Although it has been gaining in popularity around the world throughout the last decade, birth photography has only recently started gaining momentum here in Saskatoon. Although to my knowledge I am the only photographer in our city who specializes in documenting birth stories, there are several other local photographers who have also added birth photography to their services.
I cannot stress this enough: this new development is SO exciting for our city! It means, among many things, that you now have options in choosing the best person to document your baby's birth day.
With that being said, this is the biggest day in your baby's life; if you are a person who values having this day documented, here is my list of the top eight questions you should ask before hiring your birth photographer. This list is by no means exhaustive, and there are likely many other questions you will have before you settle on the perfect photographer for you.
1. Can You See a Complete (Birth) Gallery?
Social media is amazing. It allows us to easily find and follow local photographers for any and every genre of photography imaginable. I myself follow literally dozens of local artists and have hired many of them to document various stages in my family's life.
One of the downsides of social media, however, is something that we're all familiar with, and that is the fact that it definitely can serve as a bit of "highlight reel." Of course we want to showcase our best work. Social media algorithms work based on interaction, we'd be silly not to. However, birth photography is about more than just the "best" moments from that day, it's the story of your baby's birth. Make sure you connect with the way that photographer tells a story. If they don't have a birth gallery they can show you, ask to see a different complete gallery, like a newborn session or a wedding. Any session that would allow you to see a story unfold.
2. Do They Have a Backup Photographer?
This question is pretty self-explanatory, but I can't stress its importance enough.
Birth and life are unpredictable, but there are no do-overs. This is not a maternity session or even a wedding that could (in theory) be rescheduled. If your photographer is incapacitated or at another birth, what happens? Do they have a reliable backup photographer who will be guaranteed to attend your birth in their place? Who is responsible for contacting that person? Will they also edit and deliver your images, or will your primary photographer still be responsible for that? These are all questions your photographer should be able to answer for you.
Make sure your birth photographer has at least one reliable backup photographer, and ask to see their portfolio as well.
3. What is Their Childcare Situation (if applicable)?
As the mother of three young children, this is probably my biggest personal hurdle in tackling the birth photographer lifestyle.
It's one thing to have backup childcare for normal days when I get "the call," days where we're all home or even just all in the same place. It's another thing altogether when my oldest is at baton, or my youngest is in swimming lessons, or our middle is on a field trip and needs to be picked up. Our family has gone to great lengths to adapt to this lifestyle, to cultivate a network of family, friends, and trusted childcare providers, all of whom are ready to step up and care for my children when I can't be there.
Being a birth photographer means being committed to being on call for my clients, 24 hours out of every day, 7 days every week. It means being ready to potentially miss out on life's big moments - recitals, birthdays, family functions, even Christmas morning - all without skipping a beat.
By ensuring that my family's needs will be taken care of in by absence before I get the call, I am making sure that when the time comes for me to document your baby's birth story, I will be there for you both physically and mentally.
4. What Happens if They Miss the Birth?
As I mentioned in the last point, birth is nothing if not unpredictable. Sometimes, despite everyone's best efforts, births are missed. Sometimes babies are born at home unintentionally, or in vehicles, or hospital hallways... The first rule of birth is that babies come when they are ready.
My contract outlines exactly what would happen in the event of a birth that I was unable to attend due to circumstances outside of everyone's control, and your photographer's contract should do the same.
Speaking of which...
5. Do They Have a Contract and Detailed Model Release?
Every photographer should use contracts for every session they book. Yes, every one. A contract not only serves as protection for all parties involved, it helps do what this blog post does, but in greater detail: a good contract should outline exactly what is expected of all parties involved, as well as the consequences should either party not fulfill those obligations.
In addition to a contract, a detailed model release is extremely important in ensuring that your birth photographer understands and respects your personal level of privacy/modesty. Although I am fully invested in the beauty of the pregnant, birthing, and postpartum body, as well as the value of sharing images of real people in each of these stages, my number one priority is making sure my clients feel seen, heard, and respected. That is why every birthing person fills out a detailed model release, outlining exactly which type(s) of images they are comfortable with me sharing, and in what capacity (social media, portfolio, image competitions, etc).
6. Are They Experienced and Comfortable Shooting in Very Dark and Unpredictable Lighting Conditions?
Whether you plan to birth at home or in a hospital, chances are your birth will take place in very low light.
Because of the physiology of birth, most people labour best in the absence of a continuous light source - natural or artificial. In addition to this, hospital births come with their own unique lighting challenges and drastic lighting conditions (that spotlight!!). There are various ways to overcome these difficulties, all boiling down to a combination of proper equipment, training, and experience.
I pride myself on being able to manipulate available light, but I also don't hesitate to use flash whenever needed. The above image was taken in pitch black hospital room with only a single beam of light streaming in from the cracked door of the adjacent bathroom.
Make sure your birth photographer is experienced and proficient in low-light conditions. Don't be afraid to ask to see examples!
7. Do They Have Insurance/Backup Equipment
Again, this is a fairly self-explanatory question, so I won't harp on this. What I will say is that life happens. I've been there. I've had all of my gear - approximately $7,000 worth of it - all of it, stolen. Because my insurance covered my loss I was able to replace it all in a matter of days. On top of that, because of a few amazing local photographers I am lucky to call friends, there wasn't a day in there that I went without professional grade equipment.
Make sure your photographer has comparable safety nets in place.
8. Do They Have Experience With and Knowledge/Respect of the Birthing Process?
Although I've saved this one for last, it easily could/should have been first on this list.
Being a birth photographer is about SO much more than having the technical skills required. Having a robust knowledge of the birthing process is essential in ensuring that they compliment your labour and birth experience rather than being a hindrance. Not only do they need to know what should happen throughout the course of a "textbook" labour and delivery, they need to know what they will do in the event things don't go "as planned" or, as can and does happen, in the case of medical emergencies.
You deserve to have full confidence in your birth photographer's presence and abilities, regardless of how your birth story unfolds.
So, there you have it! My personal "top 8" most important questions to ask when selecting your birth photographer.
As I mentioned before, this list is by no means exhaustive, and you can find a list of my most frequently asked questions here.
I'll leave you with the words of a woman who inspires me daily and whose extensive training program for birth photographers changed my life - literally. Monet Moutrie is the co-founder of Birth Becomes Her, one of if not the most comprehensive birth photography resources for photographers and families alike. In an article for The Birth Hour, she said this:
"No, hiring an experienced birth photographer isn’t cheap. But remember, your birth photos will be one of the greatest treasures of your life. Your birth photographer will be on-call for you (24/7) for weeks. She’ll leave birthday parties, holidays. She’ll wake up at 3am to sit with your family for hours. She’ll bring thousands of dollars worth of equipment. She’ll move through your birth space with grace and skill. She’ll capture the big moments and the small moments. She’ll edit each of your images carefully. She’ll weave together your story…a story you’ll hold onto for the rest of your life. Hiring an experienced birth photographer is worth it. I promise." Monet Moutrie