1. When did you start photographing births? And why did you choose this field?
I actually started attending births about 8 years ago as a doula. In 2009 I very suddenly lost most of my hearing and during the first year of relearning how to hear with my new hearing aids I wasn't able to attend births and is when I started my affair with photography. I had coincidentally just got my first dslr, just to play with, about a month before this happened. I had about 6 months or so where my world was pretty much silent and it forced me to see things completely different and I began using photography as a creative outlet. Within that year I was invited to attend a birth as a birth photographer for the first time instead as of the doula. I knew immediately that was where my journey would go. So, I've been attending births for 8 years, but photographing them for about 4. My passion has ALWAYS been labor and birth, even as a little girl I would pretend I was a labor nurse or a nursery nurse. The photography part came later.
2. What's in your bag? (What camera and equipment do you use at births?)
I use a canon 5D mark II and a 6D. I use my 35mm and 50mm the most at births and will occasionally take out my 100mm for long across the room shots or macro. If we go on a walk outside I bring my 135mm. I also bring lots of memory cards, extra batteries, a flash and a rode mic and a mono pod (for video).
3. Do you prefer color images, black and white images or both?
Definitely both. I process every image in color in Lightroom and then export it and do my black and white conversion. I can't ever choose so I give my clients both. Some images I feel really speak to me in black and white because it forces the viewer to only see the emotion and not be distracted by the color and some of them the color is so rich I just can't see it in black and white.
4. With being on call for births and having a child of your own, how do you make it work?
With lots of help and support. I have a good back up plan all the time. We don't go anywhere without considering what we would do if I got called to a birth. If we're going somewhere nearby and I haven't had any 'heads up' texts we will generally take one car. If we are traveling where I know I could have the potential to get stuck in traffic if I needed to rush we will take two cars. We take two cars to events and holidays so if I get called the entire family doesn't have to leave. I have a great sitter that I can take my littles to on very short notice if it's during the work week otherwise my husband has them. It's certainly not always easy, but I love my work and my family supports me which is a must have. There is no way I could do this if my family didn't support my on call schedule. It's not just me on call, my entire family is on call. Otherwise I just try to live my life just like anyone else, I just make sure I could dash to a birth quickly if needed. I don't put my life on hold. We do have to plan vacation 8-9 months in advance though and there are no spontaneous road trips unless I just happen to have a break where I'm not on call.
5. Do you meet with clients prior to the birth?
Most of the time, yes. I have been hired very last minute several times though and my client didn't feel like it was important to meet before because they got my name from a family/friend or from their care provider/doula so they trusted their referral. It's always fine either way honestly. I've attended so many births I can quickly get the feel of the labor/client and blend in easily. I have been to births where I was hired days before and mama was so into labor when I got there we didn't say "hi" until after baby and some of those clients have turned out to be great friends.
6. How do you plan and prep for each birth?
Other than making sure my gear is ALWAYS ready and batteries are charged and memory cards are ready to go, I don't do a whole lot. I will usually lay clothes out or hang them in my office (my home office) if I know I have a mama getting close or if I have a few clients due around that time so that if I needed to leave very quickly in the middle of the night I can just throw clothes on and go. I also bring an extra set of clothes when we go out if I'm wearing something I wouldn't want to go to a birth in so I could leave from there. I also make sure that I have all of their numbers programmed into my phone with their birth place "Susie - home" so that if they call in the middle of the night I know exactly who it is and where I'm headed before I pick up. It's also helpful to have already mapped where I'm going so that I know the roads I need to take, any alternate routes if needed, and how long it would take me to get there.
7. How do you handle doctors, nurses, staff, etc.?
I get along with pretty much all care providers. I certainly have several at different locations that I just love to work with and they get excited when I'm there. We're pretty fortunate in our area because most of the hospitals and birth centers really love birth photographers because we've built a good relationship and have a healthy respect with them. They know I feel like their job is most important and I will stay out of the way and know when I should stop shooting or when it's okay to keep shooting and in return they do their best to make sure I have what I need (light, standing where I need to, moving things out of the way without me even asking...). I start out every birth by giving them their space to do what they need to do and show them that I'm not there to get in their way.
8. What is your biggest challenge as a birth photographer and how do you overcome it?
The on call schedule and missing important things with my family. I've missed Christmas eve, Easter, birthday's, anniversaries, parties, first soccer games... It's really hard to plan birthday parties or anything like that because I never know if I'll actually be there or not. I'm currently training/mentoring some photographers that I really like and building a collaborative group so that we can back each other up. I hope that doing this will allow me to schedule more time off with my family through the year without having to block of an entire month. I hate turning people down because I'm very committed to being at every single birth so it's generally easier to just tell them I'm not available than saying I'm available 'except' these dates. So I'm working on finding a solution so I can continue to work full time documenting births but also find a healthier balance with my family. My kiddos need me too so I'm committed to finding ways to make everyone happy.
9. What advice would you give to other photographers considering birth photography?
Be sure you have a plan for everything (being able to leave at a moments notice ANYTIME). Learn birth inside and out. One of the most important aspects of birth photography is knowing (and respecting) the birth process. Know what labor and different kinds of births looks like. Learn what is normal. Learn what the emotional needs are of a woman in labor and her family because it helps you to be sensitive to those needs. Learn what different things in labor and birth might mean for you (inductions, first time mom, multiple babies, known complications, scheduled c sections, unexpected c sections, breech, unexpected breech birth, shoulder dystocia...). Learn what to do if things don't go as planned. Understand that 99% of the time you will be capturing images that are saturated with joy, but there will be that 1% that will send you to your knees and it's going to happen if you do this type of work. Respect that life is fragile. Find another birth photographer you can call in the middle of the night or on your way home when you just need to talk before you get home. It's important to not only have the support from your family, but to have someone who also does this kind of work that you can process with. You can't do this work alone.
10. What do you photograph besides births?
I enjoy photographing maternity and newborn. I really love getting to go through this entire journey with a family.
11. Tell us about your mentoring sessions, what do you teach and what will students learn?
In my 2 hour online mentoring sessions I try to meet my student where they are and then help them get over whatever hurdle they are having a problem with. Some of them have a strong handle on photography already and don't really need much of the photography part but more how to apply what they know to birth. So I teach them about that part. Some are having specific problems with lighting or some of the obstacles that are birth specific like tight spaces, crowded rooms, little to no light so I help them find ways to overcome those. For those who just feel like they need to start from the beginning and learn it ALL then I offer one on one in person mentoring and a weekend workshop that I teach with two other amazing birth photographers/cinematographers. Our in person workshop goes over EVERYTHING and is very hands on. We do lots of classroom teaching and then take what we learn and teach them to apply it in birth settings. We go to a birth center with a midwife and also go to a local hospital and get to shoot inside of a real labor suite and even inside of the OR to prepare them for surgical births. So I have a little bit of everything for where ever they are in their journey.
12. Please share with us your top 5 favorite images!
13. What is your photography site and NewbornPhotography.com url?
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