Learn from a Local Expert About Birth Photography: Beth Skogen, Lifestyle and Natural Light Photographer

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I reached out to Beth a few months ago, after Googling birth photographers in Madison, and was immediately captivated by the images I found on her website.  To say Beth is talented at capturing the raw emotion and true essence of birth (and everything she photographs) is truly an understatement.  Since then, I've had the pleasure of witnessing her in action during a client's birth (see those photos on my website), and was so excited that she was willing to do this Q&A to provide more info about birth photography.  Read on to learn a little more about what's behind her magic.

Angie:  Could you tell me a little about your background and how you decided to pursue photography professionally?

Beth:  My parents were always taking photos with their film camera when I was growing up. They never missed photographing my siblings and I on our first day of school waiting for the bus or wearing our handmade Halloween costumes each year. My mom always took a photo no matter how big or small of the event; opening birthday gifts, making school projects or rollerskating in the driveway. My dad usually had his big VHS camcorder on his shoulder asking us to tell him what we were doing in that given moment.

My dad recently gave all of my siblings a dvd and flash drive of the photos and video footage he took up until 2016. The first DVD was labeled with “Beth’s Birth”. I had no idea he took video of my birth! It was mostly my mom in the hospital bed (looking gorgeous as ever) talking with the nurses and laughing at my dad for even recording those moments.

I started going through all of the photos and realized that that was why I started taking photos. My parents documented every aspect of our lives and so it was natural for me to do the same; starting with my Beanie Babies and Trolls back in middle school. I put my Trolls individually on the fire place mental to take their portraits and then in pairs and as a group. I ended up taking my first photography class in high school and learned how to work my Pentax K1000 film camera.

I went to the University of Iowa for Journalism and Art in 2003. I worked for The Daily Iowan for 3 years and fell in love with photographing people and simply documenting life. After graduating in 2008, I interned in New York City at VII Photo Agency and then moved to Los Angeles for another internship with Lauren Greenfield. I then moved back to Madison, Wisconsin in 2009 to pursue my own career and started Beth Skogen Photography.

A:  Why have you chosen to focus on lifestyle and birth photography?

B:  I love documentary photography. There’s something special about capturing an untouched or undirected moment and framing it in a way that tells a story with multiple layers. I specialize in lifestyle photography for families. My favorite is going into a family’s home and simply documenting their life. Even if there are toys scattered all over the floor and the kitchen sink is full of dirty dishes. That’s life!

But birth is as stripped down as it gets. It’s not only an amazing moment but it’s the one of the few times where I am literally a fly on the wall to document what happens. I’ve done almost 40 births and not one is the same as the other. I meet so many amazing people that have let me into such a private and intimate event.

A:  When photographing a birth, what is your favorite element to capture?

B:  There are so many incredible moments during birth. One might think I’d say my favorite part to photograph is the actual birth, but I love the little moments before and after; mom walking around the room and then leaning on her partner during a contraction, or their hands clenched together. There are so many little details that are important to document. The mom usually tells me she didn’t notice that I was there and that she didn’t even remember something happening that I took a picture of.

A:  Has the presence of a photographer been well received by the staff at hospital births?

B:  All of the nurses and doctors I’ve met have been very welcoming so far. One time a nurse even offered me a stool so I could get a little higher up for when the baby was born. I hate to interact with anyone because I want to be out of the way and not be a distraction. I move quietly around the room and carefully pick and choose the moments I photograph.

A:  Is lighting a challenge in birth photography for those who prefer soft lighting during labor?

B:  Sometimes the lighting can be challenging. I refuse to use a flash at a birth. There are photographers who use flash in a great way but I find it distracting and not needed. I photographed at a birth that was completely dark except for about 4 or 5 candles. I bumped my ISO up as high as it would go to 64,000 and the images still looked great. They were grainy and a bit dark of course but if the birth is dark and moody, that’s how I document it; if that’s what it was like, I’d hate to change the feel of it. There have been a few times that I’ve asked to turn up the hospital lights just a bit or open the curtains a little more, but that’s as much as I’ll do.

Thank you so much to Beth for taking the time to chat with me about birth photography!  Take a look below at some of her amazing birth photographs, and also check out her website, her Facebook page, or her Instagram to see more- as her breadth of work spans a wide variety of other types of photography as well:  family, maternity, newborn, commercial, editorial, documentary, lifestyle, and the list goes on.

Written by Angie Traska of Align Doula Services, providing intuitive, attentive doula support that aligns with you.  Looking for doula support or lactation counseling in the Madison area?  Contact me here.