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|| News Item: Posted 2009-04-02

My Cool Gig: Photographer, Husband, Dad
Trevor Brown discusses the most amazing assignment he could have ever asked for.

By Trevor Brown

Photo by Trevor Brown

Photo by Trevor Brown

Kristin Brown
Throughout my short photo career, I have been extremely fortunate to photograph some pretty cool stories and events. I had a front row seat during the Colorado Rockies' magical run to the World Series in 2007 and by some stroke of luck I got to travel with my hometown football team for 5 years. However, in late June of 2008, my wife Kristin handed me the most amazing assignment I could have ever asked for.

When she told me she was pregnant. Two thoughts went through my head: 1) Be excited (despite being extremely nervous) and 2) Time to figure out how I am going to document this process without driving her completely nuts.

I knew I wanted to do it differently than just taking some snaps of her belly every week or so, but I also knew that I was about to head into a world dominated by hormones more powerful than the male brain can comprehend. Thankfully, Kristin is pretty used to having a camera in her face, something that all our spouses can attest to. But this was different.

All of a sudden, I wasn't just her photographer husband telling her to "stand here" or "hold that there". I was strictly an observer. There wasn't any way I could relate to what was happening to her body. My tummy wasn't getting bigger. I wasn't going to the bathroom every five minutes. I didn't come down with gestational diabetes.

Those of you who have been through it with your wife know that these aren't easy things to deal with. A woman's body goes through so many radical changes that you just have to put down the camera and hug them sometimes, no matter how good of a photo you're passing up. It was a fine line that I tiptoed for 39 weeks as she went through it all.

During the first few months, I really didn't shoot all that much since Kristin wasn't really showing until about 15 weeks or so. She didn't have any mourning sickness and we weren't going to the doctor very often so there really wasn't all that much to shoot. At the few appointments we did have, I brought my Mark IIN along but didn't feel comfortable shooting there because Dr. Offerdahl told me right off the bat that she "hated having her picture taken."

Once Kristin started showing a little, I began shooting simple portraits of her here and there, almost all of them silhouettes since I didn't "know" this tiny person yet. I wanted the silhouettes to symbolize my limited connection to the baby at the time as well as the darkness in which the baby was living.

As fall gave way to winter, Kristin started getting bigger and bigger and the urgency of documenting this transition took on a life of its own. I started shooting a lot more and eventually bought a 5D Mark II from Jody Grober at Roberts. Once I got it in my hands, I used it exclusively. Initially, shooting video with it was awkward and cumbersome, but after a while I got used to holding the camera differently and frequently used a tripod. I also read a bunch of stuff on the web on how to trick the camera to do things it normally wouldn't do and started getting a hang of shooting video after a few weeks.

Throughout this time, I started piecing video clips together using Final Cut Express and one day decided to bring my laptop to an appointment to show Dr. Offerdahl what I was doing. While I only had about a minute or so finished, as soon as she saw it, her guard came down.

Photo by Trevor Brown

Photo by Trevor Brown

The birth of Trevor's son, Trevor "Shaw" Brown III.
All of a sudden she embraced the presence of my camera and realized that she was an integral part of something really cool. Before this, I had tried everything. I tried having the camera out and shooting Kristin when the doctor came in the room…Awkward. I tried using my less threatening Canon G9 instead of my Mark IIN…Still awkward. But showing her that initial section of the video, which in essence gave her an intimate view into our life at home, built a level of trust that grew with every appointment.

As I briefly mentioned at the beginning, Kristin came down with gestational diabetes in mid-December. Additionally, she was having early contractions and subsequently was placed on modified bed rest. This marked some of the hardest weeks we went through together. Her diet was strictly controlled to keep her blood sugars in check, but she was constantly hungry because she had to eat minuscule portions. Additionally, the mental strain of not being able to go anywhere took its toll.

Mix in a couple false alarms in early January and February and you have the recipe for numerous emotional breakdowns. It was during times like these that I was strictly a husband and not a husband who was a photographer. I did manage to snap a couple photos of her during these breakdowns thanks to the nearly silent shutter on my G9, but almost always, I put the camera down during these times.

When Kristin's water broke on March 3rd, I was ready since the two false alarms we had provided some practice. Subsequently, I was able to work out the kinks of setting up a camera on the windshield of my car using a Bogen suction grip and magic arm in order to shoot the drive to the hospital. Additionally, I knew exactly how the check-in drill at the hospital went and where we would be taken once we got there.

All of these things helped me get better photos since none of it was really all that new. The biggest benefit of having been there before was that the labor and delivery nurses remembered my camera and me. Thus, I felt entirely comfortable shooting them as they tended to Kristin.

We got to the hospital around 5:30pm and things progressed fairly slowly. This allowed me to shoot just about everything except the administration of the epidural since I wasn't allowed to. I wouldn't have been able to shoot it anyway since I nearly fainted during the procedure.

I recovered though and continued to shoot as much as I could, sometimes putting my camera on hospital carts for moving pans when I shot video and messing with all the different lights in the room to create different moods in the photographs.

When morning rolled around and the doctors found Kristin hadn't progressed as we hoped, the decision was made to do a C-section. Words cannot describe my nerves at this point. All I could think to myself was: "How on earth am I going to make it through this if I nearly passed out during the epidural?!!!" If you get a little queasy at the sight of blood like I do, the curtain that provides a barrier between you and the "work area" is your best friend.

Photo by Trevor Brown

Photo by Trevor Brown

Trevor "Shaw" Brown
I didn't dare let curiosity get the best of me during the surgery and never looked over it since I knew that would have spelled certain doom. That being said, I did shoot what I could on the safe side, but at one point Kristin did tell me to put the camera down and get back to giving her a head massage as I had been doing initially. After about ten minutes, our doctor told us she could see "a lot of hair" and instantly my heart began to race.

Before hand, Dr. Offerdahl had told us that she would get the baby out and hold it over the curtain for us to see, but I knew that wouldn't make a powerful photo. I didn't want to have a photo of just a baby in the sky with a lame ceiling as a background. I needed the doctors, the surgery lights, the curtain. I needed everything in it to tell the story. So, in a moment of personal bravery, I jumped out of my seat as soon as I heard that first cry and shot some pictures over the curtain.

I had the camera in aperture priority since the operating room lights weren't on when we first got in there and I didn't know what the exposure would be. I was also in manual focus since I was shooting some video. That being said, many hours of shooting sports came in handy as I was forced to act quickly and made a wonderful frame just seconds after they pulled Shaw out of the womb and into the world.

Following this, I immediately put the camera down and sat back down to be with Kristin. As I hugged her both of us were overwhelmed with a tidal wave of emotion and we laughed hysterically since all along, we were convinced we were having a girl. In hindsight, I am so happy that Kristin agreed to wait to find out what we were having. The element of surprise added to the experience.

The photographs and video that I made during the past ten months is the product of two things, building relationships and enjoying what I was shooting. A friend of mine Mark Kohlman always talks about how important it is to be engaged with your work. I don't think I could have been more engaged with this 'gig'. It consumed my life. Additionally, there were so many elements to it and I had to find ways to convince everyone involved that they were part of something special in order to make it work.

I'm thrilled that they all got on board, because in the end I made a series of photos that touch on just about every aspect of the story. It is something that Kristin and I will cherish for the rest of our lives and something that I hope Shaw will look at someday and say, "This is really cool, Dad!"

(Trevor Brown is a freelance photographer based in Denver. You can see his work at his member page:

Related Links:
Trevor's member page

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