How to Photograph Your Own Birth
These are words I never thought I’d write, folks. But, we’re in the middle of a global crisis that has hospital policies changing by the moment. We are all facing a need to adapt right now – in many ways. The moments of our lives–big and small–are still happening. And they’re no less worth capturing now than they were before!
It breaks my heart that I can’t be with my clients for their babies’ births right now – but more than anything, I want them to have these memories in whatever form they can be captured in. It’s a hugely historic time in our lives, after all – the photographs that we take now will make for an incredible story one day (even if things are really stressful right now)!
So, while it’s always going to be a better idea to have a professional photograph your baby’s birth, (Click here to find out more on why!) I know that there are a lot of parents who really want to get the best photographs that they can in a really scary situation right now.
So, I’ve put together some tips and tricks to help you, your birth team, and your partner best document this time in your family’s life. Having spent a ton of time in the delivery space over the years, I’ve learned some helpful tips and tricks along the way! Whether your partner is taking the photos, your friendly nurse, or even yourself – great photos can still totally happen, even in the midst of chaos. AND, if you want to support your local photographer, you can send the photos you take to them for editing (#HelpUsWe’reBored)
Whatever your camera type–from smartphone to DSLR–I’ll give you some guidance on how to get the best possible photographs for your baby’s birth!
I’m even including a handy downloadable resource for you below, so that you can check off the photos you most want, and mark off the ones you’ve taken.
Okay, so without further ado: How to Photograph Your Birth in a Time of Crisis!
- Knowing what to expect
- The most flattering angles
- Getting the best light
- Tips for using a smartphone
- Tips for using a DSLR or point-and-shoot
- Download your (free) PHOTO CHECKLIST
Know The Flow
The most important thing in getting great photos is to be prepared for them! If you’re having your first child, you may not understand what’s going to happen and when. And if it’s NOT your first child, you may not remember how things go, either (#ParentBrain)! But, knowing what to expect can make a big difference in making sure you’re standing where you need to be, with your camera ready for the big moment. So, here’s how things *usually* go, in a hospital delivery setting. Please note that these may look a little different in the current COVID-19 environment, so be sure to talk to your medical team about what to expect!
- Check-in: Some great photos to get here are “scene-setting”, when things are calm! Heart rate monitors, room number signs, support items – photograph the things around you to document the calm before the storm.
- Early labor (for vaginal deliveries): This differs a little depending on whether or not mom is getting an epidural, but this time is usually a little bit “slow” and should allow you to get some photographs like hand-holding, practice pushes, or (my favorite), last-minute makeup prep! Mom’s body is adjusting to the regular-but-not-yet-intense contractions, so you can take your time getting last-minute selfies and other photos before things get really intense! If mom DOES have an epidural, expect things to be a little quieter – so you can totally sneak in a picture of mom napping!
- Pre-op (for c-section deliveries): Pictures in funny hats are a must, here. Just go with me on this one! Expect to spend time in a small waiting room while waiting for your operating room to be ready, and for your support person to need to hang out in the hallway for a bit while last-minute prep on mom is being performed. Then, once you’re both in place and ready for the big event, there will be a little bit of a wait while the doctor does their thing to get to baby! Ask your nurses or doctor to let you know when the big moment of emergence is approaching.
- Active labor (vaginal deliveries): Here’s when things get really intense! You may have difficulty juggling supporting your partner while still taking photographs. Contractions will be coming closer together, and you may need to put the camera down to coach and support your partner. Get what you can, here – take at least one photo of your partner pushing, so that they can see what a bad-ass they were while bringing a human into the world, later!
- Delivery (vaginal deliveries): This is it! Your birth team will wheel in a cart with necessary medical supplies and (in most cases) place a drape over mom’s legs. This is your cue that things are happening SOON! Partners are usually placed to one side of mom or the other, so you can hold her hand and support her through delivery. This is a great spot to be standing for photos, as it allows you to photograph baby coming out without showing “the full Monty” (unless that’s what mom wants!) There’s usually a little bit of time between baby’s head is out (while your doctor does some suctioning) and when your baby is fully delivered. So, ask your doctor or nurse to let you know when that baby is getting ready to go on full display.
- Delivery (c-section): There’s going to be a few minutes’ wait before baby actually comes out (it takes time to do all that fancy work that your doctor trained hard for!). While you wait, you’ll be stationed, seated, near mom’s head to hold her hand and wait to see that little chunk together. When your doctor gives you notice that the delivery is close, be ready! Your baby will come out, be (briefly) suctioned out on mom’s belly, and your doctor will hold your baby over the surgical drape (if there is one) for you both to see. Your baby will most likely then be brought over to the warmer to be cleaned up, weighed, assessed, and wrapped up for you. Get those weighing and measuring photos! Mom usually has a hard time seeing all that, so she’ll be glad to have those photos later. After that, baby usually gets to snuggle cheek-to-cheek with mom and spend some time with both parents while the doctor finishes sewing mom up.
- “Magic Hour”: This is the time (usually an hour) immediately post-delivery, when mom has skin-to-skin contact with baby, and nurses for the first time (if mom is nursing). This is a really sweet time to get photos of mom snuggling with baby, and the bond of first nursing or bottle feeding. It’s also a time in which baby will (a lot of times) have their eyes open for a few photos, if the light is dim! If you’re having a vaginal delivery, this usually happens in the delivery room before moving to your overnight room. For a c-section, these moments will happen in your recovery room!
- After Magic Hour and beyond: The order of events here will differ a bit per hospital, and depends a little on your birth plan, too. Some hospitals will delay the first bath for a few hours after delivery, and others will do it right away. Some will give baby to your partner to hold right away, and others will delay that until baby has had time to bond with mom as much as possible. But, whenever they happen, the photograph-able events that you can expect after birth are:
- Partner cutting the cord
- Baby meeting your partner, and being held for the first time by them (awwww!)
- Baby’s first bath and measurements
- Baby all snug in their bassinet in a cute lil’ outfit
- Baby with each parent, and with the both of you
Discuss What You Both Want
Look, I’ve been photographing birth for a lot of years now. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that what’s important to one person is not necessarily what’s important to another! Some moms want photos of “the full Monty” with baby crowning, and others don’t even want to be able to tell their legs were open during delivery. Some moms want nursing/feeding photos, and others don’t. There may even be a really important family heirloom that one of you want baby’s photo taken with. Whatever is most important to you, take the time leading up to your delivery to discuss what those photos are – and then make a list! Things may move really quickly, so if you have a list of what’s most important, you’re less likely to forget. Also, discuss what is more important to birth mom if things get really hard – does she want you to drop the camera and hold her hand, or are photos her #1 priority?
Communicate with your birth team
In my experience, doctors and nurses are angels in the best of times – but they really shine in tough times. Most likely, they are going to want to help make this experience the very best for you that they can, while adhering to safety guidelines. So, talk to them about what’s important to you! Ask them for help making the photos that are most important to you happen. Whether it’s holding your camera to get a photo of the two of you post-delivery, or giving you a heads up just before baby’s going to be camera-ready…they’re probably going to do everything they can to make things happen for you! That said, be aware that there may be restrictions in place for this crisis that may mean that not EVERY photo you want is possible. Be sure to respect the #1 job that your birth team has right now–keeping you and your baby safe!
The Most Flattering Angles
Showing (or not showing) what you want
Once you know what photos are most important to you both (and what you DON’T want to have in the photos), think about where you need to stand to make those images happen. I have great success with standing near mom’s head and photographing down towards her feet. If mom doesn’t want to have “crowning” images of baby actually coming out, this is a great angle for avoiding having things show that she may not want. You can also photograph from completely to the side! If mom DOES want crowning images, ask your doctor to let you know when the head is out – then get on in there! 😉
Avoiding the double chin problem
Baby being skin to skin with mom after birth is great for all kinds of reasons (read more about it HERE). It does, however, lead to a little bit of a problem with taking photos of these moments. Mom (of course) wants to look at her sweet new baby, so she looks straight down–and if you’re photographing from the side, she’s going to have a double chin! No woman loves that look, lemme tell you. The great news is that you can fix that look with a simple change of angle! Holding your camera overhead to include mom, or zooming in close to crop mom’s chin out and just get baby makes for a much more flattering photo (you can thank me for this one later).
Getting the Best Light
There’s not a lot that you can do about lighting conditions during the chaos of birth, except changing your angles. Experiment with photographing from different angles when you can. In general, try to avoid photographing from angles that make the light come from directly overhead, as this can create shadows under the eyes that don’t look great! If you’re noticing shadows under mom’s eyes created from an overhead light (when taking posed photos), ask if you can turn that light off (just don’t do this DURING delivery)! If your room has a window, that’s a lot of times the best light you can get. It’s soft, flattering, and doesn’t create harsh shadows. When the fast pace of delivery has slowed down, try taking photos from a few different angles to see what you like best. Here are a few examples!
*Note that for these photos, I am never photographing from the same side as the light is on. The light is always shining from somewhere that I am not standing!
Watch the clutter
There are a lot of “things” in a hospital room that can be distracting in your photos. Cleaning up the clutter around the hospital bed, and photographing from a close distance to crop out distracting elements can make for a clean, more pleasing photo. “Cropping close” is our friend, here! Move your feet to get closer, or zoom in to get rid of distracting things.
Know your gear
Whatever camera you’re using–whether it’s a smartphone, a point-and-shoot, or a DSLR–get familiar with it before the big event! This is not the time to be “that person” who refuses to read the manual. 😉 Knowing how to work your camera before things get hectic will mean less “oopsies” later. Practice on your dog, practice on your significant other…whatever works! Familiarize yourself with all your settings and buttons. Here are some tips for the most commonly used methods of photographing:
- Take photos in “RAW or RAW+JPEG” format. Android and iPhone phones allow you to do this, and it’s a big help in editing photos later, if you’re passing them on to a professional. Even if your photos are too dark or too bright when you take them, this allows us to make your photos look as good as possible later! HERE are instructions on how to do this for iPhones, and HERE are instructions for Android.
- Control your settings, if you can. There are a lot of things a good photographer can help you “fix” in your photos later, but there isn’t a lot that can be done if your photos are blurry because your shutter speed is too slow. Ever taken a cell phone photo in a dark environment and it turns out blurry when someone moves slightly? That’s what we’re trying to keep from happening. Check out THIS article for iPhones, and THIS ONE for Android phones, on how to set your minimum shutter speed. Your phone will take care of everything else for you, but telling your phone to not go below a certain number there will lessen your chance of blurry photos. 1/200 is a good number to start with – and make sure to increase that number if you’re anticipating a lot of movement (like when baby first comes out!).
- Tap to focus and adjust lighting. When you’re framing your shot, sometimes the camera gets confused as to how bright or dark your photo should be. Ever taken a selfie against a beautiful sunset, and your face is all dark? Tapping on what you want to look “right” will fix that! The same goes for when you’re in a hospital environment, and the same goes for focusing. Sometimes your camera will try to focus on what’s closest in the frame, whether or not that’s your baby. So, tapping on what you want to be properly exposed, and in focus, can help make sure you get a great shot!
Point-and-shoots / DSLRs:
- Set your photo quality to RAW+JPEG, and get a good memory card. You want to photograph in RAW on your camera for the same reasons that you do on your smartphone, if you can. Setting your camera to RAW+JPEG gives you a “regular” photo file too (since you can’t upload RAW files to social media without them being edited first). If you’re having your photos edited, your photographer/editor will need the RAW files! Be sure to invest in a good memory card, too – you’ll need plenty of space for allllllll of those photos of precious fingers and toes! THIS is a card that I use in my business – it’s both fast, and has plenty of space! In general, look for cards with bigger storage numbers, and a high “mb/sec” recording speed.
- Use “shutter priority” mode. This is how to set your minimum shutter speed, while letting your camera take care of the rest. Just like setting your minimum shutter speed for your smartphone, this will help your photos not turn out to be blurry from motion! Read your camera manual, or Google the specific way to accomplish this for your camera, and set your shutter at a minimum of 1/200. Practice with this in an environment that will be similar to your hospital room, to make sure there aren’t any surprises when the time comes! Switch back to “auto” mode if you have problems with this setting in the moment. Just watch that shutter number on your settings screen, and aim for 1/200+ if you can!
- Turn off your flash when you can. The flash on the top of your camera can help you get photos in really dark rooms that you couldn’t get otherwise. But, it’s not really the most flattering light, and can create shadows on the wall that are less than ideal. If you can get baby close to a window (and add in parents, once mom’s able to walk!), that will make for a much better photo than one taken with your flash on! Turning off the overhead lights in your room, making the only light for the photo come from the window, makes for a beautiful image when you have daylight!
- Tap to focus and expose, if your camera supports it. Some cameras let you tap on your screen to set brightness and focus, just like a smartphone. If your camera has this setting, use it! It takes the guesswork out of getting a photo that is not too bright or too dark, and in focus.
Know when to put the camera down
Yes, you want great photos of this momentous time in your life. Believe me, I am #TeamBirthPhotos! Always keep in mind, though, that this is a huge life experience, and one worth living in the moment for. When you have a choice between participating in a moment, and photographing it…choose the experience. Don’t live this time in your life entirely through the viewfinder of your camera! When you can (and when your birth team can spare an extra hand), hand that camera off–or put it down entirely! Those baby snuggles only last for so long, friends.
So, count those toes – soak in that “new baby” smell. Hold that precious little bundle against your chest, and savor the soft little sounds they make as they dream.
Those are the moments that matter the very most.
Click HERE, or on the photo below, to download a handy-dandy photo checklist to share with each other and your birth team! And if I can answer any questions for you at all to make your photos great, please reach out! You can email me at BayouRosePhoto@gmail.com, or drop a comment on this post.
Disclaimer: The memory card recommendation in this post is an affiliate link. But only ‘cuz it’s a great card!