Ok, so you have seen some really fabulous birth photos floating around the internet. Maybe a friend of yours got them done and you like how they turned out. So now you find yourself pregnant and wanting some professional photos’ for yourself. You jump online and search your city, town or even state and you find some artists you like. You look at the “investment” page. Wait, why is it investment? Sounds like you are buying stock…even the word investment sounds expensive. You hold your breathe as the page loads…
A couple things may happen at this point. Either the prices are going to be there or you have to “contact” for the price list. Either way, you get your answer and you ARE BLOWN AWAY. Why on earth would birth photography be so expensive and in some cases rival that of wedding photography? This is the question I am here to answer, but before that, let me explain the why we do this work.
I am going to tell you we all have a passion for birth. We love it and if we could give it away, we would, because we believe it is that important. Alas, it is hard work and we need to feed our families and we need to charge accordingly.
On Call time
Imagine for a moment, someone asks you to photograph their wedding. They give you an approximate date, but tell you in could happen at anytime a couple weeks around that date so you have to be ready. Heck, the wedding can be in the middle of the night, so be ready! Don’t be sleeping the night away or out at a party skunked. It doesn’t matter if we are throwing a birthday party for our kids or it’s Christmas morning, when we get the call that the wedding is now, we must go. We are owned for the 2-3 weeks prior to an estimated date.
Buckle up Buttercup, it’s going to be a dark ride! Ok, so we have grabbed our gear and snacks. We have placed our kids at a babysitter (who by the way are expensive since they are on call too) and rushed to the home/ birth center/ hospital only to see the lights so dim that one can barely make out the zipper on the camera bag.
Going back to the wedding scenario, not only do we not know when the wedding will be, but we will be asked to shoot in the dark, by dimmed light, those twinkle lights and then that dreaded ultra bright spot light doctors use during the delivery.
We, the photographers, need to know how our camera works. We don’t shoot in “AUTO” mode, we need to get creative with shutter, aperture and ISO. Most use full manual mode to create the beautiful images you see. If a flash is used, knowing how to use it is imperative. Most flashes are also in manual mode to burst the right amount of light for a given situation. This flash is bounced and never pointed directly at anyone especially a laboring mother or newborn. Flash is bounced from the ceiling, a side wall or even a wall behind us. We go through great pains for the laboring mother and those attending not to be aware of the flash.
Where do you think that knowledge comes from? For some, how to use a camera comes from schooling. For others, it’s self taught. Equally important is the camera equipment. The camera absolutely needs to be able to handle low light situations and the flash should have manual mode as well. The batteries within the flash should be lithium so each burst of light has the same power and consistency.
The walls might be painted a relaxing earthy green, a calming blue or a combination of colors. What’s the big deal you ask? Well, whether flash is used or not, the dreaded color cast on the birth pictures is a real concern.
Labor Can Be Quick or Take a Long Time
Ok, so we have arrived at the mystery wedding (your birth!), but we have no idea how long we will be there. Labor can be quick or take several hours. Birth photographers stay no matter how long. We aim to arrive when you are in active labor (around 6 cm) and stay around 90 minutes postpartum or after the baby exam. The length of time in between is anyone guess. We may miss birthdays and holidays with our family. We could miss vacation time, recitals, plays, actual weddings, you name it.
As a birth photographer, we may have booked a couple of births within a month. It is not unheard of to finish one birth to begin another right afterwards. Sleep? What is that?
Are you tired of the wedding scenario yet? I hope not, because here we go! Birth is an event as big as any wedding. There are many many hours of editing to do. We are not done because the birth is over. However; unlike a wedding, parents want those images like yesterday. We edit, edit edit. Circling back to the wall color, this can take many hours if we have to edit out color cast from faces. Granted this is more documentary than a wedding is, but the same effort is given to each image.
So There You Have It
As much as we love this genre and believe in it on a visceral level, it is a lot of work. It’s not something we can give away even though we absolutely love it. It is time consuming and technical. I haven’t even mentioned camera costs, flash costs and software for editing. We also have business licenses and insurance to keep current. There are workshops to help us continuously improve our craft, organization dues and website maintenance costs. We are business owners. We love our business, but we need to treat as a business.
So yes, it can be expensive. I fully understand that. But now, I hope you have an idea why.