with Courtney Slazinik
8 Best Tips for Beautiful Birth Photography
8 Best Tips for Beautiful Birth Photography

Birth photography is such a thrilling and beautiful style of photography. Since it only happens once, you have to be prepared.

I begged asked my best friend, if I could be there for the birth to take pictures. Luckily, she said yes!

I wanted to share some of the pictures and the lessons learned from this birth photography experience.

What lens is best for birth photography?

A versatile and familiar lens for birth photos

When choosing which lens you will use for this shoot, think about where you will be. Sometimes it’s in a hospital, or a birth center. Others times it’s even in a house.

Most likely the room will be small and at some points filled with a lot of people.

My go to lens is the 50mm f/1.4 because it gives me beautiful portraits but I don’t feel too limited for space.

I can use this lens to tell the whole story. I get those small details and also capture the big picture without losing quality. 

Birth photography showing the small details of the CTG machine

If you aren’t sure what lens to use read this: When and Why You Should Consider a Camera Lens Rental

You don’t need to bring every lens

Yes, I brought every single lens I owned. I had never done this before and didn’t know what I needed. My bag was so heavy from all my gear!

I only ended up using my 50mm f/1.4 and my 105mm after he was born. You may want to bring an 85mm or even a 24-70mm instead of bringing multiple lens. 

However, once the baby is home here is a list of lifestyle newborn photography gear I recommend using.

When should a birth photographer arrive?

Two people holding hands in the hospital before the baby is born.

Birth photographers discuss clients wishes

This question is a very important question to ask the mom and dad. Some might want you there for the whole labor.

Most will probably want you to meet them at the hospital or birthing center. 

Remember you are on call though so those last few weeks, turn your phone off silent at night you might be getting an early wake up call!

Here’s a bit more on Birth Photography: 6 Things you Must Know as a Birth Photographer

Stay out of the way and be quiet

Once you are there, try not to actually be there. This is hard for me! Especially if you know me, quiet is one of the last words anyone would use to describe me.

However, I told myself when I arrived that I was an observer and even though she is one of my dearest friends, I would only speak if spoken to.

I broke my rule a couple of times but for the most part, I tried to get out of the way and pretend I wasn’t there.

mom laying on hospital bed during birth listening to ipod

Best tips for birth photography

Capture the details

There are so many little things you want to remember about that day. Some ideas you can look for are the hospital bracelets, the monitors, hospital bag, and the baby onsie.

Also on your way in, grab a newspaper this will be a fun way to capture more details of their special day.

Storytelling is one of my favorite ways to photograph read here on How to Take Outstanding Photos That Tell a Story

mom putting on make up during labor a detail captured for birth photography.

My friend had her trusty iPod that she kept in the whole time to listen to her Hypnobabies, Adele, and Mumford and Sons.

I wanted to capture those little things because aren’t they the first things we forget.

Go see my advice on How to Embrace Candid Photography to help capture this big life moment beautifully.

Bring extra memory cards and a battery

The last thing you want to do is run out of space or battery.

My current camera is capable of holding 2 memory cards, but I would even suggest bringing one more just in case.

Mother and father spending time together during labor.

Another option is to bring a laptop and upload the photos as you go. There will probably be some down time to be able to do that. 

Keep in mind you don’t want to be uploading photos while the mom is pushing. Therefore, use the time she is resting and the download to upload your images.

Here is my general advice for What to Pack for a Photo Shoot.

Take snacks and something to do

I got the call at 5:45am that she was pulling into the hospital. This is her fourth child so we thought this baby would come out right away.

I arrived at the hospital thinking I may have missed it. However, this baby was in no hurry. I waited in the waiting room for about 2 hours while she was in triage.

A tiny baby hand all stretched out captured by the birth photographer.

I didn’t mind because I brought things to do. Also, being 7 months pregnant at the time, I needed snacks. I did not eat in front of the laboring pregnant woman though (that would be mean).

Edit quickly when it comes to birth photography

Since I was the only one in the room taking pictures they were waiting on my photos to be able to share the news with family and friends.

Newborn baby and mom in a beautiful birth photography shot.

I got her about 25 photos the next morning for her to share with everyone who wasn’t able to be there.

(Keep in mind, I was doing this for a friend and not a client, so you may need to discuss your turn around time).

Discuss ahead of time what parents are hoping you will capture

You do not want to be asking a woman in labor what she wants you to get. We talked about how she wanted photos of her laboring as well as the birth.

Mom kissing a newborn baby wrapped in a white blanket.

Planning ahead will help you to know what to shoot. Write down certain shots you definitely want to get.

During the down time review your list as once things get moving you won’t have time to stop and look at your list of birth photography ideas.

Don’t forget about Dad during birth photography

Dad holding a newborn baby.

He is just as much a part of the special day as mom and baby. Capture what he does while she is laboring as well as his first moments with the baby.

Dad calling family after the new baby is born. A great example of birth photography.

Be ready to go for birth photography

Get your metering and everything set on your camera before she starts pushing.

My friend pushed her baby out in 1, yes, 1 push. There was no time to redo the shot if my settings were way off.

A detail birth photography shot of new baby feet with parents blurred in the background.

As the doctors were setting up to catch the baby, you better be setting up your camera to capture this once in a lifetime moment.

If you have time, try to capture a clock in one of your photos that shows the time of birth.

Follow the baby after the birth

Generally speaking the care team will take the baby to be cleaning, weighed and this is a perfect time to get all those important details.

The parents will thank you later for those first sweet moments and the reminder of all the birth stats.

Birth photography shot of a new baby laying on the scale showing 8 pound, 2 oz.

Be sure to capture all those first measurements, weight, and the footprints.

Detailed birth photography shot of the head measurement of the baby.

Capture the whole family

Some of my favorite photos are those sweet family photos right after the baby is born.

You can just see the love and happiness in the parents eyes while the baby is cuddled up on moms chest.

Have the dad get in really close to mom and the baby and capture those very sweet intimate moments, and try not to cry while doing it.

If siblings are allowed to come meet the parents at the hospital, this is a perfect time to have a birth photographer ready!

Read more tips here: 6 Tips to Photograph your Baby’s Birth

Detailed shot of the baby holding dad's finger.

A little extra

As a little something fun for y’all, I thought I would share my embarrassing moment when I photographed my sister’s birth years ago.

Remember how I said, stay out of the way and be quiet. You want to be an observer, not the one getting the attention. Well, I almost fainted when I was photography in my sister’s son’s birth.

Photo photographer feeling sick in the hospital.

I don’t do well with blood and needles. My sister’s advice to me before I did the above photos was “Do not faint!” Yup, that is me in the chair, trying as hard as I can not to pass out. Thanks Mom for capturing this moment!

Have you photographed a birth? Share the a lesson you learned while doing birth photography.

Want to read more about birth photography or photographing newborns?
Newborn tips for on-location photographers
New baby photography ideas
10 Tips for photographing your baby

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you in advance if you decide to purchase something and support Click it Up a Notch.

  • Greta S.
    May 3, 2012 at 1:02 PM

    Holy moly, you did and amazing job!!!! Almost makes me want to be a birth photog…hmmm….

  • May 3, 2012 at 1:20 PM

    You did do a great job capturing the entire scene. I felt like I was right there.

  • May 3, 2012 at 2:52 PM

    What a wonderful moment to be able to capture. I wonder if I can convince someone to let me be there…

  • Pam
    May 3, 2012 at 8:32 PM

    Thanks for all the tips. I was blessed enough to be invited into the birthingroom with my daughter in law 2 years ago. I was able to get some nice shots, but have learned so much since then I hope I get another chance.
    And yes laying low is excellent advice (especially if your the MIL) :)

  • May 3, 2012 at 9:23 PM

    Gorgeous photos!! I am not sure I could keep myself together. I would be crying.

    • Courtney
      May 3, 2012 at 9:35 PM

      Thanks! Don’t worry, we were all crying!! :O)

  • Bethney
    May 3, 2012 at 9:37 PM

    These are beautiful! Can you share what you settings were like? I took some photos of my newphew’s birth but it was 12:00am and soooo dark in the room! The light looks so great in your photos!

    • Courtney
      May 7, 2012 at 10:19 PM

      Hey Bethney,

      I will definitely post the settings. I had such a positive response and several questions that I will do a follow up post. Thanks!!

  • May 3, 2012 at 9:44 PM

    Beautiful pictures! I didn’t have anyone there when I gave birth but a close friend who’s a photographer came later in the day and took a bunch a picture. They’re some of my favorites!

  • Jessica
    May 3, 2012 at 9:57 PM

    Omg, Courtney! These are unbelievable. These are without doubt the best birthing pictures I have ever seen and definitely my favorite of your photos that I have seen. I am gob-smacked. Oh, if only my husband had your skills. Truly fantastic. Your friend is so lucky to have such an amazing day documented so perfectly. Well done!

    • Courtney
      May 7, 2012 at 10:20 PM

      Wow! THANK YOU! I actually stop reading this and ran upstairs to tell my husband your kind words! Thank you!!

  • Jessica
    May 3, 2012 at 10:00 PM

    Oh, after all that gushing, I forgot to ask – how did you get your white balance and exposure so perfect? Expodisc/grey card? I imagine you had to battle with natural light and hospital fluros? I would love some technical tips on how you got it all so well lit. Thanks heaps.

  • Laurie Flickinger - Contributor
    May 3, 2012 at 11:28 PM

    I love these Courtney! I’m so glad we finally got to see these :)

  • May 3, 2012 at 11:35 PM

    I love how the exposure on these! The color and light came out fantastic! I didn’t photograph the birth of my friend’s son but I went later in the day to get some shots. I really wanted to focus on the emotion while also flattering my friend who had just spent the entire night in intense labor. So I shot in black and white and they turned out really well. I had my son 3 weeks later and wish I had someone there to take photos of us.

  • May 4, 2012 at 2:35 AM

    So beautiful! Thanks for sharing all these great tips and wonderful photos!!

  • May 4, 2012 at 6:09 AM

    Way to go Courtney. They look great and how fortunate that you were able to get such great shots of the baby on the scale. It is usually very dark, so all that natural light is FABULOUS>

  • May 5, 2012 at 5:46 AM

    Those are great tips. For my second daughter’s birth, our doula brought a camera and captured some pictures, which was nice. My hubby took a few pictures at our first daughter’s birth. Most of them are just of me labouring – not very pretty. I like some of these pictures – simple but beautiful, like the iPod or the couple holding hands. Nice ideas. If I had a close friend who was also good at taking pictures, I’d invite her to come do so… :)

  • May 5, 2012 at 11:57 AM

    Like others I noticed how perfect your white balance and exposure was. Most of the births I’ve photographed have been home birth. I’ve only done two hospital births, one of which was a csection. I really struggled with white balance on the last hospital I did. I’d love some more technical details. I laughed at your tip on not leaving the dad out. The second birth I photographed, I was so into the bonding between mom and baby that I forgot all about dad and chopped him out of a couple of dozen or so shots. Thankfully I came to and recomposed to include dad.

  • May 6, 2012 at 1:21 AM

    I agree that you did an amazing job capturing these moments! I really love how the pictures are still very modest and able to be shared with everyone. And, like many have said before me, the lighting looks beautiful! I, also, would love to hear the technical side of how you worked with the hospital light vs. natural light and what time of day it was:)

  • May 6, 2012 at 10:13 AM

    These are so awesome!! I would love to do birth photography. Great job!

  • May 7, 2012 at 10:22 PM

    Love, love, love these. That photo of her and her new son is AMAZING! I love all of the details as well. And that CRACKS me up about you almost passing out at your sis’s birth. Heehee! You are so talented my friend!

  • May 7, 2012 at 10:35 PM

    Those images are beautiful! I think birth photography is getting more and more popular, and more photographers are jumping in, ready and willing to do a good job! For anyone thinking about trying birth photography, please consider checking out the Birth Experience Mentorship Program. It’s a wonderful forum and guide from an amazing established birth photographer. I’m so glad I did. Again, I love the images you posted and it’s wonderful to see such an interest in BP :)

  • Alicia Silfies
    May 7, 2012 at 10:58 PM

    What an amazing gift you gave your friend. The pictures are so emotionally charged. It got me all teary with joy!

  • Angela
    September 15, 2012 at 12:48 AM

    We had a photographer that we’ve become very close to at the birth of our 4th child.
    She took photos someone who was there for me, to support myself and my husband never would have captured.
    Everyone was surprised when my water broke and my contractions finally started (I had to be induced at 10 days over), she took a picture of the clock at that moment then another when he was born. Those shots show the entire 56 minutes of my labour!
    She got a shot of the paper my mom was reading featuring the headline “the pain never stops”. I don’t even know what the article was about but talk about chance!
    The photos are among my most prized possessions. I made a photo book of them and love showing them to others. He’s only 19 months old now but I plan to devour that book with each passing birthday.
    I only wish I could go back and capture those seconds with our other 3 boys.
    The pictures in the book are all b&w and I think that really helps to keep them cohesive and tone down the functionality of the surroundings.
    Also, there were some timing issues to consider. Carmen was required to basically be “on call” for a period of time. Then the fact that I went 10 days overdue caused me some distress because of the “on call” situation.

    We both, Carmen and I, love the pictures, as does my husband of course. They trump any inconveniences that may have arisen surrounding them.

    • Courtney
      September 25, 2012 at 7:13 PM

      I’m so glad to hear that! I had a photographer at my last daughter’s birth and cherish those images as well!!

  • Mel
    September 15, 2012 at 10:26 PM

    Fantastic advice, thanks! Just been asked to photograph a friends birth … hope I can make it and that I do a good job :))

    • Courtney
      September 25, 2012 at 7:14 PM

      You will do great!! Good luck!!

  • February 18, 2013 at 3:33 PM

    I love this!! Thank you so much for sharing! I love the soft, airy edits. I am actually photographing a dear friend’s birth any day now… I’m so excited! Do you happen to know of a site that has some tips on this type of edit? It’s very different than what I’m used to, but I love it for births!!

    • Courtney
      February 22, 2013 at 1:50 PM

      Hey! Thanks! I don’t know of any sites specifically for editing birth shots. I just edited them the same way I do other indoor shots. For these images I used a preset from the Paparazzi Set from Clickin’ Moms.

  • Jessica Panozzo
    March 10, 2013 at 5:37 PM

    Hi Courtney, when you talk about setting up exposure to make sure you get the “pushing” shot… did you photograph dad and dr up the business end or mum’s face pushing? Thanks!

    • Courtney
      March 19, 2013 at 2:15 PM

      Yes, I took a couple of test shots on the doctor since she was in the light the baby would be coming out in. Good luck :)

  • Anna
    March 13, 2013 at 4:44 PM

    Thank you for this lesson . In Poland photography in hospital is not popular . My big day , when my son was born in 02.09.2012 , photograph my husband . He do a great job ! Diety for my English :-)

    • Courtney
      March 19, 2013 at 2:17 PM

      I’m glad to hear your husband did a great job! As long as you got shots you love that is all that matters :) Your English is great :)

  • keri
    March 27, 2013 at 10:49 AM

    amazing! these are beautifuL! you should do this exclusively – you so have the EYE!!!!

    • Courtney
      March 27, 2013 at 3:06 PM

      Thank you! This is actually one of my favorite forms of photography :)

  • March 27, 2013 at 12:34 PM

    Do you recomend an external flash? I know that the ISO is really going to depend on the light in the room but what White balance do you recommend?

  • Shannon
    March 27, 2013 at 1:35 PM

    Once I get the basics of photography down and I have a little more confidence, this is my next area of exploration. I would love love love to do birth photography!

    • Courtney
      March 27, 2013 at 3:09 PM

      It is definitely something magical :)

  • March 27, 2013 at 1:55 PM

    wow awesome pictures! i have never done one though i do have 2 coming up! can’t wait.

    • Courtney
      March 27, 2013 at 3:09 PM

      How exciting! Best of luck!! I adore birth photography!

  • Laura
    July 2, 2013 at 12:19 AM

    Hi Courtney! I just found your blog and am really enjoying your gracious tips! I was curious what your settings were on the picture of of the mother holding the baby up right after birth. I have a hard time getting the background blurry but keeping more than one person in focus. Great pics!

    • Courtney Slazinik
      July 3, 2013 at 9:07 PM

      Thanks! I believe the aperture was f/3.5. I know it wasn’t very high because both mom and baby were on the same level.

    • February 25, 2015 at 10:39 AM

      Didn’t know the forum rules allowed such brilliant posts.

  • Anna
    August 18, 2013 at 7:39 PM

    Hi Courtney, your work is beautiful. You mention that your use a 50mm lens for births, is that on a crop sensor or full-frame camera?

    • Courtney Slazinik
      August 21, 2013 at 4:27 PM

      These were taken with a full frame camera. If you have a crop camera, I would suggest at 35mm for birth photos. Good luck :)

  • December 3, 2013 at 7:40 PM

    Beautiful photos! I have been a photographer for going on 8 years now, but having just had my first little one and completely loving the “birth world,” I am really excited about the idea of trying my hand at birth photography. I do wonder though, how you got such amazing shots without a flash? I know during my birth the room was quite dark. What was your ISO setting? (If you don’t mind me asking). Thanks!

  • sarahj
    December 12, 2013 at 8:17 PM

    Hey there. These are absolutely amazing. What type of camera do you use? Also do you do birth videography

    • December 21, 2013 at 10:16 PM

      Thanks! I used a D700 for these. No, I didn’t do birth video as well. These photos were for a friend and I’m not in business.

  • January 10, 2014 at 10:06 PM

    My sister asked me to be in the room for her second child. My promise to her was that she would see the pictures first and be allowed to tell me how she wanted them edited (cropped) before I posted anything online for our family. I forgot that her husband gets kind of woozy at the sight of her in pain so when the nurse told him to grab a leg he looked at me in a panic and I told her that I would do it and he would stay by her head sitting down. I’m not sure how I managed it, but I got pictures right as they held up my nephew to show Mom and Dad… it wasn’t perfect (I didn’t get to meter anything because I was helping her through the contraction), but its a picture that we all treasure. I would LOVE to do more birth photography; it’a an amazing moment to be part of.

    • January 16, 2014 at 10:56 AM

      That is awesome! It is such a special time. I love it too :)

  • Jessica Stackowicz
    January 22, 2014 at 2:39 PM

    What camera do you use with your 50mm? I would love to know!! thanks!

  • January 30, 2014 at 2:00 AM

    Courtney!! These are absolutely great! If I didn’t know any better I would think you were a seasoned birth photographer! Your tips were spot on too! (And I am agree, your white balance is perfect!). I am a birth photographer and I think I will be referring people to your blog when they ask me for tips and pointers!

  • Carol
    May 20, 2014 at 6:57 AM

    I’ve just been asked by my step daughter to take photos of her birth coming up end of June. I’m so scared I will muck up this most important moment I’ve been honoured to be asked to be part of. Especially not knowing the lighting in the room. Your photos are amazing, your friend is lucky to have had you there.

  • Cathy
    June 15, 2014 at 8:40 PM

    WOW! Amazing photos. Amazing advice. What an absolute display of trust on the part of the birthing mothers. And boy, you not only earned it, you lived up to it (despite the almost fainting spell). Fantastic images.

  • June 15, 2014 at 10:55 PM

    I love thie

  • June 16, 2014 at 12:35 AM

    I love these pictures!!! 9 years ago I photographed my Granddaughters’ birth (I took about 400 pics) and folks thought I was crazy! Now I look back on those pics and they are the most precious memories ever! I am trying to grow the birth photography business, but people are so reluctant!

  • Tressa Maciag
    June 16, 2014 at 7:45 AM

    Loved this! Would love to get into birth photography some day. The part where you said make sure you have all your settings down because the baby came out quick…do you manually focus and change your focal points or do you let the auto do its work for a quick moment like that?

    • June 17, 2014 at 12:44 PM

      No, I don’t manually focus but I do change my focal points. I guessed how I would set up the shot and put my focal point where I thought the baby would be :)

  • Christi Clark
    August 4, 2014 at 11:45 AM

    Ive just booked my first birth session (eeks) what camera body did you use? I am looking to upgrade and I thought with the low light needs of birth photography now would be a great time to do so!! Love your shots!

    • August 12, 2014 at 12:10 PM

      Congrats! I used my Nikon D700. Before you upgrade figure out what your new camera can do that your current camera cant’ do, so you make sure you are getting the right camera for your needs :)

  • Julia
    September 27, 2014 at 2:11 AM

    You mention only trusting one memory card… Which one is that? Also what size memory card would you recommend? I know my little 16gb is gonna be too small but I have no idea what size I should get! TIA!

    • September 29, 2014 at 2:03 PM

      That was just a personal issue. I had bought one that didn’t work so I only had one that worked. I don’t have a brand that I prefer over the other :) I currently have an 8GB which works for me.

  • Britt
    December 10, 2014 at 2:42 PM

    This is great! But next time eat infront of the laboring mama and feed her too, support women eating during labor!

  • Madison
    January 12, 2015 at 5:09 AM

    I would say the main thing is to make sure that if there is a limit of people in the room, make sure to discuss it with everyone involved. I was promised/told to be in the room with my cousin for portfolio/family shots of the birth but there was a limit of 3 people during the birth of the baby, meaning a grandma had to be left out. Needless to say, it can be dramatic, and lead to a lot of bad things.
    I think these photos are fantastic!
    What would some tips be for when the baby is caught and out, like, where to stand without getting shots of all of the lady bits. I know some people wouldn’t want to see that sort of thing for those pictures.

    • January 13, 2015 at 10:05 AM

      Good point! Definitely something to figure out before the big day. Thanks :)

      I stood over the mom’s shoulder to catch her perspective of the baby being born. Then I moved to her side to capture both of their faces.

  • Sharee'
    February 12, 2015 at 2:37 PM

    Courtney thank you so much for taking the time to put in writing all these helpful techniques and actually replying to people so we can all learn together!!!

  • Julia Dewolf
    April 19, 2015 at 12:01 AM

    Great for a hospital birth… but what about a birth center birth with like zero lighting? What would you suggest for that?

  • Erika
    May 7, 2015 at 10:02 PM

    These are great photos Courtney!!

    I had the privilege of shooting by sister in laws first labor. I didn’t get to capture the actual birth because I had to leave to witness my daughter’s gymnastics Christmas show!! Huge bummer but I think they turned out ok, telling the story of my nephew’s birth. My daughter and I came back to the hospital and even got a shot with her first cousin in her leotard! I had my cousin in charge of taking pictures with my camera for my son’s birth….it went so fast I didn’t get to adjust the settings for her. The photos are blurry, out of focus and all over the place…but I still adore them. ☺️ Can’t wait for your follow up post with settings!! I’ll remember to do that BEFORE baby pops out!

    • May 21, 2015 at 1:32 PM

      That is awesome you got to do some photos for your SIL. Birth photography is definitely something I adore.

  • Anna Esposito
    May 24, 2016 at 9:58 AM

    Hi I was wondering if you ended up writing a follow up to this? I never saw it?

  • Andrea
    April 29, 2018 at 11:15 PM

    Great read! Thank you for all the tips! Just getting into birthing photography so this was helpful!

  • Liz
    October 16, 2018 at 2:40 PM

    I just did my first birth shoot and loved it. My tip, as a beginner photographer, when in doubt, switch to auto. They may not be perfect, but you know it is a least a decent shot. When there is time to set everything up, you can get artsy but you don’t want to miss a moment. Right after she gave birth the doctor closed the blinds and all my pictures started coming out dark. A lot happens in those first 30 minutes, so I went to auto until everything slowed down.

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