The Truth About Birth Photography

Birth photography has become a hot topic here lately.  It started with an article in the New York Times.  I was interviewed for the article.  Life in Motion Photography was linked and was mentioned.  When it appeared on the front page of the New York Times earlier this week, it spurred a rash of other articles popping up including Yahoo, MSN, The Stir, The Project, The Bump, Baby Center and many others.  Major networks including Good Morning America and The Today Show have also shown an interest in the concept of birth photography.  I believe exposing the masses to the idea of birth photography is a wonderful thing.  But I also think there are many negative things being written and shared that are, well, simply untrue and not accurate. I founded the International Association of Professional Birth Photographers in 2010.  I’ve been active in the birth community for quite a few years.  I’ve been photographing births for going on 5+ years now and I mentor birth photographers from around the world.  On the flip side, I also had the birth of my 3rd child photographed and I’ve hired an amazing birth photographer to photograph the birth of my next child, due in October.  All that to say, I’d like to think I understand a thing or two about this business and birth.  And that is what I’m going to write about today.  I hope you will hear me out.

First, birth photography is beautiful.  It is not gross, or yucky, or distasteful as I’ve read online in the last few days.  One of the main things lacking in the New York Times article was the true beauty of birth photography.  Where are the images?  Where is the emotion?  You have to see it, to get it.  So let’s do that.  Let’s look at the real beauty of birth photography and all that it has to offer.  I encourage you to click on a few of the links below.

The Birth of Sophie by Jeri Hoag

The Birth of Harleigh Rae by Keri Duckett

The Birth of Miles by Michele Anderson

The Birth of Maddie Rose by Lyndsay Stradtner

The Birth of Carter by Wendi Schoffstall

The Birth of Lola by Natalie Carstens

The Birth of Ephraim by One Tree Photography

These are just a few examples I have on hand.  There are so many amazing birth photographers out there.  I encourage you to browse through our directory and the websites of many of our talented members.  I have found through the years that most of those who oppose birth photography have an misconception about what it really is.  Most have never actually seen it, they just have an idea about what it is.  I’ve found that people have to *see* it to really *get* it.  It’s not about the crowning shot, which is such a common misconception.  Sure, some parents request that particular photo and it can be done respectfully and with integrity.  If that photograph is taken, it accounts for around 2% of the birth photography images presented to client.  Most of the time parents choose to keep those images private, but the choice is theirs.  There is much more to birth photography than the actual moment of birth.  So much more.  It’s the birth environment, the light in the room, the details, the comings and goings of those who are there.  It’s mom holding on to dad in pain, the doula offering a supportive hand, the midwife making suggestions for pain relief and the OB preparing and helping mom push.  It’s the baby placed on moms chest for the first time, the tears of joy, pure adrenaline, the cutting of the cord and babies little toes and fingers.  It’s the first time a sibling meets a new baby brother or sister with a look of wonder and apprehension.  It’s all of those things put together.  It’s the journey of a birth day.  It’s the making of a family.  It’s special.  And if a family chooses so, it deserves to be captured.

The New York Times article mentioned the word “diva” and it made me cringe.  I can honestly say that I’ve never been hired by a “diva”.  No, it is quite the opposite, in fact.  The moms who hire me do so because they want their memories captured and they overlook how they might feel about their own appearance.  They do so because they want their baby captured and because they want the journey of labor and all the details with the support team captured.  Being a diva has nothing to do with any of that. I can fairly say the moms I’ve photographed during labor and delivery are both humble and modest.  Many are concerned about privacy with their images.  Many moms want these images for themselves, and never have the intention to share them with friends, family or the general public.  You will find quite a few slideshows on my website, but there are more that will never be seen because the parents chose to not share them.  Those images are theirs, they are special and private, just for them.  That’s ok.  And so is sharing if that is what you choose to do.  Every single slideshow I have shared has been edited to the wishes of my clients.  I loved sharing the slideshow of the birth of my third child, it was a huge moment in our lives.  It’s all about comfort level and trusting the professional you hired to photograph you in a positive light and according to your wishes.  A good professional birth photographer will talk with you in detail before the birth about what exactly you do and do not want photographed and then follow that path.  For many parents, giving birth is one of the most defining and special moments in their lives.  Wanting to have it captured so you can remember it does not make you a diva or vain.

Another question I see a lot is “why can’t dad just take the photos?”.  This is a great question and I have a great answer!  Dad deserves to be in the photo too.  This is the birth of his child and he should be able to experience it take it all in without the responsibility of focusing on the camera in his hand.  His job is to support mom and experience the birth of their child along with her.  It is easy for family members to get caught up in the moment and forget the camera is in their hands.  Many clients tell their birth photographers that they captured moments they totally missed or didn’t even know were happening because they were so caught up in having gone through labor and given birth.  Imagine the enormity of that gift, to walk away from your birth with extra moments.  Birth photography is also growing in popularity amongst military families.  For these families, having a professional birth photographer means that a dad who is deployed gets to experience the birth of his child in a way he never would have been able to otherwise. Additionally, the majority of my clients are not first time parents.  Moms often tell me they hire me because they “don’t want to forget again”.  I am among the mothers who feel that way and easily declare my child’s birth photographs as one of my most prized possessions.

One thing Ms. Gootman got right in her article is that being an on-call birth photographer is tough.  Yes, that she got right!  We live next to our phones, even in the shower and while we sleep.  We jump when the phone rings, we don’t travel without major planning ahead, we take our cameras with us when we go further than a few miles from the house, we give up school programs with our kids, we miss birthdays and holidays, we also panic if we get sick and look for someone to back us up, we give up freedoms of being able to come and go and plan ahead.  It is a sacrifice for not only us, but our spouses and children.  That’s a big part of the expense when hiring a professional birth photographer, being on call, the many hours away from our families, loss of sleep and convenience and even more hours in front of a computer editing.  Comparing dollars to time with a birth vs. portrait work, I certainly make more off portrait work.  I don’t do this job to get rich, I do it because I really, really, love what I do.

The New York Times article also sent an underlying message that birth photographers are not professional.  Portraying yourself as a friend with a nice camera and fancy lenses is not something a professional, experienced, birth photographer would do.  I have never been treated as a guest of my client at a birth.  I present myself as a professional and have been respected by every medical professional I’ve come in contact with, hospital or otherwise.  I’ve never been kicked out of the room by a doctor, nurse or hospital administrator based on my mere presence.  I’ve always been treated as a professional.  Why?  Because I am one and I behave as one.  I am a part of that birth team.  The parents have chosen to have me there and it is their birth experience.  I am not intrusive to the process.  I have respect for the health of both mom and baby and know that is always top priority.  This means staying out of the way, which is perfect, because most of us in this business take a “fly on the wall” lifestyle approach to birth photography.  Every medical professional I have encountered has appreciated and respected that.  In fact, during my last hospital birth, one of my favorite OB’s saw me in the hall and excitedly ran over to ask if I was there for her patient.  I have a working relationship with the area hospitals and birth centers.  We get along, I follow the rules and they are respectful of my professionalism.  They are happy their patients are getting what they want and need out of their birth experience.  You know what else?  They love the photographs too.  Are there exceptions to this?  Of course.  There are a few photographers out there who have had trouble with hospitals allowing them in for birth photography, but they are very few and far between.  I know most of the photographers interviewed for Ms. Gootman’s recent article in the New York Times and I know for a fact she had to hunt far and wide for a doctor to interview that wasn’t on board with birth photography.

Birth photography is not for everyone, and that is ok.  Some families want their privacy and don’t wish to invite a photographer to their birth and we respect it isn’t for everyone.  But for those just hearing about birth photography for the first time, please open your mind and understand what birth photography really is all about.  Please know, we are professionals and we act accordingly.  We care about positive birth experiences.  We care about the health of mother and baby.  We respect the medical and birth professionals our clients have hired and follow the rules and procedures they put in place.  We are respectful of the birth process and birth experience.  We respect the mother’s choices when it comes to what she does or does not want photographed.  And through all this professionalism, we may still shed a tear when a baby is born.  We are invested in our clients, they become friends, I assure you we are not a stranger in the room.

The truth about birth photography is that it is beautiful and misunderstood.  We are storytellers and we really love what we do.


Written by Lyndsay Stradtner,
Lyndsay is the founder of The International Association of Professional Birth Photographers, and actively involved in the Austin photographers community.

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