The first thing that blew my mind about Emma O’Brien was her birth photography. Having two children of my own you would think that this is something I was aware of – but quite honestly I had no idea that such a concept even existed! Hiring a photographer to capture the birth of your child – wow I wish I had known about that seven years back.
The second thing that had me in awe was the absolutely stunning photographs Emma has taken for the SPCA 2013 Calendar. For two consecutive years Emma has photographed the Sandton SPCA calendar; the 2012 calendar raised over R100 000 and it’s hoped the pull of the 2013 images will top this amount.
Emma O’Brien was inspired to become a photographer so that she might ‘make a difference in the world.’ Born and bred in the United Kingdom, Emma moved to South Africa in September 2009 and settled in Johannesburg. With a passion for people and animals, she has consistently endeavoured to deliver work that has not only artistic impact, but a social one too.
Emma works as a Johannesburg-based portrait photographer, and specialises in family, maternity and newborn, corporate, documentary and wedding photography. Emma also runs courses on basic camera skills and portrait photography.
We asked Emma a few questions to find out more about the amazing work that she does.
E: It’s always an absolute privilege to photograph a new life coming into the world and be a part of what is a very intimate event for a couple. Being able to capture the first few moments of a baby’s life is so special for me. I work in a very unobtrusive way as it’s important to be able to photograph the key moments that tell the story of labour and birth without distracting the parents or staff in the room. I aim to arrive about two hours before the birth (quite a challenge to time this) and then take photographs until an hour or so afterwards. The key things for me to capture are: the experience for both the parents, the actual birth and then the first few moments for the baby; being handed to mum and dad, being weighed and measured and getting to grips with their new world.
PH: I see there is a big trend at the moment for parents to hire photographers to photograph their baby in the first two weeks of their life – why is this?
E: A baby’s appearance changes so quickly that I think it’s really important for parents to have a record of their newborn. Newborns have a very specific ‘look’ that goes within the first two weeks after a rapid ‘filling-out’ and growth period. Many of the newborns I photograph don’t quite fit their skin yet and are so tiny that when parents look back at the photos they can’t quite believe how small their little one was. It’s wonderful to be able to capture this for new parents.
PH: What is your biggest challenge in trying to capture a great family shot?
E: Photographs featuring more than one person are always a challenge because I have to get everyone looking at the camera and smiling nicely at the same time. I tend to take lots of photos during a family shoot! I often ask families to interact with each other so I can capture natural shots of them laughing too; these shots are often the best.
E: All the dogs and cats I photographed for the calendar were in their new homes, so the shoots were great fun and made far less emotional by the fact that the animals are all happy and loved. The shoots I find emotionally difficult are ones at animal shelters where I’m photographing animals that are looking for homes. I often take photos at CLAW (Community Led Animal Welfare) of the dogs in need of homes. They’re all so pleased to have some attention that photographing them is tricky because they jump all over me. I often leave feeling a little sad that I can’t take them all home (I already have three rescue dogs)!
PH: How challenging was it to get them to sit still? How did you get that right?
PH: The trick to photographing animals is patience and someone to help by waving treats or toys behind me (often works well with children too). Cats do their own thing and dogs tend to calm down after a while so it’s possible to get photos of them sitting nicely. Biltong is a wonderful bribery tool.
To enter our amazing competition to win a Portrait Photography Shoot of your family click here. (Unfortunately this competition is for people in Johannesburg only).