Tips for Photographing a Birth
If Current Me could talk to Past Me, Current Me would say, "Hey. You. Those first photos you take of Alexis could be a lot better if you would take the time to learn a little about photographing a baby." Current Me could hand Past Me a crib sheet, like this one by Tamara Bowman, and point out some of the tips that would have gone a long way to better capturing those early newborn days.
As Tamara points out in the crib sheet, little things such as "get close" and "use natural light" can really make a difference.
Today, nearly seven years later, I use those tips nearly daily -- often when I'm photographing the resident big kid, but I also use them to photograph other people's babies.
And sometimes I use them to photograph the moments leading up to and right after the birth of a baby.
I recently had the absolutely amazing opportunity to photograph the birth of a brand new Pittsburgher. It was an inspiring, joyful, and life-changing experience. Gil's birth isn't my story to tell, but the lessons learned as I captured joy in images are my story. If ever you find yourself fortunate enough to photograph a birth, here are nine things I would recommend:
1. Research the hospital's rules. Most hospitals have strict rules about who and what is allowed to be in the room during a delivery. Make sure you know that a camera will be allowed and what restrictions there are. Follow the rules while shooting and respect that the doctors and nurses are there to do a job.
2. Turn off the flash. Just as Tamara mentioned in her crib sheet -- it doesn't matter if you're using an expensive DSLR, a camera phone, or an inexpensive point-and-shoot, turn off the flash. It's distracting and it will ruin your photos.
3. Embrace black and white. The lighting in hospitals is atrocious. It isn't pure white, so skin tones look alien. Also, you can't control the background. You're often stuck with bright green walls or busy patterned fabrics in your shot. Minimize the distractions caused by those problems by shooting in monochrome or by converting your images to black and white later. Black and white eliminates problems with exposure, white balance, and background noise. More important, it helps you focus on the emotion of the day -- as Tamara notes, black and white can carry more emotion than color.
4. Capture the details. A simple thing such as dad's hospital bracelet can be the source of fantastic memories. Seek out the little details and allow them to help you tell your story.
5. Include the entire cast of characters in your story. Family members, nurses, and doctors are all part of the baby's birth story. So is Father Time. From the moment the pregnancy test says positive, the minutes and hours and days matter. Capture the importance of time in your images somehow.
6. Work with what you have. Don't think about where you wish you were standing or how if the baby was just a little to the left, you could get a much better shot. Work with what you have and shoot away. The only bad shot is the one you don't take. As Tamara notes, the unplanned photos, the ones that come from watching what's going on around you, can be the best.
7. Get close. Are you trying to take a photo of the room or of the new mother? Tamara noted in her crib sheet that getting close will help you focus on the child. In the delivery room, it helps you focus on the story you want to tell, and eliminate anything that might be in the background that you don't want to include in your story. Giving birth is messy business, but you can tell your story without grossing everyone out if you just move in a little closer.
8. Use a shallow depth of field, if possible. Working in monochrome will go a long way in disguising problems with the background, but if you combine that with a shallow depth of field, it's even better. Get the focus of your image where it belongs.
9. It's a joyous day. Feel it and the emotion will come through in your photos.
Welcome to the world, Gil.
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