Birth photography feels like a perfect fit for Ashley Marston.
The Ladysmith photographer and her husband John have three children of their own — seven-year-old Noah, 18-month-old Tate and seven-month-old Sofie — and in the past year, Marston has discovered that her true passion lies in capturing those moments when a baby sees the world for the first time.
Marston has been taking on photography clients for about four years, and she started birth photography about a year ago. She hadn’t heard of birth photography when she came across an article about the subject, but as she read, she just knew this was what she was meant to do.
“I had been doing family portraits and weddings, and I loved it, but I wasn’t really passionate about it,” she said. “When I was reading about birth photography, I call it my ‘Oprah aha moment.’ I thought ‘this is what I should be doing.’ I called my husband to tell him about it and was crying, and he said I should go for it. For me, having three kids and as a mother, I love being part of that. I feel it’s exactly where I wanted to go. I’m so glad I started.”
“In the beginning, I wanted to be a photojournalist, and it goes along the same lines of telling a story,” she added. “You are capturing moments and emotion as they happen.”
Marston became interested in photography after finding an old Canon film camera of her husband John’s. She picked it up and started experimenting. Their son Noah was born soon after that, and he became her subject.
“I love photographing children,” she says. “I love the interaction between them and their parents. I do lifestyle photography, so it’s more about letting the family do their own thing, and I’m just there to capture them the way they are.”
Birth photography can be very unpredictable, and Marston’s very first experience as a photographer was just that. She had booked a session, and the baby came so quickly, that while she was parking her car at the hospital, Marston received a text message saying the baby had arrived. The doctors and nurses almost missed the birth too, and she was lucky she was close enough to still capture some moments right after the baby was born.
Marston’s first actual birth was a couple whose baby had a rare form of spina bifida, and it really showed her how important her role can be for a family.
“[The mother] wanted all the moments that maybe she would potentially forget in all the stressful moments of delivering the baby,” she said. “She wanted something positive to look back on. I was nervous because there were so many things going on. I wanted to make sure I had done a really good job and captured it well for her.
“I realized it’s not just about taking pictures for people, but about creating a memory for them and giving them something to hold onto.”
Marston says being there for the birth and documenting those special moments for the family is “amazing.”
“There’s nothing like it,” she said. “Every time I’m there, I’m honoured to be there. I feel lucky I get to be part of an amazing moment in their lives, and, in turn, it becomes an amazing moment in my life.”
Marston’s favourite moments of photographing a birth are capturing the interaction between the mother and father.
“I find I learn a lot about relationships and parents and people in general by how they interact with one another during such an important moment in their lives,” she said. “Some of the dads are so involved and so supportive. And that’s one of the other reasons people should consider birth photography — a lot of people think dad should hold the camera, but he deserves to be in the pictures too.”
Marston says the families who have had her photograph their births have been very happy she was there — and many didn’t even know how much it mattered to them until they saw the photos.
“The feedback has been the best part, the families I have met along the way and the way they expressed themselves afterwards,” she said. “They say how important it was to them and how they appreciate it. It lets me know I’m on the right path. People are unsure at first because they don’t know what to expect, and I think afterwards, when they look at the photos, they are so grateful that now they have this keepsake they can share.”
Marston notes that people make booking a wedding photographer a high priority, and she hopes one day birth photography will become so popular that booking a birth photographer will become as important to people.
“Birth photography is beautiful, but I think a lot of it is quite misunderstood, and you have to see birth photography to understand it,” she said. “It’s about the moments, big and small, that make up your child’s birth. That makes it beautiful and magical. I think some people think it’s me standing in a room capturing the more graphic images. It’s not about pain or the graphic moments of birth; it’s about the beautiful moments of birth. The birth I had on New Year’s Eve, she had said in her testimonial that she had no idea that when she was labouring, her husband was stroking her hair. When a woman is in labour, she’s so focused on delivering the baby that there are all these moments that are forgotten or not noticed, and with me, I’m capturing all the behind-the-scenes stuff that they otherwise might have forgotten or not even known had happened.”
So far, Marston’s birth photography clients have come through her Facebook page. She wrote a post on her photography page that she was interested in talking to mothers who would like a birth photographer, and she received a lot of inquiries.
“People seem really interested in it, which is exciting,” she said.
Mothers will contact Marston as early as when they find out they are pregnant. She suggests mothers contact her before their third trimester so that she has enough time. She only likes to take on about three births a month, and she is basically on call for two to three weeks for every birth, so the earlier a mother contacts her, the easier it is to make sure she is available.
Marston likes to meet with the mother when she is around 36 weeks pregnant so they can get to know each other and get comfortable with one another.
“I’m there during a very intimate moment for them, so for them to get to know me and form a relationship is very important,” she said.
When they meet, they also go over the mother’s birth plan and talk about what they want photographed and what they don’t want photographed.
“With birth photography, there are some really intimate moments and really private moments, and some wish to have it photographed and some don’t, so it’s good to go over expectations with each family,” said Marston. “I keep in close contact with them up until the day. When the baby comes, we’ve formed a pretty close relationship.”
Marston says there are not very many birth photographers on Vancouver island.
Marston encourages people who are interested in birth photography to contact her through her website or to e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.