Coffee with Creatives: The Priceless and Precious Moments of Birth Photography with Liz Cook

Coffee with Creatives: Liz Cook and Birth Photography

First things first, how do you take your coffee? (And if you are not a coffee drinker, what is your go-to beverage for fuel?)

Liz: Sadly, I gave up coffee about two years ago (thankful to finally be migraine-free!) but I LOVE a strong English Breakfast Tea (two bags!) with a dollop of heavy cream. It’s my “Today will be a good day” drink!

Can you share a bit about yourself & your photography business?

Liz: I started my business in 2006 with wedding photography. In 2009 I photographed my first birth story and it changed my life! I immediately began booking birth stories and from there a demand for newborn and baby milestone portraits grew. I opened a brick and mortar studio in 2015 and we’ve been growing since! I’ve enjoyed the privilege of providing families around the country with timeless images to tell their own stories to future generations.

On any given day you can find me baking a loaf of fresh sourdough bread, enticing hugs out of my two daughters (Sunday is 8 and Izzie is 5), enjoying the fruits of our tower garden labors with my husband, and breathing in the sweet air surrounding our Virginia home in the woods. I love my life and the opportunity I have to balance a flexible job with spending quality time with my family!

Coffee with Creatives: Liz Cook and Birth Photography

In your words, what is so special about photographing a birth?

Liz: Oh, how is it NOT special?! Birth is a literal once-in-a-lifetime event! But not just that, it is pretty much guaranteed that many pieces of the birth experience become blurry almost immediately after the day has passed. I think being able to offer a photographic story of one of the most amazing events in a person’s life is such a huge privilege. It’s a hard job, but it is 100% worth it!

Coffee with Creatives: Liz Cook and Birth Photography

What details do you try and capture for mom and dad to look back on and remember?

Liz: In any genre of photography, you will find many different styles; some artists love the science behind birth (‘Did someone say placenta?!’), some love witnessing the power of a woman’s body in the midst of delivery. I personally tend to lean towards capturing the emotional details of birth stories. My eye is always drawn to whatever feeling is being displayed in the room. Sometimes that’s a surprised expression from a nurse, a gentle touch of a partner’s hand, or mom’s reaction as she receives her baby into her arms for the first time. Those are the details that make my heart skip a beat and give me a rush!

Coffee with Creatives: Liz Cook and Birth Photography

Tell us about one of your most memorable birth shoots. What do those pictures reflect?

Liz: I once attended a birth that lasted over 36hrs. Mom pushed for 4 hours after laboring for 32, so to say she felt miserable is a bit of an understatement. When she finally opted for a cesarean section, the emotion in the environment weighed so heavily, like a thick cloud of agony that lasted every minute until her baby was born. I remember feeling exhausted and so heavy hearted as my client’s mother, partner, and twin sister all carried their own fears, anxieties and heartaches for all they had witnessed. I continued photographing as the birth story unfolded, even after not being allowed into the operating room for the delivery. Every photograph I was able to provide to this family felt like an award winning shot to me because I was able to work through my own heaviness at the time. I felt what they felt and yet I captured their real emotions, the true story. At the end, I was able to photograph a brand new baby in the arms of his parents and suddenly all of the hard work felt worth it. It felt a little like birthing my own baby! This was one of the first births I photographed and it is still easily one of my favorites.

Can you share two or three tips for shooting in a hospital setting?

Liz: 1. It’s so important to remember your place on the totem pole in the hospital room! Photographers/videographers are not there to save a life or prevent trauma. But we can be there to help if help is needed. Know when to take a step back and move out of the way of the medical professionals.
2. Be helpful! Make your presence worth it to everyone in the room, not just your client. Offer to bring food for the staff, be an extra set of hands for the doula if you can (handing out-of-reach items, or getting buckets of ice). Have self-awareness and be a positive energy in the space.
3. Know your camera. Don't be afraid to push your ISO. And most importantly - wear a strap (FOTO is best!) to help steady the camera if you have to get to uncomfortably low shutter speeds (low light will make you do crazy things).

Coffee with Creatives: Liz Cook and Birth Photography

How does your own experience as a mother impact your birth photography?

Liz: As someone who has had my own births documented, I realize the importance of birth photography to help recall accurate memories. The time stamps are surprisingly one of my favorite details! Of course, I had some memories from my own births, but they were out of order and I had definitely forgotten a few things. Having those images to look back on remind me that there truly is no value you can place on birth photography. It is a priceless service and I firmly believe each one of my clients would agree with me! With that in mind, I try to document every step of the story for my clients, even if I am unable to be with them 100% of the time. When I am present I am busy documenting because even if it seems like something unimportant, it may be a pivotal moment for that client.

What advice would you share with a client who is hesitant about having a birth documented?

Liz: First, I would remind the client that their images will be and will always remain 100% private. This is often their first concern and it’s important to me that they know and trust that I will never share their images without their permission. From there, I encourage them that if they are worried about having a stranger in their birth space that it’s normal and okay to feel that way. I remind them that I have been to many births and there's not much I haven’t seen. That usually helps them feel a little better! I also try to be aware of their body language and demeanor and mirror it if possible.

IAPBP Winner Pictures

In addition to running your photography business, you also oversee the International Association of Professional Birth Photographers (IAPBP). Tell us about this community and what it offers its members.

Liz: Yes! started about ten years ago. Our mission is to assist expectant birth persons in search of a professional birth photographer or videographer in their area. Behind the scenes, we have a community of over 1,100 talented and genuine artists from 52 countries all eager to connect with expectant birth persons. We support one another in the spirit of community over competition by sharing resources to help grow ourselves and our businesses. In addition, IAPBP is proud to host an annual birth photography image competition with results that have been published in over 500 media publications worldwide including National Geographic, Buzzfeed, The New York Times, People Magazine and so many more. I know I’m biased, but I truly believe our community holds the most talented birth photographers around the world. It has been my absolute honor to be able to facilitate and support my colleagues and I look forward to what the future holds for IAPBP!

Shop Dutch Skinny

And lastly, what Fotostrap do you wear? Favorite thing about it?

Liz: I have the Dutch Skinny and the quality blows me away! I had my logo printed on it and I feel like it gives my brand an extra touch when I am out shooting. I love it!

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