Interview with a Birth Photographer: Elise Hurst

One of the biggest trends we are seeing in 2018 is birth photography. Parents all over the world are hiring professional photographers to capture the precious moments during childbirth. A birth photographer can document the entire process so you can focus on the important tasks at hand. Most birth photographers can even shoot in any setting, including hospital, home, and cesarean births. We sat down with Elise Hurst of Elise Hurst Photography to learn more about birth photography and how you can prepare when booking a photographer.

Elise Hurst Photography

Tell us a little about yourself.
I have 3 children. I have a 4-year-old, 2.5-year-old, and a 3 month old, so I’m still in the beginning mom stages of life. My husband is a pastor. During the day, I mainly stay home with my kids. However, 3-5 times a month, I photograph women while they are in labor and having the biggest day of the life by bringing their little one into the world.

What got you into birth photography?
I would love to be a midwife someday but I wanted to be a part of the birth process right away. I started after my second son and I knew that with a newborn, I couldn’t go back to school right away so I decided to do birth photography so I could still be a part of the  process. Plus, birth photography is one of the only ways you can be in the room without a certification so it’s a good lesson. However, let me tell you… I broke all the rules. I bought a nice camera and a week later I photographed by first birth. It was an amazing experience. A few of my friends were pregnant so I asked if I could photograph their births. It became a business after that.

How many births have you photographed (estimate)?
About 45

What has been your favorite moment that you’ve had while shooting?
One that gave me adrenaline was about a month before my sister-in-law gave birth. She contacted me and wanted me to shoot. However, I live in Texas and she lived in Denver, so she was about 7 hours away. I offered to help her find a local photographer as it might be too tricky for me to get there in time. She insisted I do it, so I said I would try, but you never know. When the day came and she said she thought she was in labor, I started to look for flights to Denver. Sadly, 2 flights were overbooked so I thought there was no way I would get on. The next available flight was the following morning but there is no way I could wait that long. I decided to take the flight anyway but as I was headed to the airport, it really set in that I would not be making it. I told my husband I would just drive there – at was 6 PM already (keep in mind that I was 28 weeks pregnant myself). I get in my car and I drive. I get there at 1 AM and my brother texted me saying she was 9.5cm dilated when I pulled into the parking lot. I walked into the office and she starts pushing. It actually took her awhile to push but it was just so down to the wire. She finally had my nephew at around 4:30 AM. Even though I traveled quite a bit, it was so sweet to watch my brother become a father and for him to get a taste of what I do for a living.

Elise Hurst Photography

What is the hardest thing about shooting births?
Birth doesn’t play out how we think it does. Demise is definitely the hardest part – whenever moms lose their babies, its heartbreaking. The 2nd hardest is the time management – I get calls in the middle of the night even though I have 3 month old. My husband helps me balance everything. His amazing support is everything. I have a special ringtone when moms call and he’s very encouraging when he hears it. He has a flexible job so if he has to come home early, he can. We also work with a college group that help babysit if I need them. We’ve had them sleep with my newborn at the hospital while I’m busy shooting.

Why do you feel birth photography in important?
It’s just like your wedding day – it’s a huge, informative day in your life. I feel like it should be documented and so often it isn’t. Although you have some memories, it’s hard to remember some of the details. Most of the time when you don’t have a birth photographer, your partner is clicking away and is never actually in the photos. You get the pictures but you don’t get the whole moment. The pictures that are my favorite are the partner supporting the mom in labor – you can see it in their eyes how much they admire and adore the mom in this moment. You just don’t get that same moment when the partner is taking the pictures.

What are some things pregnant mothers should know before booking a birth photographer?
Birth photography is not cheap. I know that sounds silly but it’s not like a mini-session, it could be a marathon. You’re asking us to step away from families and holidays to go and photograph your birth. We’re on call for 5 weeks (usually from week 37 to delivery)… you just never know when it’s going to happen. Even with scheduled c-sections, I’ve had people deliver early. Just like a wedding photographer, these are important moments you can’t redo, so to have a professional to do this, it is important. We are on call emotionally and physically for you. It’s 100% worth it. If money might be an issue, contact your photographer as soon as you are pregnant so you can pay it off. Also, interview your photographer. You don’t want someone you don’t mesh well with.

How can moms or the families help make your job easier on the day of delivery?
I’m documenting everything during delivery. I’d recommend that people should put the phone down and enjoy the moment so I can document everything. I know you want that picture to send to relatives, but wait an extra hour to take the picture, you’ll be in the pictures yourself and you’ll be there in the moment. I will take many pictures and send them to you before I leave the hospital.

Elise Hurst Photography

What does your typical day look like when mom is about to give birth?
It always starts off by thinking who is going to take care of my kids. :) Once I get my bags packed, camera charged, snacks ready to go, and a change of clothes by the door, I get the ball rolling. My babysitter’s on call so they will come over. For hospital birth, the mom gets checked in and I’ll come when they are 6-7 cm but it depends on their history and how fast they are progressing. I’ll listen to the phone and if they cant talk through it, I’ll listen to my gut and head over there. For home births, I just go sooner since they aren’t being checked. I’ll show up when the midwife comes in.

If I am doing videos and pictures, I take pictures outside and introduce myself in the room or I step out. This all varies depending on how much support the mom has. If she has a lot of support from partner or doula, I’ll be a fly on the wall. If she doesn’t have a doula, I’ll be a little more encouraging. I’ve had moms say they prefer someone who is encouraging and talks her through it, but i’ve had moms who come in and not say a single word – all are okay. I stay about 2 hours after the birth or however long it takes for moms to have her skin-to-skin and first latch. We also wait until they weigh the baby after the first feed. I stay after the newborn assessment has been done and when the partner has had a chance to hold the baby.

If someone doesn’t have a birth photographer in their area but wants to DIY it, what pieces of advice would you give to those who want to have nice photos during delivery?
If you can’t afford it, i would suggest having a better camera than just your phone. Pass it off to a bring and stand at your head so they cant pictures of mom and belly but not everything.

Are there any must-have angles or photos a mom should have during delivery or pictures that you try to capture (dad’s first look, mom’s first look, etc)?
I love doing aerial shots and have a birds eye view of mom usually in labor. I usually do it when baby is on her chest and I almost get it every single time.

If you’re interested in following Elise’s work, make sure to like to her on Facebook and Instagram. You can also check out her website for more information.

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