Boston folks, I’ve got another awesome community partner you need to meet! And non-Boston folks, I’ve got a lot of cool info about birth photography that you might like to know. Recently, Shirley of Shirley Anne Photography took a break from shooting and editing and parenting to give me some insight into her work as a Boston-area photographer of all things birth!
I adore Shirley’s work — her birth stories are so raw and gorgeous — but I love her presence even more. Shirley is both calming and uplifting at the same time, and brings such light to any space she finds herself in! And trust me, the energy that a person brings into birth space is incredibly important. Shirley knows how to expertly capture big and small moments with respect and care for the incredible transition that is birth. But I’ll let you hear (and see!) it from her.
Interview with Shirley Anne of Shirley Anne Photography
How did you come to birth photography?
I’ve always had a camera in my hands, old film cameras, disposable cameras, point and shoot cameras, cell phone cameras, you name it. So doing photography just came naturally to me. My mom was always taking pictures, same as my brother. One day I took my DSLR and said, I’m going to do it as a business! Ha! Easy peasy, well not really!
How have you grown as a photographer since beginning your journey?
As soon as I decided to do a photography business I knew I wanted to do Birth Photography. Back in 2010 when my oldest was born was the first time I heard about birth photography. I was so intrigued. Birth is definitely one of my passions and it just seemed like the perfect mix. The growth has been slow but steady! I think the best thing I did was to connect with other birth workers in the community! It’s allowed me to meet tons of wonderful clients. I’ve learned a lot through the almost 3 years about community, how to work with other birth workers, how to support clients and how to build a bigger interest for birth photography in Boston.
What is your favorite part of this work?
Ah! I love everything! Ha! Well, I’m going to have to say that seeing [birthing people] being so strong and resilient is definitely one of my favorite things! But, I’ll have to say that the adrenaline that kicks in right before and after a birth, I love that stuff! I truly love to see the reactions when they see their baby for the first time, a lot of them cry, some are in shock, some are in awe! It’s just amazing to experience this! Plus, I have to say sometimes I’m behind the camera shedding a tear or two, shhh! Don’t tell anyone!
Tell me about a special moment during your career as a birth photographer.
I think one of the best moments for me was my first home birth. I had my second child at home, but seeing another woman give birth in silence as she used Hypnobirthing 15 minutes after myself and the midwife got there was just breathtaking! Literally every birth I go to confirms how I am in the correct path!
What is the most challenging part of this work?
For me it was to find other people in the community that did birth photography, in addition to learning that birth photography was just not big in MA. I was following these amazing photographers in Colorado, Texas, Florida [on Instagram], and then I observed that here it was almost nowhere to be found. So I decided that my personal goal was to grow the need for birth photography. To show families that birth photography is not about the private parts but about strength, support, emotions, and the beautiful moment when you meet your child.
How do you balance family life and birth work? (When you figure it out, let us all in on the secret!)
Balance? Does that even exist?! It’s one of the toughest things of birth photography. I have an amazing family that supports my passion and work, plus I have daycare that understands the unpredictability of my work, but it is still one of the toughest things for me to manage. Most births happens in the middle of the night which means that I need to arrange care, school, etc. as I am heading to a birth. Usually when I return home, there is no sleep for me as I need to care for the kiddos. It’s tough, but I do love what I do!
What do you think is the biggest misconception about birth photography?
I think most people automatically think I am only taking pictures of vaginas. To be honest, most of my images/galleries don’t even have a vagina [in them]! Don’t get me wrong, if my client wants pictures of EVERYTHING, I will do my best to get pictures of everything. Birth Photography is definitely about much more: we are part of the team that supports you, we are there to capture your journey from being a couple to being parents, we are there to document the beauty in birth, the raw emotions, the tears, the first time you see your little one.
What would you say to someone who is on the fence about hiring a birth photographer or is wary of the financial investment?
I would say that this is a milestone like other milestones in life. We have professional images from when we graduated from school, from college, we have professional images from when we got engaged and married. Why wouldn’t we get a professional photographer when we birth our children, when we are bringing a child into this world and yet again making a new milestone in our lives? This is not only for us as parents, but also for our children. What would I give to see my mom giving birth to me — a 9 pound baby! It would be amazing! In regards to the financial investment, TRUST ME it is worth every single cent! You might not see it now, but when you receive the images, you will be so grateful to have the time documented.
What is your philosophy or approach to birth photography?
I think everyone deserves a birth photographer. I think that EVERY birth should be documented: vaginal, medicated, c-sections, home births, unassisted, surrogacy, ALL! With that said, I understand that at this moment, birth photography is not for everyone, but I think that will change when people see the beauty in birth.
What can a pregnant person expect when it comes to working with you?
Lots of hugs, if you want! :) They should expect a very understanding, supportive and affectionate person. I am consistently in communication with my clients and I aim to provide high quality customer service. Birth Clients should know that they can reach out to me at any time and I will answer. In general, after our first email we schedule a call to chat about how I provide my services, the clients expectations, and general birth stuff. After this call clients have all the information they need to decide if they are interested in booking services. Clients that book for birth photography often also book for other sessions like Maternity and Newborn to capture the before and after story.
When in their pregnancy journey do you recommend people begin speaking with a photographer?
I always say to reach out as early as possible, that way you are sure there is a spot in my month for your birth. The maximum number of births I take per month is 4 as I want to do my best to be at each of my clients births.
Do you work with backup (like doulas do)? What if there’s an emergency or overlapping births?
Birth is so unpredictable! Sometimes it can happen fast or it can happen when another client is in labor. It could also be that I am sick or have a conflict related to my own children. For these kind of situations I offer the option of sending a backup photographer to cover the birth or even part of the birth. I have a couple of back up photographers who are not only experienced in birth photography, but also in birth. For cases of fast births, I offer the option of arriving as soon as possible after the birth, as well as an additional session.
What other types of photography do you do?
I specialize in Maternity, Fresh 48’s, and Newborn, but also cover Pregnancy Announcements, Milestones, Family, and Baby Showers. [Editorial note: Shirley does boudoir and milk bath sessions, too, which are stunning.] I have to say that my favorite is by far Maternity. Something about a [pregnant person] always catches my eye. The beauty and radiance of each of them is breathtaking. And, I’ll be honest, when you are expecting, bodies go through so many changes that at times we can’t see the beauty that everyone says is there. So for me to be able to capture this for my clients is just the best feeling. I also love Fresh 48’s and Newborn Sessions because you get to capture babies’ little details, like how tiny and wrinkly they were. At times we don’t know how much they change until we look at these images.
What are some of the things you do in your practice to be affirming to all bodies, identities, social locations, and needs?
This is a topic I am still learning about and trying to incorporate in my business as much as possible. Changing the way I communicate has been one of the biggest things I’ve implemented in order to incorporate all needs in our society. At the moment I’ve had the pleasure to work with numerous same-sex couples and women of color, which are less represented in the birth photography world. Being a latina has made me see how we are also not represented as much as I would want to. I’ve provided births at discounted prices for women of color in our community to showcase how all bodies are able to birth.