Advice for taking pictures of deceased or dying babies
Why take pictures of dying babies ?
- A picture helps to confirm your baby’s existence and to confront the reality of her or his death.
- A pictures shows exactly what the baby looked like. So you don’t have to rely on your memory or imagination.
- A picture gives you the possibility to share your baby with other people. In your grief you can show whom you are grieving for. Not a fantasy nor a dream, but your child.
- A picture can even be the only tangible memory of what your baby looked like. For siblings who weren’t been born or were too young at the moment of the baby’s death, it’s important to be able to show them a picture saying : "this was your brother, your sister."
- Pictures along with other mementos are a way to prevent families from leaving the hospital with empty arms on top of broken hearts.
Who takes the pictures ?
Most hospitals take instant pictures of new-born babies. Instant pictures have the advantage that you can see immediately if the picture turned out well or not. And you can show immediately a picture of your baby to parents and friends. The disadvantage is that they may change colour after some years and you cannot develop further copies.
For this reason it is important to take your own camera. You can take pictures yourself or ask a nurse to do so for you. Take enough film rolls with you, extra batteries and a backup camera. So you’ll be sure to have pictures even if there is a problem with one of the cameras or film rolls. This might seem exaggerated, but don’t forget that you won’t have a second chance...
Take colour and black/white pictures. The colour of your baby's skin may not be normal, but dark (if he/she cannot breath well or if s/he is stillborn). This can be shocking on colour pictures. On black and white pictures your baby won't look any different from a " normal " baby.
You can also ask a professional photographer to come.
- Todd Hochberg from Touching Souls, Healing with Bereavement Photography, is a professional photographer who does a wonderful job helping parents creating memories of their baby. He also helps caregivers in doing this for families experiencing the death of a baby.
- Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep gently provides a helping hand and a healing heart to parents experiencing an early infant loss. NILMDTS offers a vital service to our community. For families overcome by grief and pain, the idea of photographing their baby may not immediately occur to them. Offering gentle and beautiful photography and videography services in a compassionate and sensitive manner is the heart of this organization. The soft, gentle heirloom photographs of these beautiful babies are an important part of the healing process. They allow families to honor and cherish their babies, and share the spirits of their lives.
What to take pictures of?
- The baby in the arms of the father, the mother, the siblings, the grandparents, etc.
- Family portraits
- The baby in the arms of the nurse or doctor
- Close-ups of the baby’s face (the part of your baby you may want to remember the most)
- Naked baby (to see her/his perfect body)
- Close-ups of fingers, hands, feet, toes (each baby has something very special worth to be valued)
- Multi-generational photos are special, portraying a legacy of different generations.
- Pictures of the baby's hands in mom or dads hands are sweet. Also the feet held in mom or dads hands are sweet too.
- Many parents take photos of the full, unclothed baby so that they can recall that their baby's body was perfect.
Take a few shots of each pose, so you will have some to choose from
Remember what you see is what you get. Do not be afraid to get closer!!
Take pictures before, during and after the death. They are all precious times and should be photographed.
Don’t hesitate to take pictures of the baby’s uncovered head. You don’t have to show them later, but for you as parents they may be important.
In many hospitals the light is dimmed during and after the birth, don’t forget to ask for more intensity otherwise your pictures could all come out too dark. You may wish to bring a camera that adjusts for light intensity automatically. You may also wish to bring a small lamp and rose-colored ligthbulbs which are flattering for skin colour unlike fluorescent lights.
How to take pictures?
Position the baby in a normal, healthy baby position (hands near face, knees bent).
Always look straight into the baby's face when taking the picture. That usually means you have to raise the baby up to a sitting position (with blankets or pillows) or stand over the baby and look straight into the face for the picture. If you can get a family member to stand on a chair and shoot the picture from above the baby, they will be aiming the camera straight on the face, you can avoid the "up the nose" picture. You can also put the baby on mom's bed in low position and lean over the baby. Also you can put some blankets or a pillow behind the baby so that the baby is sitting up. Then you can shoot the picture straight into the face.
Use a camera with a zoom. Sometimes without a zoom you get too close and the picture is blurry.
NEVER send the pictures out to be developed as this can take a long time and you run the risk of the films being lost. Chose preferably a one-hour photo lab.
Here are some good examples, (please notice that these pictures are under copyright)
Angela's hands in her father's hand
Emily Rose's fingers
Benedict Oliver's perfect body
Benedict's big sister holding hands
If your baby is stillborn
Take pictures nevertheless !
I hope from the bottom of my heart that your baby will be born alive, and that you’ll be able to make as many memories as possible with her/him. Even if a baby is stillborn it is very important to take pictures.
It is difficult to remember what happened while you were in a state of shock and numbness. (Even if you already know that your baby will die, the very moment of his death will be difficult for you). If you see your baby while you are in this state of shock, under the influence of pain-killing medication and birth hormones, your memory might fade. Taking pictures is a way of jogging your memory.
We in Europe are traditionally photographers and have a tradition, even before photography, of having portraits made. Lots of museums are filled with charming pictures from our past. Everywhere are family pictures and cameras have been traditional gifts for generations. During the Victorian era, it was very common to take pictures of deceased family members. Those pictures were sent to all those who lived to far away so that they could be "present" at the funeral. Our forefathers seamed to acknowledge that death was important enough to be documented. The visual record seemed logical and important for the memories
The most beautiful pictures are those where the baby is in the arms of a loving person. But not all parents find strength enough to hold their dead baby. For this reason, I want to share some advice how to take beautiful pictures of dead babies.
Pay attention to a loving and dignified backdrop, the pictures should document the baby as a part of the family. The background is very important as is the way the baby is wrapped. You can get a good picture choosing a coloured background and wrapping the baby loose in a blanket. A tightly wrapped baby looks like a mummy. Show the shoulders.
As many of our babies are stillborn, it would be good for you to make or purchase a blanket and a cap or bonnet ahead of time. Or accept the gift of a handmade blanket from family or friends. That way you will not need to use the white hospital blanket.
A small basket can be a good backdrop.
Consulting a professional photographer can give you many ideas about backdrops.
Looking at other people's photos can also give you ideas if you cannot afford to consult a professional photographer.
You may ask a professional photographer to come to the hospital to take pictures of you and your baby.
It happens sometimes that the skin of a baby that is very dark at birth, becomes normal a few days after her or his death. You may wish to take some pictures of your baby just before the funeral.
In spite of all this advice, often the cherished photos of an anencephalic or stillborn baby are too graphic, showing a damaged baby, not the beautiful child you remember giving birth to. Using digital technology can correct some or most of the damaged image, giving you baby photos that you will want to display and share with family and friends. http://www.babyphotoretouch.com can do that for you.
Moments held—photographing perinatal loss
Article written by the professional photographer Todd Hochberg, published in The Lancet.
Last updated September 1, 2013