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Top 10 Things New Birth Photographers Need to Know

Thinking about becoming a birth photographer? Decide if you are ready, and if you are: Go for it!

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My advice:

1. Don’t do it for free! You deserve something for being on call, getting up in the middle of the night, dropping everything to go at a moment’s notice. Not to mention reimbursement for babysitting, parking fees, etc. People don’t value what they get for free. There are TONS of stories about people being treated horribly when they do free births. They don’t get called, people are demanding and nitpicky about editing, etc.

2. Get your plan in place. Who will watch your kids at a moment’s notice? Who will drive the carpool? Help with homework? Make dinner tonight? I once got a call literally as I had my first bite of dinner and had to run out the door. If you got a call RIGHT NOW, who would handle your responsibilities for the next 10-24 hours? Make sure you have a plan and a backup plan or two before you go on call. I’ve been on-call most of the last 11 years of my life, and trust me, backups to your backup plan will be necessary.

3. Get your gear together. You will need a good camera (one capable of ISOs over 2000) and a fast lens (one that can open to at least f/2.8. The kit lens that came with your camera won’t cut it). Do you have backup memory cards? Backup battery? Backup body? I shot for a long time without a backup body but I feel the extra card and fully charged battery are a must. Also pack a bag with food, cash, toiletries for an overnight stay, maybe a book to pass the time when you are not shooting. Have it ready to go at all times.

4. Network with doulas, childbirth educators and midwives to market yourself. Maybe offer to be part of a “package” deal – their services and yours bundled together. Don’t expect her to discount her income to add you, though. If there are discounts for joint packages, YOU should offer to foot the bill for the discount. A referral program where they can earn points towards a session for their family, headshots for their marketing, etc. would be nice, too. Get involved in your local birth network, doula association, friends of midwives group, or other group. Help the group further THEIR goals, don’t just be there to market yourself.

5. Have a contract in place. Always. Period. Just do it. Read more here. If you talk yourself out of needing one, you WILL regret it. Contract. Contract. Contract.

6. Know your gear inside and out. Practice, practice, practice in low light situations. Go into a windowless room and turn off all the lights. Leave just a candle or two burning. Can you shoot good images? If you have good gear, you should be able to raise the ISO way up. Now add a flashlight, so you have a mixed white balance scenario. Can you shoot that competently enough to get good images to deliver to your clients? Practice processing those shots as well.

7. Decide on your products and pricing. What consumers want from birth photography is very, very different than what they might want from a wedding or portrait session. No one is going to order a large gallery wrapped canvas to hang over the couch, so what you may have been using for portraits is not likely to work. Digital images, albums, and slideshows are popular products for birth photography. Decide what you want your final prices to be, then discount yourself for portfolio building.

Pelvic Station chart
8. Learn about birth! Knowing the basic process is important. Take a GOOD childbirth education course that goes over how the body functions. (While HypnoBirthing can be an excellent class for expectant parents, you won’t learn the anatomy and physiology there.) As a birth photographer, it isn’t your place to give any advice about the pregnancy and birth, but it can be helpful if you know what it means to be 6 cm, 100% and a -1 station. It will help you in recognizing when to come, and prepare you for the variations of normal. Even if you took a class when you had your kids, take one again – you’ll learn new and different things in your new role than you did as a pregnant mom.

9. Know the photography policies of the places you might work. Call ahead and ask. Policies are likely to be different for uncomplicated vaginal births than they are for instrumental vaginal births than they are for cesarean births.

10. Be patient. It takes time to network, build a portfolio, and build clientele. Most people only have a baby a few times in their lives, so the potential for repeat clients is lower with birth photography than with traditional portraiture.

Added 6/16/2012:

Here is a fabulous article that you might also enjoy reading!