Spotlight on Val Ely

 

TID:
 
What a powerful and intimate image, please tell us a little of the backstory.
 
VAL: 
 
The mother in this photo, Jayme, is one of my closest friends. She also happens to be my hairdresser. This was their first birth. Jayme is one of the most sweetest, thoughtful & tenacious friends that I have. She knew even before she was pregnant that she wanted to have her baby at home. After witnessing another friend of hers deliver her baby at home, she was hooked. As soon as she found out she was pregnant, she called me and asked me to photograph her, telling her husband, John, that she was pregnant. I got to know before he did! 
 
The day that she went into labor, she texted me around 9am and said it was time and the midwives were on their way. I remember bringing my laptop and hard drive with me just in case there was quite a bit of downtime, then I would work on some editing. I figured since it was her first birth that it would take a while. Boy, was I wrong! Things went from strong to intense, pretty fast, and we hung out at INTENSE right up until delivery.
 
 
TID:
 
How did you prepare for this shoot, or what did you do to put yourself in place 
to make this happen? 
 
VAL: 
 
Jayme was not my first birth to document. I have photographed at hospitals and at homes. Because you can never know for sure when a momma will go into labor, much like hospital moms do, I always have a bag ready to go. I make sure my batteries are charged, my equipment is in tow and that I have some significant protein snacks! When Jayme texted, I headed over. I felt really calm & confident in being able to get the meaningful shots, that I knew they wanted. I think it was a mix of having had a home birth, myself, along with the fact that she was my friend that put me at ease and I mainly just felt excited.

TID:
 
What challenges did you encounter while working to make this image?
 
VAL: 
 
Well. For one thing, everyone in the room was in tears right after Fiona was delivered. I just kept snapping photos and trying to stay focused. (Pun intended.) Because Jayme is one of my closest friends, it was way more emotional for me than some of my other births. I was in tears along with them. I was so proud of her. I was so much in awe of them both and how well they worked together to get this baby here, that I almost got distracted by my thoughts and stopped photographing for a second. I told myself I could process the emotion later, as I typically do with births. It usually takes me a few days afterward to mentally and emotionally process the experience. Not to mention, physically, at times, I have to have a couple days to catch up on rest, depending on the amount of time the labor and delivery takes. There really weren't any other challenges, that I can think of, at this birth. I was basically given free reign to take whatever photos I wanted and from whatever angle I wanted. Luckily for me, it was mid afternoon when she delivered so the natural light coming through their daughter's bedroom windows was so beautiful.
 
TID:
 
How did you handle and overcome these problems? 
 
VAL:
 
Because most of my births happen at night, lighting is always something that is on my mind when headed to a birth. I make a point to always meet with my mommas around 34-38 weeks, to talk to them about what their expectations are for their birth photos. If it's at a hospital, I never have to worry about light. But my home birth mommas, are a different story. So, I always like to see the room that they will be delivering in, walk through the house and talk through their plan, along with what I will need, to give them the best opportunity for great photos during delivery. 
 
 
 
TID:
 
Now, onto the moment. Can you talk about the moments leading up to the picture and also the actual moment.
 
VAL:
 
I've been at a lot of births, not just ones that I have photographed. Lots of people. Lots of babies. But never have I experienced a mom who needed, literally, 6 people offering physical and verbal/emotional support all at once. Jayme had two friends (myself included), 2 midwives, a midwife apprentice and her husband present. All hands were on deck so to speak. It was such a different but incredible experience for me. We made jokes later on about how the saying goes, "It takes a village to raise a child." And decided that sometimes, it also takes a village to help birth a child. Jayme had constant back pain that was only eased by pressure applied to her lower back, by several hands, during each contraction. She also needed the constant support of her husband who stayed close to her face and talked her through each painful one. She was so strong. She was quiet for the most part. Some primal moaning and groaning here and there, as you would expect, with the super long ones. I remember thinking how proud I was of her strength and her endurance, with each grueling contraction. She never lost control. She did keep asking how much longer and even got upset and asked why we were ignoring her. Ha! Now, it just makes me laugh. Every mom in labor, always asks, "HOW MUCH LONGER?" 
 
The answer is never known, so you just try to side step around it. At any rate, she did such a great job. I kept thinking about how lucky I was (and really, it's a thought that goes through my mind at every birth that I'm invited to document.) to be there. Witnessing such a miracle unfold before me. Even with all of the pain she was experiencing and with all of the people there, it was still one of the most peaceful and calm environments that I have been in, when a baby is being born. The midwives know this process like the back of their hands. They encouraged her and helped her to remember to breathe the baby down slowly. With each contraction. Coaching and guiding until she was finally delivered safely into the arms of her mommy. I honestly don't have adequate words to describe that precise moment. It took me days to process it. At the time, all I had were tears of joy. And even now, when I look back on the photos, I am filled with a burst of excitement and happiness for them, as new parents. I'll never not been in awe of witnessing the miracle of birth.
 
TID:
 
What surprised you about the moment?
 
VAL:
 
I think I was most surprised by how sweet and sensitive Jayme's husband, John, is. He shed many tears as he watched his wife do the hardest work of her life and then sweep their precious babe up into her arms for the first time. He offered so much physical and emotional support to her throughout labor and even beyond delivery. It's not too often that I get to meet truly kind, sweet & compassionate husbands, who are moved to tears by their emotions for their loved ones. If there were to ever be a time, witnessing your wife give birth would be an appropriate one. I just love to see fathers take so much joy and pleasure in their family. Daddies who shed tears of joy for their little ones get me every time. I'm just that kind of sap, I guess.
 
 
 
TID:
 
What have you learned about yourself in the process of making images like this?
 
VAL:
 
I've learned that I really love birth photography. It takes a lot of physical and mental effort, especially for the long labors. You never know how long it will take. I've learned that I am patient. I actually like the births that take a little longer. It gives me time to ease into such an intimate and sacred event. It also gives me time to document the slower progressions of labor, which I think the families really appreciate. As opposed to the mothers who flip to transition on a dime and the baby has arrived before I even had time to get much of the labor portion documented. I've also learned that I just really have a heart for families. I love everything about the family unit. The bond between spouses and partners. The bond between parents and babies. I truly treasure each and every opportunity that I get to document these windows of time in the journeys of other people's lives. 
 
TID:
 
What have you learned about others?
 
VAL:
 
I've learned that each birth is so very different. The needs and behaviors of laboring mommas are as many as you can think of or more! I respect each family and their choices and I always make sure to encourage them in their choices, while ensuring that we are on the same page. I love the many different experiences that I have encountered throughout my last four years as a photographer. The variety of families is what keeps it interesting. It keeps me from burning out. Every session I book, will be new and different. Of course, my style is the same but the people are what make it what it becomes on the other side of the shoot. I've learned to expect anything and to always be ready for everything. I've also learned that I'm pretty certain, a mom giving birth is definitely the most kick-ass thing I'll ever get to witness. 
 
TID:
 
What advice do you have for photographers who want to run their own business?
 
VAL:
 
Hmm. Well. For one, it's going to take time to make it a success. Learn your camera and equipment, inside and out. Build a strong portfolio, with a specialty in mind. You want to stand out, so pick your favorite type of photography. What inspires you? What do you like to photograph most? Then practice, practice, practice. Enlist friends or family as volunteers, for building your portfolio. Don't go into debt for equipment when you're not even bringing in an income from your photography. Learn as much as you can about what you want to do, for free or what you can afford to pay for out of pocket. There are worthwhile ways to learn things and some of those things cost money, but use common sense so you don't get swindled! There is never going to be just one "incredibly, amazing" thing that will skyrocket your business. So work hard and do your research. Most importantly, treat every client like your most valuable client. (Because they are.) Make prompt correspondence a priority. Too many photographers know how to take really great photos but their communication and client relational skills are lacking. Making your client feel comfortable and heard is paramount to the success of your business. Most successful photography businesses have gotten to that point, at least to an extent, via word-of-mouth advertisement. So make it your goal; Every client should have great things to say about you and your business after you've worked with them.
 
 
TID:
 
In conclusion, what advice do you have for photographers, mentally, to document these situations?
 
VAL:
 
Birth photography is not for the faint of heart...or stomach. It can get pretty real, really fast at a birth. If you're a photographer who is interested in birth photography, offer to photograph a birth for a friend or a family member. Get some practice with some people who you already know, so that the awkward nuances of being at such an event are softened by the familiarity and you can get a chance to find out if it's something that you feel capable of doing. I'm not really phased by much, at this age of my life. I'm almost 30, I've worked as a CNA, I'm a nursing school dropout, I've worked in hospitals and with Sports Medicine doctors before my career in photography. I've also birthed 3 children. 2 in a hospital and 1 at home. So, I've seen a lot and I'm ok with that. I love the way the human body was made and how it works. My first birth documentation was of my nephew, back in 2010. He was born at night and the lighting was so difficult to work with. I had only ever taken photos outside before that time, during the daylight. I didn't get very many good photos, as a result. But it sparked a desire in me to learn. To try harder and to get more practice with those who were so bold and brave enough to let me into their birth experience. You can never choose the time of day that a baby is born, so you definitely have to know how to work under pressure of the clock and difficult lighting situations. I don't claim to be the best in this field but I do give it my best and I know that I have improved. I will continue to work on my craft. I don't think I'll ever get tired of it.
 
:::BIO:::
 
"Val Ely is a happily married, mother of 3, natural light photographer. She runs her own business as a birth and in-home family photographer at Happy Ely After Photos, out of the Columbus, Ohio area, as well as being a partner photographer with her husband, Levi, at Ely Brothers Studio, where they shoot weddings together, throughout the year.
 
Her own family is the inspiration for what she does. Using a photojournalistic style and approach to her work, she takes in the mundane yet beautiful, raw & poignant moments in the life of families and couples, whom she photographs. Those moments that may not ever be pondered until they are seen with your own eyes. And seeing them helps you to realize that every moment in every day has value and relevancy to who you are and who you are becoming, as a family. Val strives with each session and wedding to see through to the visceral layers of interactions and capture the raw emotions that take place amongst those who love and are loved.
 
Val is a self taught photographer who encourages others to learn their strengths and then to use them to make or do something beautiful & meaningful in life."
 
You can see more of her work here:
 
 

 

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