“Shooting a birth is like getting an inquiry from a bride saying that she wants you to come photograph her wedding, but isn’t going to set a date. She’ll just call you whenever, and when you ask her how many hours of coverage she would like, she says she’s not sure, probably around 24, but maybe only 2.
And you ask her when she’d like for you to start coverage and she says she won’t know, but probably around 2am. And also, that she doesn’t want any use of flash. So when you ask her if there will be bountiful natural light, she says that she’ll be getting married in a dark closet with no light whatsoever. And, she’s going to want the images right away to send out announcements….We’d all be quoting this bride $50,000.00.”
–Lexia Frank, birth and wedding photographer in Portland, OR.
Birth photography has been around for a very long time, but has only recently become a trend. Even I didn’t realize that I could hire a photographer for my last birth three years ago. I had a doula and put my own camera in her hand, telling her to take as many pictures as possible. Fortunately, I ended up not needing much in the way of labor support, but unfortunately, my camera wasn’t at all up to the task of dealing with the low light conditions and I might as well have handed her a cell phone to capture my birth. That is my one regret from a very well planned and executed VBAC…I wish I had known and wish I had invested in a birth photographer.
After photographing my first couple of births, I quickly realized the value of what I had to offer, including the skill needed to perform in often horrible lighting conditions and tight spaces and the expensive equipment needed to deal with those conditions. Combine that with the knowledge and respect for how births tend to progress, and the importance of the relationships with doctors, nurses, and other members of the birth support team.
The biggest thing I realized was just how beautiful and powerful a woman could look in the throes of labor. She deserves to see herself that way and not be left with fading memories of messy hair, sweat, and goo. I get to show her how incredible she was while also capturing those people who loved and supported her through it.
Despite listing my starting price on my website, many people who contact me back peddle once they realize the investment involved. I’m sure I would have done the same before realizing what all was involved. Why would someone expect to pay less for a birth photographer than a wedding photographer? With a wedding photographer, we already expect the prices to be high and we know that we get what we pay for. If anything, the skill and time commitment needed in birth photography is even higher. In the bigger cities, you’ll find that birth photographers fill up their calendar with minimum prices well over $1,000 and still find themselves greatly undervaluing themselves in comparison to equally skilled wedding photographers. Alas I live in a small city in Kansas where my services are even less appreciated despite being much harder to come by.
I paid over $2,000 for my wedding photographer with coverage for 5 hours. By comparison, my own labors were 33, 13, and 20 hours. What would a wedding photographer have charged for that kind of coverage? Birth photographers really are no less skilled than wedding photographers and you aren’t going to let just any ol’ stranger in your small birthing space. You want someone who you can connect to and who understands and respects you and your birth wishes. You want someone you can trust to capture the most cherished images despite the unpredictable nature of birth. And you want to know that no matter what she is going to show up at a moment’s notice and still be there to capture the first hours of your baby’s life. When you think about it, picking the right person to photograph your birth is just as important as finding the right doctor, midwife, and/or doula, and far more sensitive of an issue than hiring the right photographer for any other event in your life.
The amount of time I spend at your side and then editing your pictures isn’t even the biggest struggle. I find the on call time the most difficult part of my job. From the time you hit 37 weeks, I need to be ready to drop everything and hurry to your birth place. I need to be well rested, healthy, and close to home. I cannot plan any trips during that time and I have to be prepared to miss important performances, games, and family events. I cannot drink alcohol or take medications that might make me sleepy. I need to have a plan for my children and may need to reschedule other photo sessions. My husband also needs to carefully plan and adjust his schedule in order to care for our children. And like a doula or midwife, I must have all of my equipment and personal necessities ready to go and in my car whenever I’m away from my house. Having a planned induction or c-section does little to change this since I must still be on call in case labor starts before the planned date and I have yet to attend a c-section or induction that has taken less than 6 hours of my time.
That said, this is my passion, this is my talent, and my client base will continue to grow. I am constantly hearing from moms who wish they had known about me before their last child was born. I know the value in birth photography and with every birth I’m given permission to share, I know that appreciation will continue to spread. These images illustrate the stories that will define and empower you. They will also be loved by family and friends who are waiting on pins and needles to hear your story, so don’t be afraid to let them know how important this is to you when they ask what gifts you are hoping for. Even if you choose to keep most of these images all to yourself, this will be one of the most valued gifts you could ever receive, so start planning now, and if necessary, I am happy to work out a payment plan.