Our “SLR Lounge & Fundy Designer Artist Feature” collaboration articles highlight some of the very best photographers in the world. This article features Fundy Storyteller Selena Rollason of Brisbane Birth Photography (Brisbane, QLD, Australia). A multiple-time first place winner in WPPI’s annual print competition, Selena was recently named the AIPP QLD Epson Professional Photographer of the Year and the AIPP QLD Documentary Photographer of the Year (2018). Selena graciously took time to talk with us about her photography journey. As well, she offers some very valuable advice for those looking to improve their birth photography skills.
[Related: “Interview with Sanjay Jogia, of Eye Jogia Photography | Fundy Designer Artist Feature”]
Selena, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us. We’d love for you to start out by talking about how you got into birth photography.
My specialization in birth photography came about after a traumatic birth with my third baby in 2011. I was photographing weddings and family portraits at the time, and, with the assistance of my husband, I photographed his cesarean delivery. The photographs proved to be so important to me (more than I realized at the time). They helped me to process the delivery and healing from the trauma, and subsequent post-natal depression that ensued.
After seeing the benefits that these photographs had for me, I realized that there must be other families needing the same opportunity. Birth photography was only just starting to become a thing at that time. So, I put my feelers out, found this to be true, and made the transition from wedding photography to birth photography. By 2013, I was a full-time birth photographer.
What would you say is the most important aspect of being a birth photographer for you?
I love to tell beautiful and powerful stories full of emotion and connection. The thing I love most about being a birth photographer is the ability to provoke a feeling or a response from my viewers. Some are pure joy; others heartbreak. For some, they bring hope. As a birth photographer, I am also known for addressing controversial topics and raising important discussions on taboo subjects (such as stillbirth and birth trauma) … and see that as part of my role. Namely, to bring to light subjects that aren’t often depicted or discussed. Photography has such an incredible power to provoke a response, and I love being able to do that.
Could you tell us about some of your photographs? Maybe the story behind them …
These photographs (see photographs above) are very dear to my heart. I took them at two different births. The first (taken in 2015) is of Theodor, on the day he grew his wings. This family knew he would not survive, and he sadly passed away sometime during the delivery. They had photographs taken, as there was a chance he might live for a short time on the outside. I took the second photograph eighteen months later, after the birth of his little sister Mabel. She is absolutely perfect, and it was a honor to be asked to document both of these special arrivals.
What tips do you have for photographers entering the genre of birth photography or for birth photographers looking to improve their skill set?
1. First, set yourself up for success before even attempting it. You need equipment that will function in low light (including back up gear). Also, you need client contracts, and the know-how to photograph a birth in the place first. If you screw it up, there are no do-overs …
2. Second, work out your ability to commit. Births happen at any time of day or night, over a period of up to five weeks. You’re on call throughout that time. So, you need to be prepared to drop everything to head to a birth. Above all, work out what you are capable of fitting in with your current business and family commitments. Schedule clients from there.
3. Third, learn low light photography. Most births happen at night. Most birth spaces are very low light or dark. Learn how to find light, use light, and create your own light in dark environments by using capable gear. Most importantly, practice low light photography before photographing your first birth.
4. Next, always charge something. Even if you are starting out in birth photography, you need to charge your clients (including family and friends). Why? Because if they are not willing to commit even the smallest amount of money, likely they aren’t serious enough to call you the day of the birth. Subsequently, everyone’s time is wasted.
5. Finally, join a Facebook community. There are a number of good birth photography Facebook communities where you can ask questions from working professionals. For example, I run two myself: Birth Photography: Learn, Grow, Succeed and Selena Rollason Learning, where I share lots of tips, photographs, and answer questions.
One last question before you go, Selena. Especially given that you are in a rather niche genre of photography, where do you look for inspiration?
Everywhere. I look, and I listen. There is inspiration all around us. In the cloud formations, in architecture, and in the stories of people we know. In other words, the best way to find it is by being open to ‘seeing’ and ‘hearing’ … Sometimes, I find inspiration in the conversations that I have or the photographs I see on store fronts: ‘Oh! That’s a creative angle I could try at a birth.’ Other times? Well, it comes from wandering museums and exhibitions. Be it abstract forms or simplistic compositions.
If you need inspiration, I suggest starting with a topic in mind. For example, is it lighting? Is it composition? Is it storytelling? Then look and listen to the world around you. From social media to friendly conversations, ideas will begin to evolve. To clarify, for me, it’s a bit like buying a new car … it’s not until you know what you want that you start to see it everywhere!
To check out more of Selena’s birth photography work, head to her website. Moreover, you can connect with Selena over on her educational website (selenarollasonlearning.com), where she shares her knowledge of both birth photography and lifestyle photography. Also, be sure to connect with her on Facebook and Instagram!
Finally, check out the updated list of partner discounts available for SLR Lounge Premium Members. For example, you can save $50 on Fundy Designer’s “Pro Suite” or “Album Suite.” You can see those discounts by clicking here, and don’t forget that you have until the May 31 deadline to be considered for SLR Lounge’s May 2019 awards competition!
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