It seems like birth photography is this new exciting genre that everyone wants to be a part of which is super exciting but also super scary for us photographers who make a living off it and have been doing so for awhile. Why? The reason isn’t what you think, its not because we are scared of people taking away customers at a cheaper rate (well some care about that) but it is because with so many amateurs picking up a camera and walking into a birth environment without having a clue what they are doing, we can and have EASILY lost our job. How you might ask, all it takes is one person to do the wrong thing in a hospital and then that hospital bans ALL photographers including myself. Having something so important to me being completely out of my control is bloody scary. So how do you ensure that isn’t you? Study, research and practice in your home before even mentioning births to a client. I did 50+ hours of research and practice before I even stepped into a birth environment… Get a mentor, Learn everything you can.
I have a few tips, ideas and thoughts that I would like to share before you start your journey.
1. Understand your camera settings…
There will be time where you walk into a room and you have seconds to change your settings. Practice walking outside and changing your settings fast without looking and the dials then going back inside and doing the same. Find out what your camera can do with candle light or with a light on in another room. You should definitely know what I mean when I say 2.8, your aperture, ISO and shutter speed are everything. If you have no idea about these and how they effect each other, you shouldn’t be reading this article. (read tip 2)
2. Birth Photography shouldn’t be the beginning of your photography journey.
Birth photography should NEVER be the first stop of your photography journey. If Births are what you want to do then start with documentary type photography which can also be known as lifestyle, ask friends and family if you can spend an afternoon shooting at their house. This will give you lots of different lighting scenarios and lots of practice with that camera. Trust me taking photos of your children or having 15 sessions under your belt is NOT enough. Births are hard be prepared.
3. Understand the birth environment
This is a HUGE one. I get emailed/messaged daily from new photographers wanting to get into birth photography and I love helping but this one gets me almost every time…
Hi Sarah, I am wanting to start doing birth photography. What gear do you recommend? and have you got any tips.
Me: Hey thank you for the message what gear are you currently working with? I am more than happy to go through my list but it wont help too much if you dont shoot canon ect.
Also I have many tips but my biggest is always understanding the birth environment and I mean truly being aware of what it means to be welcomed into a birth space.
Hey thanks Sarah, I shoot canon and want a new lens what do you recommend I have……… Oh yeah I have had two kids I understand what it is like at a birth.
Gahhhhh, Noooooo a birth space is a scared enviroment. You must learn why your energy will affect a mum in labour. I have personally witnessed a mother go from 10cm to 9cm (she was checked) all because she became scared and didn’t feel safe with someone in the room. If your client doesn’t feel safe with you or with anyone in her space her body can and will stop labour. I always refer to animals. If a deer was in labour and smelt a lion she will not birth there she will run, her body would stop labour because it is no longer safe. It is a primal instinct! Your engery and presence will have an effect on your client make sure it is a positive one, no matter how much of a rush I am in before I get there I stop to center myself. So my suggestion is research books from authors like Ina May ( some other good books )
4. Learn how to edit
Birth photography is already such a controversial topic and most find it hard to be the first to start in their area. ( I know I did it) Most first impressions are that birth photography is gross but it is anything but that, it is beautiful and empowering. Learn how to edit your photos in your smile. Know the difference between a strong black and white and a muddy washed out black and white. Sometimes editing can be the difference between a good photo and a great photo.
Here is a comparison photo…. On the left is a strong black and white on the right all I did was change the photo to black and white, which is what a lot of new photographers think they have to do.
5. Never ever use the pop up flash
This comes down to knowing your equipment and if you are thinking about birth photography you should of learnt this one by now but unfortunately I still need to say it.
6. Back up, back up, back up!
Make sure you have a back up photographer, back up baby sitter, back up camera and other gear and back up all your files.
Being on call is hard and I will go into that in a minute but things will always happen and when you are called up anytime of the day or night you want to make sure all your bases are covered. It is not acceptable to be running a birth photography business without back ups in place. This moment will only happen once for your client.
7. Being on call
Being on call is hard and is the reason so many photographers don’t last as birth photographers. You will be called anytime of the day or night and you must be ready to go. Have a plan for the morning when your husband goes to work or who will pick the kids up from school. Births are so unpredictable and there for not only are you on call but so is your family and friends. I always make plans but tell my friends or family I am on call for a birth so there is always a chance I will be called away. I have to plan holidays 9 months in advance or at the last minute (if I have time between clients). I cant go far from home even for a day, I always have to make sure I have reception. Don’t under estimate how hard being on call will be. In saying all that I still get the birth rush when I get that message at 2 am to say its go time.
8. Have a contract
This is something I will go over in another article but have a contract that covers everything that could possibly happen. I still find things to add to my contract all the time. The contract will not only protect you but also protects your clients. It is always a good idea to get a lawyer to go over it, it only takes one word and you could be handing over your house.
9. Pre-birth meetings
Have a meeting with your clients before the birth, at this meeting I go through:
A shoot list of what they want photographed
what will happen in the case of a c-section
I send my clients questionnaires before our meeting because this gives me questions to ask them before I get there. I use 17 hats for all my book work, questionnaires, invoices ect. it is all in the one place and has made it super easy for me and clients love it.
11. Photography Gear
This one is pretty personal as some photographers like prime/fixed lenses but I love my zoom 24-70mm. Make sure you get something that can open to 2.8 (aperture) or lower for low light capabilities. I shoot with a 5d m3 and I have a 60d as my back up.
12. Remember the birth isn’t about you
Your clients are about to experience one of the best days of their lives do not post anything on facebook! Most of the time the mum will have told people that they are having their birth photographed even if you dont know the mum one of your friends might. Putting up a facebook status may alert someone that your client is in labour when your client didn’t want others to know. It is also the same once the baby is born, it is not your announcement to make! When you are in the birth space remember this mum is working hard I like to keep the rule don’t speak unless spoken to you are there to capture their story.
13. Capture the little details
The little details are what makes the story, take a picture of the lollies on the table that mum kept eating, the candles burning ect
This is a picture of oils a client recently brought along.
Last but certainly not least have public liability insurance, you should already have this if you are a photographer but DO NOT enter a birth without it. I have 20 million which cost most $50 a month including cover for my equipment. Trust me I have heard too many horror stories. Protect your family!
If you want more in depth details feel free to contact me