I admit, 6 years ago when I first came across birth photography, I was immediately seduced. I couldn't help but be drawn to the beautiful, joyful emotion I saw captured. Back then, it was all about the happy-mommy-smiles and weepy-daddy-eyes as they held their freshly born baby in their arms. I had long ached to support women in the birth space but had been reluctant, nay fiercely in denial, that I would have to give up making art to become a breadwinner. But this was a magical combination of the two, right, right? Now a few years later I can happily say, yes its true, AND no, its not.
So have you ever thought about becoming a birth photographer? Here are my top 10 reasons NOT to become one (or 10 things to mull on as you contemplate the life of a birth photog):
10. You just got/bought a new camera and you can't wait to become a photographer. This thought is the bane of most photographers in the industry –whether it is birth, wedding or boudoir. Why? Think about it this way –it is literally the equivalent of saying, "I bought some some watercolors and a paintbrush, so now I am a painter!" It takes TIME to learn any craft, any craft at all –so why would anyone view photography as any different? Perhaps because of Instagram and FB we as a culture have this belief that taking a photograph is easy. And yes, it is very easy on an iPhone. But photography is a craft –an actual art. So take some time, maybe even years, to learn how to shoot your camera on manual. Don't enter a woman's birthing space if you haven't already taken 10,000 photos of something else. You owe this soon-to-be mama that much (also see #3).
9. You don't have/want to take the time to learn Lightroom, ACR or Photoshop. These editing tools are the backbone of digital photography. It stinks. But you have to know your way around at least one of these to deliver quality images to your potential clients. +please note they are not like an instagram filter.
8. GEAR. Investing in GEAR. because you push your camera harder than a wedding photographer any day of the year. ANY DAY OF THE YEAR. which leads to......
7. Maintaining gear. (see above)
6. Updating gear. (see below)
5. Spending money, all your money on gear...all the time. I will admit, I DID not understand how important quality gear would be in the birth space. I thought, full-frame DSLR? sweet! no problem! However, poorly made gear is an industry-wide problem. Just because you spent $3000.00 on a brand new-camera does not ensure A. that you will get the shot you want when you want it. and B. that it came to you with no mechanical problems and will last you forever. Plan on checking and re-checking your gear often. This is tough with an on-call life. I have a strict "every 6 months" policy on bringing my gear in for cleaning and maintenance –which also means having quality back-up gear, which also means, you guessed it, more money. At first all of this seemed like a pain, but then I realized it was more of a pain when your gear broke down right before you went to a birth. Or even worse, you have no idea something is wrong with your camera as it was still taking photos during the birth.... until you pull your images up in Lightroom...and see that the focus was off in every. single. one. Let me spare you the nightmare and just break it down for you –it is as awful as it sounds.
5. Don't want to become familiar with photography terms –ISO, aperture and shutter speed are basic. You need to enrich your vocabulary beyond that with terms such as white balance, front-focusing, back-focusing, depth of field, etc... be as hungry for an expanded photography vocabulary as you were for all the other things you fell in love with. Learn these terms as you get to know your camera. It will help when something is wrong with your camera or you are trying to get the shot you want.
3. THINK THAT TAKING A WOMEN'S PHOTOGRAPH DURING BIRTH EMPOWERS HER. I of course thought YAY!!! every woman will want images of her birth! However, for as universal as it is, birth is incredibly private. I figured that out during my first birth (luckily I was with midwives and took a doula course immediately after). We all know what a cat or dog needs to give birth: a quiet, dark, private place where they are not disturbed! Women are the same way! Do not bring your camera to a birth thinking it could help. It really could be a hindrance. And images can be as empowering as they can be traumatizing. If a first time mother is wanting an low-intervention, drug free birth, encourage her to hire a doula first.
2. THINK THAT ALL WOMEN CAN HAVE A BIRTH LIKE YOURS if you just offer them photos. or that by attending a birth you will be able to rectify your past birth trauma. Nope it doesn't happen that way. Yes, statistically speaking, 85% of women are capable of having a normal physiological birth –but in this culture that depends on a wide variety of circumstances...most importantly who their medical care provider is (OB or midwife), their mental and physical health, support from their family and partners, and did I mention how important their medical care provider is? Knowledge is power, so educate yourself first. And then listen. Listen to what other women want. Listen and be open to the labyrinth of birth. It could be vastly different from what you wanted/got. Also, refer to number 3 (as our cameras can really disturb a woman in her birth space).
1. THE ON-CALL LIFE..... (or being prepared to "stop, drop and roll" like you have been set on FIRE at any moment of any day) I don't know how to prepare you for the heartache, the craziness, the double-duty parenting, and client-space holding that happens when you are on-call for a birth –or even sleeping with your phone next to your head. Or the texting and staring at your phone as your child is trying to get your attention. Or the adrenaline. Or the exhaustion. Or the heart bursting love. And all of this is wrapped up in the other 9 reasons (please see above)....
The on-call life is hard. Historically midwives (or any women who attended birth) were the older, storied women of the village. Either with children all grown, or no-children at all. The on-call life is hard. Its not undoable. But its hard. So take the time to reflect on the life you have created and whether or not the on-call life is right for you. Many, many women, who are also mothers, who take on 4-6 births a month AND do it well, typically have a partner that can be the stay-home parent. For me, my time with my boys is a most precious gift. And the longer I am in the game, the more I realize there will be a time when they will no longer be living with me, needing me like they do now.
The most difficult lesson I have learned, I think, is not to take on more births than I think they can handle. Because that impacts how many births I think I can handle. The balance is hard fought. Beautiful when it is won. But hard fought none-the-less.
Have a thought or two about what I wrote? Care to ask more questions? Want to know more? Drop me a comment below!