On Birth Photography and the Elephant in the Room

So you LOVE the idea of birth photography, and you google birth photographers in “your location” and google comes up with a list of websites.  Ohhhhhhh why can’t you just have your baby now these photos are just stunning!  They’re moving, they’re powerful, they’re exactly what you want so you can remember one of the most special moments of your life.

Then your stomach drops.  No, I think it actually somersaulted and then passed out on the floor.  It's going to cost me $XXXX ???

It’s the Elephant in the room.  Why does birth photography cost more than the average portrait session? and what are you actually paying for?

1. Births are like Weddings... But not

I initially wrote a fairly long convoluted point about how births are like weddings but with a twist and then I stumbled across this quote by Lexia Frank of Lexia Frank Photography who packaged it so perfectly that I ditched my rather lengthy description in favour of hers:

"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 wont know, but probably around 2am. And also, that she doesnt 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. AND you're not going to be able to use them anywhere on your website or blog because she wants to keep her privacy intact. We'd all be quoting this bride $50,000.00"

Of course no birth photographer charges $50,000, but you get the idea that there's no formula when it comes to shooting a birth.  Births are notorious for being predictably unpredictable. As photographers we have to be prepared for anything to happen at any time.  We have to be prepared to shoot under challenging, circumstances in dark rooms with little space to move around. And there's that other small detail that we're in the presence of a woman who is working incredibly hard to birth a human being into the world... Which brings me to my second point.

2.  Professional birth photographers have experience in the birth space. 

Yes, they love what they do, but it’s not all about the love.  Experience in the birth space is something you don’t notice when it’s there but you do notice when it’s not.  It’s critical for a birthing woman to feel safe and secure in her birth space.  If she feels worried or unsettled her adrenaline increases and her oxytocin drops which can affect how quickly her labour progresses.  A quality birth photographer will be a sensitive re-assuring presence, and will have enough experience with labouring women that she will be able to read the cues of the mother as well as the other birth professionals in the room.

3. So the baby is born, the job’s over right? 

No way! When your birth photographer walks out the door of your home, hospital or birth centre her job is just beginning!  She straps her camera bag into the car seat next to her and carefully drives home where she downloads and backs up the images before collapsing into bed.  The next days and weeks are spent meticulously culling and hand editing images on professional grade software. In the case of videography she’ll be trying to pick a song or songs that suit your story perfectly (this alone can take hours!!).  She’ll spend hours pouring over the photos or video tweaking the skin tones, and making sure your final images are not just something you cut out of your grade 9 anatomy text book, but pieces of art.

4. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. 

The birth of your baby is the moment you’ve been preparing for for months… Possibly even years if you are unfortunately familiar with infertility or loss.  The birth of your baby is EVERYthing for you.  And as birth photographers WE GET THAT.  Thats why we do what we do! And that’s why we do it for you, AND for our other mamas as well!  Yes! we value you just as much as we value the mama that's due later in the month, and our other mama who is due next month! Birth photographers will have their phone on them. all. the. time. Your number is on emergency bypass, and they’re ready for your calls and your text messages 24/7.  During that on call period your photographer will stay as close to the hospital as possible.  Birth photographers may also have to give up other jobs to be on call for your birth in order to give you the best service possible.  And we may do this for 10 or 11 months of the year if we’re fully booked!  A professional birth photographer is dedicated to their craft, to their clients, and to providing a quality service.  In order to do that well we need to be able to cover the costs involved in maintaining that quality service - phone and internet, software subscriptions, equipment and equipment maintenance, childcare, gear insurance, liability insurance, professional development and did I mention time? oh yes, time :)  Professional birth photographers put their heart and their soul into their work, they invest themselves in your story, and there’s a whole lot more to it than just picking up a camera and clicking a button.