3 things I wish I knew {getting started with birth photography}

Lauren Guilford Photography, Birth PhotographerGuest post by Lauren Guilford Photography – birth photographer

When I first started photographing births, I truly had no idea what I was getting myself into.

The industry was still so very new at that time and no matter how much I tried to research, there weren’t any resources to help guide me.

So, like most new beginnings, I was left with the good old trial and error process.

Looking back now there are so many things I wish I would have known…some little, some big.

Mostly I wish I could have given myself a big hug and said “be patient, and keep trucking along.”

Given some of the mistakes I made, fears I had, and limitations I placed on myself, there are 3 things I really wish I knew when first embarking on this birth journey of mine.

Birth Photography Tips

1. Don’t let your gear limit you.
It’s easy to look to other photographers and think “well they shot that beautiful birth using a 5D Mark iii with a 35 mm f1.2 lens, so that’s what I need to get images like THAT!”

While gear does matter to some extent, it is so important to know and understand that you do not need to buy the most expensive gear to create beautiful birth images.

When I first started out, I was shooting with a Nikon D300…which, in case you’re not familiar with it, has a cropped sensor and does not manage ISO all that well.

Certainly not ideal for photographing births. However, at the time that’s all I had and truly all I could afford, so I made it work.

Getting started with Birth photography

Regardless of what gear you’re using, my biggest advice for you is to know the ins and outs of your camera. As long as you know what to do and how to do it, having the newest and best gear should never be an issue (heck! I can’t even remember the last time I bought new gear).

Births can change pace pretty quickly, as well as lighting (maybe the doctor pulled out the spotlight right before mom started pushing) and you’ll want to be sure you know how to adapt to new situations without way over or underexposing your images.

If you know your camera doesn’t handle ISO all that well and you’re worried about not having enough light at the birth, then chat with mom prior to the birth and see if she is okay with you turning on extra lights if need be or using an external flash.

Get to know your settings for darker situations.

Birth Photography with The Milky Way

Changing your settings should become second nature – you don’t want to miss an important moment because you were fiddling with settings and looking at the back of your camera to double check that you were right.

Word to the wise, even if you have the money to invest in new, fancy gear I would suggest holding off for a little bit. While you might see other photographers using a certain setup,  you might come to realize that that setup doesn’t really work for you. It’s best to get a feel for how you approach photographing births before running off and investing in unnecessary gear.

Birth Photography with The Milky Way

2. Know that your time is worth it.

This is something I see time and time again with photographers getting into documenting births…shooting the birth for free because they are new and need to portfolio build (such a huge mistake that breaks my heart).

There are two reasons why this is not the way to go about portfolio building:

#1.. No matter how new to birth photography you are, you are still a human being with a life to live, and bills to pay. Your time absolutely matters.

Would you ever expect someone to work for you for free? I don’t think so.

Especially given the weeks of being on call, the many hours shooting AND editing, and if you are a parent yourself then childcare is a major factor to consider.

So much time and energy goes into photographing one single birth. You need to make sure that that time is being covered.

Getting Started with Birth Photography

#2 . When photographing births for free or next to nothing, you are actually causing a great deal of hurt to the birth photography industry.

If prospective clients constantly see or hear of someone offering free or low cost services it will cheapen birth photography in their minds and condition them to not value what we as birth photographers have to offer.

While I strongly believe every mom should be able to have her birth documented, it is a luxury. And while I don’t think that people should take advantage of that and charge outrageously high prices, it is extremely important to be able to charge what you need to run a profitable business.

Birth Photography Tips | The Milky Way

My suggestion for beginners needing to portfolio build is this…

First and foremost, run the numbers.

Figure out what YOU need to charge in order to cover your living and business expenses. Once you have a solid idea of what you need to make monetarily, create pricing that fits that number and then for a limited time have a discounted portfolio building rate (I would say no more than 3-5 births).

Be sure to educate your clients on what your full rate is so that they know what your services cost and can know what to expect in the future.

Then, once you’ve gotten a portfolio built it won’t be such a shock when you charge full price.

Birth Photography Tips | The Milky Way

3. Get connected.

Most of the initial births I photographed were either people I knew or friends of friends.

Slowly over time (verrrrryyyy slowly) I began getting inquiries from people who found me online.

I remember feeling so shocked the first time a complete stranger contacted me by stumbling across my website! Looking at how I get clients today, it is a mix of people finding me online as well as referrals coming from various birth worker friends.

Looking back, it never really crossed my mind to reach out and get to know people in the birth community.

Getting started with Birth Photography

Granted, five years ago I had no idea what a doula was or say, a placenta encapsulator, so I didn’t really have many ideas of where to start with getting connected.

And in general, the birthing community has grown quite a bit within the last few years… now more than ever there are so many types of birth workers, it’s fantastic!

Unlike other industries, I have found over and over again that the birth community is so loving and kind to one another.

I have really enjoyed getting to know local midwives, doulas, childbirth educators, and more. Being a part of birth is so different from most other lines of work, and having people who understand first hand what it’s like is really encouraging.

While becoming connected with local birth workers is great for getting your name out there and referrals, it is especially wonderful to have a kind and caring support system!

My advice is to do a bit of research! See if there are any local mom-to-be groups, or birth communities to get involved with in your area.

Or maybe reach out to a couple of doulas, midwives, childbirth educators and take them out to coffee or lunch to get to know them!

Birth Photography Tips | The Milky Way

I wish you the very best of luck as you venture into this emotional and rewarding genre of photography!



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