As birth photography rapidly grows in popularity, many budding (and seasoned) photographers have a desire to throw their hat in the ring and offer this service to expecting mothers. I get it! Birth is exciting and having the opportunity to capture one is a special honor. When I first looked into birth photography for myself, and even when I started photographing births, I had not heard of anyone in Pensacola, Florida or the greater Gulf Coast area offering birth coverage. Now it seems that it is a genre that MANY new photographer want to break into. Particularly if they are already photographing maternity or newborns.
So how can you, as an expectant mother, ensure you are hiring the right person for the job? It's important that you protect yourself by investing in a the services of a professional who has experience in birth work, availability to be on call, and can consistently produce quality images in poor lighting conditions. Here are a few questions to ask as you are considering hiring a birth photographer to capture those once in a lifetime moments.
Does the photographer have a portfolio?
Every professional photographer should have a portfolio of work they can share with you. Honestly, you should be able to find it easily on their website. But don't stop there. A portfolio is a collection of the BEST work and may not be a true representation of a photographer's over all abilities. Ask to see an an entire birth gallery or a slideshow of a single birth so that you can see how the entire process is captured. If you are considering a photographer that has not photographed a birth, at the very least you should evaluate a session shot indoors, such as a newborn lifestyle session.
Are the images clear, in focus and consistent in style?
Can you see detail in each photo? Are the images crisp and clear? Are they too bright (overexposed) or too dark (underexposed)? Are the skin tones, color and editing style consistent across the whole gallery for a single session? If the images are blurry, not properly exposed, or don't have a consistent style, the photographer is probably not experienced enough to take on a birth. Just because a photographer can produce good portraits in daylight, does not mean she can turn out quality photos in a birth. Most births take place in low light. Even in the daytime, laboring mothers tend to like the light dim. Given these conditions, and the fast paced nature of birth, it is crucial that a photographer know how to maneuver their camera settings quickly to capture clear images.
Does the photographer use pro equipment?
An entry level DSLR camera (or worse, a point-and-shoot' or iPhone) is not capable of producing professional quality images in the vast majority of birth spaces. A professional birth photographer will have a variety of professional equipment capable of handling any lighting situation - home, hospital, birthing center, etc. Your photographer should have at least two camera bodies in their kit (a main camera, plus a back-up in case of camera failure), multiple lenses, memory cards, batteries, and at least one flash that attaches to the camera. The pop-up flash integrated into the camera should NEVER be used in birth photography...or really at all by any professional.
Is the photographer available 24/7 in the weeks surrounding your due date?
If you are expecting a photographer to attend your birth, you need to be certain that they are available to be on-call for you in the weeks surrounding your due date. Even with a scheduled cesarean, a mom can go into spontaneous labor earlier than expected and surgeries can be postponed. Most professional photographers offer an on-call period of two weeks before your expected due date and 1-2 weeks after. This means she is available to come in around the clock (usually when you are around 6cm dilated) and stay for the duration. Middle of the night, holiday, the day of her kid's dance recital, everyday, every minute. Here's a big one...don't ask your wedding photographer to take on your birth. They may be an amazing photographer and truly want to meet all of your family's photography needs, however it is a conflict of interest. Their bread and butter is weddings and the wedding they are contracted to attend will always take precedence over your birth.
Does the photographer have a reliable back-up?
Let's face it. Shit happens. Illnesses, accidents, and emergencies are an unavoidable part of life. Not an single person on this earth can 100% guarantee their presence at your birth. Not your doctor, not even your spouse! Nor should you want anyone to in your birth space if they are sick. A professional birth photographer will have a back-up plan in place for you. They will have at least one backup photographer to attend you if needed (preferably a whole network of people to call on). Their backups will also be professionals with birth experience, who will conduct themselves appropriately in the birth space and deliver images very similar to the style you're expecting.
Is the photographer familiar with birth and respectful of the rules and process?
Birth photography isn't just about getting 'that shot'. It's about documenting the whole of your experience as you labor, deliver, and bond with your baby. This is YOUR birth and your birth photographer should be a supportive member of your birth team. You should feel confident that she will respond to your cues, be respectful of your birth space and plan, stay out of the way of medical personnel. Read reviews or ask for a reference from one of her previous clients. You should hear something like 'I didn't even know she was there' or 'she was very supportive of my needs'. It is important that a birth photographer be knowledgable about the process of birth, and the rules of the hospital or birth center as well.
What is the photographer's personality?
If you are planning an unmedicated hospital birth or home birth, it is especially important for your photographer to be invested in protecting the sanctity of your birth environment. She should possess a calming presence and positive energy. Even if your plan is to have an epidural at the hospital, your birth photographer should not be perceived as anxious, stressed, or overbearing. I realize this can be hard to determine over written communication or even in a face-to-face consultation, but it is something to evaluate.
Will the photographer respect your privacy?
Birth is an intimate event and the choice to share your images should be completely up to you. Many women interested in birth photography are naturally open to sharing images from their birth with the world. Some aren't and that is totally ok. Photographers who are just starting out in birth may offer special 'portfolio building' deals. Be aware that you are agreeing to allow the photographer to share your images by accepting these deals. Read all contracts and separate model releases carefully so that you know exactly what you are agreeing to.
Is the photographer running a legal business?
A professional photographer will have a business license, pay taxes, and have insurance for their equipment, business, and liability. Why should you care about that? You want the person you hire to capture your baby's birth to be a true professional who delivers everything as promised. Hiring a legit business owner protects you and ensures you receive what you've paid for. There are so many stories of photographers who took a client's money, went out of business and were never heard from again or who photographed an event and never delivered the images. Additionally, supporting small businesses that are conducting themselves legally is just the right thing to do. Owning a business is not easy or cheap. Especially when that business takes them away from their family and other clients at a moment's notice and for hours on end. Supporting a law abiding business is truly what's best for everyone.
What does the photographer charge for her services?
Having a baby costs a lot of money! You may be tempted to choose a birth photographer with cheaper prices, but BEWARE! Inexpensive photographers tend to be less experienced, use equipment that isn't up for the technical demands of birth work, and may not be running a legitimate business. If you are using the justification that SOME pictures are better than NO pictures, you may want to consider asking a family friend to come and take photos for you rather than hiring an inferior or unlicensed photographer. Keep in mind that a birth photographer has to be on call for you 24/7 for 3-4 weeks straight. She has to maintain a lifestyle that will allow her to leave her family at the drop of a hat for an indeterminable length of time. It takes THOUSANDS of dollars of equipment and hundreds of dollars annually in licensing, insurance fees and countless other business expenses to run a business. Anyone who is not accounting for those expenses and charging appropriately to cover them, is probably not a professional and definitely isn't running a sustainable business. Photographers specializing in birth photography often offer payment plans and gift registries to help manage costs.
Birth photography is a luxury service. As with any such luxury, the value is in the quality of the product and the reliability, competence, and experience of the provider. Make sure you are protecting your investment by hiring a legitimate and experienced professional.