BIRTH PHOTOGRAPHY: What to expect, and frequently asked questions

If you’re interested in birth photography with Sarah Lewis Photography but you’re not quite sure it’s for you, this post might prove helpful! I’ve tried to address the questions I hear most frequently, but if there’s something you’re wondering about that’s not addressed here, please feel free to let me know – either in the comments section here, or by email. I always look forward to hearing from you!

Be sure you also check out my post Birth Photography: What it is and why I do it.

Will we meet before I go into labor?

Yes! I meet all of my clients for an in-person consultation. At this consultation, we start to get to know one another a little. I’ll bring samples of my work for you to go over, and it’s an opportunity for you to ask me any questions or voice any concerns you may still have. We’ll go over your birth plan and my birth client questionnaire, and eventually, we’ll go through a contract as well.

In addition to the consultation, I include a complimentary maternity session in each of my birth story collections. I love doing this for several reasons: not only does it add to your birth story and document the beauty of pregnancy, but it also gives us a chance to spend some more time together – this time, with a camera in the room. : ) My hope is that it helps us get used to each other and establishes a certain comfort level BEFORE you're in labor.

Am I going to feel like the paparazzi is hounding me? What is it like to have a photographer there?

I generally strive to be like a cat in the room (as a midwife once described me – a compliment I received with pride!): present, but not intrusive. I’m not usually an active participant in the birth – while I do hope to contribute to the caring, supportive energy surrounding the laboring family, and I will step in and offer to help if needed (I will of course fill your waterbottles, microwave your heat pads, and fetch the midwives/nurse), it’s not my role to be a stated presence. Instead, I’m there to document what unfolds, as it unfolds, in as unobtrusive a way as possible.

Because I don’t want to disturb you – or your support team! – I rely on ambient light for births in almost every case (that is, I prefer not to use a flash). This is something we go over in detail at the consultation, however – we’ll talk about your priorities, I will describe the situations in which I may feel we need a flash, and ultimately, you’ll make the final decision about what sort of lighting you would like. (The images below were taken in a room lit only by the lightbulb built into the birthing tub, with no flash or other lights used – so, even though it was extremely dark, photography is still possible. I find the images dramatic and beautiful.)

Also, if you ever do feel like it’s too much, it’s ok for you to ask me to stop, take a break, give you some space, etc. In my experience, however, I’m not usually on mom’s radar – she’s focused on other things!

When do you arrive? How long do you stay?

Once you book me, I’m on call for you from 38 to 42 weeks, 24/7 – you can call or text me day or night. If you go into labor before 38 weeks, by all means, still call me – I just can’t guarantee my availability to quite the same extent due to how I stagger my bookings. (In all likelihood, it’s pretty unlikely that I would have two clients in labor at the same time – but you never know!) I book only a limited number of births per month to help avoid overlap.

So, once labor occurs, when to call? To some extent, this depends on what you want (also something we talk about at the consultation). If you want early labor captured, I’ll arrive soon after you have contacted me to let me know labor has begun. Generally speaking, however, I advise most clients to call me once labor starts – so I’m on yellow alert (or orange?) – and then to call again when they’re substantially invested in active labor (somewhere around 6-7 centimeters, to put a number on it). It might take me up to 90 minutes to arrive (depending on the location), and probably at least an hour (so I can drop my kids at the babysitter and, of course, make the drive to you). Of course, when to call does depend on the individual client – in cases of a history of fast labors, etc, we might work out an alternate plan. Arriving when mom is deep into active labor usually means that she’s in the “zone” – mom is less likely to notice me at all, and it’s much less likely that her labor could stall due to the distraction of an additional person showing up.

After birth, I will stay for approximately an hour, sometimes two, depending on the circumstances. If you would like me to stay longer (for instance, if grandparents or siblings will be arriving soon), I offer birth clients a discounted Fresh 48 add-on.

What do you take pictures of?

At our consultation, one of the questions I ask is if there’s anything that’s particularly off-limits for you (for instance, I had one client who said that if she ended up laboring on the toilet, she would prefer to forget it!). I’ll also ask if there’s anything you particularly want photographed (though I can’t guarantee any particular image, I will absolutely try, and it helps to know if there’s anything you have your heart set on!). In general, though, my philosophy is that you can always delete later – but you can never recreate. Unless it’s something you’ve specifically ruled out in advance, I will document what unfolds as it unfolds, and – as I said – you can always delete later. : )

One additional note: I am subject to the policies of the birth facility. Some hospitals have policies that prohibit the photographing of certain aspects of birth, and I do have to abide by those rules.

Do I need to get the hospital/birth center’s approval?

At this point in time, photographers are permitted by policy to document birth at Bassett, Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, and the Alaska Family Health and Birth Center. (Note: some facilities do have policies that prohibit the photography of certain aspects of birth, even if photographers are allowed in general.) That said, I strongly encourage clients to let everyone in their birth team – including their midwife/doctor/nurses – know that you plan on having a photographer, and talk over any questions or concerns they may have. (They are also welcome to contact me, of course.) The last thing I want to do is surprise someone by taking their picture! And you can assure them that I never use images of recognizable persons publicly without permission (that is, they will not be appearing online!).

What happens if I have a short labor, if we have to transfer locations, or if I need a c-section?

I will document what happens, as it happens. (If I need to follow you to another location, I will!) Trust me when I say that the birth story is not diminished by any of these events, and often times, families who have experienced these circumstances have told me afterwards they’re all the more glad they have the photographs, since their own recollections of what happened are hazy.

What if you miss the birth?

I have many, many precautions in place to ensure this does not happen, but in the unlikely event that it does, my contract specifies several options, including refund.

Will you post the photos online?

Birth is an incredibly intimate thing, and it’s completely understandable if you want to keep your images private. As such, I only share images online and on Facebook of clients who have expressly given me permission to do so by signing a model release. Even when clients have signed releases, my general philosophy is that I will only share images that I would be comfortable sharing of myself (that is, you don’t have to worry about nudity, etc appearing online). If there’s ever a photo that I feel is in the gray area that I would like to share, I will check with you first before publishing it.

Similarly, I will not publicly share images of other members of your family, birth support team, or healthcare providers without their express permission.

Do you offer discounts or take payments?

Yes. If clients elect to sign a model release, I offer a $100 discount on birth story collections. In addition, I offer a 15% discount to clients pursuing a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean).

I will also design payment plans with clients as needed. In general, the full balance is due by the beginning of the on-call period, but payments can be made in installments up to that point.

After it’s all over…how many photographs will I get? How long will it take to get them?

It’s slightly different for each birth, but you can generally expect to receive between 100 and 200 unique images in your birth story. Your images will be ready between three to six weeks after birth, or as specified in your contract. Each birth story collection offers a different range of products – to see what each collection includes, please see my Investment page.

When do I need to book you?

Anytime between your positive pregnancy test and 38 weeks – that is, it’s never too early! However, I book only a limited number of births per month, so book early to make sure you get a spot.

How much does it cost?

For pricing information, please see my Investment page.

And remember – if you have other questions, don’t hesitate to ask!

You can see more birth stories here.  If you’ve read through it all and you’re still not sure birth photography is for you, I recommend you read a little bit about Fresh 48 Sessions below.


FRESH 48 SESSIONS: What to expect, and frequently asked questions

A “Fresh 48” refers to a session that generally takes place within the first forty-eight hours of a little one’s life earthside. These sessions can take place at any time within those first precious days – I would be happy to meet you immediately after baby is born, a few hours later, or even the in next day or two after everyone has had a chance to get some rest.

These sessions differ from a lifestyle session in a few subtle ways. Fresh 48 sessions are, in a way, more of an extension of birth photography (and are, in fact, a great alternative for families who feel birth photography isn’t for them) – I tend to take a more documentary approach than I might in a session with an older baby. Fresh 48 sessions are all about capturing those first moments the family is all together, savoring the delicious new baby-ness and steeped in oxytocin – documenting siblings’ reactions and first explorations, mama kisses and daddy caresses, and smiles, above all, the smiles. Trust me, these moments pretty easily unfold when there’s a new baby in the room!

Anyone is welcome to attend Fresh 48 sessions – siblings, grandparents, and friends included – but do remember, you’ve just had a baby, and large gatherings can sometimes wear you (and baby) out more than anticipated (and photos are activity enough as it is!). So, while anyone you desire is welcome, I have found that in some cases, it’s better to have a small, intimate session.

This is also the reason I don’t combine Fresh 48 and traditional newborn sessions (i.e., the posed sleeping newborn portraits that often involve props, etc) – it’s just too much for baby’s first days. (However, I do love to come back in a week for follow-up sessions!)

Fresh 48 sessions are designed to respect and honor the postpartum mama. By this, I mean that I expect you to be in bed! (Or on the couch. Resting. You get my point!)

I was in the care of some phenomenal midwives for the birth of my second baby. During the Early Home Care class, they made their postpartum rules clear: for the first three days after birth, you should be in bed, naked (gotta love that skin-to-skin contact), with your baby. Period. You were permitted to get up only to pee or have the occasional bath (no showers!), and then you’re back in bed, surrounded by water bottles, nutritious food, and a stash of diapers. If you ended up with tears or stitches, or surgery, it’s a week. At least.

And I have to tell you, after having experienced it for myself, I am complete convert. In addition to the physical benefit – your body has just emerged from a tremendous feat, after all (whether vaginal birth or cesarean section) – this period of rest was a beautiful respite from the ordinary, dedicated to celebrating the birth of our baby. It allowed both Norah and I to rest and recover (I cannot believe how fast I physically rebounded from this birth!), get breastfeeding established, and to bond, bond, bond.

And it was wonderful. 

These are from my own Fresh 48 Session: 

Images courtesy of Brooke Walsh of Peace-Love-Babies

Images courtesy of Brooke Walsh of Peace-Love-Babies

I really love using the above pictures as an example – because in truth, part of making a session like this work is trust. I ask my clients to place a certain amount of trust in me as a photographer that I’ll do my best to capture them at their best. Trusting this is not necessarily an easy thing to do, if you feel that you’re not photogenic or are worried that you may not look your best, seeing as you just had a baby and all. But I have to tell you, it’s worth taking the risk. I had to give myself my own pep talk a few times to trust Brooke and loosen up in front of the camera (shortly after she arrived for our Fresh 48 session, I realized I hadn’t even brushed my hair since before my labor had started, much less put on makeup!).

The result? Some of my favorite images, ever.

And so, even though you are inviting me to be a guest in your home (or hospital room, or birth center), trust me that being invited to photograph you and your baby is honor enough – you don’t need to clean your house, pick up your floor, or make your bed. You don’t even have to get up to let me in the door. What you do need to do is settle in with your baby and let the world pause for a moment in observance of such a sweet thing’s entrance.

Along those lines, these sessions generally last about an hour – sometimes more or sometimes less, but usually around that so no one is tired out. I might put you near a window or suggest an herbal bath if you’re so inclined, but usually, all I need to do is to stand back and watch.

For information on pricing Fresh 48 Sessions and other technical details, please visit my Investment page.

I hope this covers most of your questions! If you’re wondering about something that isn’t addressed here, please let me know – either in the comments section on this post, or by email. I would love to hear from you!

To see some of my past Fresh 48 sessions, please click here!


HERBAL BATHS: frequently asked questions

By far, I find that the most common question asked about herbal baths is, "...what IS an herbal bath?!"   

An herbal bath is a prepared blend of herbs that have been steeped into a "tea," and that tea is then added to a bath for mom and baby to soothe, heal, and relax.  The longer the tea is steeped, the stronger and more potent the effects of the bath - and as a bonus, one batch of herbs can usually be saved and re-steeped at least a few times (though it may need to steep longer each time.)  A variety of ingredients can be used for herbal baths, and most herbalists have signature blends that highlight their preferred properties.  Most blends usually include some combination of calendula, comfrey, witch hazel, epsom salts, and lavender, among other herbs and botanicals chosen for their therapeutic attributes.  

These baths can be incredibly soothing to mama's tender tissues and baby's fragile skin.  Many of the herbs used have aseptic, anti-inflammatory, analgesic,  anti-viral, and moisturizing qualities, and are known to discourage baby acne, help protect baby's skin from dryness, and to aid the healing process for the cord.  (Herbal baths are the exception to the "no baths for newborns until the cord stump falls off" rule because the herbs actually help the cord heal and dry [unlike alcohol] - but if you have any doubts or concerns, please check with your doctor or midwife.)  They are WONDERFULLY soothing for mama, especially if she has experienced any tears or received perineum stitches, or has suffered from hemorrhoids.  In the case of the latter, remember that this same herbal solution makes a wonderful sitz bath for bottom relief in between baths.

Herbal baths are not recommended for c-section mamas immediately postpartum; wait until your care provider has cleared you for the submersion of your incision.  Do remember, though, that the steeped herbal bath "tea" makes a great sitz bath for bottom discomfort, and can also be used to soak postpartum pads that can be worn for additional relief.  (Pro tip: chill your herb-soaked pads in the fridge or freezer first for the best perineum ice pack ever!)

Herbal baths are also an amazing opportunity to relax and bond.  Babies usually love being the bath and are calmed and soothed by being the water - and usually drift off to sleep in mama's arms, or are calmed enough to nurse if they've been too disorganized previously.  It's a wonderful time to relax your own sore muscles while taking in all the details of your new, amazing little person - and it can also be a great time for siblings to really explore their new baby, as well.  

Herbal bath blends are available from large retailers, like Earth Mama Angel Baby (available at Cribs, Cradles, and Things), and are also prepared by local herbalists Serenity Grows (located in Palmer, but herbs available in online shop), Stella Lyn of Wholistic Midwifery (located in Anchorage), and Alaska Earth Mamas (Fairbanks).  

Herbal bath photo sessions - whether immediately after birth or with an older baby - are amazingly sweet and an excellent way to capture the details of the oxytocin-rich moments of babyhood.  The images above were shot both in the (amazing) birth tubs at Alaska Family Health and Birth Center and in clients' homes (in bathrooms that didn't have windows - though don't get me wrong, the more light the better).  The focus is fairly tight, so you don't have to worry about the appearance of the rest of your bathroom - all you have to worry about is getting you and baby ready for the bath.  You can wear as much or as little as you'd like in the tub; whatever is most comfortable for you.  The steeped herbal tea is included in your session, and I will bring a locally prepared blend all prepped and ready to go.  

If you have any other questions about herbal bath sessions, please don't hesitate to ask!  


What is "Lifestyle Photography?"

I describe most of my photography as "lifestyle." This descriptor really clicks with me...but what does it mean, exactly?

My friend and colleague Brooke Walsh of Peace-Love-Babies in St. Cloud shared what I thought was a brilliant way to describe it: think of all the possible photographic styles as a continuum. On one far end, there's documentary photography - the photographer does not intervene and simply documents what unfolds, as it unfolds. Artistic, but noninvasive.  (For example, my birth photography is documentary.) On the other far end, there's posed portraiture - the photographer carefully and painstakingly arranges the location, environment, light, subject, and every minutiae therein before releasing the shutter.

And in between the two, there's lifestyle.

I take the term "lifestyle" fairly literally - that is, in the style of life. I want my clients to look like themselves - themselves on their best day, granted, but themselves nonetheless - and furthermore, I want something more than just appearance to come through. In my photography, I strive to capture candid glimpses of personality, character, intimacy, and emotion. I seek the moment when someone is comfortable in their own skin; I want to get the shot that shows the adoring glance, the jubilant laughter, the tender interaction, and playfulness of a family enjoying each other: a slice of life.

This means that during a session, you are free to be yourselves. : ) A lot of the time, I'm just an observer - a documentarian - but I will step in to provide suggestions, direction, instructions, and posing whenever needed. Trust me, I know how ironic it sounds to say "Act natural!" when someone's snapping pictures of you. But with a little coaching, it's my hope that together, my clients and I can collaborate to design sessions that are fun and relaxing for everyone, and that free everyone up to have some fun in front of the camera - all while capturing the tiny moments that make your life art.

Lifestyle photography means a fairly flexible approach, especially when there are babies or children involved. I get the impression that many families feel a sense of dread when it comes to family photos, and feel stressed to get the kids to behave, sit still, pose, and smile on command. In my camp, this is a bygone notion! I absolutely expect kids to act like kids. Lifestyle sessions are a great opportunity to celebrate children in all their kid-ness: to appreciate them as they are at that particular moment in time, whether that's in action (won't sit still : ), covered in mud, or perched on a parent's shoulder. I find that the more a child is pressured to do any one certain thing (or pose), the faster a session will degenerate, so I usually approach sessions with some solid ideas - but also with a spirit of experimentation. In that way, sessions are somewhat child-led: we go with what works. And we always come away with something fabulous.

And in truth, part of making a session like this work is trust. I ask my clients to place a certain amount of trust in me as a photographer that I'll do my best to capture them at their best. This is not necessarily an easy thing to do, if you feel that you're not photogenic or feel stiff or awkward in front of the camera. Trust me, I get it...though perhaps unexpected due to how shutter-happy I am, I am not a fan of having my picture taken. I rarely like how I look in photographs and generally shy away from the camera.

Luckily, though, my same friend Brooke helped me live my own adage. While we were in Minnesota after my baby Norah's birth, Brooke took photographs for us twice, and both times I had to give myself my own pep talk to loosen up in front of the camera. You see - I was expecting to be in front of the camera only once. The second session was for Norah's newborn photos, and I didn't realize Brooke had plans for me to be in some of them as well.

We had driven an hour and a half to get there. I had just had a baby nine days ago. I wasn't wearing any makeup. It was 90 degrees outside and 80 in the studio, and I had taken off my shirt and was wearing only a black nursing tank. And I put my trust in Brooke and let her take pictures of me.

The result? Some of my favorite images, ever.

Image courtesy of Brooke Walsh of Peace-Love-Babies Photography.

Image courtesy of Brooke Walsh of Peace-Love-Babies Photography.

Lifestyle photography is my passion. It's not always the perfect smile or holiday card-esque image (though we usually get plenty of those, too), but I find that I often prefer lifestyle images over the perfected ones. For me, there's nothing better than the artistry of capturing what's real in a way that will freeze that moment in time forever, making a split second a keepsake.

To quote Brooke one last time:

"And I think that is the beauty of portrait  photography and cinematography — to show you how magical and beautiful and perfect-in-it’s-own-way your life with your family is. To remind you how lucky you are to have them and how insignificant putting every-single-board-game-back-together-because-the-toddler-pulled-them-out (again), is in the long the run.  We’re messy, but we’re lovely. It’s important to remember the beauty in your life everyday."

So, those are my thoughts on the matter! What do you think? If you have any questions or comments, I'd love to chat via the comments section, or, of course, by email.  


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