…: little iris wren :… Portland Oregon newborn photography

:sigh:

I <3 this mama more than words can express. I met most of Chris + Teddy’s friends for the first time when I shot their wedding on the Oregon coast a couple years ago.  No one knew why I was there so when speeches were being told after they said their vows, I stood on top of a chair (I was standing up there to shoot) and bawled my eyes out as I explained why Chris will always be near and dear to my heart.  This is how I know Chris:

 

The first time I really took my newborn daughter out of the house to a restaurant to eat in downtown Portland, Chris was our waitress.  Right away you pick up on that she’s one of those rare people who just shine and never stop shining. I felt so frazzled, alone, and overwhelmed.  We had just moved back from Jacksonville, FL and I had no established support circle to lean on.  I stayed up nights with my new baby, weepy and feeling sorry for myself.  As we got ready to leave the restaurant, Chris wrote her phone number on a piece of napkin and slid it to me across the table.  “Call me sometime to hang out!” she breezed like connecting with total strangers was some normal thing for a grown woman to do.

I was too shy to call her until one day when my daughter was 7ish months old, I looked up and saw her number on that napkin stuck to my dry erase board with a magnet and forced myself to impulse dial.  Here I was, all this time had passed, and I was still sad for my lack of real friends around here.  She came to visit me within a couple days and we let our kids play as we hit it off.  Silly as it sounds, what Chris taught me was that we’re all in control of our own happiness. I couldn’t sit around waiting for excitement and fulfillment to come find ME. I had to reach out to seek IT.

Two months later, I really decided I was going to learn my DSLR inside and out.  I needed a hobby too, man.

So Chris + Teddy + big bro Banyan… I love you all dearly.  I can’t wait to watch beautiful Iris grow up with such an amazing family.

PS.  You have to come pick up your DVD in person so I can snuggle her:)

PPS.  PHOTOGRAPHERS:  I get lots of questions and emails regarding how/why I shoot births. Tips at the bottom of this post:)

 

 

 

 

Oh, photogs.  I get more questions about births than almost anything else.  First, the top 5 questions that come to my inbox:

1. “How do you price births?

Pricing is totally individual.  I can’t tell YOU what YOUR time is worth. However keep this in mind: births can run long. Really long.  Being on call for a birth is the same as for a doula or midwife.  You have to have a bag packed, camera battery charged, childcare arranged (if you have kids), gas in the car and the ability to pull yourself together all quick-like at 3AM if need be.  Do. Not. Undervalue this.   Also, you can’t drink a bottle of wine in the evening.  Just sayin’.

2. “If I shoot a birth, when do I arrive? When do I leave?”

I usually arrive well before transition. Think 4ish centimeters dilated.  I’ve had some close calls :cough cough KARLI: So I’ve learned my lesson. The fact that you’re going to be there a while should not be weighing on you. It should be expected and arranged for.  Laboring mothers don’t need to feel all anxious about getting a baby out so the photographer can pick her kid up from daycare.

Typically I leave after all the “big stuff” is done.  Storytelling, the actual birth, footprints, weight/measurements, and most of the time, first bath and meeting of older siblings although on a late night birth, those things sometimes have to be skipped.

For cesareans: if one is scheduled, about 45 minutes before surgery is actually scheduled.

3. “What lens is that???”

Depending on how ambitious I’m feeling, I normally take quite a bit of stuff. Only because when you’re kickin’ it in a hospital room for hours on end, why not use that time to get creative and try to step outside the box a little bit? We got nuthin’ but tiiiiime.    So…(keep in mind I am shooting full frame on a Canon 5dMkII)

  • the workhorse: aka, 35mm 1.4L.  If I could only have one, this would be it. Just watch the edges for distortion on fill the frame shots. This lens isn’t friendly to faces up close. Baby heads are funky enough.
  • portraits: 50mm 1.2L   I put this baby on for fill-the-frame face shots or detail shots of baby.   The 85mm is just too long for hospital rooms.
  • Macros: 100mm 2.8L   I love detail shots of brand new babies… they can be difficult if the birth is at night, but not impossible. I usually shoot them while baby is being cleaned up by nurse or looked at/unwrapped by adoring visitors:)Move close to a window if possible.
  • fun stuff: 24 mm 3.5 L tilt-shift.   I get asked about this one a lot. Not the lens, but particular photos.  (like this one)   Let me say here, this is NOT a portrait lens. It’s made for architecture. It’s manual focus. It takes a long time to learn. It’s really expensive.  You won’t use it very much.   I also adore it, although I use it far less than any of my others. I do not by ANY means recommend getting this for births. Just had to throw it out there because I do use it occasionally.
  • One thing I never take? Flash. Just don’t. You might get punched by a laboring woman. Its annoying and unnecessary.

 

4. “How do I get into a c-section? The hospital’s policy says only 1 person in the ER”. 

Ask. Ask ask ask.   You need to tell your client that should the need arise, or if there’s a chance a cesarean could be scheduled and she would like you there, she needs to give her OB a heads up well in advance. I have never NOT been allowed in the operating room, but I think that’s because of where we live…here in Portland, we are really blessed with medical staff that is open and understanding, and extremely patient-driven care… What works here might not work in Detroit or Calgary, I have no idea but it’s worth asking!  It’s important to stress that the photographer is a professional, is being paid for this, and knows the rules.  Then, KNOW THE RULES.  Ask the staff before the scalpel comes out where it’s best for you to stand, how much freedom you have to move, if you can get closer to the baby once it arrives, etc.  These are all important things to know beforehand because once things start happening, they happen so fast if you’re not prepared, you’ll miss it.

 

5. “I shot a birth once and the lighting was SO hard! How do you do it?”

 

  • 1. Spot metering.

I spot meter all the time, anyway, FYI. But its especially important for births.  Or births as I “see” them.

The difference between the top of the baby’s head where the surgical/delivery light hits, and the babe’s face 3 inches lower is ENORMOUS.  For that critical “first breath shot” prepare your settings accordingly.  I always meter off the the doctors hands while in the light to get an exposure guesstimate of what settings need to be for when baby makes its entrance.  When the doctor pulls baby out, its going to bright. Better to meter of the bright parts and lighten some surrounding area if need be than to completely blow the whole photo to what will inevitably be totally unrecoverable.

Then, as soon as baby is out, adjust again or you’re going to have a lot of super dark unrecoverable images of mom looking at baby for the first time. And you don’t want that either, so THINKFAST!:)  Births are much more intense to shoot than weddings in terms of thinking on your feet camera-settings-wise. If you’re not ready for it, don’t take it on.

  • 2. Shoot RAW.  

Again, I do this all the time anyway.

A correctly exposed image, regardless of the screwy and totally lame hospital lighting will never be anything that can’t be fixed in 10 seconds in ACR (adobe camera RAW).  Here’s a before and after ACR adjustments.  Iris looked pretty yellow in this lovely lighting so I cooled her off with the temperature slider, upped exposure, lowered the magenta just a tad, added a little bit of fill light.  Adding a tiny pinch of the opposing color (cyan if yellow, etc) on the split toning menu can also be nice. Just really low saturation… I did that here.   But overall, it really doesn’t take much! There’s no big secret besides the temperature slider.  Babies at birth are odd colored, that’s just how it goes. I never remove color tones or anything like you would for a newborn session.  This is documentary style and meant to feel as it was lived so don’t worry about a pink/bluey/dark baby.   These aren’t glamour shots:)

The hard thing for people is how quickly that temperature changes. I am always in AWB (auto white balance) and just deal with it afterwards.  One photo might be blue from florescent lights, another yellow from daylight, etc.  You just have to eyeball it. What did it look like *while* you were shooting? Use that as your goal.

SOOC:

 

Adjusted:

 

 

  • 3. Prime Lenses: Notice how all those lenses up there have 1′s in the f/stop? If I had to shoot births with a zoom, I wouldn’t shoot births.  I find the lack of depth of field to ruin it for me. And I rarely shoot below f /2.2  and am most frequently at 1.6 or 1.8.  Please, spare me the emails telling me how awesome it is to shoot births with your zooms. Good job.  I just find that personally I do not enjoy the feel of zooms, particularly with births.  Those sweet, sweet details just aren’t the center of attention when you can see every piece of equipment and face in the background.  See those little fingers in the last image of this post? Shot at 2.8 or 3.5, they would be lost in that photo.

 

 

 

Hospital Etiquette

I can. not. stress. the importance of this.

THINK AHEAD
I get lots of questions something along the lines of this: ” I shot a birth but there was no room for me to get a good shot during delivery”  “the nurse moved me over to blah blah blah area”  “I had a terrible angle”

Guess what? I don’t feel bad for you.  If you’re sitting in a room with a laboring woman for even a HALF hour before delivery, you have plenty of time to think about how things are going to play out.  The general setup tends to be L & D nurse(s) on the side of the bed with monitoring equipment and dad or support person(s) on the other side.  That sounds like there’s no room for you, right? WRONG.

I have been known to walk casually over behind a hospital bed in the hour before actual delivery and nudge it forward.  Just scootch scootch.  Be casual about this.  Don’t bump crap, and don’t move it very much.  Watch the IV’s if there are any, and don’t unplug anything.    I move it just enough to where I can fit myself directly behind mom…This is I think the best seat in the house and still gives dad his standard “at the shoulder” position, and is not in the way of the nurses or Dr.   This is NOT the thing to be doing as delivery is happening. Please. LOL.

Bonus if you can find something to stand on. You’ll need it, hospital beds are high.  But that stepstool that’s always in the delivery room? ASK before you move or otherwise use it.  Some nurses use them for delivery, some don’t. If its not in use it’s a great vantage point to have.  Otherwise, I’ve used phone books, chairs, suitcases, ottomans, etc. Be creative here folks, this isn’t a jail cell!

Be nice. 

No one likes a quiet, brooding, unsure photographer… Labor and delivery nurses are in my experience, pretty awesome people.  Talk to them, don’t be silent or act like a weirdo. If you have some rapport with them, asking “can you move the bassinet over here for a minute?”  or ” Do you mind if I stand right here?”  becomes a part of conversation instead of an imposition on your part.

Be confident.

Follow the rules and know that as long as you do so, no one is going to get upset with you. Be comfortable with your client and comfortable with your shooting and all will go off without a hitch.:) Having faith in yourself inspires others to have faith in you as well and really, that’s all anyone needs to let you do your thing.  ^_^

 

I hope this helps, guys:)I’m sure there’s tons I haven’t covered but maybe I’ll add to this later.   Happy shooting!

 

xoxo

Erin

 

 

 

 

fl:Hr
  • Julia - I cannot even stand how much I love your work! Your vision, the story you always tell so beautifully, the emotions you draw out of everyone looking at your work – magnificently inspiring.

    Thank you SO MUCH for all of this wonderful advice! I still feel that I’m meant to do this once my kids are a bit older and these words of wisdom will be incredibly helpful.

    Erin Tole…you ROCK <3ReplyCancel

  • Karli - Glad to know I’m still your closest call! ;-)<3ReplyCancel

  • Alicia - Thank you for question #1!!! I live in Utah and some photographers here only charge $150 for birth stories which makes it hard for others to make a living doing it. Births are definatley my passion and it does take so much TIME and you have to make it worth it for you! Thanks and you do amazing work!!ReplyCancel

  • Bess - Your pre-story made me cry. What a wonderful friendship that blossomed. I can’t believe it’s the first time I heard it!ReplyCancel

  • Lindsey VanTiem - Erin, my dear friend, you have once again knocked it out of the park. What great images? I love your birth photography info. Can you just come to Michigan and shoot my birth story (If we have another). I will kick butts to make sure you are in the room and will more than likely yell at JD to move if he is in your way. LOLReplyCancel

  • Heather - Erin, thank you so much for taking the time to write out your process and give tips. I am actually heading to my first birth today, my best friend. She’s admitted to the hospital but no progress yet. I have read and re-read this post. I am so inspired by your birth photography!ReplyCancel

  • SarahAnn Lewis - Ok, after reading this post, I don’t even care if I’m about to sound creepy.

    I just fell a little bit in love with you. I hope that’s not a problem.ReplyCancel

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