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Five Things Birth Photography is NOT

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Five Things Birth Photography is NOT

This post should be an introduction to birth photography, but instead I thought I would share with you what it is not.

Disclaimer alert: I’m a professional birth photographer registered with the South African Birth Photographers Association. This feature was written in that context.

Ok here goes:

Not explicit.

Birth photography is about the moments of love connection in birth. It’s about a father’s facial expression when he sees his baby for the first time or a mother’s tears when she hears that first cry. It should tell your baby’s birth story with integrity and tenderness. Some people are comfortable and open with some nudity in their birth stories in which instance the photographer may be less conservative in her approach, but a strict privacy and publishing code would still apply if the photographer is professional and ascribes to the SABPA Oath of Conduct.

Not intrusive.

Privacy (or the lack) thereof, is the number one argument that birth facilities, healthcare providers and even fathers sometimes would cite for not wanting a birth photographer present. It is not until they actually experience a professional at work that they realize that not only is a good birth photographer not intrusive, she can actually contribute to holding the birth space for parents – sometimes more so than an OBG (with no disrespect to the role of the OBG) as, like a midwife or a doula, they are a constant in an ever-changing environment. On a practical level a professional birth photographer would work with minimum flash usage (if at all) and if flash is used she will do so in the form of a reflected speed light and not pop-up flash. The SABPA Oath of Conduct addresses many other privacy issues and concerns relating to the privacy of both parents and healthcare providers. Registered photographers are informed on and abide by these privacy requirements.

Not posed.

This point ties in with birth photography being non-intrusive. I am a firm believer in the ‘fly-against the wall’ approach when it comes to birth photography and most birth photographers have a photojournalistic approach and style. This gives birth photography its ‘story-telling’ quality. It also means that the photographer truly captures moments and never directs in any way. Directing birth photography by telling someone where to look or asking a nurse to move her hand so you can get a better view of the baby is taboo in my humble opinion. Not only will your photographer’s work loose authenticity, but other birth professionals will not tolerate this kind of behavior from her and neither should you if you find it intrusive to your experience.

Not cheap.

Or at least it shouldn’t be. Like wedding photography it is a luxury service. It is not a ‘bread-and-butter’ service. It is also highly specialized and requires an immense amount of dedication, skill, compassion (even more so than wedding photography) and an understanding of the birth space. That sort of ‘package’ is invaluable and has to come at a high-end price to make it sustainable. For instance: I only take on three birth clients a month to make sure I give each the attention and love they deserve and to ensure that they receive unfailing on-call service. My pricing structure has to allow me to do that. If it doesn’t, it means I will have to take on more births to make it sustainable and in the process lose my personal touch. Tired, burned-out professionals cannot serve their clients properly and how is that fair? I would by the same token argue that doulas are highly underpriced and valued, but that is a discussion for a different time. A birth session is also not limited to living on call and the single attendance of a birth. There is also the hours and hours of post-production that starts after what is often a 12 hour or more birth.

Not about a shot-list.

I have to smile when I get asked if I could perhaps ‘just capture that first breath’ to save costs. Birth knows no time. It’s unpredictable. It’s a journey. A story. Not a shot-list. A shot-list would by default lead to intrusiveness. A shot-list would mean posing and directing and a complete disrespect for birth. Can you imagine if a birth photographer just swooped in at the moment of birth? How that would disturb the birth space? So I never make any promises. I can try. I can aim, but I always discourage my clients from having the ‘perfect shot list in their mind’. My advice is always to see how the journey unfolds and capture it truthfully and with integrity.

I would like to end off by saying what birth photography IS:

I truly believe that those first memories & stories of love and connection are the most treasured heirloom we can give our children. I also believe that a birth photographer should understand how to hold the birth space for a mother (and her birth partner) in a manner that shows empathy, understanding and respect for both the healthcare but also humanity aspects of birth with a particular focus on what it means for the parents. I summarize birth photography as follows:

“Birth photographs should in my opinion not be perfectly posed pictures. Instead it should provide parents, children and family with timeless ties to the emotions, feelings and physical surroundings at the moment a new life force entered their reality – a window to the loving souls of a mother, a father, a brother, a sister or a grandparent at first sight. How they looked. What they wore. It’s about providing families with living, irreplaceable memories of the moments of love, connection and firsts surrounding the birth of a baby.”

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Love Alda

Alda is the mother of three beautiful children and one of Cape Town’s foremost and well-published birth photographers and mentors. Being a mom has had a profound influence on her work. Birth photography is a labour of love to her – a joyous celebration of this beautiful, fragile life we all share and she has attended and captured many, many births both natural and c-section.
She is the founder and chair of the South African Birth Photographers Association and has recently completed a course through UCT in Medicine & The Arts.
As birth professional and mother she enjoys nothing more to share and knowledge and experience with parents eager to be empowered with knowledge and information.
Among her many accomplishments she has recently partnered with Nikon to represent them in the birth photography market and has also started a birth professional mentoring initiative for birth photographers, midwives, doulas, OBG’s and more at www.aldasmith.com

Visit Alda at www.lovealda.com