The Successful Birth Photographer

At some point “success” in the birth photography world has become a one-way street with the following pit stops: Large following on facebook? Check. Featured on babycenter? Check. Published? Check. Photo gone viral? Check. Pretty soon our portfolio begins to look like handpicked picture perfect moments, rather than a true documentary of birth.

This baby was a twin born at home en caul

This baby was a twin, born at home, en caul. Talk about RARE.

In an effort to keep rising we feel the need to top ourselves again and again. So then our pages and websites become filled primarily with images that one might categorize as “worthy of publication”. They are images of “that moment”. You all know what I’m talking about… mom clutching baby to chest with a perfectly exhausted smile that just reaches out and grabs you.

This baby was just born into her mother's arms in the water. She is povercome with joy.

Born into her mother's arms in the water. "That moment."

Or maybe something more shocking, like a dramatic crowning shot.

This powerful, exhilarating moment is amazing. But it isn't any less powerful or amazing if it doesn't happen exactly like this.

This powerful, exhilarating moment is amazing. But it isn't any less powerful or amazing if it doesn't happen exactly like this.

The truth is, there are other “that moments” that we’ve begun to look at as ordinary. The breaths taken between contractions. A doula giving her 100th hip squeeze. A partner’s quiet supportive hand on Mama’s shoulder.

A doula gives a laboring mother some tlc.

A doula gives a laboring mother some tlc during a long, taxing birth.

A soon-to-be mother catches her breath between contractions.

A soon-to-be mother catches her breath between contractions. Her partner gently reassures her.

These are not ordinary moments, though. These images are just as irreplaceable as the moment a baby emerges or a mother takes that first embrace. Aren’t these “ordinary” moments worthy of sharing? Or is our vision of success leading us away from honest storytelling? From appreciating all parts of birth, rather than ranking some parts of it higher than others? Can the average mom-to-be picture herself in front of your camera? Or would they not even consider it because they feel their birth might not measure up to all those “that moments” you’ve got on your website/business page?

A midwife gives a laboring mother encouragement during her final phase of labor.

Birth is just around the corner, so this midwife gives the laboring mother the encouragement she needs to push through those final contractions.

Laboring on the toilet. It happens. And it is often a pivotal moment in the birth process.

Laboring on the toilet. It happens. And it is often a pivotal moment in the birth process.

We speak of “ideal light”. We hope for tidy home births. We beg for permission to enter the OR, only to be told to stay on the other side of the curtain. And we think that an emotive client makes for a perfect picture. But a truly skilled storyteller finds/creates his own light, is not afraid of cluttered corners (because that’s not where the story is), and most importantly, reveals beauty in raw and unexpected moments, not just the stand-out moments.

And it is the thrill of anticipating all those building moments that keeps me grounded in this work.

A circle of support forms around a mother who's been birthing all day and night.

A circle of support forms. It's been a long day. Towels, pillows, glasses, clothes... all have been tossed aside as focus is given to and only to the laboring mother.

An intense, raw moment just moments before "that moment".

An intense, raw moment in the middle of a bustling hospital room.

After her cesarean is complete, and she's being stitched up, a mother gets to be skin to skin with her baby. Which is as glorious a moment regardless of how baby comes. We cannot let unexpected outcomes affect our work.

After her cesarean is complete, and she's being stitched up, a mother gets to be skin to skin with her baby. Which is as glorious a moment regardless of how baby comes. We cannot let unexpected outcomes affect our work.

So please remember, birth photography is not cookie cutter. There are no “qualifying images” that prove you have made it big, or even that you are a good birth photographer. Precision, technical accuracy, consistent storytelling, and an ability to work skillfully in tough lighting and tight spaces speak far more to the quality of your work. I see this unnecessary struggle every time we submit images to competitions, image calls, hopeful features on big birth pages. A feeling of failure if your births have yet to produce “the shot”. Perhaps it’s become the expectation that there really are only a few standout moments during birth that are real winning images. But we can change that.

This beautiful belly, in between one of the last few contractions.

This beautiful belly, in between one of the last few contractions.

WE hold the power to take back the beauty that is true storytelling. Connect with moms who think birth photography isn’t for them, because they “don’t look like that in labor.” Celebrate the in between moments that make a birth into a birth STORY! Share those small building moments that carry a power all their own! We are here to preserve happy memories of what might be the most pivotal day in a woman’s life (and good heavens that does not come down to one moment). So if you don’t have “that moment” in your portfolio (or have honored your client’s wishes to keep them private), I’m here to say that you are NOT missing some vital piece of the success puzzle. It’s the ability to illustrate the ordinary moments as extraordinary moments that makes you the most successful.

XOXO

Leilani

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