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Behind the Image

“The key photograph for me was to be able to record that moment in time when baby was being delivered showing all the ‘players’.” 
 – David Bishop, BSc, MIMI, AHCS


C Section "It’s a baby girl"
David Bishop, BSc, MIMI, AHCS

Tell us about your professional background?

My career as a photographer started at the age of 7 whilst on holiday when I got to use my Mum’s Box Brownie to take photographs of the Air Sea Rescue helicopter. I pursued my hobby photographing the stars (Astro photography), people, aircraft and events and progressed to a Zenith E SLR in the with all the black and white processing and printing taking place in the temporary darkroom (family bathroom) at weekends. At the age of 15 I completed a work experience at the North Middlesex Hospital in London and loved the environment and thought this would be a great career, however, whilst studying City and Guilds Photography, I was offered a trainee photographer’s job with the Ministry of Defence undertaking all manner of PR and corporate photography in the UK and abroad, which rather delayed my medical photography career by some 22 years.

It was then that I joined the Medical Illustration Department at the UCL Medical School, (Royal Free Campus) as a trainee medical photographer and here completed my BSc in Medical Illustration to become a qualified clinical photographer. The hospital environment allowed me to continue with my PR / Corporate photography, providing me with some really amazing and challenging opportunities to provide photographs for the clinician, scientist and the patient.

Educating others has also played a key part in my career from teaching photography in evening classes to being a Visiting Lecturer on the University of Westminster’s BSc in Clinical Photography. I am also a very active member of the Institute of Medical Illustrators and strive to continue the education of others and promote clinical photography.

I am currently the Photography Services Manager for UCL Medical Photography / Health Creatives. Photography is still my passion and pleasure; whether it is in the operating theatre photographing a cancerous tumour or on the beaches of Norfolk in the middle of winter photographing seal pups being born.

What photographers inspire or influence you?

Robert Capa, Sebastiao Salgado, Henri Cartier Bresson, David Bailey, Annie Liebovitz and the list could go on. There are so many great photographers old and new to draw inspiration from.

Tell us about this particular photograph.

I was asked by my work colleague if I would photograph the delivery of her second child which was to be delivered by C-section, due to her suffering from pre-eclampsia (pregnancy related high blood pressure). I then discussed the photography with the head of the communications department who agreed this could be done and informed all the staff that would be involved on the day.

Having willing / consenting participants I also decided to make this a bit of a personal project and offered to cover the whole day from admission to the ward to returning to the ward with baby.

Key stages of photography were to be:

  • Arrival – ‘booking in’
  • Waiting – observations
  • Getting ready – observations
  • Into theatres – a very nervous mum and dad
  • Anaesthesia – an epidural
  • The procedure – C-section
  • Baby observations – 3.392kg
  • Back to the ward

The key photograph for me was to be able to record that moment in time when baby was being delivered showing all the ‘players’. Research revealed very few photographs that strayed away from the traditional close up of the baby so this for me was my goal to capture this moment.

Good communication is a key part to any photographs success and working in the theatre environment involves you being part of the theatre team and observing all of the strict protocols as well as being aware of what is going on around you and empathising with the ‘mum and dad’.

The photography ‘It’s a baby girl’ was taken as baby was lifted from the womb, I had asked the surgeon if he would let me know when the procedure was advanced enough for this moment and then positioned myself at the head of the table. At this point everything came together: baby was lifted up, dad’s placed his hand on mum’s head giving comfort and reassurance; the anaesthetist’s hand held down the surgical drape so mum could see the surgeon holding baby as she was ‘delivered’ and baby posing for the camera.

Tell us what camera and lighting gear you take on assignment?

My usual PR kit comprises of a couple of EOS 5D MkIII (now IV) bodies; 16 - 35 mm, 24 – 105 mm and 70 – 300 mm zoom lenses plus 24 mm f1.4 and a 50 mm f1.4 lenses. Two or three speedlites, various light modifiers and wireless triggers also end up in the bag although for this project flash was only use sporadically and not at all in theatres.

For the technically minded equipment and settings were a Canon EOS 5D Mk III with 16 - 35 mm zoom lens (actual focal length 16mm), ISO 640, 1/250 at f6.3, White balance at the time of photography was tungsten, corrected in post-production to 3800 K. As an aside, in my opinion one of the key technical advancements that has helped reportage photography has been the ability to vary the ISO, being able to go from ISO 100 to 8000 from one frame to the next gives you the ability to capture a moment that would not have been possible when using film.

Post-production, I try to keep it simple and tend to adjust exposure, contrast, highlights and shadow detail.

Why did you select this specific image for the BioImages competition?

Mum was overjoyed with the collection of photographs depicting the arrival of her second child; a very special set of photographs. However, the one that stood out was baby being held by the surgeon extending her right arm in true Superman pose. I felt I had managed to capture a definitive moment and many of my colleagues and friends were also equally impressed by this photograph, so this competition was an ideal opportunity to share this image with other like-minded photographers.

Any advice or comments to others?

My Dad used to say to me: “always ask: if you don’t ask, you don’t get” – a mantra I mostly adhere to plus all the clichés hold true: always aim high, reach for the stars and follow your dreams… if you can.

More down to earth advice, I would say being a member of an organisation relevant to your particular field is also very helpful; technical advice, networking opportunities, sharing ideas, peer review and competitions all help improve your photography.

Finally, I have been told many times how lucky I am to have been able to have photography as my work and hobby. I am still learning, still experimenting and still get a buzz when I create my photographs, how fantastic is that!