Over the years I have photographed people in all kinds of different environments, including retail portrait studios in the mall, a tiny basement private studio and countless outdoor locations. There are a few things that can always make a session better, no matter where it is taking place.
1. What to Wear
Long gone are the days of matching white shirts and khakis. Coordinate your family’s clothing
without being matchy matchy. Pick a color scheme (like neutrals or shades of blue) and center
each person’s outfit around those colors. As a rule, it is best to stay away from wild prints and
characters or logos. Those can be very distracting in the final image. If you want to incorporate
a print, like a plaid shirt or floral skirt, let that be the only print and use the colors in it to tie the
other outfits together. It is also a good idea to stay away from all black or all white clothing. All
black tends to lose detail and makes people look like floating heads. All white can cause glare
and bright spots from the sun or studio lights. Also when choosing outfits, consider the location we will be shooting in. For example, if we are shooting in a park or wooded area, high heels will be more trouble than they are worth.
We walked into the pediatric emergency room in a little bit of a daze. I sat down in the waiting room while my husband went to park the car. By the time he came back, they were ready for us. We were whisked into a room and suddenly surrounded by what seemed like a hundred people all asking questions. Then Oliver started twitching. More people ran into the room. They told us he was definitely having seizures. We were scared and overwhelmed. Oliver started crying because he was hungry. I needed to feed him. I needed to. They told me I couldn't breastfeed him before the MRI because they would have to give him general anesthesia and if he spit up he could aspirate. What did all this stuff mean?! I just wanted to feed my baby...let me feed my baby!
They gave him medicine to stop the seizures. A nurse finally took pity on me and let me breastfeed for a few minutes. He spit it all back up when I burped him. The nurse said it was probably better that way and took him back from me. At some point I ended up in a wheel chair. I had just had a c-section 5 days ago and I had edema so bad I could barely walk.
I honestly can't recall everything that happened. The next thing I knew, we were watching a nurse wheel him into the MRI room on a stretcher. He looked smaller than ever and so helpless. I was more scared than I ever remember being. They had explained all the risks of a newborn being under general anesthesia. What ifs raced through my brain. I said goodbye and was terrified that he would die in there.
The waiting was torture. When he came out of the MRI, he was in recovery until the anesthesia wore off. Again I was told I couldn't feed him. We were brought up to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (pICU). We still had no idea what was going on. At some point we had called our parents and they were now in the room with us, waiting to find out what the MRI showed. My husband and I just cried. We were convinced that we broke our baby. What had we done wrong? We went over every detail of the last five days. Finally a neurologist and a group of other doctors and nurses arrived to give us the diagnosis.
My newborn son had suffered a stroke.
The world stopped. My heart stopped. Every mouth in the room was hanging open. Someone asked the question that was in all our minds. HOW? How could a five day old baby have a stroke? None of us knew it was even possible.
The neurologist explained that he did not specialize in pediatrics and that another doctor would be there shortly to take over and give explanations. A resident neurologist answered some of our questions but basically told us that the tests they use on stroke victims are either unreliable or not able to be used on a patient so young. They couldn't tell us exactly when the stroke happened. They couldn't tell us exactly why it happened. He left the room, leaving us more confused than ever.
At some point, the EEG techs came in and hooked Oliver up to the monitor. He had wires stuck all over his head and a few on his chest and back. They wrapped his head in gauze so they would stay in place. We looked down at our son, helpless, scared and confused.
My pregnancy was normal, easy even. I had morning sickness for about three days. I couldn't eat spinach or garlic anymore, but tomatoes no longer bothered me. My addiction to sweets was a little out of control and I gained more weight than I wanted to. Not much to complain about.
Labor didn't really scare me. I had the birth plan all written up. I wanted to do everything as natural as I could. I insisted on no epidural. I wanted to do all the stuff we learned in labor classes. I was going to breastfeed exclusively. I trusted my body to do what it was made for doing.
All that went to hell, of course. I was scheduled to be induced but when I got to the hospital I was already in labor, much to my surprise. I ended up hooked up to a monitor so that I couldn't leave the bed, didn't get to do any of the labor exercises, asked for an epidural against my own better judgement (which was done incorrectly and didn't work), stalled out before I fully dilated, was given pitocin to move things along which practically stopped my contractions, the baby had turned around so he was in the wrong position, and then after 16 hours, I ended up having a c-section because his heart rate was fluctuating.
It was all wrong. All of it. Not just a few things here and there...I can be flexible, I understood birth doesn't actually go according to that stupid birth plan...but everything was wrong.
Except that my son was healthy and perfect. They put him in my arms finally and I was so tired. I was so relieved that it was over...and so disappointed in myself and my body and my experience...that I hardly felt anything else.
My former business partner and friend, Autumn Nowey, offered to come with me to the Bak home and help with Abigail's newborn session. It was wonderful to have an extra pair of hands. Autumn brought along her camera and set it up on a tripod to get some behind the scenes shots. I thought it might be interesting for people to see how the images are set up.
We constructed the mini studio next to the Bak's sliding glass doors and hung sheer white drapes to filter the light. I had the space heater close to keep little Abigail warm, a sound machine with white noise, and my props within easy reach. Mom and Dad hung out in the next room and took a much needed break. The first few images were set up using a newborn bean bag poser with a white blanket. Small pillows and towels were placed under the blanket where needed.
Abigail's parents requested that part of the session convey the idea of her being a rainbow baby, "a baby that is born following a miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death or infant loss. In the real world, a beautiful and bright rainbow follows a storm and gives hope of things getting better (definition via google)." I wanted to do this in a way that was meaningful, but not too bright and busy.
Cassandra Zingaro - photographer, mom, wife, owner of HeartStrings Photography and first time blogger