Birth photography is now a thing. And it’s become quite a big thing. Mind you, I’d say we’ve come a long way in the photography world in general. Instead of posed, backdrop cut outs tucked in wallets, we’re now seeing beautiful canvasses on walls and photo books on shelves with collections of family photo sessions.
The value of creating and capturing memories is catching on. And that goes for birth photography.
That’s why I thought I would pick the brain of our very own Cowichan-Valley birth photographer Ashley Marston.
She's a member of the International Association of Professional Birth Photographers (IAPBP), Canadian Birth Photographers, Public Breastfeeding Awareness Project, and a Clickin Moms Pro.
Marston won an honourable mention for her image of a local mother birthing in a pool in the IAPBP's last year's birth photography contest.
Q: How many births have you photographed now?
A: I have photographed 47 births. By the end of this year it will be 50, which is a big milestone for me.
Q: At what moment did you decide you wanted to add birth photography to your business?
A: I was at that point in my career where I was photographing families often. Mostly Christmas card photos, moments that were fairly posed. After looking through the images it was always the candid moments, the ‘in-betweens’ I loved the most.
It was shortly after the birth of my third child that I saw a write-up on birth photography online. That was a ‘lightbulb’ moment for me. I actually started to cry. I knew then that was exactly the direction I wanted to go in.
Q: What are two memories that stick out the most from births you’ve attended?
A: It’s hard to narrow it down.
The dads get me every time. Men are so involved now. They really are hands-on both with labour and delivery, some now hoping to catch their own babies and I think that’s incredible.
I was with a family for 26 hours once and it was their first child. She had a long and hard labour and when baby was finally born they brought him to the warmer and dad came over. There was about 15 seconds there from the time he stepped up to the warmer and saw his son and locked eyes with his wife. And in that 15 seconds was a whole range of emotions. I felt like I just saw him fall in love right in that instant. I witnessed it and thankfully photographed it.
The second is likely a birth I just recently photographed. It was a very quick home birth. In the early hours of the morning mom was labouring in a birth pool in the living room. When I walked through the door I knew it wouldn't be long and the midwife wasn't far behind me. The mom was powerful and in control. The baby was coming and when she was born she was placed on her chest and all was quiet. This little baby girl opened her big beautiful eyes and was so peaceful and content. She just looked around. None of us spoke and we all just let her take it all in. It was beautiful.
Q: What’s one trick you’ve used to be discreet while a mother is in labour?
A: You will find me hiding in a lot of closets J.
Q: Have you ever offered encouragement or support to a labouring mom?
A: I have. I am not a certified doula, but it has been commented many times by birth professionals that maybe I should be. I have a supportive, caring nature, so I am always available to grab onto if need be. But, if the mother has a strong support team and I am not needed in any way then I am a fly on the wall and don’t disrupt the birth space.
My job is to document, so that is my first priority, but I have clicked my shutter with one hand while a mom has a firm grip on the other one.
Q: Have you ever had a mom or another family member get upset with you?
A: No. You may hear a swear word muttered under her breath, or yelled out, but that’s it. And that is very understandable.
Q: Have you ever cried during a birth?
A: Every time!
Q: What is your protocol if something goes sideways?
A: Generally I stop shooting until everything is under control. It also depends on the severity of the situation. If an unpredictable moment is a big part of the story, I will keep shooting. I also gage by the midwives or medical professionals in the room. There are moments that you just ‘know’ you need to put your camera down. And I will always stop shooting if asked by the family.
Q: Has this ever happened to you?
A: I had a birth quickly turn breech once and she was whisked into the OR. These moments, even though it was strenuous, I documented. Those images helped the family tremendously after the birth in being able to piece together what happened and heal from it.
Q: How do you edit shots that include every detail when baby is arriving?
A: The same as I would all of the rest of the photos. The only difference is I tuck ‘those’ photos into a separate folder for the mother to view when she is ready.
To find out more about birth photography, please visit Ashley’s site: