I was lucky. As a first-time father-to-be I had the benefit of a wife who had already assisted with hundreds of deliveries. I knew I wanted to take pictures of our son's birth but I had to clear with my wife just how many, where, and of what kind. I'm sure many women wouldn't want their husbands to be distracted with a camera, but I knew my wife would want the photos afterwards and I assured her everything I'd take would be tasteful.
("Stay up by my face!" was the stern warning I received.)
I am a photography nut, having studied photojournalism in high school and university, so I was certainly more over-the-top than most dads, but Andrea has assured me I wasn't the most extreme. When I asked about possibly setting up one flash with an umbrella in the corner for some additional light (which I thought would be out of the question) she told me it wouldn't be a problem if it stayed out of the way. Evidently some guys shooting videos have lit up the rooms more than that. Having Andrea deliver on the ward where she worked had a few perks, including her choosing the right room for me with a ton of windows... what a good wife! I didn't end up wanting any additional light.
So what do you need to think about if you're not this photography obsessed? There are some general pointers that are applicable no matter what your skill or camera.
- Respect your wife's wishes; be there for her and for the big event. (Of course I have to put this one first!) I got in to more trouble by eating a cinnamon bun one of our nurse friends brought to me near the end of the labour than I did for my photography, so I think I pulled it off. I'm sure your wife will make it perfectly clear just where you can and cannot shoot from and when she wants your full attention.
- Find your best light; ask (nicely) for a room with windows if possible. Nothing is better than natural light so open up the curtains and use it if it is available. And turn off your flash if you have enough light in the room -- when you flip through your flash settings, turning it off will normally look like a lightning bolt with the "not" symbol over it.
- Clear it with the nurses and doctors; most delivery room medical staff are used to being in a lot of photos, but be sure to ask each one's permission if you're going to include them in your frame.
- Try black and white; it softens the mood and focuses more on the feeling than the details. I shot both traditional black-and-white film and digital files, later converted to black-and-white during processing.
- Focus on the downtime; in-between contractions and quiet sleeping moments the next morning offer good opportunities for photos without getting in the way of anything important.
Whether you just want a few good shots or you want full documentary-style coverage like I did, go over your photography game plan well ahead of time so you don't have to think about it during the more important moments. Hopefully you'll come away with some of the best pictures of your life. (And if you're lucky enough to deliver at St. Paul's in Vancouver, check out the black-and-white book we made of Andrea's labour that sits in the waiting room!)
If you have any questions about delivery room photography in general or of a more technical nature, I'm happy to answer them in the comments.