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July 29 2010

Twin Cities birth photographer Gwendolyn Waite shares the beginner’s guide to birth photography today on the blog.  Her gorgeous work in the birth photography field makes her the perfect candidate for sharing how to get the gig, how to photograph the gig, and how to avoid making common mistakes you might make during the gig.


Birth photography. You mention it to
people, and they either get it, or they don’t.
Some people will call
you all kinds of crazy. Birth photography is certainly not for
everybody. But for those folks who do choose to document their birth
in photos and who appreciate the art, beauty, and storytelling of
birth photography – these images will be their most cherished. The
ones they run to rescue from a fire. The ones that survive
generations. The ones that bring tears to their eyes. Every. Single.

Having been on both ends of the camera
during the birth process, I can tell you how incredibly beautiful
these images are to a family. I only have a couple snapshots from my
oldest kids’ births, but they are still the most amazing, beautiful
photos of two of the most important days of my life. However, I would
give anything to go back in time and have a birth photographer tell
our story of those days. All those tiny details I will never be able
to remember, that were lost in the momentum of the day. When I was
pregnant with my third child, I knew that I had to document the story
of his birth more completely. Hiring a birth photographer is one of
the best decisions I have ever made. Ever.

So why would a family choose to hire a
birth photographer, instead of having a family member snap away?
Simple. A birth photographer will capture all those little details
that will otherwise be forgotten. The look of relief on mom’s face
when she’s made it through another contraction. The clock two hours
in, seven hours in. Grandma, waiting patiently in the hallway. A hand
of support on mom’s shoulder. Dad’s face when he makes the first
phone call announcing the birth. All of those small moments that
would slip by, unnoticed. These photos, woven together, tell the
story of the birth day.

A birth photographer will also free up
everybody else at the birth to support mom. After the baby is born,
dad can focus all of his attention on mom and the baby, and enjoy
those first incredible moments knowing that the story is being


Some of you as photographers will be
drawn towards this type of documentary photography, but might not be
sure how to get going. Here are some tips about how to get started as
a birth photographer.

  1. Know the birth process inside
    and out.

If you haven’t
given birth, then talk to people who have. Read or listen to some
birth stories. Become familiar with the process so you’re not taken
by surprise at the birth.

  1. Start shooting.

Talk to everybody
you know, and tell them that you’re hoping to photograph a birth.
Find a friend who is pregnant, and see if you can shoot her birth.
Talk to a midwife or doula in town, see if they know anybody who
would like to have their birth photographed. Post a model call on
your blog, like this fabulous Philadelphia birth photographer did.
Talk to people.

Everywhere you go, mention that you would like to
photograph a birth. Someone’s up for the adventure.

  1. Talk with the parents.

If you don’t know
the parents, meet them before the birth. Give them a chance to get to
know you a little bit. Nobody wants a total stranger at their birth.
Even if you do know the parents, talk with them about what to expect.
Let them know how you’ll turn into a fly on the wall at the birth.
How you’ll capture the most incredible moments of their life without
making a big production.

Discuss whether
they want “the shot.” You know, the one. The crown glory. The
money shot. If they want you to photograph the baby crowning, discuss
it before the birth.

You don’t want to be asking permission to be up
in a laboring woman’s business between pushes. Trust me.

Show the parents
some photos of another birth you have photographed, or better yet, a
slideshow set to music. Show them how beautiful these photos will be.
Not graphic. Not intrusive. Simply extraordinary.

  1. Get a signed contract.

Birth photography
is like no other photography out there. There’s no way to relive that
day if you don’t make it. And seriously, there are a million reasons
why you wouldn’t make the birth. The baby could come early. There
could be complications, and they might need to do a C-section. It
might be a very quick birth. You might not be able to get child care
for your kids. You might not be let into the hospital room. You need
to be covered legally in case you miss the birth. Get a rock-solid
contract, and have your client sign it before the birth. Not
in-between contractions. Before.  Here is one resource for a birth photography contract.

  1. Be prepared.

First of all, know
your camera. The lighting can be not only less than ideal, it can be
downright horrific. Know how to handle that. Things move really fast
when the baby comes out and you don’t want to be fumbling around with
your camera settings.

Second, make
arrangements to reschedule your life when you’re called in for the
birth. That might involve child care, rescheduling photo shoots, or
changing appointments. You will be on call 24/7 for up to four weeks,
possibly more. Be ready to drop everything.

minneapolis_birth_photographer3.jpgStay tuned for part 2 of this guide from Gwendolyn Waite next week, nation!  And don’t forget to leave Gwendolyn some love, pretty please.