As doulas, families often ask us to take some photos during their labor and in the first hour after birth. We are always happy to oblige, but the results are nothing compared with the gorgeous images a true birth photographer can capture.
In Orange County, we’re lucky to have several wonderful birth photographers who specialize in taking professional quality photos during labor and in the early hours with your new baby.
Sarah Kaempfe of Sarah Kae Photography is a local birth photographer, combining her background in photojournalism and her work in birth as a Bradley Method teacher. Her portfolio is beautiful, and we’re so grateful she took the time to answer some FAQs about her work as a birth photographer for us!
Tell us a little about yourself and how you came to be a birth photographer.
I have been a graphic and photo journalist for more than 18 years. My career began at the Associated Press in New York City in 2000 after graduating from the University of Miami with a double major in Communications and Art. After a few years, I moved to Boston to work for the Boston Herald and get my Masters of Fine Arts degree from Boston University. Shortly after, I had a beautiful birth experience as I welcomed my first baby into this world. I labored for over 21 hours at home, arrived at Brigham and Women's Hospital at 3:10 am, and all 6 lbs, 1 oz of her was born at 3:35 am! She had a full head of dark hair and a was loaded with personality.
While I was pregnant with my second baby, my husband received a job offer here in California. I put my career on hold to focus on our growing family. Baby girl #2 was born after only three hours of labor at the UCSD Birthing Center. We barely made it! After arriving at 9:10 pm, she made her appearance at 9:20 pm. I knew after having these strong, empowering births that I wanted to teach other women, remove any fear surrounding birth and give them the confidence they needed to have the best experience possible. This is the first day you hold your baby in your arms. It should be one you look back on with the best memories. Each couple I taught was unique and fantastic. I never grow tired of empowering these families. However, my artistic side needed to make a come back. I missed my camera and, believe it or not, I really missed editing.
Our home birth little girl was born in 2012 after 90 minutes of labor. She and her sisters were still my main focus. Little, learning, comical and inquisitive, I wasn't ready to give up any more time with them just yet. Before I knew it, nap times and nursing were coming to a close. I picked my camera back up and combined my two passions, art and birth. I feel so lucky to be able to have such a strong background in both. To be able to understand and respect birth as well as have the knowledge on how to capture emotion, details and simple moments then edit them in a way that tells a story. I also feel very blessed that I have both a loving, supportive family and my dream job.
Do you offer other photography services for growing families besides during labor?
I do! My sessions include: maternity, newborn, family, fresh 48, milestones and even rain photography. Maternity sessions are stunning in the rain and make a great conversation piece. I also offer videography. I do video stories of births, birthdays, and even special moments like playing at the park. I have a studio location in Irvine or your session can be in the comfort of your own home.
Birth photography has a bit of a reputation for being graphic. Is that always how it is? Do you offer different levels of modesty for birth photography clients?
I get this question a lot. One of the things I pride myself on is not being a graphic photographer. Your story should be told the way you want it to be, not simply to get a reaction. For that reason, I really listen to my expectant couples and capture the details that are important to them in a tasteful way. If they want crowning shots, I of course will still capture that part of their baby’s journey. Those images are for their eyes only - I never share them.
Can families who are planning a cesarean birth still work with you?
Absolutely. I capture the details leading up to your surgery. Then whether I’m let into the OR or not will be up to the OB and anesthesiologist. If am not able to go into the OR with you, I happily hand your partner my camera. When you come out of surgery, I get my camera back and now we get to include baby in your story. This includes skin to skin time, breastfeeding, tiny fingers and toes, and possibly the family meeting baby for the first time.
If a cesarean birth becomes necessary during labor, are you able to take photos in the operating room?
The same rule would apply here. It will up to the OB and anesthesiologist. Either way, my camera goes into the OR!
What services does your birth photography package include?
My basic package includes:
A complimentary 30 minute prenatal consultation to get to know one another.
I’m on-call from 37 to 42 weeks (available 24/7).
Coverage of your birth story from active labor until approximately two hours postpartum.
All of your images professionally hand edited and color corrected.
An ordering session (over the phone or in person) where I will help choose the best way to share and remember your story. (Most clients choose at least an album.)
At what point do you normally meet your clients in labor?
Once my client is in good active labor, I arrive at their birth location. I go over in detail ahead of time how to keep me informed and let me know when it’s time to come.
Are there any common misconceptions about birth photography you'd like to clear up?
The misconception I get the most is that there will be a camera in someone’s face the whole time or that people will be asked to pose during labor. I truly respect each of my clients and their unique birth process.
I only take the shots that will benefit your story and only during appropriate times. I take one, maybe two photos, then I put my camera down and wait. I try to have as little of a presence in the room as possible. The only time I fire my camera several times in a row is when baby is entering the world. I want to get every emotion! Everyone is so focused on baby at this point that in most cases they don’t even know I’m doing it!
The only posing I do is one image just before I leave. I make sure you get the three of you smiling at me. Other than that, all of the images are completely spontaneous and natural.
Walk us through the process. What can a new client expect when they work with you?
The first thing we do is get together at their home or a coffee shop for about 30 minutes to get to know each other, go over what to expect and give them an opportunity to ask me loads of questions. I'll send them the electronic agreement and invoice for the deposit which reserves the five weeks surrounding their due date. Between booking and birth I'm available via phone, text or email for any support they need or questions they may have.
If there are any changes in the way they feel, dilation, effacement, etc., they keep me informed of all of that via text. If they think they may be in labor, then they or their partner will give me a call. I then stay prepped and ready to go! Once they are in active labor (I go over with them how do know when this is), then I join them. It doesn't matter what time of day or night, I go. If they are at home, I go there first. Then if they are going to head to the hospital or birthing center, I will follow them when the time comes. All of this is part of their birth story so I'm capturing this whole journey.
I stay with them until about two hours after baby is born. With the exception of about 30 minutes when I step out to give them some alone time as a n new family. Then I come back and capture baby being weighed, measured, diapered, swaddled and cuddled.
As soon as I get home, I back up their images or video on two separate external hard drives. I hand color correct and edit anywhere from 75-200 images depending on how long I was with them. They'll receive 2-3 sneak peaks within 48 hours that they can share with friends, family and social media. Then, in 2-6 weeks, they receive all of the digital files in a beautiful, online, password gallery where they can download them. They can even order prints and canvases from a professional print lab directly from their gallery. I make it as clean and simple as possible. If they would like to order an album that tells their birth story, all they have to do is favorite the ones they want included in their gallery and I start designing their album. If they are receiving a video, the video is delivered via a secure online account. Of course, if they also hire me for newborn and/or lifestyle photography, then I can show them the video in person at that session and deliver everything together. It's all about what they want and what makes the experience the best possible one for them.
How far along in pregnancy do you recommend families reach out to you if they’re interested in working with you during birth?
I recommend families book as soon as possible, ideally at 16 weeks. I typically only have one birth client at a time and I do take two months off during the year to focus on my family. Because of that, I do book up quickly. I have been booked at 39 weeks before and even once when someone was in labor, but I don’t recommend waiting that long! I love getting to know my clients. The more time the better!
What “moments” in labor or the first couple of hours postpartum do your clients always love to have photos of?
Almost every client has breastfeeding and skin to skin with them on their “must have” list. I think the ones that they also end up being so happy to have are their partner's reaction to their child being born, and the shots of baby’s details like their eyelashes and tiny toes.
Is birth photography only for families planning to birth at home or in a birth center, or do you shoot hospital births too? What birth places do you serve?
Another great question. Birth photography is for anyone giving birth at a hospital, birthing center or home.
I serve all of Orange County, Camp Pendleton, and parts of LA County.
What is your favorite part of your job?
The relationships I build with my clients. Most of my clients send me holiday cards, friend me on Facebook and Instagram, and even include me in their family baby updates. After baby is born, I often continue to photograph their newborn and family as they hit their milestones and every fall for family pictures. I get to not only witness their miracle enter the world and the joy that surrounds that event, but in most cases build a lasting connection with them and watch who this baby grows into. My girls are 6, 8 and 10 now, so I know how quickly it goes by and how unique each child his first hand. Being able to be a small part of these families' lives is my favorite.
What are your rates for birth photography packages?
Birth photography packages start at $1995.
Sarah’s contact information
Sarah Kae Photography