How to be a GREAT Birth Photographer? Raising the bar.
Birth photography – it’s amazing, inspiring, emotional, powerful, heart wrenching, empowering… It’s everything to those who are passionate about birth and photography. You’ll be aware of the rise in popularity of this genre, but it’s been around in the domestic market for many years. Slowly though it’s come into the limelight. As popularity for birth photography grows amongst pregnant women, so does the interest in those wishing to photograph birth.
What are the drivers making birth photography more visible? Perhaps it’s the fact that birth itself is becoming more visible in the social eye due to a synergy between social media and an undercurrent of need towards challenging social norms. There is clearly a growing movement towards understanding the lingering effects of birth outcomes in women and I’d suggest as time goes along, children also suffer the effects of birth outcomes. Birth photography is one very powerful tool to enabling many positive effects for both the individuals directly involved and potentially the wider community as these images and the life shifting journeys spread.
Each and every labouring mother and birth journey for a baby is different in the details. The commonality though is that at the conclusion of this profound life event, the mother will have a sense of emotional impact far greater than almost anything else she’s encountered in her life – and that feeling can be positive or negative and almost always long lasting. Birth photographers are driven to capture these stories, generally because they have lived through them first hand, and they hold their own journey’s with high sense of value and have a strong desire to contribute to the community of womanhood.
The fundamental question to ask yourself when contemplating becoming a birth photographer is this:
Why do I want to be a birth photographer?
The answer to this question should be long! Ones commitment to answering this question is the first responsibility that should be considered if there is a serious desire to honour this genre, the women who will be photographed, the birth workers who support these women, the community of birth photographers who invariably work towards the same common goal, and the wider community who will benefit from the desire to challenge past ideals. It will take time to answer well. The answer will likely evolve as you learn and grow. The answer to many important decisions made within a birth photography business will be based on the important elements within the unique response to the above question.
Discovering the finer details of your suitability, strengths and weaknesses will also lie within your answer. Your personality fit for the environments you will work in, the way you deliver your service, the products you offer will all come into the spotlight through this process. The greater the investment of time, energy and money in this process the more you will understand the true value, respect and perspective needed to do this job justice.
My greatest advice to any aspiring birth photographer is to find a mentor or group of like-minded birth professionals to connect with before jumping into this genre. Especially DON’T jump in without technical camera experience, an understanding of the birth process and your deep motivations left thoroughly unanswered. Failing to arm yourself with the skills and knowledge to offer a professional service within the birth environment will likely lead you down a path that may very well go against every good intention that you have, and potentially damage the way birth photographers are viewed in the wider community.
A recent article entitled “Birth Photographers – How To Be A GREAT Birth Photographer”, written by well-respected Birth Attendant, Kelly Winder, has sparked some interest in the birth photography community within Australia. The article came at a pertinent time for me as I was actively questioning how birth professionals felt about the presence of photographers in their vocational setting.
I did find the article title a little disconcerting as I pondered how a doula would know what it takes to be a great birth photographer. In my case, as a professional birth photographer, the majority of my time is spent sitting in a dark room working on images, designing 100+ page birth books and doing various business administration work, with a lesser fraction of time actually meeting with clients and being present at a birth. The role of a photographer is vastly different to the role of a doula or midwife and as such would draw a different span of personality types to the scene. At the end of the day though, the objective indicators of success are fundamentally the same – to conduct oneself with respect, honour the birth space and serve your client and their expectations.
I quickly realised however that there lacks an overall understanding of what birth photographers do, not only by those who perhaps work alongside of them, but by those who wish to be birth photographers themselves. That’s quite valid and understandable because how many people really know the ins and outs of being a doula or midwife unless you are practicing or studying to be one? At the end of the day, gaining insight from all angles and seeking reviews from all those directly involved with birth photographers in any capacity is a highly effective strategy to define your service and implement improvement. I’m a firm believer in solving problems at the source, to take the time to embark on these discoveries to learn and grow. Many of the “problems” Kelly mentions in her article seem directed at the conduct of birth photographers on the job and could be thoroughly addressed if we all practiced a little more transparency and promoted other keen photographers to become curios from the beginning.
I enjoyed hearing key points to conducting yourself within the birth space, arming yourself with an understanding of the birthing process and common anxieties faced by other birth workers. The article confirmed my suspicions that I was in fact adequately qualified in the eyes of a doula to be present at such a deeply important event. It clearly offered ambitious birth photographers options to attend independent birth practitioner workshops and the like. Certainly helpful ideas. Ultimately I suspect attending a birth photography lead workshop that included an informative session from an independent midwife and birth worker would be a very wise investment. Watch this space!!
I hear often from other aspiring birth photographers that it has been difficult to gain information to enter this field and have been turned away by other photographers who are less inclined to share their journey. Perhaps this is because they don’t feel enough self-defined confidence that the knowledge and experience they have is worth sharing. Perhaps they are protective of their business and feel perturbed with the idea that arming another person with the tools to be more competition will undermine their own position in the marketplace. After all, making a solid living from shooting births exclusively is a very hard ask because it’s so undervalued at the moment (but that’s a whole other topic!).
These fears need to be addressed in the photography industry as a whole, but especially within the birth field because I deeply believe they will hold back the full benefit and positive impact this genre could have on women in our society, along with the success of defining the true value of birth photography and the wider birth worker community. The article really highlighted to me the fact that as birth photographers, to truly honour the genre and all those involved in birthing, we need to overcome our own fears and start asking questions and paying forward the support we have received.
On the topic of fears, I wanted to make mention that I know some photographers have been exposed to uncomfortable levels of bullying and curtailment from hospital and birth support staff. I wonder how this makes the labouring women feel, being the one who has specifically commissioned the photographer to be there. I would also consider that the birth photographer herself is perhaps very sensitive to her own emotional situation within the birth environment (one of the aspects of her personality which makes her a wonderful fit for the job) which would impact strongly on her feelings to being pushed around by these staff. After all, her objective is to be that fly on the wall, a discrete entity supporting from the sidelines in a far less visible way but in an infinity profound one.
In my opinion, there is simply no place for this kind of defensive attitude by anyone in the birth space where the priority should be about the mother and baby. It is certainly worth discussing outside these environments however, with a view to improve practices and raise the bar. At the end of the day, birth photographers are becoming a part of the team because the mother wants them there. She is the one who values birth photography because she honours her own strength and mastery of being able to create the most precious people in her world, and she wants it captured. By the time she’s in labour, she is highly likely to be comfortable with her photographer’s personality and style after having spent adequate time in her company sharing in meaningful ideas, opinions and experiences. She will be informed of the impact that details, such as flash, will have in the birth setting after her expectations have been thoroughly discussed and explained. Least of all, she will want the birth photographer present because she feels assured in her choices to have her story captured and told in the best light possible that will honour all those helped her and her baby on this profound life journey.
Moving forward, let’s open up the doors of communication between birth workers and photographers. If you’re already a birth photographer, keep your reasons fresh in your mind about why you decided to tackle this genre. Help raise the bar for everyone by challenging your own fears and blockages, thinking outside the square, putting yourself in the shoes of all those who matter in the birth space. Review your ideas and ideals, confront the road blocks, build on your foundations, and communicate actively with your peers where you can. Pay it forward and help raise the bar, bring the profile of birth photography up to not only improve social awareness of positive birth practices, but also benefit the individuals you most desire to help. And finally if you are an aspiring birth photographer, be empowered to always ask questions and arm yourself with the knowledge and skills to do truly honour birth. I invite you to email me personally if you’ve found this genre difficult to gain insight into. firstname.lastname@example.org