A lesson about photography I learned from my daughter's birth (WARNING: gory image)

NOTE: I wrote this in late 2009 after the birth of one of my daughters. It was originally published in another site I no longer update and I'm in the process of decommissioning, but I don't want to loose it, so I'm moving it here. It's a good reminder to myself and hopefully food for thought for you.

It all started a couple of months ago at the doctor's office when I asked him if I could not only be there in the operating room during the surgery, but bring in my camera and take photographs of the process. He graciously said yes and suggested that my eldest be there also (she's 19, btw) to witness the birth.

From that moment on, my brain, as is likely the case with many photographers, kept going over possible scenarios and photographic opportunities. Which cameras and lenses to use? Would I need speed lights? What if I take 2 cameras? Digital? Film? and so on.

I'm pretty sure the doctor was thinking about a little point-and-shoot when he said cameras were OK and not on the bunch of gear I dragged in!

I ended up using a DSLR with a zoom lens and a speedlight with a modifyer attached which looked pretty serious in the operating room. I also gave my point-and-shoot to my daughter as a backup, so we were pretty well covered.

I won't go into the details, but I ended up putting the camera in burst mode, pre-focused, and just shot away without even looking into the viewfinder.

When I was there and it was all happening in front of me, I just had to see it with my own eyes. I wanted to be present. The camera felt like a barrier between me and what was happening. I had never felt this before. I don't know how to describe it, but it was an amazing feeling. 

Anyway, a few days later at home I downloaded all the photographs and realised that I'd ended up with over 600 shots, one of them below. I put together a time-lapse video of the birth that I've shared with family and friends. I won't put it here as it is a bit gory (even more than the photograph below).

 
 

So, why am I telling you all this?

The more I look at those photographs the more I realise they will probably be amongst the most important images I ever make. Not because they have any commercial value (they don't). Not because they're technically perfect (far from it). Not because they're works of art. But because they are a record of one of the most important moments of my life.

These are the photographs that I'll cherish when I'm old.

You see, as photographers we tend to obsess over gear and f-stops and shutter speeds. We're always after the latest lighting gizmo or that illusive tutorial that'll show us how to make great images. We spend hours in post trying to pefect our photographs. And we tend to shoot everything except what's truly important to us.

Why is it that we never seem to have time to photograph our loved ones, yet somehow find the time to go out for hours to do street photography or travel far away for a landscape or organise a shoot with a model?

Deep inside I've always known that a photograph of my daughter is more important than a print in a gallery or a book. But why then do I spend so much time working on the latter and neglect the former?

When I'm old, I know the only photographs I'll regret not taking will be the ones I didn't take of my family and friends.

And I don't plan on having any regrets.