All too often I get questions from aspiring birth photographers like “what settings should I use to shoot a birth?” or “What’s the best exposure for a home birth?” Or my least favorite: “Help! I just booked a birth, how do you shoot births?” I always tell them that they need to master their skills BEFORE taking on births, the response is almost universal “Everyone has to start somewhere!!”
Yes, it’s true. Everyone DOES have to start somewhere. But shooting a once in a lifetime event like a birth is NOT the starting place. It simply isn’t. Shooting births is the advanced stuff, the major leagues, not the starting line. You can’t take shortcuts to becoming a birth photographer. Here’s a handy roadmap to show you where you should start:
“Everyone starts somewhere” is NOT an excuse for opening a business or taking on births with zero to little know-how or skill.
You MUST have the ability to perform the service BEFORE opening a business selling that service. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.
Would you like your doctor to open their practice before attending med school? Would you want a mechanic working on your car that couldn’t tell the difference between where to add oil and where to add washer fluid?
Booking a birth before you know how to do it is something that people do because they don’t want to start somewhere, they want to jump ahead to BEING there. They want to skip the training, skip the learning, skip the practice, just skip to the reward. It doesn’t work, and it isn’t fair to the families.
I love this quote from Kris Camealy “A professional doesn’t scoff at starting off in the mail room. Professionals put in the time necessary to become what they hope to be–even when they don’t feel like it.”
So where DO you start?
Here are some things to start with:
1. Master, really master, shooting completely manual for exposure. Know the exposure triangle like the back of your hand. Know how to quickly change the settings on your camera without even thinking about it.
2. Know how to shoot in low light, and know how to do it WELL. This takes a lot of practice, and thankfully you can do this kind of practice at home, every night. No need to wait for a birth to practice low light shooting.
3. Even if you don’t think you’ll ever use it, know how to shoot with a good external flash. Know how to bounce, know how to change the power on your flash, know how to create good directional light with it.
4. Know your gear. Every piece. This tends to happen as you go through numbers 1-3. You may also find that your gear limits you as you’re mastering your skills. For example, many new photographers learn the hard lesson about kit lenses and how unsuitable they are for low light shooting as they are practicing shooting by candlelight. You may find you need to upgrade gear for this kind of shooting.
5. Know how to edit properly. No selective color, no plastic skin. Know how to make a good black and white conversion. Know how to do a good clean color edit. Know how to minimize the look of blood, how to reduce and embrace grain, and how much to edit and how much to leave. Again, you don’t need births to do this. Just practice with your shots from your low light practice.
For more tips, you might like this article: Top 10 things new birth photographers need to know.
Basic competence is pretty crucial, and you do NOT start a business without it. Get the photography skills first, be original, and the chances of your business succeeding increase exponentially!
(Image credit for graphic at the top of this article: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mourner/)