THE TOP 10 REASONS NOT TO BECOME A BIRTH PHOTOGRAPHER (or 10 things to mull on as you contemplate the life of a birth photog)

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I admit, 6 years ago when I first came across birth photography, I was immediately seduced. I couldn't help but be drawn to the beautiful, joyful emotion I saw captured. Back then, it was all about the happy-mommy-smiles and weepy-daddy-eyes as they held their freshly born baby in their arms. I had long ached to support women in the birth space but had been reluctant, nay fiercely in denial, that I would have to give up making art to become a breadwinner. But this was a magical combination of the two, right, right? Now a few years later I can happily say, yes its true, AND no, its not.

 So have you ever thought about becoming a birth photographer? Here are my top 10 reasons NOT to become one (or 10 things to mull on as you contemplate the life of a birth photog):

10. You just got/bought a new camera and you can't wait to become a photographer.  This thought is the bane of most photographers in the industry –whether it is birth, wedding or boudoir. Why? Think about it this way –it is literally the equivalent of saying, "I bought some some watercolors and a paintbrush, so now I am a painter!" It takes TIME to learn any craft, any craft at all –so why would anyone view photography as any different? Perhaps because of Instagram and FB we as a culture have this belief that taking a photograph is easy.  And yes, it is very easy on an iPhone. But photography is a craft –an actual art. So take some time, maybe even years, to learn how to shoot your camera on manual. Don't enter a woman's birthing space if you haven't already taken 10,000 photos of something else. You owe this soon-to-be mama that much (also see #3). 

9. You don't have/want to take the time to learn Lightroom, ACR or Photoshop. These editing tools are the backbone of digital photography. It stinks. But you have to know your way around at least one of these to deliver quality images to your potential clients.  +please note they are not like an instagram filter. 

8. GEAR. Investing in GEAR. because you push your camera harder than a wedding photographer any day of the year. ANY DAY OF THE YEAR. which leads to......

7. Maintaining gear. (see above)

6. Updating gear. (see below)

5. Spending money, all your money on gear...all the time. I will admit, I DID not understand how important quality gear would be in the birth space. I thought, full-frame DSLR? sweet! no problem! However, poorly made gear is an industry-wide problem. Just because you spent $3000.00 on a brand new-camera does not ensure A. that you will get the shot you want when you want it. and B. that it came to you with no mechanical problems and will last you forever.  Plan on checking and re-checking your gear often. This is tough with an on-call life. I have a strict "every 6 months" policy on bringing my gear in for cleaning and maintenance –which also means having quality back-up gear, which also means, you guessed it, more money. At first all of this seemed like a pain, but then I realized it was more of a pain when your gear broke down right before you went to a birth. Or even worse, you have no idea something is wrong with your camera as it was still taking photos during the birth.... until you pull your images up in Lightroom...and see that the focus was off in every. single. one. Let me spare you the nightmare and just break it down for you –it is as awful as it sounds. 

5. Don't want to become familiar with photography terms –ISO, aperture and shutter speed are basic. You need to enrich your vocabulary beyond that with terms such as white balance, front-focusing, back-focusing, depth of field, etc... be as hungry for an expanded photography vocabulary as you were for all the other things you fell in love with. Learn these terms as you get to know your camera. It will help when something is wrong with your camera or you are trying to get the shot you want. 

3. THINK THAT TAKING A WOMEN'S PHOTOGRAPH DURING BIRTH EMPOWERS HER. I of course thought YAY!!! every woman will want images of her birth! However, for as universal as it is, birth is incredibly private. I figured that out during my first birth (luckily I was with midwives and took a doula course immediately after). We all know what a cat or dog needs to give birth: a quiet, dark, private place where they are not disturbed! Women are the same way! Do not bring your camera to a birth thinking it could help. It really could be a hindrance. And images can be as empowering as they can be traumatizing. If a first time mother is wanting an low-intervention, drug free birth, encourage her to hire a doula first. 

2. THINK THAT ALL WOMEN CAN HAVE A BIRTH LIKE YOURS if you just offer them photos. or that by attending a birth you will be able to rectify your past birth trauma. Nope it doesn't happen that way. Yes, statistically speaking, 85% of women are capable of having a normal physiological birth –but in this culture that depends on a wide variety of circumstances...most importantly who their medical care provider is (OB or midwife), their mental and physical health, support from their family and partners, and did I mention how important their medical care provider is? Knowledge is power, so educate yourself first. And then listen. Listen to what other women want. Listen and be open to the labyrinth of birth. It could be vastly different from what you wanted/got. Also, refer to number 3 (as our cameras can really disturb a woman in her birth space). 

1. THE ON-CALL LIFE..... (or being prepared to "stop, drop and roll" like you have been set on FIRE at any moment of any dayI don't know how to prepare you for the heartache, the craziness, the double-duty parenting, and client-space holding that happens when you are on-call for a birth –or even sleeping with your phone next to your head. Or the texting and staring at your phone as your child is trying to get your attention. Or the adrenaline. Or the exhaustion. Or the heart bursting love. And all of this is wrapped up in the other 9 reasons (please see above)....

The on-call life is hard. Historically midwives (or any women who attended birth) were the older, storied women of the village. Either with children all grown, or no-children at all. The on-call life is hard. Its not undoable. But its hard. So take the time to reflect on the life you have created and whether or not the on-call life is right for you. Many, many women, who are also mothers, who take on 4-6 births a month AND do it well, typically have a partner that can be the stay-home parent. For me, my time with my boys is a most precious gift. And the longer I am in the game, the more I realize there will be a time when they will no longer be living with me, needing me like they do now. 

The most difficult lesson I have learned, I think, is not to take on more births than I think they can handle.  Because that impacts how many births I think I can handle. The balance is hard fought. Beautiful when it is won. But hard fought none-the-less. 

Have a thought or two about what I wrote? Care to ask more questions? Want to know more? Drop me a comment below! 

Dear MINTED

Dear Mariam Naficy and the Minted Executive Team,

My name is Rebecca Coursey and I am an independent artist –a birth and family photographer by trade.  I am writing to you to express how dismayed and disheartened by your recent Holiday promotional: PHOTO OP | by  minted. This new service offers, "easy, beautiful in-home photography for the holidays. Just $100."  For an artist whose business is to know family portraiture and know my clients, I find that not only is this price range alarming, but what you you seem to guarantee, "the relaxing holiday card experience you dreamed of: Our independent photographers will come to you to bring your look to life," rings incredibly false. As a company who in the past has supported independent design and living wages for artists, I wonder how you will stand behind your claim to ensure high-quality and excellence when you are paying your photographers a non-living wage. You have also seemingly reduced the family photography industry as something to be tossed aside outside of the holiday season. 

As artists and photographers, we support our families year round. We also strive to connect with our clients to ensure that we are capturing the joy and love that exists in their individual family –because we know, each family we photograph is as unique as it is special. 

In the past I have been a loyal minted customer, not only using you for my business stationary and cards, but for holiday gifts and greeting cards.  I have always recommended you to my customers who wanted high-quality with excellent design. However with this new service, I feel that you can no longer stand behind your claim to: "CELEBRATE INDEPENDENCE" That you as a company will no longer be able to connect my clients with the best independent artists. Instead you are undermining the thriving and unique industry of family photography. 

This holiday season, I will be taking my own business elsewhere, as well as encouraging my clients to look to other independent paper companies for their printing needs. 

My hope is, that since this program is in its beta stage, you will be able to see how you are negatively impacting the family photography industry and readdress how to connect your customers with truly fabulous and talented independent photographers and artists. 

                  Sincerely, 

                             Rebecca Coursey

                             birth and family photographer since 2013 

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reflecting a bit on photography in the birth space.....

There is a part of me that always knew I was meant to work with women.  

And in particular, working with woman in their birth space. And for many, many years I dodged inquires from close friends (who knew me) about me becoming a doula, or a midwife; however, when I found out about birth photography, I knew THIS was something I needed to be a part of. My artist's heart and scientist's mind seemed to insist upon it...to me, this was the perfect melding of the art and science of Birth. 

It took a long time for me to be brave enough though –to become a birth photographer, to know my camera well enough, to know myself well enough– before I thought I could enter a woman's birth space.  And when I did, I was so lucky. The laboring woman who's birth I first attended was surrounded by a team of midwives and doulas who helped usher a sweet baby earth side, late in the night, in the dark and quiet of a birth center.

As much as I was hooked, and in awe, and in love with birth from that moment forward; I also knew I needed to know MORE about birth. What was I allowed to do? To say? To act? To be? 

Even though I had brought three boys into the world, and had acted as an ad-hoc doula to my friends for years, I really had not immersed myself in the birth world before that moment. And it wasn't until some time later, that I really began to understand how my camera and my physical role as a DOULA impacted a laboring women's birth space as well.  I remember telling some of my friends (who at the time were becoming midwives) that I really, really, really wanted to write a blog post about what it meant to have an undisturbed birth and how our cameras could impact a mother's ability to give birth. I certainly didn't have any desire to put my camera away, but I had reached a place where I began to understand BIRTH –and to know when my presence at a birth is hindering the delicate balance of hormones versus helping it. 

I told my friends that I wanted others to know that it wasn't as simple as picking up a DSLR, turning it on and start taking photographs of a birth. It was SO much more. SO much more.

So here I am. Three years have passed since I had that conversation with my friends and I hope that I am actually doing SO much more than a simple blog post. I am actually teaching and mentoring. And I love it! I spoke this past spring at The Family Narrative and am beyond honored to teach at Click Away in 2018.  I really hope I am helping people, potential birth photographers, young and old understand birth

And as I wrap up my second round of teaching my Birth Unveiled class with Illuminate Classes, one of my students wrote THIS to me in an email, "When I signed up for this class I was excited about the technical side. I wanted to know how to shoot in low light, any WB tips, where to stand etc. Although you offered these in your class, they were not the items that I took away as the most important. You have helped me evolve in the respectful sense, the way that you prompted us to think about holding space and the role that we have in the birth was life changing for me. And I think it is the reason I am so fascinated with birth photography. You helped me see how important it is that we handle it correctly. I am inspired. Your class has helped me see exactly why I love birth so much and it has inspired me to go after it even more." And all I can think is wow! Yes! Welcome to birth! And I feel genuine love, not just for my students, but a love for all the women who will be moved and changed by them.  

And all of this is really to say, I don't believe we have to be perfect when we enter a laboring mother's birth space, but we have to be open –open just enough to quietly sit beside her during her own experience –open enough to be a witness to that moment in time when she navigated the wilderness of birth. 

newness

There is a soft quiet in the breath of a newborn. Hushed sighs as their lungs learn to breath: welcoming the air, the love, the sky.

What is it in us that longs to breath as they do? To sit mesmerized as we watch their tiny chests rise and fall as they bring in the air from our world? To softly embrace their tiny bodies, caress their sweet skin and smell their sweet scented heads?  This gift of newness. The gift of unfolding. That despite the hardships and the struggle and the long sleepless night that bleed into bleary-eyed says, somehow, somewhere, they are our symbol of beginnings... And of hope.

And our small mark, our greatest art, that we share with this earth. 

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the alchemy of birth

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We carry the future of our species in our bodies. We are divine.  Magic. Biological. The alchemy of birth. Yet we are told from a very young age that our bodies are not to be trusted. That we should cross our legs and purse our lips. Don't ask for it. 


And yet, we are only prized for our beauty, not for what we can accomplish. Let this be a reminder, that we are the future. We are divine. We are biological. We are art. We are science. The alchemy of birth. 


#clickmagazine #bumpbirthandbeyond #mynameismama #monochromephotography #monochromemotherhood #illuminateclasses #click_pro #maternity #takebackbirth #empoweredbirthproject #tribedemama #carriagehousebirth #carriagehousebirthla #thefutureisfemale #loveyourmother #allthepregnantmamas #bcpro #inbeautyandchaos #birthofamama

mary ellen mark | bury my heart next to your soul

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I think all my life, I have been influenced by the sounds that Mary Ellen Mark's work has made on my soul. They play a tune like no other. They are simultaneously soft and loud, inviting but disarming. Raw and intimate.

I think each of us in this group had such a difficult time replicating her vision --you just can't. And there was absolutely no way we could actually mount a project such as she did in such a short amount of time. But in revisiting her work, I realize how much the work I produce, or should I say my work within my work, is influenced by her.  When I think of photographers who deeply move me, I always think of Sally Mann. But it has been quite an awakening to go back over my own work, the images I am drawn too, looking at the dusty projects I have been sitting on, afraid to dive into and realize how sonorous Mary Ellne Mark's vision has been in my own life. 

Here are a smattering of photos that I took of a family I deeply care for.  I am not sure if they are exactly the song of Mary Ellen Mark, but I felt that it was, for now, the best that I could do. 

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 this wonderful project will take you next to beautiful Lauren. Click HERE to see her magic and reflection on Mary Ellen Mark. xoxo

on mothering | portrait of a family

I never know what to say when I blog a session. Words, which often come to me so easily, seem to fly away.  I believe that this is due because I am only sharing one piece of their full story. A mother's story. A family's story. A child's story. 

I am always honored though. And with this family it was no exception (not only that, but this mama is an amazing, awesome, spectacular photographer herself and I am over the moon that she let me tag along as she mothers these two beautiful boys). 

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xoxo

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thoughts on awaiting birth

attending. waiting. divining.  we as humans can't wait to welcome a new baby. it happens on the streets when strangers are drawn to the round softness of a mama's belly.

it is magic. it is divine. it is something so mysterious and so absolutely wonderful, that they just can't help themselves. they want to touch the pregnant mama. they want to feel the baby move deep inside, kick, respond to their touch, have the baby tell them, "remember you are human too, remember where you came from, remember how it felt."  

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and sometimes, I am lucky.

I get to photograph those bellies. -that quiet anticipation. the moments before birth. the swelling underneath the clothes. the quiet, and sometimes frenzied preparation in the home. the joyful delight.  

and the very luckiest part of being a photographer and a birth doula, is that I get to know these couples. I get to partake, ever so slightly in their joy, and their love, that they have for the wee human not even born.  

and I am reminded in my bones, of my own birth and the deep love I have for my own children. and, that my friends is pretty special. 

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xoxo

a brief "séjour" in the hills + coffee roasting

I can still smell the hills in my hair and on my hands. The hint of the cool mountain air and the smell of pine and sage entwined in the boys' clothes.  And as I shake them out getting ready for them to be laundered, my heart bows to the small time taken out of our day-to-day to be together in the Fall. The way the Great Oaks reach out to shade the dusty roads and stand guard over the children at dusk. hawks and butterflies drift lazily in the cool morning currents.

Due to the nature of my on-call work, I don't often get a chance to run away to the mountains on a moments notice.  I love being a doula. I love being a birth photographer.  But being a doula and a birth photographer means a life "on-call", a life lived at the whims of babies and the needs of their mamas.  It doesn't mean that I don't love the work that I do, but I find the time away from Los Angeles precious. And needed.  And when I get the chance at renewal, I am all the better for it. 

Here are some images that depart from my usual slew of babies and birth that you typically see. A little orchestra of images from coffee roasting, vegetable picking, and pretzel making while we spent the weekend away at Camp Stevens, located just outside Julian, CA. 

Besides roasting coffee, sampling local beers, making pretzels, digging in the dirt and tie-dying shirts, we were able to set some time aside for just being: Present. Still. Laughing. And living.  And enjoying the wonderful company of family and friends. 

PS. You don't have to be a doula, or a birth photographer, to enjoy time away. xoxoxo

what happens at a prenatal appointment with midwives?

All of my babies were midwife caught. I am one of the lucky few who stumbled into midwifery care quite by accident when I was pregnant with my first child. However, something I didn't really come to appreciate until I was pregnant with my second child, was that midwives are really the experts in normal prenatal care.  One thing I hear over and over again is the time difference between prenatal obstetrician appointments (which tend to be very short) and the longer midwifery ones. That extra time became deeply meaningful to me with each subsequent pregnancy. Even as a second (and then third time) mom, I still had questions and concerns.  So, what goes into a midwife appointment? You might be surprised.

Yes, there is a clinical aspect (just to refute the fear that midwives don't care for the physical well being of mama and child). In fact, somewhere between 10 to 20 minutes of the appointment is monitoring the physical well-being of the mama. This includes routine assessments such as blood pressure, urine dips, measuring fundal height (the growth of uterus, placenta and baby), and listening to fetal heart tones, etc. It also includes informed consent and shared decision making paradigms, as well options for other other screening and diagnostic tests.  The rest of the prenatal, which can be anywhere between 30 to 60+ minutes, is spent on client education and monitoring of the psycho-social aspects of pregnancy and birth (checking in on how the mama-to-be is doing in her work, social, and home life). In many ways, it is time just spent getting to know how their client, and how she is doing.  

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One thing is true: that we all have different needs and wants during our pregnancy. And many of us value both qualitative and quantitative time with our care providers. What was your experience, needs, and wants during prenatal care with your medical care provider? xoxo

when a baby is born at home....

There is something so sweet, so gentle, so absolutely awe-inspring about a midwife-led, newborn baby well-exam. Typically done well into baby's second hour of life, the exam is so absolutely tender and filled with love, that my heart aches for the beauty of it.  

Midwives are not just trained to deliver babies and provide well-woman care, they are also trained in care of the newborn. They make sure all is well, checking for any abnormalities that are not caught during prenatal testing, making sure that everything is working properly and that baby is thriving. Often people confuse midwives and doulas, thinking that midwives are just doulas who decide they want to start helping women birth their babies at home.  It is quite the contrary.  Doula training is typically just a certification process from a 3-4 day class. On the other hand, Midwives have 3-4 years of schooling that is not only academic, but clinical as well. They bring with them a "mini-hospital" to home births (or at their birth centers)-- and have advanced training in life-saving support skills.  In many states, they must pass national boards (such as  NARM ) and often, like here in the state of California, must be  licensed through the state where they practice in. 

I consider myself one of the luckiest women on earth to have been present at so many home births. Witnessing and watching in awe at this most tender and loving care for these babies when they arrive earthside. 

There is this beautiful saying, “The way a woman gives birth can affect the whole of the rest of her life. How can that not matter? Unless the woman herself does not matter.” (Beverley Beech and Belinda Phipps) --I feel that they same is true about our children as well. How they are welcomed into this world is so, so significant. Not every woman feels safe at home, and not every woman can give birth safely at home, but I know that our hospitals and our OBs could learn so much from the wise, tender ways of midwives.  

What do you think? xoxo

delicious light

children. endless gobs of gorgeous light. heaps and heaps of love.

some days, such things can come in barrels and barrels. they pour down, and out, over shoulders, flowing across wooden stairwells in a cabin, in the woods, high above a city. with family.  they happen, there, as the light falls across the sky calling the day awake.  they fall into our laps, into our hearts, and into our memories. 

xoxoxo

september

today i think of towers and ash. of lives lost and loved ones found. a new york i never knew and and the deep canyons that line the walls of my heart. because our souls are made of stardust, and the carbon that builds our bones echoes from a time beyond understanding, i say we live on still. live on even long after we die. not just as memory and song, but part of the dust that presses our eyelids shut in a wind storm and the blisters on our feet as we walk barefoot in the unrelenting sun. ‪#‎arches‬ ‪#‎threesisters‬ ‪#‎twotowers‬ ‪#‎NeverForget‬

a mother's day thought and giving back

I think about her, that mama of mine... and all the memories I have left are the ones carried by me and by those who knew and loved her. 

I desperately wish I had more photos of me and her. Her and me. Me in her arms.

But by 9am this morning, I was over caffeinated, had the most delicious croissant and had hugs and kisses from my three awesome boys. I couldn't help think of how richly blessed I feel.

I miss my mom something fierce, but the other night I had a dream that she was really, really happy. Like this kinda happy:

So let me gift you this. Let me get you in the shot with your littles. Donate to a worthy, mother-loving cause and I will come photograph a mini-session at your home, or at upcoming mini sessions at El Matador Beach the first two weekends in June.

Love hard, donate, and let me know. (offer ends at this Friday, May 16th, all donations and requests to be photographed must be submitted by noon, PST). xoxo 

Please know that I think of the all the sweet mamas, all over the world, who right now might be suffering heartache and loss... just know that from the bottom of my soul I am sending you light and love.

PS. Happy Mother's Day! 
PS. Love your flaws, your children will look past them in the years to come, what is important is the now. documented, in all it's glory.

the neighborhood project

A challenge to walk around the neighborhood, take a few photos and NOT look at the photos as you take them? In Deb Schwedhelm's workshop Continuing The Journey the challenge is just that.  At first it sounded easy.... however, I realized I am so used to instantly checking my photographs to see if I "nailed it" that I really struggled to stay focused and relaxed.  The first four shots I took I had to throw out as I instantly look at them. #sodepressing

Then, slowly,  I eased into it. Sometimes I would get ready to shoot, then decide to wait another moment and breathe. They weren't all perfect, but some of the images I loved. Here is small collection of images I culled from the project below.  The last image window is actually an image gallery, so feel free to scroll through those images as well! 

This workshop has been life changing. I highly recommend not only following Deb's work, but tracking down when her next work shop is! 

xoxo

somewhere in boyhood {day 72 | 365}

somewhere in boyhood. quite literally a dog pile. 

these aren't the most technically perfect photographs, but the joy it brings me is worth it. despite how crazy our pups can make me feel, i also know how much they are adored and loved. the boys could not imagine their life without these goofy irreverent dogs, and quite frankly, as much as I may grumble about them, they are just as beloved by me as they are by the boys.   

as i said before, somewhere in boyhood. quite literally a dog pile. xo