I loved this session because we did a mix of photos and video. If you want to see their newborn video, click on this post to watch their entire birth story ending with hanging out at the beach as a family.
I am so honoured to write "Tuesday's Tip" for the Birth Photography Facebook Page.
If you can predict anything about birth photography, it's that a birthing environment is unpredictable. Most births seem to happen at night, when the world is already dark and calm. Birth is a primal experience and women feel much more comfortable and relaxed when their surroundings are dark. Just think about it… you are vulnerable when you are labouring; would you feel more comfortable labouring and having your legs spread open in a bright room where everyone can see you or in a dark room where you feel safe and relaxed and alone? Often the lights in a birth room are turned off or turned low to give that labouring mama the privacy she needs to relax and release her baby.
So, the million dollar photography question, "how do you shoot in low light without a flash?" There is definitely a time and a place for using flash in birth photography and you should never go to a birth without a flash in your toolkit, but I try to use it as seldom as possible. Instead, I love shooting in low light and embrace those divinely beautiful next-to-no-light scenes. Shooting without a flash in low light gives you a lovely bokeh, and I admit the photos will be softer than the crisp images you can get with flash, but they also tell the story of the birth environment so truthfully and portray the romantic drama and emotion of a birth story.
First things first, the idea that "it's not the gear you have, it's how you use it," well, that idea doesn't apply to low-light photography. If you want to take brilliant birth photos in the dark, then you need top of the line gear. You absolutely must be shooting on a full frame camera with a lens that can shoot at a low aperture. If you are shooting on entry level gear, your photos WILL be blurry and littered with grain, or worst case scenario you won't even be able to focus your camera and will miss a moment all together because your camera sensor won't have enough light to find your subject. If you want to shoot births, you must have professional gear and be prepared to shoot it in next-to-no-light.
Second, practice makes perfect, but don't practice with actual births. A birth happens once in a lifetime, you must know how to use your gear before advertising to photograph births. You should be able to change your settings in a moments notice so you don't miss a shot. Practice at home, at night with only a few candles lit in your bedroom. You should be able to capture crisp images with a moving subject.
Third, let's talk settings. I push my camera to it's limits. When the lights go out, I crank my ISO up. I'm comfortable shooting as high as 12,800. Yes, there will be a lot of grain (which I choose to embrace) but this can also be improved in post-production when editing in Lightroom or Photoshop.
I also have no problem pushing my lens to it's limits and will shoot with apertures at 1.4 if I absolutely need to. I prefer to keep my aperture around 2.8 for most scenarios, but in low light, I don't mind shooting wide open.
Fourth, it's just common sense, but you must have a steady hand when you push down that shutter button. Since I stretch my shutter speeds to low levels, it's important that I have a very steady hand. I will often brace my camera with my elbows in against my body to give extra stabilization. Camera shake can easily ruin a photo when you are shooting with such delicate settings. So make sure to focus on the exact spot you are intending to (there is less forgiveness at these settings) and hold still while the shutter takes 2 shots-- the first one might be blurry, but the second one will be perfect.
Here are a few low-light photos, taken in dark rooms with 1 small light source to show you some moody examples of the beauty of low-light birth photography.
The moment a woman becomes a mother is one of the most incredible, pivotal moments of her life. After years of dreaming, 9 months of waiting, and several hours or days of labour, you receive the biggest reward of a lifetime. The main reward is that little person that lives and breaths, but the secondary reward, and perhaps the greater reward is the transforming gift of motherhood.
When you become a mother, you become someone new. Baptized into this roll that is not for yourself but has you living and giving to another. The exhaustion, determination, confusion, loneliness, togetherness and selflessness converts you into a better version of yourself. This version grows just as the little ones grow. Your heart beats a little different. Your soul sings a new song.
After my own birth, I remember feeling more powerful than superwoman, like I had conquered the world and in that moment, I must have been the strongest woman alive. The adrenaline rush was incredible and I was floating above the world. Then seconds later, I immediately had more gratitude for my own mother and instantly felt more bonded to her. The days and weeks that followed were hard and they transformed me into a better, stronger, more capable version of myself. The days are still hard, but I wouldn't change it for anything. Because of those 2 amazing little people that I have been entrusted to raise, I am filled with an immeasurable amount of love, laughter and life… so much so that I feel like I could burst.
I asked some of the women who invited me to capture their journey into motherhood to tell me how they felt "the moment they became a mother…" This is what they said:
"The moment I became a mother, I was changed forever. From that moment on, everything I would do, I would think of someone else first. My baby boy changed the way I looked at every problem, every joy, every experience. Time slowed down and sped up all at the same time. Being a mother is something indescribable. Like your heart is now walking around outside your body, never to return."
One of my favourite quotes is, "The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new."
Happy Mothers Day.
This is such a beautiful birth story. I got to know this mama (and her beautiful girls) at her maternity session (which can be seen here) and we discussed her birth plan which sounded serene --a quiet home birth, labouring to calming music and birthing in a candlelit tub.
The evening of February 13th, this mama sensed things were happening so that night she put her girls to bed and knew she would meet her baby soon. She called her midwife who came and checked her. She was only 1cm and decided to go to bed to get some rest. When she awoke at 12:50am, she was in labour. She called her birth team to gather and by the time I got to her house Arrow had just been born (suddenly with 1 push) right there in her bathroom.
This little man has such a beautiful birth story. He came quickly and didn't give mom time to even get into the tub, but his birth was perfect. We was welcomed into his mama's arms, chord cut by daddy, and then after nursing on mom's bed, mom and him relaxed in a warm tub together. Her entire birth story can be read here on her blog.
I so so so loved documenting his journey with photos and video:
My sister. I only have one sister… and we've always been close. She's been at both my births, and I've been to hers. This was a special birth because it's the last time she will travel this journey and experience these emotions. (I'm crying just typing those words.) Birth is hard. It's not "fun" but there is something about it that's magical. Despite the pain, women want to give birth. My sister is an amazing birther. She is in control in her labours, she's focused, she knows she needs back pressure, silence and water. It's been the same every time, so it was nice to know what to expect this time, except we didn't expect things to happen as fast as they did.
Rewind back to the holidays. All through Christmas we were waiting for this little babe to arrive. My sister was overdue and we were waiting… in anticipation at every family event. Finally on Boxing Day, after all the family events were wrapped up, she called me at 8:45pm to let me know things might be starting but were "early." I hurried to her house which was quiet and peaceful. It was a beautiful night for life to enter this world. The kids were all sleeping, and she and her husband were working together. The 3 of us offered up a prayer for safe delivery. Things moved quickly… the midwives soon arrived to set up and when they checked her, she was already 10cm. The tub was finally full and she crawled in and melted into the water… (oh, I remember how good that water feels.) 5 minutes later and another boy entered her family at 9:59pm, still in the bag of waters (you can see it slipping off him as the midwife pulls him up out of the water.) PS: Thanks to the midwives from Abbotsford Midwifery Group and West Coast Health Collective for being so awesome.
To my sister: Thank you for inviting me in to capture this birth and all your births. I've seen you at your strongest. You are such an amazing mama from birthing to potty training to home schooling. I'm so happy we live close together and raise our kids side by side.
Watch the full birth story:
When I stepped into this home birthing environment it was peaceful, sacred and there was so much support present. Home births are amazing because a woman just feels more comfortable birthing in an environment she is used to. This mama laboured by candlelight and it was quiet and serene. We all respected her space as she laboured between her bathroom and labour pool. By the time miss Poppy was born, there was such a beautiful release of emotions and I was truly honoured to have been there to capture it all.
Here's a sneak peak of their beautiful newborn photos...
Watch her emotional and beautiful birth story here: