7 Reasons Why Birth Photography is Expensive (and Should Be!)

This is a post that I have been wanting to write for a long time. I want to help you understand why birth photography seems expensive. Most people just don’t realize the amount of energy and sacrifice that it takes to provide this type of service. So here it is!

7 Reasons Why Birth Photography is Expensive (and Should Be!)

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1. We are ON-CALL for about a month.

There are many jobs out there with an on-call schedule. The key word to that is “schedule”. As a birth photographer, my on-call schedule usually begins when you are 38 weeks pregnant and ends when you are 42 weeks pregnant. That means for one month, I CANNOT:

go out of town

make a solid commitment (that doesn’t end in “unless I’m at a birth”)

drink more than one alcoholic beverage

take Benadryl, NyQuil, or any other sleepy meds

turn my phone ringer off or

ensure that if I pay for tickets to an event/concert/show, that I will actually get to go.

Being on call like this is a serious life sacrifice. We are sacrificing a lot of our freedoms, not just for a few days, but for 4 weeks. I also would like to point out that we tend to really get on the nerves of our close friends and family by saying “I’m sorry, I’m on-call”… (I could send you a few personal testimonies from my family if you need!).

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2. You are our priority.

When I am waiting on a birth, I have my phone glued to me. Every night before bed, I check my ringer more than once to make sure it is on. I have a bag packed by the door and have my camera fully charged every night. I also don’t take on more than 1-2 clients per month to ensure that there is no overlap in births. And just in case, I have a backup photographer (that sometimes I have to pay to be on call for me) available in the slight chance that I am unable to attend your birth. I am yours and you are mine. I will do everything I can to ensure that you get the photos that you dreamed of!

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3. We can adapt to a variety of light.

Let’s face it. Most of these babies come at night! This means that as a photographer, we must rely on artificial sources to provide light at your birth.

Some of you will birth at home or a birthing center, which has a little more flexibility and usually pretty decent light. We can manipulate light sources with lamps or twinkle lights. Sometimes we get the most perfect morning light, but other times you end up with a water birth in a small bathroom down the hall. And we wing it. We adjust our settings and still capture that moment.

Others of you will give birth at a hospital. Let’s be real here; hospital lighting sucks. There are about 6 different sources of light coming from 12 different angles throughout the room. Then, about the time we have perfected the light situation, the OB comes in and turns on that horrid ceiling light which is like a spotlight on your vagina. Although it would be convenient to have a second shooter at a birth, we do the job of 2 and adjust our settings back and forth depending on what we are photographing. We are THAT good.

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4. Good photography equipment isn’t cheap.

Polaroids or point and shoot cameras are not going to cut it here. If you want to be able to adjust to the lighting situations I described above, you are going to have to fork out a lot of cash to get the right equipment. Here is a quick overview of the equipment most of us have:

Camera Base: $1500-$3000 (x2 for a backup camera)

Lenses: $700 (35mm) + $400 (50mm) + $1500 (24-70mm) = $2600

Memory Cards: $50- $70 (x4)

External Flash: $300 (I don’t use one, but many out there do!)

Lightroom/Photoshop Subscription: $120/year

Computer with large display screen: $3000

This list is the bare minimum. I didn’t even touch on phone and internet fees or the taxes that we end up paying the government. So, to have the right equipment and be able to shoot a birth, a good birth photographer has to invest AT LEAST $10,000!

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5. Your birth might last a long time.

Birth is beautifully unpredictable. As photographers, we rejoice in that! We might be at your birth for 2 hours, or be traveling back and forth for over 24 hours. That means that for 24 hours, I have to find childcare, put my life on hold and wait. Or things might move quickly. The thing is that we just don’t know. We are in it for the long haul though. We don’t have a “covers 6 hours of birth” phrase in our contract. We photograph your birth…however long it may be. We want to capture all of the moments.

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6. We are comfortable with the birth environment.

Not every photographer has experienced birth. There is blood, fluid, poop, vomit along with a variety of smells. There is laughter and there are tears. There are times to chat and moments of silence. Because this ain’t our first rodeo, we know what to expect. We are not uncomfortable with all of the above. We also know how to interact with hospital staff and “know our place”. Some of us may have even taken doula training courses already. There will be times when we step away from our camera to get you or your partner a cup of ice water or a cold washcloth. We are thrilled to do this. It is one of the perks of the job. We are privileged and honored to be in your birthing space, and we treat is with the respect it deserves!

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7. After everything else, we have to edit the photos.

At a typical birth, I probably take over 500 photos. That means that after I have spent 10+ hours by your side, I have to go home and decide which of those 500 photos are the best, erase the ones that are out of focus or blurry, and hand edit the 150 best ones. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this process, let me just say that is isn’t quick. If I was given uninterrupted time to edit these photos, maybe, maybe I could complete one birth in 8 hours. But usually, this time of art form needs to be left and revisited with fresh eyes. Sometimes I embrace the dark shadows of the room and sometimes I decide it needs a little more light. That is the beauty of editing software, we can tweak and change these photos to make them perfect. Which is what birth photographers do. We try to get the finished product as close to perfect as possible so that your breath is taken away when you look at them. We want you to look at the picture and see strength and feel intensity. This type of intention takes time to finalize.

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In closing, I want to compare two of the “most important” days of your life. Your wedding and your birth(s). Both are full of emotion, excitement, anticipation, and missed moments. One of the main reasons that folks hire a wedding photographer is so that they can remember all of the details of that day, right? How many of you paid at least $1000 for wedding photography? I had a low budget wedding, and I still forked that money out. I also want to point out that a wedding photographer 1) knows what kind of light to expect 2) KNOWS THE ACTUAL DAY OF THE EVENT and 3) will likely never get amniotic fluid on their lens. Birth photographers are rockstar photographers and should be compensated as such!

With all of this said, I want everyone to have birth photography. I want to work for pennies so that you can re-live one of the most important days of your life. I want to capture LIFE and share it with the world. But… my kids have to eat and I have to have gas in my car to get to your birth. So until we live in a world where healthcare is free and stay at home moms get paid real money, I’m gonna have to charge for birth photography. In the meantime, you can learn a few tips on how to afford a birth photographer here!

Stephanie Capps is a birth doula and birth photographer in Raleigh, NC. You can learn more about her story  here.

Stephanie Capps is a birth doula and birth photographer in Raleigh, NC. You can learn more about her story here.