For many the NICU is a completely surreal world. You feel overwhelmed by all of the machines, wires, probes, noise and how big it is with SO many babies. This however is YOUR baby's story and for many it will be important to try and capture all that is going on so that you can share it with others who are unable to visit and also so that you have a record to share with your child when they grow up.
The NICU is a tough environment to take nice pictures. Hopefully we can share a few tips with you to make those memories a little more polished.
Know Your Camera
It doesn’t matter if it’s a point and shoot, your iPhone or a professional DSLR. Know how to:
- Turn it on and off
- Focus it properly, for most cameras that is pushing the shutter button halfway, for your iPhone holding it still until the yellow square appears and locks
- Turn the flash off. Keep your flash turned off whilst photographing in the NICU regardless of the type of camera you have.
If your not an experienced photographer keep your camera on automatic settings for both exposure and focusing. If you have more experience you should know to set your white balance, turn your ISO up and how to meter and choose the right depth of field for the shot you are taking.
Remember to hold your camera still whilst focusing, as the image is taken and for a moment after. Consider bracing yourself against a chair, wall or table if you are a bit shaky.
*Note - some NICU's will not allow mobile phone use, other's require airplane mode.
Almost all cameras and phones now have video capabilities. Along with still images you may like to capture short clips of your baby moving and the sounds of the NICU. Similar principles apply to taking video, know how your device works, keep as still as possible, move slowly, zoom slowly.
Keep It Simple
When looking to take your photo consider if there are things in the image that could be removed to keep the image simple, or consider if you are able to move yourself to change the angle of the image to remove some of those things. Sometimes getting up high, down low or simply moving left of right will dramatically change the outcome of your photo. The plastic from the isolettes will create some glare, again moving and shifting your angle can help to minimise or eliminate that.
As baby gets bigger and you are able to freely pick them up and move about within the nursery consider some images by a nearby window which will create some beautiful soft light and provide a change of background scenery.
Capture the Environment
Your baby may be spending days, weeks or months in the NICU. Make sure you step back and take an image of their bay from a couple of different angles which includes all of their machines and monitors. If they move bays or nurseries be sure to do the same again. One day your child might like to know which machine was which and what they all did. Even if you don’t know the answers a photo can help them understand.
Milestones & Details
As your baby moves through the NICU and reaches milestones like 1kg, 2kg, moving from an isolette to an open cot, first cuddle, first breastfeed etc make sure you are taking photographs to mark the occasion, these moments will never be firsts again. Treatments and monitors change all the time in the NICU, take images that capture the details eg : blood pressure being taken, sunglasses for phototherapy lights, when they are finally IV free, tiny fingers and toes etc, remember this is your baby's story.
A sense of scale
Babies in the NICU are all different shapes and sizes, many are very, very small Use your partners hand, a wedding band, a coin or a toy as a size comparison for your baby. As they get bigger take further images so you can see just how far they have come. As your baby will no doubt have restricted visitation no one will truly understand just how small your baby is unless you can provide that sense of scale.
Participating in baby's cares is one of the few things that parents can do for their baby whilst in NICU. Changing that first nappy, massaging their head when their CPAP hat is off, giving them a bath when they are bigger. These things are generally part of baby's overall daily routine. Time your visits with your partner so that you can take turns in the cares whilst the other one captures the moment. Don’t forget the quiet moments too. Sometimes you will just sit with your hand on bub, sit quietly and read to them, or might hold them skin to skin (kangaroo care) these moments are just as important to immortalise and can create really powerful images for you to look back on. If your partner isn’t available to take an image for you don’t be shy about asking the nurses, they will be delighted. It’s important for you to be in the photos too.
Finally going home is almost an equally overwhelming feeling as finding yourself in the NICU in the beginning. Don’t get caught up and forget to document this momentous occasion! Collect up all of baby's NICU mementos, show them in their car seat, at the doors to the NICU, at the doors to the hospital, in the car, at home in their bed and being welcomed properly into your family.
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A couple of things to note. Many hospitals don’t like for their staff to be photographed so always check with baby's nurse that they are ok with being in your image. Also always check with the nursing staff before moving baby or anything in or around baby.
All images appearing in this article were taken with a consumer point and shoot camera on automatic.
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