do you capture a picture without any blurred hands, movement, head turn, etc?