EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

June 1, 2013

Haverhill woman captures photos of 'birth stories'

By Mike LaBella
mlabella@eagletribune.com

---- — HAVERHILL — Kimberly Finn gave birth three times yet she has very few photos of each special event. One time it was a busy nurse who agreed to hurriedly snap a picture of the couple with their newborn. During another birth, Finn’s husband took a quick photo, but it wasn’t the kind of image Kimberly Finn now takes for other parents.

You’ve probably heard of a wedding photographer. But what about a birth photographer?

The miracle of birth from labor to delivery is being tastefully captured as a lasting memento. Finn is a stay-at-home mom who recently launched her own photography business specializing in capturing the moments surrounding the birth of a child.

“My experience and my love for being pregnant and giving birth has molded me into the photographer I am today,” said Finn, who lives in Bradford with her husband John Finn and their children, Shane, 10, Kyle, 7 and Addison, 16 months.

Finn, 31, has practiced her art at Anna Jaques, Holy Family, Lawrence General and Beverly Hospital, photographing couples during labor, delivery and the immediate hours after birth.

She approaches her craft with sensitivity and care. She sterilizes her cameras and bag of lenses before going anywhere near an expectant mother, stays out of the way of doctors and nurses, and doesn’t use a flash. She converts her photos to black and white in her home studio before presenting them to parents as she believes they do not want to see things that might be noticeable in color.

“I am the only photographer in the state who does birth stories exclusively,” Finn said. “Since I started this business I have been booked with clients non-stop capturing over 95 families and have photographed nine births.”

Her shoots have ranged from family portraits to generation photos to maternity, newborn and even engagement photos.

”These couples have hired me to capture their maternity pictures, be at their baby showers, then take the journey of being there on the most important day of their lives,” Finn said. “I never had any photographs of the birth of my children, other than one photo a nurse took and another photo my husband took.”

Currently enrolled as an online student at the New York Institute of Photography, Finn graduates in June with a certificate in Professional Photography. She said she’s been in love with photography since she was a child. Finn attended Greenleaf Elementary School, Hunking Middle School, and Haverhill High School (Class of 1999) where she took several classes in photography. She enrolled at Northern Essex Community College for general studies, but before graduating she got a job at Anna Jaques working as a unit coordinator in a psychiatric unit. Finn left the job two years ago when pregnant with her third child.

“I was a stay-at-home mom spending my days with my children and taking their photographs,” she said. “My husband would tell me the photos are really good and that I might want to take it to a different level, and maybe turn it into a career.”

Finn had no idea at the time that she would eventually return to a hospital setting, only this time for an entirely different reason.

“I thought to myself, how can I follow my dream without being in a classroom,” she said. “I found an online course which gave me the opportunity to better learn the craft.”

Studying online led to many late nights watching videos of how to set up studio lighting, adjusting camera film speed settings and aperture settings and other aspects of photography. She set up a studio-classroom at her home complete with specialized lighting, back drops, props, cameras, tripods and other equipment. Finn needed test subjects to practice what she was learning, so she invited family members and friends to her home and used them as her models.

“I needed to practice posing them and adjusting the lighting and camera settings,” she said. “I had one friend who was here for nearly an hour sitting still just so I could get one perfect head shot.”

About eight months ago, Finn came upon a website of a birth photographer in Utah and her attention was drawn to images of the entire birth process.

“I knew this was what I wanted to do,” Finn said. “My husband told me I needed to actually photograph a birth to really know if I loved doing this kind of photography.”

“I told him this was it for me and this was what I wanted to do,” she said. “I never heard of a birth photographer, even after having three children.”

While still studying online, Finn posted an offer on Facebook asking for someone who would allow her to photograph the birth of their child, at no cost, as it would be a way for her to gain experience.

“Almost immediately I was contacted by a woman in Haverhill who was due to deliver in three days,” Finn said.

Joan Bertone, 27, of Haverhill said she and her husband Kyle Bertone were not planning to have anyone else in the hospital room until she met Finn and decided at the last minute to have Finn photograph the birth of their first child. Their daughter Olivia was born on Jan. 10 and Finn was there to photograph those moments.

“Until I saw her ad I wasn’t really looking to have it done,” Bertone said. “When we met I was impressed with her editorial approach and how she was respectful of our wishes. I’d seen a few things like it online, but nothing local.”

Bertone said her doctor complimented Finn on her professionalism and the fact that she stayed out of the action and didn’t photograph anything outside of what she said she would.

“Soon after we got home with our baby, Kim dropped off a CD of pictures,” Bertone said. “They still bring tears to my eyes, and I look forward to sharing them with my daughter as she gets older.”

Finn says she approaches her craft in the style of photo journalism by capturing the moments as they occur. There is no pausing or posing.

Finn said she had to follow hospital rules, including where to stand. She stood behind Bertone, photographing her and her husband holding hands during labor, and being together during the birth. Finn was not allowed to photograph the baby crowning or being delivered.

“Once the doctor had her hand on the baby, that’s when I was allowed to start shooting again,” Finn said. “After the baby was born and was being checked by nurses, Joan asked if I was still there and if I’d missed the birth.”

Finn was standing behind Bertone’s hospital bed, beside her shoulder.

“She looked up at me and started to cry,” Finn said.

“My goal is to not be noticed as it’s their time, their moment and it’s not about me,” Finn said about the couples she photographs.

Finn presents couples with CD of images they can view on a computer, a television or have printed out.

“Joan called me and said she and her husband looked at the photographs and were both in tears,” Finn said. “I told my husband that this was it for me. I love hospitals. I love a good story and the best part about it was the couple saw images they didn’t even remember as they were in the moment and had no idea what I had captured with my camera.”