If you’re considering a career in birth photography, you probably already have an interest in birth.
That’s a great start.
An interest in birth is a must, but birth photography is much more than that.
This article will give you some birth photography tips and teach you how to be an amazing birth photographer.
Read on to find out how to get into photographing births.
How to become a birth photographer
Birth photography is known as one of the most difficult types of photography.
This is because you will have to:
- Work with difficult lighting
- Work in an unpredictable situation
- Understand the birth process
- Be constantly on call
- Work unpredictable and sometimes long hours
- Understand your role
- Form an unusual bond with your client
- Miss important events of your own, from time to time.
As it’s such a difficult form of photography, make sure you’ve already had plenty of relevant experience.
It’s best not to go from being a portfolio building ‘beginner’ straight into birth photography.
Make sure you have some experience first and, if possible, get some birth photography tips from those with plenty of experience.
How do you take birth pictures?
Once you’ve had experience in photography, you should be familiar with how your camera works.
- Shutter speed
- Posing and angles
- Working with natural light
You should be able to take pictures in manual mode, and your flash should be a separately purchased off-camera unit.
When you’re familiar with your camera, where do you go from there?
One of the best birth photography tips is to watch birth videos. This will prepare you for the sights and sounds that go with labour and birth.
Birth photography tips
Number one on the list of birth photography tips is this: birth photography is not all about the shot, it’s about the woman.
It’s her birth story.
When you enter the birthing room, you need to ask yourself whether you’re working for yourself or for the client.
Obviously, the client wants amazing pictures, but more important concerns are:
- The energy you bring to the room
- Your role as a documentarian and not as part of the process
- Respecting the client’s sacred space.
You need to make sure you’re well-versed in birth before you become a birth photographer so you can anticipate what is and what isn’t needed from you.
Birth photography tips – what you shouldn’t do
Unfortunately, many photographers see birth photography as a big paycheck with an opportunity of an award-winning shot.
It’s true that birth photography produces some spectacular pictures.
There’s no reason you can’t get those award-winning shots. However, that mustn’t be your priority.
You’ve been hired by a client to deliver a product. Your priority is to deliver the product to the client.
Here are some birth photography tips that cover what you shouldn’t do:
- Don’t see the shoot as your opportunity. You’re a business delivering a product
- Don’t turn lights on unless the client requests it before or during the birth
- Don’t stand in front of important people such as the doctor, spouse, or doula
- Don’t get in the way of people doing their jobs
- Don’t do anything the client has shown discomfort with
- Don’t talk loudly
- Don’t eat, obviously. Snack quietly and subtly if you absolutely need to
- Never ask your client to pose
- If you’re in a birth centre, don’t intrude on another family’s space.
Birth photography tips – what you should do
The good news is, the more births you attend, the more you’ll understand the dynamics of the birthing room.
Here are some birth photography tips – this time about what you definitely should do:
- If possible, shadow a seasoned birth photographer or doula before photographing your first birth
- Know exactly what equipment you’ll need for every situation, and have it with you
- Practise at home, in low and unusual lighting
- When on call, have your contract, equipment, food and clothing ready
- Always have plenty of fuel in your car
- Be quiet in the birthing room, unless the client initiates chat with you
- Stay out of the way. Learn to find interesting angles without being obvious
- Have good quality equipment that isn’t noisy
- Learn to ‘read the room’. Family dynamics vary from birth to birth, so flow with what is there
- Learn techniques for taking good candid pictures
- Tell the birth story.
When to book a birth photographer
As a birth photographer, you should be proactive in finding clients at the ideal stage of pregnancy.
An initial consultation is crucial to deciding whether you’re a good fit for each other.
A casual chat in the client’s home is ideal, but a coffee shop or cafe is a good alternative.
Schedule the consultation for as early in the pregnancy as possible. That way, you’re comfortable with each other before the birth.
A consultation should include:
- A casual chat to see if you click
- Discussion about the client’s reasons for wanting a birth photographer
- Finding out details of previous births
- An assessment of the client’s feelings towards labour and delivery
- Agreement about whether or not a flash will be used
- Going over the client’s birth plan.
You should bring a contract to the consultation.
A contract should include all the details mentioned above, so they’re clearly recorded and you can refresh your memory before the birth.
Both you and the client should be protected by the contract.
Do you use flash for birth photography?
Flash is one of the most controversial issues related to birth photography.
Some clients are happy for flash to be used; some find it distracting.
Make sure you cover the use of flash in the contract.
Other things to include in your contract:
- When the client expects you to arrive
- When the client expects you to leave
- Whether there are things the client does or doesn’t want you to photograph
- What the hospital does and doesn’t allow to be photographed
- Agreement about payment if the birth is missed
- Whether or not you have a backup photographer
- Approximate driving time to the expected location of the birth.
In all details of your agreement, remember this is the client’s experience.
Clients should be allowed to change their minds, at any time, about what you can or can’t photograph.
They may even ask you to leave the room for some periods of time.
If this affects your payment, you must state it in your contract.
Birth photography tips – what gear do you need?
Birth photography gear should be minimal.
Whether photographing births in a hospital, a birth centre, or at the client’s home, you don’t want to arrive with lots of bags.
With birth photography, time is of the essence. Make sure to pack a small bag with your birth photography kit.
Your gear should include:
- Main camera
- Backup camera
- At least 2 lenses
- At least 2 memory cards
- At least 2 camera batteries
- Camera battery charger
- Spare flash batteries
- Phone charger.
Specialised camera stores sell compact bags that can hold this amount of gear.
Make sure all batteries are fully charged at all times when you’re on call.
Don’t minimise the importance of having extra batteries and chargers.
Birth can last many hours or even days, and you don’t want to be caught without use of your phone, or worse, your camera.
What lens is best for birth photography?
The most important thing in birth photography is to be prepared for different scenarios.
This includes having different types of lenses. Ideally, you would take two good lenses to a birth.
If you’re familiar with your camera gear and with taking pictures, you should be familiar with the focal lengths of different lenses.
Ideally, your lenses, when combined, should cover a long focal length.
Make sure that your lenses are good quality.
When you are faced with the possibility of very low lighting, a good quality lens is essential for capturing the picture.
Birth photography checklist
One the most important birth photography tips is to have a checklist.
It’s also very important that, as a birth photographer, you are able to flow with the changing situation.
The more births you attend, however, the more similarities you’ll find in various birth situations.
Make sure you’re aware of the important parts of birth to photograph.
Here is a basic checklist of shots to get during labour:
- Facial expressions (of mother, partner, and other family members)
- Any medical equipment being used (in hospitals, always check what you are allowed to photograph)
- Different labouring positions
- Family pets (if it’s a home birth)
- Partner or other family member or friend giving the mother support
- Occasional pictures of the time (on a clock or a phone)
- Music playlist (if visible)
- General shots of the room
- Close shots of the mother’s pregnant belly
- Hospital hallway or parts of the house
Here is a basic checklist of shots to get during delivery:
- Facial expressions (of mother, partner, other family members)
- Different birthing positions
- Different birthing locations
- Body positions or facial expressions that display the mother’s attitude to birthing
- Emergence of the baby, if that’s what the mother wants (check if it’s allowed in hospital)
- Mother’s face when baby emerges
- Mother’s first time holding her baby
- Expressions of partner and other family members.
Here is a basic checklist of shots to get post-delivery:
- Mother and partner cuddling baby together for the first time
- Celebration of birth supporters (partner, family, doula, etc)
- Baby being wrapped in blanket
- Baby being weighed
- Partner holding baby for the first time
- Other birth supporters holding baby
- Other supporters entering the room to meet baby
- First breastfeeding
- Footprints being printed on paper
- Quiet time with mother, partner, and baby.
Before the birth, it’s important to discuss how long the mother expects you to remain after the baby is born.
She might want you to leave immediately after the baby is weighed so the new family can enjoy their first few hours alone.
She might want this special time recorded with pictures.
Include the agreement in your contract, and respect the mother’s wishes if she asks you to leave early.
What are fresh 48 pictures?
Fresh 48 pictures are pictures a photographer takes in the hospital after the baby is born.
The 48 refers to the first 48 hours of the baby’s life.
A photographer will usually take fresh 48 pictures a day or two after the birth.
By then, the mother has had a chance to rest after the birth and would like some pictures with her brand new baby.
This is different from birth photography.
Fresh 48 photography doesn’t include any pictures of the birth.
The mother or birth support person will let the photographer know when the baby has been born, and will arrange a time for the photographer to arrive to take pictures.
If the baby has been born in hospital, the pictures are taken before the mother and baby leave the hospital.
A fresh 48 photography session typically lasts around an hour.
The pictures tend to be mostly candid, but some can be posed.
How much do birth photographers make?
Like doulas, birth photographers have a wide range in terms of their fees.
A photographer who is building a portfolio might charge as little as $200, or even offer a free service.
Well known or experienced birth photographers can charge up to $10,000.
The amount a birth photographer charges can also depend on what’s included in the package.
Some birth photographers offer albums, prints, or canvas wall art; others might provide only images in digital format.
Individual birth photographers must decide how many births they can reasonably shoot per month.
Birth photography courses
Birth photography is still fairly new.
It’s possible to find birth photography training courses, but they are not common.
The best way to find out about birth photography courses is to search social media, or Google, and to ask local birth professionals.
If you know of birth photographers in your area, ask whether they would be willing to mentor you, for a fee.
Home birth photography
If you’re planning to attend births, it’s important to be familiar with all possible birthing locations.
During consultations, always ask your clients whether they plan to deliver in a hospital, a birth centre, or at home.
Many women choose to labour at home and birth at the hospital delivery suite.
If this is the case, agree on whether you will photograph the labour at home or meet them at the hospital – and get it in writing.
Familiarise yourself with the different environments and what is expected of you at each one.
If you choose to photograph a home birth, make sure you become comfortable with a less medicalised version of childbirth.
If necessary, read books or take a childbirth education class to understand the physiology of the event.
Taking your own birth photos
If you’re a photographer, it’s tempting to try to take your own photos at your birth.
However, almost all mothers and birth professionals agree on this: taking your own birth photos is rarely the best choice.
When giving birth, it’s important to be focused on the hard work of birthing your baby.
If you try to take pictures while you’re in labour, or even during the birth of your baby, your body will be confused and your mind won’t fully experience this important moment.
You might have a doula who takes good birth pictures.
If you haven’t, and you want good birth pictures, it’s a good idea to hire a birth photographer.
That way, you can relax and know the pictures are taken care of and will be there for you to enjoy when your baby has been born.
Is birth photography a good career?
Being a birth photographer is a big commitment.
You’re giving the family a promise of treasured memories.
If this promise is not delivered, it can lead to disappointment or even depression in a new mother.
It’s important to understand the level of commitment necessary to take on this career.
Photographing births can be profitable, and it can give you the satisfaction of knowing you’ve provided wonderful memories for a family.
It’s a wonderful career if your lifestyle works well with being on call.
If you have work or family commitments that aren’t flexible, though, it can also be very difficult.
If you’re not able to leave at a moment’s notice for an unknown amount of time, birth photography might not be the career for you.