Bethany Galster is a photographer who loves photography. That may seem like an obvious thing to say, but listening to her speak about her process, and what photography has meant to her in her own life, is a joy. It’s obvious that she values the power of honoring the transformative, along with the completely ordinary, moments in our lives.
Beth’s first born son, Theo, arrived unexpectedly at just 26 weeks gestation due to complications with her pregnancy. No one was sure how he would do once he was born, and if he made it, how long of a NICU stay they would be facing (Deep breath – Theo is now a thriving and mischievous three year old).
When Beth was in the hospital and the decision was made that Theo would be born, her and her husband Andrew invited a photographer to come and take maternity photos of them. It wasn’t your typical maternity shoot – there were no long flowing dresses, or golden hour photos in wheat fields. The images were raw, in the hospital, and full of uncertainty.
“[I told the photographer] ‘I want you to capture the fact that I haven’t taken a shower in five days and the fact that I don’t have any nice clothes to put on and the fact that we’re in a hospital’. We don’t have to try and make it look like we’re not in the hospital because we are and that’s the reality of the situation…it’s okay to capture things the way they really are.”
After Theo was born, when he was just two weeks old, they were offered a newborn photo shoot in the NICU. “I find [those photos] validating. Even though Theo’s entrance into the world was not a healthy one, it was a happy one because he made it. It could have had a very different result, but because we were so empowered and supported and trusted by our family members, you guys as our doulas, the medical team, everyone was just literally holding us up – I have such good memories, even though it was a very trying time…And I had so few photos of me and Andrew both in the NICU. Because it was always me taking pictures of him or him taking pictures of me and so having pictures of BOTH of us there was more unique than I realized at the time.”
Which is why Beth’s photography style has evolved to capture those raw, authentic moments in her clients’ lives – she’s lived the experience of letting going of perfection and embracing what is. “I like the contrast, I like the shadows, I like the emotion. I like the raw and the detail…As time went on I realized that my personal interaction with people was a lot more genuine when I wasn’t directing them. And so [my style] became a lot more about helping [clients] feel comfortable around me. Whether it was birth photography or family photography, when it came to the moment, they were able to enjoy each other and have fun together and I was able to capture that.”
As a birth doula, it was a natural extension for Beth to combine her photography and birth work to offer birth photography. One of the common objections that Beth hears about having a birth photographer is that they imagine all the photos will be of baby crowning – and of course, not everyone wants such intimate photos. She encourages everyone to check out examples of the variety of options for birth photography. Once you’ve had a chance to see the range of photos and styles, you can make an informed choice about whether you want those photos yourself or not.
Beth has found that she can often tell just by walking into a person’s house whether or not they would be interested in birth photography. “I always look at people’s photos when I go into their house. Do they have photos on their wall? Because that’s a good indication to me on how they value capturing moments. I find that people who print their wedding photos and have them central [in their house], are the people who hire birth photographers.”
One of the challenges in birth photography is the incredible amount of time that goes into editing birth photos. After a birth, Beth may have 800-1000 photos from which she chooses 100 or so of the very best to edit. From there, editing is a painstaking process. Unlike studio photography, where every series of images is quite similar in location/lighting/etc, birth photos are in many different locations and rarely in ideal lighting situations. Evening out skin tones, fixing lighting issues, and getting the best version of each photo is a one-photo-at-a-time process. Once completed, those 100 or so photos are then provided to her clients.
As a documentary style photographer, Beth has become very adept at reading light. She has to be prepared to capture the moment from the best angle with the lighting available in the space. Even when she doesn’t have her camera in hand she’s constantly evaluating the light in a space, how it falls, where it lands.
“I think a photographer is someone who captures light. That’s what a photographer is. If there’s no light, you don’t have a photo.”
Rachel is a DONA International Certified Birth Doula, Birthing From Within mentor, and mother of three. She is passionate about helping women and their partners discover their own inner strength and wisdom so that they can begin their parenting journey with confidence. With a focus on supporting her clients as they determine what their own priorities and preferences are for their birth while giving them the tools they need to realize those priorities, she feels fortunate to witness her clients come into their own and become their own best advocates.