After the birth of my second child, 8 years ago, I looked at the grainy cell phone shots my husband snapped right as he was born and was so thankful to have them. It never would have occurred to me beforehand to hire a birth photographer, but I immediately wished I had so I’d have more photos like those (and better quality!) Not long after, I began training for and offering this service to my labor doula clients.
While birth photography is only starting to gain popularity in Buffalo, New York, it is much more common in many of the larger cities. I was curious as to why birth photography is slow to catch on. I recently asked a large group of people why they didn’t or wouldn’t hire a birth photographer and received the following responses:
“Why would I want photos of that?”
“We felt like it would be distracting to have an extra person there/someone in our faces with a camera/someone interrupting the staff.”
Super valid concerns, and I totally understand each one of them. Let’s address them, shall we?
I get it. Birth is raw, intimate, primal, messy. Many laboring people are not feeling “photo ready” and worry that they’ll be embarrassed by their photos. But, really – is there anything more beautiful than a person working the hardest they’ve ever worked to bring a new life into the world? Doing something that, by all stretch of the imagination, seems physically impossible? I’d say no. I can also just about guarantee that you will never regret having these photos to look back on. While you won’t forget the big things about your birth, the little things (like the length of your baby’s nails, or the look your partner gave you after seeing your new baby) fade quicker than you think.
You may also be worried that others will see photos of your naked body, or bodily fluids. First, any good birth photographer should have you sign a model release and give you options for how your photos are used or to keep them private. If you don’t want some or all of them shared, they should never be shared. With that being said, keep in mind the benefit of sharing these photos: normalizing birth for other people and society as a whole. The more we step up and say “Birth is natural and photos of a baby crowning or breastfeeding are not shameful” the more we destigmatize it.
A professional, experienced birth photographer is unobtrusive, quiet, and nearly invisible. We have a thorough understanding of the birthing process and know how to get the shots we want without getting in anyone’s way. All photos are taken candidly, meaning no one is trying to get you to pose or move a certain way at any time. While some birth photographers do use flash (which also often goes unnoticed by clients!), others make do with the light they have. Not to mention: just about anyone who’s given birth will tell you that Beyoncé could have walked into their L&D room during active labor and they wouldn’t have noticed. Of the over 100 births I’ve photographed, a majority of those clients told me that they didn’t notice me taking photos at all, or even forgot that I did so until I sent over their finished gallery.
Yes, it is. But one could argue that it often isn’t expensive enough. Humor me for a moment: The average cost of wedding photography is $1500-4000, according to WeddingWire. Imagine calling a wedding photographer and describing your upcoming wedding to them as follows. “I’m not sure when it will be, but it will be sometime between mid-June and the end of July. I’m also not sure of the time or length of the wedding – it could be in the middle of the night or while you’re at your son’s birthday party, and it could last 2 hours or 26 hours. Perhaps you could just be on call for me, drop everything, and come when I ask you to? Also, it might be really dark… we plan to keep the lights dim or turned off. Please don’t use a flash, either. Did I mention you may get my bodily fluids on you at some point?”
Out of curiosity, I recently polled Instagram followers with a few questions, and received about 60 responses. I first asked what their budget was for birth photography. A whopping 86% answered in the lowest range given, under $1000. This isn’t especially surprising, because no one’s financial status or budgeting priorities are the same, and I respect that. What did sting, however, was the response to asking what a skilled birth photographer is worth. A shocking 83% of people said the value of a birth photographer was less than $1000 – and many of those even said less than $750. Ouch.
Now, most birth photographers (myself included) take a limited number of clients per year, due to the factors I mentioned in the hypothetical wedding scenario above. Accounting for the thousands of dollars spent purchasing and maintaining gear and supplies, the hours committed to each client (not just in person at the birth, but the days spent editing those photos), the unpredictability of the event itself, and the sleepless nights it often brings – a skilled photographer would be making, at best, minimum wage or even losing money if they charged less than $750 for a birth. That is not sustainable work for anyone. Often, when someone is doing work they love, especially in a human services or arts field, it is expected by many that they will do it for low-cost or even free. If we’re really being honest, we often expect women to work for free more than men, too.
When you hire a professional to capture your birth story through photography, you are gaining a member of your birth team who has an immense understanding and respect of birth. Your support persons won’t be trying to remember to snap photos and will be free to tend to you and your baby’s needs, while the photographer captures moments that may otherwise go unnoticed or unremembered: You and your partner embracing as you labor. Your doula holding a cool washcloth on your forehead. The look on your face the first time you see your baby. Your partner, gazing at you both with pride and overwhelming love. Your family, snuggling with it’s newest member. Ask anyone who hired a birth photographer if it was worth it. I’m confident they’ll tell you that these memories frozen in time are priceless.
**Special Offer** Fika Midwifery clients with late summer/early fall and 2023 due dates are invited to save 10% on birth photography with Buffalo Doula Services now through July 15th. We offer gift certificates and cash registry options to our clients, because everyone deserves to have the memories of their birth preserved forever.
Author Jennifer Lombardo is the owner of Buffalo Doula Services LLC, a full spectrum doula agency in Buffalo, NY offering labor and postpartum support, birth photography, childbirth education, night nanny services, and placenta encapsulation. Find them at www.buffalodoulaservices.com or on Instagram @buffalodoula.
Photos © Buffalo Doula Services LLC