some notes on my first birth photography experience for photographers and expectant photogingmamas

1/100 @ f3/5 3200 ISO @ 16 mm using Canon 5D Mark II 16-35 mm f/2.8 edited Florabella Luxe II B/W Film

I posted about my experience with her birth earlier tonight HERE and full image details HERE.

But I thought I would give some more details about the shooting to those who are planning on trying this and for those who want to do it for friends or family. Her actual birth took place during the day so we had some ambient light (but the shades were up) which doesn’t seem to matter because, if you have had a baby, you know the lights they use overpower anything and everything. White balance is a bit difficult because of the mix of different types of light and natural light. This doesn’t really concern me because I prefer to convert my images into black and white – to me this is inherent to this type of shooting because it seems more like “story-telling” which is what you are essentially doing. I did leave a few in color, but the black and white’s are my favs by far.

First, I would be sure to get there in plenty of time to get the details-the things mom doesn’t even see before they are used and probably after they are, you know, sans the tray they keep in the closet so not to scare mom with all the tools and such.

I left the bag in color because the baby’s name is Paisley and I couldn’t change the Paisley color! I usually do not mix black and white’s with color but this time, it called for it so I made an exception. I especially love the lights on all the machines-I love that glow at night. It speaks to me-nothing says having a baby than beeping and glowing machines in the middle of the night!

The lights during the labor are bright but…if you are getting any of the laboring that may be a different story. Even if it is daytime there are scenarios where you might not get much light-the room may not have a window, it might be a dark day, and most of all, a laboring mommy in pain probably does not want a lot of bright lights on when she is working through her pain. So, I hate to say it, but faster lenses will get you through-I would recommend nothing less than a f/2.8 just in case and at least one that is lower (in case of the worst case scenario). If you don’t own a faster lenses and you have time I would rent one. BorrowLenses (see their ad on the right side of my blog) are reasonable, quick (get the next day) and takes care of all the shipping. Plus you can try out expensive lenses without paying a fortune!

Why? Because you need to have your shutter speed at a decent rate (I don’t think I went below 1/100) to catch action without blur which means you either have to have a lower f/ or a higher ISO. If you have a 5d Mark II or above the noise isn’t a huge deal but anything lower and noise becomes a problem when you jack it up. Then you end up with grain (which I love a certain amount but nothing that degenerates the quality of the image) and have to run noiseware which can reduce the clarity of your image.

For this birth I had a Canon 16-35 mm f/2.8 (mine), and I had rented both a Canon fisheye f/2.8 & a Canon 50 mm f/1.2 (because I am thinking about buying it) for THIS wedding (sorry all I have is the crappy quality facebook album up-no blog post yet). Basically I used the wide angle for a lot of the shots and had it handy (as I thought it would be longer than one push and I could switch lenses out!) but for the birth I had the 50mm on one 5D Mark II and the fisheye on the other 5D Mark II. As you can see, with the fisheye I was strategically placed where I could get everyone and everything and be a part of the action but not be-you know what I mean? It’s not about my picture taking-its about me capturing what would happen without me there without anyone realizing I am there.

1/100 f/3.5 @ 1250 ISO using fisheye (see how my ISO went down because of all the lights but I did put my aperture to 3.5 so I could reduce the bokeh and get everything in focus)

And don’t forget the sweet details…the sibling sleeping in the waiting room waiting for baby sister:

And then her first glimpse of her future best friend, biggest advocate, and probably source of much fighting too!

And don’t forget the must haves:

  • Renata - November 4, 2011 - 1:48 pm

    Just found your blog and am in love with your work. A friend of mine suggested I try birth photography and that’s how I found you. I love photography, take way too many photos a month, but had never done anything professionally (well, I did school photography… oh, just not the same, huh?). I have a Rebel XTi and my adored 50mm 1/8, and now I’m hunting for a pregnant woman who will let me capture her birth. This is very new here in Canada, and I just want to thank you for being sooo nice and sharing your knowledge with us. I hadn’t really found anything unless you pay a few hundred dollars for the info. So, Thank you very much!ReplyCancel

  • Renata - November 9, 2011 - 12:13 pm

    A friend of mine suggested I try birth photography. I absolutely loved the idea. That’s pretty new here in Canada, and searching the internet I found you. Just wanted to say a big thank you for sharing your knowlede. I’ve been looking for some tips and cannot find anything unless I pay some. I have a Rebel XTi and a 50mm f/1.8. Not much but will have to do for now. Do you think that’s enough to start? Well,again… Thank you very much for sharing.ReplyCancel

    • kansas - November 9, 2011 - 12:24 pm

      Renata, I used a fisheye for the wide shots and a 50 mm 1.2 on a full frame. You may find that a 50mm on a crop sensor may not be wide enough for you. If you book something I would recommend renting a few lenses t o try out-possibly a 15 mm fisheye for wide shots of the entire room and a 35 or 24 mm 1.4. It is very emotional but so fabulous-I thoroughly enjoyed it ;-) Good luck!ReplyCancel

  • Renata - March 31, 2012 - 9:30 am

    I can’t believe I forgot to bookmark you! I had my first session in January (I did it free of charge, just for the experience). You are right, the 50mm was really tight. It was at night, we had very lillte light… it was challenging. I just got a 17-50mm f/2.8, and hope to upgrade my camera soon. Can’t wait to try again. You can see my photos on my Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Renata-Pollock-Birth-Photography/193630014053752

    I would love the opinion of a professional :)

    Here in Canada is not as easy to rent. I looked for it, it would take a few days to get to me, and my client was two weeks overdue. I really enjoyed the session… so special, so emotional. This is something I really want to do… only birth photography. Thanks for the inspiration.ReplyCancel

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