Q&A with your Birth Photographer
As part of a routine Question of the Day posted to Facebook, I decided to turn the spotlight around and open up the floor to my followers to ask questions related to birth photography. I love getting the opportunity to share my passion with others and
hope this helps potential clients get to know me a little better!
Q: How do you manage to photograph around all the people in and out of the room? How do you manage to stay in the background? (By in the the background I mean allowing them their moment without too much interference from a photographer)
A: There aren’t usually many people in the room except for actual delivery time, which is such a relatively short moment in the birth story. In a hospital setting (this is not an issue for home births), I am usually stationed up at the head of the bed during delivery. That keeps me out of the way and lets me capture the very first moments without getting too graphic (crowning/delivery pictures usually aren’t even allowed in our hospitals here).
I often end up being recruited into a lead support role for the mom and dad,
but I am perfectly capable of retreating to fly on the wall status if that is what is needed from me.
Q: How do you do the lighting when you are taking pictures of the birth? Do you rely on natural lighting?
A: I love when there is enough natural light coming through the windows for clear pictures. Those are always the most stunning images in my opinion. Since most births happen at night, I must rely on the room’s ambient light or flash. I invested in some of the best equipment for low light photography and have worked my tail off to master the settings so that flash isn’t needed. I do bring a flash along that I can aim up at the ceiling to more uniformly spread the light throughout the room without popping a bright flash in anyone’s face. I have only ever used a flash for the actual delivery pictures when there is lots of movement going on and only with permission from the mother and people assisting her. Typically, there is so much excitement during the delivery that most people don’t notice me even when I am using a flash.
Q: Do you get emotional each time a baby is born?
A: Happy tears every time. The room is overflowing with excitement, love, relief, and new life.
Q: What’s your favorite stage to photograph?
A: I’m split between that very first moment mama touches her baby and the calm afterwards when she is delicately inspecting him. Every mama does it. The shakes have worn off, the doctor and nurses have withdrawn, and she is 100% sucked into this tiny space. She looks under the hat to see how much hair he has, rolls the tiny, wrinkly fingers in her own…inspects every possible detail without realizing it and breathes in that new baby smell.
Q: Is birth kind of an ordinary everyday thing to you now? I can’t imagine at all what it would be like to be at so many!
A: Every birth is so different and so powerful that I cannot imagine it ever becoming ordinary. I think that medical professionals are so focused on looking for potential problems and performing/monitoring procedures that they do not have the time to truly enjoy the beauty of it all. I feel incredibly lucky to be put in that position to focus on the beauty and to have that opportunity to show mamas just how amazing they are.
Q: How do you know, when a mother calls you, when it’s time to go and that you need to be there?
A: During consultations with my clients, we discuss the game plan for go time. I want to know how previous births progressed and what her plan is with regards to early labor (how long she plans to labor at home) and if she plans on any early interventions or induction. I want to know how far she is traveling to her birth place and even take into consideration how that hospital handles the different stages of labor.
I know of birth photographers who have missed births because they were relying on cervical checks. I’m not sure what they do for the mamas who don’t want cervical checks! I rely heavily on emotional signposts, which means that if the daddy is the one who calls me, I ask to speak to Mom. I want to hear her voice and how she works through a contraction. I’m listening for her level of confidence and excitement as well as how serious she is and how coherent she is during a contraction if she is even able to speak.
When possible, I like to show up to a birth early enough to capture some of her story prior to active labor. I ask clients to contact me at the earliest signs of labor so that I can be as prepared as possible and ready to jump when the time comes.
Q: You’ve talked about birth photos being healing for mothers…what do you mean by that?
A: I believe there are some unique benefits in having one’s birth story illustrated. The pictures can help her process her birth in addition to showing her so many details that she would never have otherwise known about on her baby’s birthday. While I do my best to tell HER story with the images, I am drawn to the beauty, the strength, the overpowering emotions, and the connections. I have the ability to redirect her attention to so many positives that could easily fall through the cracks, especially during a difficult birth.
The feelings of loss and failure that some women feel after a traumatic birth (or one that simply strayed from her hopes and expectations) are very real and important to work through, so I don’t want to diminish that in any way, but to help her view that birth experience in a more positive light while processing it all could potentially improve her recovery, bonding, and hopefully even minimize the effects of postpartum depression.
I want my pictures to help reframe birth not just for the mother (she comes away feeling like a sweaty, out of control disaster, when she was really a birthing goddess and I have visual proof!), but in our society’s eyes. Most people think of birth as scary, messy, and painful, while some realize that it can be the most empowering and beautiful moments of our life. I want moms to go into birth expecting and visualizing the latter.
Our birth experience goes a long way toward defining us. It becomes a part of our identity.
We need to continue fighting for healthier birth experiences and better options that she can feel in control of as long as she and baby are doing well. Most births are not medical emergencies and something to be feared.
As someone who was told many times after my traumatic birth experience, “All that matters is that you have a healthy baby,” I’m a big supporter of the #BirthMatters campaign by ImprovingBirth.Org.
As a birth photographer, I love that I can support moms through this journey, helping her have the birth experience she desires, and then I can turn around and show her that strength in beautiful and artistic images.
Q: I’d like to hear about how you got to being a birth photographer! The long version, please!
A: I got my first DSLR camera right after Kaia was born. People have always told me that I am a natural with a camera, but this was the first time I had a quality piece of equipment to work with. Unfortunately, I didn’t figure out how to really use it until she was closer to a year old, but that was also right about the time I first saw pictures of birth photography. I was laying in bed snuggling with Kaia and browsing Facebook and a link to this site showed up: www.dfwbirthphotographer.com
My breath was taken away. I was in love. After 8 years of being overwhelmed with Mommyhood, I needed something more…something where I could do what I love, be appreciated for it, and reclaim my artistic identity. This is what I wanted to do! I wanted to combine my growing excitement for photography with my well-established passion for birth.
Q: What made you know that birth photography was your calling?
A: It hit me like walking into A/C from 115F weather. I just knew it was perfect the first time I saw a gallery of images…when I first realized it was even “a thing”. I love photography, I love birth, and I love showing mamas how amazing they are. My biggest struggle has been showing the Manhattan-area that it is “a thing” and very valuable investment at that.
Q: So I know you have doula training. How does that affect your role as a photographer? What can people expect from you that would be different from someone without that training?
A: Anyone who is being hired as part of someone’s birth team should be knowledgeable and respectful not just of the mom and her birth needs, but also of the father, relatives, nurses, doctors, doulas, and all policies. Whether a mom is having a natural birth, an epidural, or a c-section, every member of that birth team plays an incredibly important role to the mother and how her story plays out. Not only does my training help me know when I need to drop everything and head for the birth place, but I’m able to connect with her when needed or provide the privacy and distance she may need without her ever saying a word. Depending on what the mother wants from me (and whether there is a doula present), I need to be able to know when it’s time to put that camera down and be more hands on. I’m also prepared to relieve Daddy of certain duties so that he can be by her side rather than running around getting things for her. It is not enough to gauge a mama’s progress based on how dilated her cervix is and I believe labor will progress better without those routine checks. The very first birth I attended involved a mama who progressed from 5cm to baby in under 10 minutes! I could tell that we would be meeting her daughter very soon despite what the mom took as disheartening news.
Check out my blog post on what you are getting from a trained birth photographer.
Q: Since you have been trained as a doula, is there a reason that you don’t offer those services on your website?
A: If something ever goes wrong during a birth and a lawyer is brought in, it won’t matter if the parents say that the birth photographer had nothing to do with the incident. Any lawyer worth her money will call out every person who was in the birth space and a birth photographer will need to be covered as a doula if there was intent to provide doula support. Last I checked, there is only one company that insures doulas and they do not cover any photography equipment/services. There are no other insurance companies that I am aware of who will work with the doula coverage and they will not separate out coverage so that only non-birth sessions are covered by their policies. Technically, in order to provide and be covered both as a doula and photographer, I would need to form two separate businesses.
Between the struggles and stress of just running one business and not wanting to be hired as a doula without birth photography services at this time, I’ve decided to declare my intent as birth photographer only. That does not mean my clients will not benefit greatly from my education and expertise!
Q: If someone hires you should they also still hire a doula?
A: This is a great question! While I do have doula training, having a dedicated doula will allow me to focus more on the photography and not force me to make a tough decision if I feel my support is needed more than the pictures. That said, I love playing the doula role. I cherish that connection and the opportunity to empower mamas (and daddies!) throughout the process. I also love capturing doulas in action…makes for some awesome captures of bonding between women. While some births really do go super smoothly and moms end up not needing as much support, typically there is plenty that a doula and I can do as a team to make her more comfortable.
When feasible, I think having a dedicated doula is a great idea. The entire birth team needs to work together to make it all about the laboring mother; having two extra birth professionals who care deeply about the mother coming away with an amazing birth experience? Sounds like an awesome plan!
Q: Do you ever worry that your presence at a birth will negatively affect labor?
A: Yes, and that’s a big part of why I feel it is so important for birth photographers to have doula training and to be aware of how the mother is responding to her presence. Birth is a very private process. Women don’t tend to relax while being watched or waited on, so having a camera on them more than likely isn’t helping. Even if she desperately wants these pictures, her comfort level is so important. Fortunately, by the time things get exciting, nobody really notices me, but it’s the early and active labor that I’m more concerned about.
I feel that it is very important for my clients to meet with me a couple of times before their birth. While they will be surrounded by strangers in a hospital setting and will likely feel far more comfortable with me than the variety of nurses and doctors coming in and out, having strangers in your birth space isn’t good for progress.
I also feel that it is crucial that my clients understand that her birth experience needs to come before the pictures. If I feel like she is too tense, it’s time for me to go for a (close) walk and give her some quiet time. I always expect that I will take several breaks during labor, but we pretty much always end up connecting at a level where my presence is desired.
Q: Why does birth photography cost so much?
A: If I had known about birth photography when my babies were born and I was faced with the costs, I would have been scared off. Birth is expensive even when you have decent insurance, so I realize how difficult it is to add on a big ticket item. And while I think there are some invaluable emotional health benefits that come with honoring and cherishing our birth experiences this way, this is considered a luxury item. That said, I can’t tell you how much I wish I had a professional birth photographer at my last two births. Those pictures without a doubt would have been among my most cherished possessions. If you cannot afford to hire a professional, I hope you will consider making arrangements for someone other than Daddy to be in charge of capturing the details of your birth story.
So, why does it cost so much? The question should actually be why does it cost so little. Birth photography isn’t a hobby. It is a very time consuming career that requires a great deal of time commitment let alone equipment. I know very few birth photographers who are able to truly charge what they are worth simply because birth photography is just barely becoming a trend. This is one of my favorite birth photography quotes:
“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.
Judging by what I am seeing my fellow birth photographers charge, I’m pretty sure if I lived in a big city, I could possibly be charging twice as much for my services and perhaps even having to turn clients away in order to guarantee I will be available for those birth sessions I book. And I still would be making far less than a wedding photographer when you break it down into an hourly rate.
I know that most people simply cannot afford the price of birth photography, which is why I encourage friends and family to get together to gift their loved one this priceless opportunity.
Q: If you could make so much more money as a wedding photography, why specialize in births?
A: For starters, I am very passionate about birth and showing the world how beautiful it really is. I want women to go into their births with visions of strength, resilience, and inner peace as opposed to our society’s general fear-mongering.
There is something so special about showing a mama how powerful she is and despite how she may feel, to turn around and be able to show her that she was indeed a birthing goddess. A bride expects that she will be the most beautiful on her wedding day. She puts an incredible amount of time and money into insuring that! A birthing mama has no such expectations and I absolutely love being given the opportunity to wow her with my perspective.
Q: How do you handle the stressors of being on call for births and how does that affect your family?
A: The on call time is the hardest part of this job. Making sure my kids are taken care of for an unknown amount of time causes the most stress. I know I wouldn’t be nearly as good at what I do if I didn’t have these three babies, so that just comes with the territory. As they have gotten older, this aspect of my job as become easier, but I’ve had several births where I was gone for over 24 hours, so you can imagine the strain that can put on my family.
Kids aside, there is a lot that goes into being on call. I cannot just leave my expensive gear in the car (especially during cold and hot weather), so I’m constantly loading and unloading everything I need when I leave the house. I have my own hospital bag to prepare, I cannot take meds that might make me sleepy, and I have to adjust my own sleep schedule to make sure it is safe for me to drive and I will be able to be at my best any time day or night. Alcohol is off limits during that on call time. Leaving town is out of the question. I go to great lengths to keep myself healthy, which sometimes means I don’t get to cuddle with my sick babies. I will sometimes have to reschedule other photo sessions (thank you to my clients for being understanding!).
I think the worst part is that I have to leave the sound on my phone turned up at night. I try to keep my phone set so that only texts and phone calls make noise, but silly apps keep updating and turning things back on. Nothing like a dumb Facebook ding in the middle of the night to wake me up! And anyone who texts me between the hours of 11pm and 7am with something that isn’t urgent probably isn’t going to get a friendly response!
All of that said, I absolutely love my job and mothers should never be worried about any inconvenience to me. I once heard a birth photographer say that if the client feels badly about taking your time, you’re not charging enough!
All questions posed by friends and clients of Little Leapling Photography
and all answers are by Tammy Karin.