How to capture your own birth experience

  • mom-snuggling-newborn-in-hospital-by-Elizabeth-Blank

It is funny, as a photographer, the thoughts that go through your head during major life events.

Last year, I learned that we were expecting our third child and, within hours of learning this wonderful news, my brain was already beginning to think about how I could adequately capture this amazing, fleeting time.

When I was pregnant with our first, I had not yet been bitten by the photography bug and the story of her entrance into the world is just a handful of images right after she was born. Fast forward three years later to the birth of my son and, while my passion for photography was certainly there, my focus was on getting precious newborn photos of him once he was home from the hospital and not on capturing the precious details surrounding his actual arrival. It wasn’t until a couple of months after his birth that I became very nostalgic over not having all of the little details preserved forever.

That is why, this time around, I knew things would be different.

In a perfect world, I would have hired a talented birth photographer and been very happy to hand over this huge responsibility to someone else. However, I knew my sweet girl would be making her entrance into this world via c-section and that having a birth photographer was not an option for me (My hospital has a strict policy about allowing only one “support person” in the OR during a c-section.

I would be lying if I said that I didn’t think for a split second about having a birth photographer as my “plus one” in the OR, but figured my husband might like to actually see his daughter come into this world.). So, I got to work thinking about the shots that I knew I absolutely wanted to capture.

Seeing as how this was my third c-section, I did feel like I had a good idea of what to expect in terms of what shots I would actually be able to take, shots that I would need to delegate to someone else and shots that were just not feasible to capture. I broke my list into three different segments to make each one manageable: before delivery, during delivery, and after delivery.

When thinking about the photos that I knew I wanted to capture before my delivery, my mind instantly went to wanting to capture the details of the morning: the time and temperature when we left for the hospital, the weather, the drive to the hospital, a final shot of me and my belly, OR prep, etc. I knew that these shots would be easy for me to take because I would still be in complete control of the situation and my body. It also provided a really great distraction for me as the scheduled surgery time approached since I was focusing on something that I love instead of the impending procedure ahead.

driving to the hospital by Elizabeth Blank

entering the hospital to give birth by Elizabeth Blank

birthing monitors by Elizabeth Blank

Once the epidural was placed, I faithfully handed my camera over to my husband and told him to, “document everything and get creative with the shots”. In all honesty, at this point, my focus definitely shifted from being a photographer to being a soon-to-be mama of three. The nerves took over and I didn’t think much more about capturing the moment.

My husband, however, did a wonderful job in his new role as family photographer and absolutely captured moments that I want to remember forever. I do want to mention that before giving him the camera, I set the manual settings for what I anticipated the operating room to be like in terms of lighting and white balance.

What I did not anticipate was the very bright surgical light that would be directly above my girl as she was born. Some of her very first shots are very over-exposed. At first, I was really disappointed by this, but a few of them were salvageable and now I just look at the over-exposure in those images as a type of censorship, ha! Also important to note, I made certain the the file type was set to RAW as I knew that the images he took might need more editing than normal and I wanted to have the most flexibility later down the line with these images.

prepping for a c-section by Elizabeth Blank

newborn baby in OR by Elizabeth Blank

After the c-section was complete, I was wheeled to recovery where I stayed for a couple of hours. During this time, my husband still had the camera and was capturing everything as it happened – our girl, who we named Molly, being weighed, bathed, with our OB, etc. I did manage to capture some shots of my husband with Molly as they were wheeling me out of recovery to our post-partum room.

daddy meeting baby for the first time by Elizabeth Blank

Once we got to our post-partum room, the pressure to capture every fleeting moment as it was happening was suddenly no longer there. As the adrenaline of the day began to wear off and the pain meds began to set in, photography fell to the back-burner. I didn’t pick my camera back up until that evening when our older two met their sister for the first time. Since I could not get out of bed due to the epidural still being in place, I captured that special meeting as best as I could from my vantage point in the bed. In the end, the images from that night aren’t perfect by any means, but they will always be very special to me.

sibling meeting new baby by Elizabeth Blank

family holding newborn baby in hospital by Elizabeth Blank

For the remainder of our hospital stay, I knew it was important to me that I document what our first four days were like in that room together. There is something so special, so fleeting, about the first days of life when the outside world seems to almost come to a standstill as you relish this new little wonder that has entered the world.

I will say that this part of the stay was the hardest for me to get motivated to shoot. I was very lucky that I was feeling pretty well after my c-section, but it is amazing what lack of sleep and medication can do to your overall general motivation. Hindsight being 20/20, I should have hired a professional photographer to come in for a “Fresh 24-48 Hour” session so that I could have had my main focus be solely on enjoying my precious girl.

Although a birth photographer was not an option for me in the delivery room, a Fresh 24 session was absolutely an option and, looking back, I do wish I had booked a session for this special time so that I would have been able to enjoy the experience while trusting that someone else was capturing it forever.

mom snuggling newborn in hospital by Elizabeth Blank

photo of newborn in hospital crib by Elizabeth Blank

taking newborn home from hospital by Elizabeth Blank

All in all, I am very aware that these images are not award-winning in terms of technicality and composition. That being said, these images are so very special to me because they tell our story. They capture details that will slip out of my memory as time passes. They will later show Molly just how anticipated and loved she was before she even took her first breath. When she is grown, these will be the images that I look back on and get a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach aching for times that once were – and any image that is capable of evoking emotion like that is considered a win for me.

So, if you find yourself in a situation where hiring a birth photographer is not an option, please know that you, with the help of others, can still absolutely capture the details of this life changing event… and even if they aren’t the most perfect images ever captured, they will still hold a very special place within your heart.

***Not all hospitals have the same policy when it comes to photographing c-sections. Please check with your specific hospital to determine the policies they have in place.***

About the Author:

Elizabeth Blank is a photographer just outside of Atlanta where she shoots underwater family sessions for clients. In addition, Elizabeth travels nationally and internationally for underwater commercial shoots. She thoroughly enjoys her work under the surface and, at the end of the day, can't wait to jump back in with her husband and three children; by far, her most fun swim companions ever!

24 Comments

  1. Jess Z. Dec 30 2014 at 1:39 pm - Reply

    I love your pics…I’m about to have my 3rd C-section also! What lens did you primarily use while in the hospital?

    • Elizabeth Blank Dec 31 2014 at 12:27 am - Reply

      Thank you so much, Jess, and congratulations on the upcoming arrival of your little one! These images were taken with a 35mm and a 24-70mm. The shots inside the OR were done with the 24-70 because I wanted my husband to have control over the focal length since he couldn’t move around during the c-section. The shots toward the end of the post were taken with the 35mm. Please let me know if you have any other questions! Best of luck to you as you prepare to meet your newest addition!

  2. katie Dec 30 2014 at 2:02 pm - Reply

    Elizabeth, they are perfect. Every single one of them. I know you love having these amazing photos of your sweet baby girl!

    • Elizabeth Blank Dec 31 2014 at 12:28 am - Reply

      Thank you so much, Katie! You know I’m thrilled to have these shots! πŸ˜‰ xo

  3. Julia Tulley Dec 30 2014 at 2:35 pm - Reply

    Oh Elizabeth! This may be one of my new favorite articles (and I can’t tell you how much I love seeing all of your images- all the pieces of your birth story- together in one place!) Thank you for writing this. Also, if I haven’t already told you- you make really beautiful children! <3

    • Elizabeth Blank Dec 31 2014 at 12:30 am - Reply

      You, Julia, are the sweetest thing ever. Thank YOU for your kind words about the article and your even kinder words about my kiddos. I’m kinda biased, but I think they’re pretty darn cute myself! πŸ˜‰ Thanks, again, sweet friend!

  4. Alice C. Dec 30 2014 at 3:24 pm - Reply

    Wow! Totally amazing <3

  5. Kristy Dec 30 2014 at 6:09 pm - Reply

    This is amazing! I only wish I had been into photography when my babies were born. Thanks for sharing~

    • Elizabeth Blank Dec 31 2014 at 12:32 am - Reply

      Thank you, Kristy. I know what you mean. I’m seriously bummed that I really only have these type of images for one of my three kiddos…. πŸ™

  6. Jenna Wren Dec 30 2014 at 7:37 pm - Reply

    I am in love with this! What a creative and beautiful moment! And that gorgeous baby…unbelievable! Thank you for sharing this, and I 100% plan to do so next time around! πŸ˜€

  7. Lisa Benemelis Dec 30 2014 at 8:06 pm - Reply

    Elizabeth, I love this article!! Your husband did a fantastic job and I love how creative he was. I agree with Julia – you make gorgeous babies! Congratulations.

    • Elizabeth Blank Dec 31 2014 at 12:34 am - Reply

      Thank you, Lisa! I think he did a pretty fabulous job, too. When I showed him the article, he told me he was gonna think about quitting the day job to come work for me. πŸ˜‰ Thanks, again!

  8. Nicole Dec 30 2014 at 9:35 pm - Reply

    These are such beautiful photos! I wish I had known to hire a photographer when my son was born. I realized while in the hospital after delivering how much I wanted those special moments captured. At least I know for next time! Thanks so much for sharing your story! I love the idea of taking control of the parts that are within your control.

    • Elizabeth Blank Dec 31 2014 at 12:35 am - Reply

      Thank you, Nicole! I completely know what you mean in regards to wishing you had done things differently before. I think having those same feelings is what motivated me to so fully capture things this go around. I hope you feel the same way in the future! Best wishes!

  9. Laura Dec 30 2014 at 9:42 pm - Reply

    These pictures are great! I am impressed with the lighting for being in a hospital. Did you use any flash or just natural light?

    • Elizabeth Blank Dec 31 2014 at 12:40 am - Reply

      Thank you so much, Laura! These images are all shot with the natural light from the beautiful florescent hospital lights. πŸ˜‰ I will say – in the ones toward the end of the post – I turned off all of the lights in the room for those and threw open the shades of two very large windows in my room. That day it happened to be incredibly dark and rainy outside which actually really worked out well because the clouds naturally diffused any harsh light from coming in. Please let me know if you have any other questions!

  10. Sarah Dec 31 2014 at 12:07 pm - Reply

    Beautiful photos, Elizabeth! I tried to photograph my last home birth, by using a tripod and interval timer. However, my labor took a couple days and I decided to just photograph the pushing – set to once every five minutes – but pushed him out in four! Ha! I still got a couple bad photos I love. πŸ™‚
    BTW I had three babies at that exact hospital.
    Thanks for the tutorial! Great ideas to think about for next time. And congratulations on your beautiful daughter.

  11. Kelly Jan 03 2015 at 1:38 pm - Reply

    Great tutorial and love all the captures! My first was delivered at NH years ago when I shot film- digital wasn’t around yet! Wished I had images as great as these.

  12. Meg Jan 03 2015 at 7:05 pm - Reply

    Love your post!! I am 38 weeks pregnant and only just got into photography when my first son was born 4 years ago. I have yet to pack my bag for the Hospital but my husband knows that the camera bag is ready to go and is a must πŸ™‚ Thanks for all the great tips and beautiful pictures

  13. Lindsey Pedey Jan 05 2015 at 3:21 pm - Reply

    I loved this article! Tucking it away for when we’re ready to have little ones! <3

  14. Marylin Jan 26 2015 at 2:35 pm - Reply

    Gorgeous photos and fantastic job by daddy! Incredible. One question though, you set your camera to manual and entered all the settings. How on EARTH were you able to nail it so perfectly?!

  15. Kelly Apr 11 2017 at 10:00 pm - Reply

    Beautiful work Elizabeth! We are preparing for our first little one, and I have no idea how she will come into the world. But I know how much photography calms me, and I think it will be super important to try to capture my own experience. You do not need to qualify whether they are “perfectly composed” or not, they are just perfect!!

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