Nothing is more magical and mind-blowing than witnessing a new life come into this world. From the contractions as your baby makes its imminent arrival known to the journey from your body into the world. And of course, the first breath, cry, embrace, feed.
A birth photographer doesn’t capture key, individual moments. They are there to document the story of birth — in all its intensity and raw, unconventional beauty.
Undoubtedly, deciding whether to have a professional birth photographer present for your labour can feel like a big decision. I often receive questions about the process and what people can expect from a birth photographer. And people don’t just want to know about the practicalities (like, how do we book a date when labour can start anytime, anywhere), but also the emotional side of things. Because as much as giving birth is profound and a celebration, it can also be scary and intensely vulnerable for the birthing person.
So I have put together this guide to help you decide whether booking a professional is right for you. I weigh up the pros and cons and break down what to expect from a birth photographer before, during, and after labour.
If you are based in Sheffield or South Yorkshire and are looking for a birth photographer, then get in touch for a no-commitment chat! Not only do I cover home births, but I am also able to offer birth photography at Jessop’s and Chesterfield Birth Centre. If you’re further afield, we can chat but please note that I don’t travel greater than 2hrs from S8 for birth photography.
Why Have a Birth Photographer?
Whether this is your first or fifth baby giving birth is a profound experience. It doesn’t just mark the arrival of the newest addition to your family; it is also a day of deep transformation for the birthing person.
As a photographer who specialises in all things family, I believe that documenting family life is more than just creating a memory. Our photos demonstrate how we and our relationships evolve as we grow physically and emotionally together.
So, yes, I would encourage you to seriously contemplate photographing your birth — it is a landmark moment for everyone. However, that doesn’t mean you need to hire a professional birth photographer. It’s a big investment afterall, of money, time, and sometimes emotion. If booking a photographer feels prohibitive, but you still want the magic of birth caught on camera, with a little guidance and practice, your birth partner can take some spectacular photos with a little guidance and practice!
How to Photograph Your Birth
I fully anticipated having a photographer present for the birth of my first born, but, alas, COVID made that impossible.
Because of the hospital restrictions, my partner photographed the birth of our baby, starting at home in Sheffield and ending in the hospital (needless to say, my home birth plans did not go remotely close to what we planned). But despite all the unexpected twists and turns, he did an amazing job! However, preparation was key.
Drawing on our experience, I put together a guide on how to photograph your birth (you don’t need any special equipment — camera phones are pretty great these days, but if you have an SLR or one you can borrow and get familiar with, then even better!).
This guide covers all the necessary prep, steps, and things to consider for photographing your own birth. Of course, your birthing partner can just wing it on the day — but if you really want to capture raw power and the story of labour and birth I would recommend putting in the practice. Not only this, make sure you establish clear ways of communicating your needs to your birth partner so they know when to put the camera down — their priority is always to support you.
The Benefits of Booking a Birth Photographer
Taking your own birth photos is, of course, cost-effective. However, it’s up to you and your birth partner to decide how much energy and time you want to dedicate to the photographing process — both in the months before labour as well as during it.
As my home birth client Hannah said, deciding to book a photographer was ‘one of the best birth choices ever.’ Yes, that is largely about having the photos — but if you look through them you will see her partner Steve is present in many of them. By having me there, they could both be completely present with the experience, and Steve could support Hannah physically and emotionally through the entire time.
Afterall, it’s no secret that birth is hard. Yes, it is magical (and incredibly beautiful) — but it is also painful and frustrating and awful at times. Part of the way we get through it is by community and relying on those we have present with us. A birth photographer is a part of your team — a fly on the wall member taking care of capturing the story.
We don’t always get the birth experiences we want, and even if all our preferences are honoured, there is a lot to process. I have written before about how maternity photos can be a healing way to appreciate your body, and I have also found that to be true for birth photos. The photos give you another way to experience and integrate the birth afterwards.
A birth photographer can provide you with much cherished photos afterwards but they are also there to make things easier for you. So, how do you find the right birth photographer?
Finding a Birth Photographer
It’s always worth doing your due diligence when looking for a photographer for any reason, but, none more so than when looking for someone to photograph you in what will be one of the most intense, vulnerable, unpredictable moments of your life.
As soon as you know you are potentially interested in having a birth photographer, start researching and reaching out to photographers.
This is for a few different reasons, which I unpack below, but in a nutshell:
- You need time to get to know each other.
- Most birth photographers take on very few clients at a time. For example, I only commit myself to one per month.
Ask Them ALL the Questions.
Really, don’t hold back. You need to know you are in competent hands and also that you are comfortable with them as a person. Particularly ask them if they have attended births before and what types of births.
Even if you have your eye on a particular photographer, reach out to a few different photographers to get a real sense of their experience and how you connect with them personally.
Birth photography is not like other types of photography, not even newborn photography [link]. It’s unpredictable. You need a photographer that understands that and can handle themselves—as I said before, they should make at least one element of your birthing process easier, not more complicated.
I exclusively offer my services around Sheffield and South Yorkshire, why? Because I can get to anywhere in that area — be that a private location, Chesterfield Birth Centre, or Jessop’s — within two hours. And when it comes to labour, time is of the essence.
It’s unreasonable to expect someone who lives more than two hours to make it on time to capture the birth. And I would be very wary of a photographer who lives further away to promise you that they will make it on time.
Share Your Birth Preferences
Labour and giving birth are unpredictable. Even if it goes pretty much to plan, it will be full of unexpected moments.
The setup for a home or hospital birth is different—in both practical and creative ways. Sharing your birth preferences with your photographer is essential, so they can also plan and adapt accordingly and share their experience of photographing in different birthing locations and situations. (And on a practical note, another key reason for going local if you are planning for a hospital and birth centre birth is that your photographer will already be familiar with your chosen birth facility. The fact that I know my way around Jessop’s and Chesterfield Birth Centre makes it easier for everyone!).
You might also want to disclose how you feel about pain relief options, who your birth partner is, etc., at this stage. Once you have decided upon the right birth photographer, you can delve deeper into anxieties and contingency plans.
Sharing your birth preferences early in the consultation phase with photographers is also important on an emotional level…
Make Sure You Vibe Really Well
How much you like your photographer and how supported you feel by them may well be the deciding factor for who you book as your birth photographer!
Your photographer will be in the space with you, your birthing partner, and healthcare workers. They will be one of the first people to experience your newborn. They will be the person whose photographs you look at for the rest of your life, marking this extraordinary time. Basically, it’s important that you want them there.
Above all, everyone in your birth space should be supportive of your choices.
If you feel like your photographer is critical of any of your preferences and choices, this is a major red flag.
Having an experienced birth photographer is important. But if you are torn between someone with a portfolio as long as your arm and a greener but incredibly lovely photographer, think about who you are most comfortable with.
Booking A Birth Photographer
So now you have done your due diligence and found the best match possible, here’s some nitty-gritty details to cover in the booking process.
Establish the On-Call Period:
Babies do not keep due date appointments, and they certainly don’t care about respecting a 9-5 workday! The on-call period is when you can expect your photographer to show up, night or day, weekend or weekday.
There are two important things to establish about the on-call period:
1. How many weeks
What’s the time period from which your photographer will be available to photograph the birth? For most photographers, this is from when you are considered full-term, about 38 weeks. During this time, you can expect your photographer’s phone to be on loud and for them to be available round the clock for you.
Ask them how they plan to manage their work schedule around this time (don’t worry, it’s not rude!). For example, from 38-42 weeks, I don’t take on any other work that is more than two hours drive from Jessop’s, Chesterfield Birth Centre, or your private birth location, so I am 99% guaranteed to get to you in time from when you call.
2. When to call your photographer
The on-call period also includes when to call your photographer during labour. This is pretty easy to remember, as it’s essentially the same time you would call the hospital or midwife—at the beginning of active labour when your contractions are about three to five minutes apart (unless you have discussed beforehand about them arriving earlier).
It can be hard to know precisely when active labour begins but notify your photographer sooner rather than later. If, after a check by a medical professional, there is still some time, that’s okay — let your photographer know. It’s helpful for them to be aware that they will need to be with you in a matter of hours anyway.
Talk Through Contingency Plans
This may not be the most comfortable conversation to have, but you may find it helpful to discuss any anxieties or unexpected scenarios beforehand. It is also an opportunity for you, your birthing partner, and your photographer to establish any boundaries.
For example, in addition to any other contingency plans and boundaries we discuss, I will leave the birthing space at any point you or your birthing partner asks me to. Also, I cannot accompany you into theatre in UK hospitals.
Things not going to plan are inevitable, read about how EB, her partner, and I adapted to ensure everyone’s safety (whilst still getting amazing birth photos).
As well as any unpredictable change of plans from your end (for example switching from home birth to hospital), you need to talk through what if your photographer can’t make it.
Unfortunately, the unforeseen happens to all of us, and this isn’t exactly a job that can be rescheduled! In the case of birth photography, they should have a backup photographer they work with who can take over if they can’t make it.
If for any reason at all, you are not comfortable with the backup photographer, then there is no obligation to agree to them.
Make the Most of What Your Photographer Offers
See if your birth photographer’s package has any extra perks, from talks and consultations to complimentary photoshoots.
As I am a maternity photographer too, a complimentary pregnancy mini photoshoot
is included for all my birth photography clients (IRL or virtual, depending on your preference).
I also offer maternity and newborn packages if you want to keep documenting your little one’s first year!
My birth photography package includes:
- A chat to discuss what to expect pre-booking (either in person, over the phone, or on Zoom)
- A complimentary pregnancy mini photoshoot [links]
- An in-person meeting to discuss your preferences and go over any finer details
- Guaranteed on-call period from 38 weeks
- Attendance at the birth from active labour to two hours postpartum
- Depending on which package you choose, 15 or every (approx. 50+) high-resolution photos
What Happens When Your Birth Photographer Arrives
It’s happening. What should you expect from your birth photographer during and after labour?
Forget They Are There
Ignore them, forget about them, and, unless you feel like it, don’t interact with them. That’s one of the great things about a competent birth photographer — they’re a professional who knows how to take care of themself.
If they arrive at a relatively calm time, and it’s appropriate, they will say hello to you and your partner and introduce themselves to any medical team present. Otherwise, they will stay out of the way, capturing any moments that align with what you have specified you want. It’s not uncommon for my clients to not even realise I am there!
Crowning or Moment of Birth
You will have discussed with your photographer beforehand how you want this documented. The moment of birth doesn’t need to be captured in a graphic or intrusive way.
Your birth photographer will prioritise capturing emotion and conveying the story of your newborn’s first moments in the outside world.
As before, your photographer will make sure they are out of the way, quietly going about their job.
The golden hour (or technically hours) is within the two hours postpartum. It’s common for a photographer to stay around for this, capturing your and your partner’s first moments with the newest member of your family.
These can include skin contact moments, first feeds, and perhaps a nappy change or nap!
Some of the most magical photos take place at this time, but it may well feel like an exhausted blur for you, so it’s wonderful to have these photos to look back at.
What Happens After Your Birth Photographer Leaves
The First 24-Hours
Most photographers will give you a few photos within the first 24-hours, so you can send them out to loved ones, post them on social media, or just marvel at them!
The remaining photos will be delivered in your photographer’s usual time window—something you will have discussed in the early consultation process. For me, I deliver in two-three weeks.
How many photos you receive will depend on what you have established with your photographer. I offer two birth photography packages, a smaller one with 15 images or a complete one with every shot.
If you have any more questions about birth photography, reach out in the comments below. Or if you are local to Sheffield or South Yorkshire, get in touch.
If you are curious about booking any of my photography services, from maternity through newborn to family photos — and of course, birth photography — then reach out to arrange a relaxed, no commitments chat!