Maybe you've seen the breathtaking images, experienced the magic of labor and delivery, or you just want to be a successful photographer and think birth might be the best way to do so. Whatever the reason, you're considering stepping into the birthing space with your camera. Let's discuss the difference in BEING a birth photographer and OFFERING to photograph someone's birth.
Being a photographer who sometimes shoots births is different than being a dedicated "birth photographer."
I realize this may ruffle some feathers but hear me out. MANY photographers will offer to photograph a birth but this is not the same as being a dedicated birth photographer, just like photographing the occasional wedding is different than being a professional wedding photographer. So, what's the difference? The biggest differences are training and experience. Now, before you write me off, let me say that I get it! I was once inexperienced and untrained in birth photography. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt! I didn't know what I wanted to photograph until I attended my first birth but it captivated me and I knew I needed to make some cuts to what I offered in order to be trusted in this profession.
Find Your Niche
Niching down is one of the strongest marks of a trained professional. The most successful and reputable photographers aren't trying to photograph seniors, births, weddings, families, newborns, products, pets, and corporate events because it is literally impossible to specialize in that many photographic genres. What's the saying..."Jack of all trades, master of none?" You may snag the occasional wedding or birth but you won't have the reputation of being a trusted (fill in the blank) photographer until you have shown an aptitude and passion for that specific field.
For example, the most trusted studio newborn photographers have received hours upon hours of training to learn how to safely handle and pose newborns. When handing your baby to a stranger, you want to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they have invested in the best education, the safest equipment, and the gentlest materials.
In the same way, training is VITAL in birth photography. Not only are you entering a sacred space where women are at their most vulnerable, but you are entering a space where plans can change at a moment's notice and actual lives can hang in the balance. There is nothing more dangerous than being so focused on getting a good picture that you compromise the well-being of a mother or baby. You can read more about the do's and don'ts of birth photography here.
This should go without saying but, just in case, you should not be charging anything if you are not a legal, tax-paying business. Once you get all of the legalities settled, you have to consider the bear that is pricing. Please don't make the mistake of practically paying people to let you photograph births. You won't be able to grow and you will eventually burn out because you won't be able to afford education and new gear or take care of yourself.
Repeat after me: "I deserve to make enough to cover my bills and take care of my family, regardless of what my significant other makes, without having to work 80 hour weeks."
In order to decide what to charge, you need to figure out your cost of doing business.
Among other things like the legal stuff mentioned above, this will include:
You need to have backup equipment to be a trusted birth photographer. Imagine being at a birth and, right before the last push, your battery dies or your camera, lens, or SD card malfunctions. You need to have backup equipment ready to go so that your client does not miss out on photographs of these once-in-a-lifetime moments. You will also need to purchase contracts that have been drafted by actual lawyers...not just purchased on Etsy, so you AND your clients are protected and have a mutual understanding of exactly what is involved in birth photography.
Birth photographers go on call around 38 weeks and have to be ready to go at a moment's notice. This means not making travel plans, cancelling other events, and saying no a lot. If your friends go on a spontaneous camping trip (actually happened to me) and you are on call, you will have to turn them down because your client could go into labor and you can't be more than an hour away.
Once you're actually at the labor, you don't know whether you're going to be there for 3 hours or 24+. It is common for labor to stall and last for a LONG time. Be sure you factor this into what you charge!
You also need to consider the amount of time it will take you to cull and edit the birth story. As the professional artist, it is your job to select the best of the best photos and make them even better by editing them professionally and delivering beautiful galleries to the families you serve. Culling and editing take time.
The nature of birth photography means not knowing when you're going to be called to a birth. If you have kids, you HAVE to figure out a plan for what will happen if you get called in at 2 am, 7 am, or 9 pm. Think through different scenarios and talk to potential babysitters/daycares. Explain the nature of being on-call and talk to them about what that will mean...especially considering you could be at a birth for 20+ hours! Be open and very transparent so that you don't get caught at home with no one to watch your child(ren) while you're supposed to be on your way to a birth. You should be able to pay for childcare out of your salary as a birth photographer. Be sure you're factoring this in!