Cesarean birth photography is a genre with unique challenges around light, space, safety, protocols and simple logistics!
Once you’ve inhaled that, head back here to discover those extra bits that relate specifically to photographing a cesarean birth.
Just because a planned cesarean birth takes place in a surgical theater, without the spontaneity that generally comes with the onset of natural labour… the birth story doesn’t need to be a clinical one. Its equally as emotive as any birth, and as a photographer/storyteller you can ensure it’s documented in such a way that the human element is the central theme.
It’s not all about the how… the emotion, warmth, love and that exciting new baby feeling is all there. Just capture it and tell the story.
You can approach it in exactly the same documentary style as you’d approach the birth photography of a natural labour – little to no posing, capturing moments as they happen, looking for the emotions, connections, love, and details, with a sprinkling of wide shots to tie it all together and add context.
Related: Storytelling Photography
Click Love Grow graduate Alana Prosper recently had the pleasure of documenting a planned cesarean section birth, and she generously shared her experience, including her pro tech tips.
It’s extra important for parents to check with the hospital and their doctor beforehand to confirm whether a photographer can be there. Bear in mind that even when they say yes, there’s still a possibility that someone on staff that day might not be okay with it.
When you’re on call to photograph a natural delivery, chances are the parents will call you once they’re already at hospital in early or established labour.
However, there is no labour in a planned cesarean delivery, but arrival at the hospital on the pre-planned date is a big part of their story. So for this birth I arrived at the hospital at the same time as the parents. This gave me the opportunity to capture their story from the moment of their arrival including:
Once in their room, there were loads more opportunities to add to their story:
Don’t forget the baby belly – even if she’s already had a maternity session, these are her absolute last moments of pregnancy.
I made sure to capture the couple’s interactions and emotions whilst they waited and during early preparations for surgery.
Gowning up… this is an exciting moment, things were getting real now!
Compression tights in preparation for surgery, got it!
Some of the early observations prior to surgery occurred in their overnight room, which offered more opportunity for variety of photos.
There are so many things that parents forget (or don’t even notice), when they’re going through birth. This is a big part of my job… to record what they will miss or forget, providing them with tangible memories to have and to hold after the fact, ensuring the retelling of their story has no gaps.
So be sure to continue taking photos as they move down to theater, and capture details such as the signs pointing to theater, wide scenes from afar, and any other details you notice.
Prior to heading down to theater, I sought out the midwife to establish where I could stand.. the last thing I wanted to do was get under any feet!
Once I was in theater, I confirmed again. Equally important if not more, was also asking them to point out any no go zones.
When we first headed down to theater, more observations and the patient identification process took place in a operating suite (this is a dedicated area just before going into theater and the name will vary). Make sure to document that process, especially the embraces and hand holding which will inevitably ramp up in these last minutes before entering theater.
Next up we headed in to theater, but we still had a good 20 minutes until surgery started, which gave me time to capture images of the waiting.
I avoided photographing any of the medical procedures that occur in the prelude to surgery, preferring instead to focus on the parents and their interactions as those procedures were happening.
During this time before surgery began, I mostly stayed at the edges of the room. This was the easiest way to ensure I didn’t get in anyone’s way. I also steered clear of equipment.
Instincts helped me to know when I could move closer to them, and when it was more appropriate to stand back. For example when more staff are directly attending to mum.
Once the surgery started, staff directed me where to stand. Expect to have much less freedom to move around during a cesarean birth.
I was able to look at the surgery side of the birth at one point, however I couldn’t see much due to all the medical staff and equipment, and I found shooting from the head side offered a much clearer perspective for photos.
Obvious much? You’d be surprised. After a natural delivery, mum gets to hold the baby immediately. This is not the case following a cesarean delivery, and the other parent is more involved in those moments instead.
So it’s important not to forget mum in your photos. You can take photos of her watching as her baby is being checked and weighed, and soon you’ll get an opportunity to capture that very special moment when she meets and holds her baby for the first time.
After theater, mum was taken to recovery where I had an opportunity to photograph the first breastfeed and all those beautiful early interactions.
Once she was cleared to leave recovery I was able to capture:
As with a natural birthing room, the quality of light was not great, as the light was coming from really bright, artificial lights.
I exposed for the bright light, as that’s where the first images of the baby would be. This also helped to avoid blown highlights to a large extent, but it was very high contrast lighting, so it’s impossible to get perfect exposures.
Related: Low Light Photography Tips
I have a Nikon D750 which is a full frame camera. A full frame is essential given the low light that goes hand in hand with birth photography, because it copes really well with high ISO. For that reason, you will struggle if you use a crop sensor camera.
I use a 50mm lens which works for me, however a 35mm lens would be more ideal given the usually small spaces of a theater and hospital rooms.
I don’t use flash for birth photography, because it would distract the staff, the parents, and potentially startle the baby or hurt his/her eyes.
Expose for the bright lights as this is where the action is happening. I shot this cesarean birth with an aperture around f/2.8, shutter speed at 1/400 or faster, and ISO around 250.
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