Photography has always been an artistic genre which lends itself perfectly to storytelling and documenting human life and culture – after all, photographs are essentially moments frozen in time for all eternity. We photograph all of the ‘big’ moments in our lives – weddings, birthdays, holidays, milestones, cultural celebrations…
Yet it’s only relatively recently that we have really begun delving into documenting the very first milestone of human life – birth. In large part, this is likely a continuation of the cultural shift that has taken place around birth in western society, from the 1950s and 1960s when birth took place behind closed doors with even bub’s father waiting outside, to a return to more inclusive traditional birthing processes.
It’s a subject that fascinates Click Love Grow Advanced Graduate Jennifer Magnuson, and she’s recently begun dipping her toe in the wonderful world of birth photography. Here, she shares her experience with us…
So I’ve had three kids. Given birth three times. Which honestly should make me more of an expert in birth than I feel… but I guess what they say is true, every pregnancy/every birth is different.
My third child was a planned home birth. I’m learning that is a very rare thing in New England. I didn’t think about having a birth photographer there – I’ve learned that’s a MUCH rarer thing in New England!
When I was pregnant, no one suggested having a birth photographer, and I think even if they had, I can’t honestly say I’d have been open to the idea.
Was I fine with six other people hanging out with me while I birthed my first son? Yeah, sure, but to have someone actually documenting all that work, well, that’s a whole different story.
BUT… If someone had shown me what birth photography could look like, I bet I would have signed up for it! And knowing what I know now about birth photography as a genre and an art form, if we were to have a fourth child (we are NOT), I would 100% hire one.
Birth is so magical, and having someone else there to capture it ensures you don’t miss any of the memories – for example, my son Owen was born en caul (still in the amniotic sac), and my poor husband was so freaked out about the midwife not being there yet that he did not think to take a photo of it!
My mother was trained to be a doula, and for our first child Brian and I took a six-week birthing class in Newton, MA taught by Lorenza Holt. Slowly, these two incredible women opened my eyes to the idea that knowledge really IS power in birth – the more I knew what was going on with my body, the less fear I had. This gave me the confidence to have an unmedicated first birth, and later, to make the choice to have my third babe at home.
I’m not sure when it dawned on me that I wanted to do birth photography. It was like a little nugget of an idea that took over and I knew that’s what I really wanted to do.
I think it was Click Love Grow’s Amy Philp’s birth photo and that initially sent me down an Instagram rabbit hole – I set out to find and follow every single birth photographer out there, and then I asked them all a TON of questions!
I listened to Clubhouse talks on birth photography – the good experiences, as well as the bad, and the scary ones. What happens if a low risk pregnancy suddenly becomes a high risk birth? Do you take photos of the support team? Can I post nipples on the internet? All of the things I needed to know before heading into a woman’s birth space as a photographer. Oh and in case you were wondering, yes, you can post boobs on Instagram, just be warned they sometimes do get flagged if they show nipple, even if a woman is birthing or breastfeeding.
The more I learned, the more I realised that birth photography is my ultimate career goal. It captures the most incredible act of humankind. There is no posing, there is little interaction (although you do, at times, find yourself joining the support crew), you’re literally playing a game of ‘hurry up and wait’. Then there’s the obvious technical challenges of knowing your camera inside and out, being able to react and respond quickly, and knowing how to work in multiple light situations.
There are no do overs. It’s the ultimate photographic challenge!
Once I’d set my mind to diving into birth photography, I needed a plan for how to actually get birth clients.
As a starting point, I decided to email my homebirth midwife, Kim. I wasn’t actually that close to her – my home birth happened so quickly she didn’t have time to get here from a neighbouring town before my son was born, but I figured she might be able to connect me with some expectant mothers. Down the track, I’d like to also document hospital births, but for the moment, with Covid still around, ‘visitors/extras’ are not allowed into the hospital, so I’m sticking to home births.
Kim agreed to share my business cards with her clients, and a few weeks later, Tayla emailed asking if we could chat. Because I’m new to birth photography and I’m still trying to get my name out there, I wanted to find a mom/couple that was okay with me not just taking photos, but also sharing those images on social media to promote my birth photography business and build clientele.
Fortunately, Tayla was happy for me to share her birth images – not only did she like the fact that I was willing to do them for free, as a Holistic Women’s Wellness Mentor, we have very similar philosophies when it comes to normalising birth.
It really did feel like we were in this together, a wonderful collaboration to help spread how beautiful and normal the miracle of birth really is!
Related: Low Light Photography
I ended up winning an award for my images from Tayla and Alex’s birth, which was really exciting! And I’ve shared Tayla and Alex’s birth on Instagram, Facebook, and my website.
So far, there have been no other inquiries, but I acknowledge that birth photography is a fairly new concept for many people, and the feedback I’ve had on my birth images to date has been encouraging.
I even had a former MA resident reach out to say how happy she was that I was sharing these images as she had ended up moving to another state to succeed in birth photography as our New England Puritan tendencies seem to cloud the idea of capturing this event.
Which is another reason I’m sharing these images here – because it’s only by normalising birth, that we can empower women to make the best choices for their care, and birth photography plays a key role in that: Normalise birth, normalise birth photography.
Related: Photographing a caesarean birth
Jennifer Magnuson is a CLG Advanced Graduate who lives north of Boston with her three kids and husband. They also share their home with both parents, three dogs, two cats, one guppy, and a bunch of chickens. So life is never boring and she gives massive thanks to CLG for steering her with her creative passion. To see more of Jennifer’s inspiring work, including the stunning birth film she created from this shoot, you can find her at Baby Viking Photography.
If you’re shooting in manual mode and ready to push yourself artistically, expand your technical skills, and increase your confidence to shoot in any situation, our Advanced Photography Course is what you’re looking for! Our next course starts in September 2022… jump on the wait list here, it’s the best way to take advantage of opening sale price and exclusive bonuses!