Questions to ask you birth photographer
Birth photography, for me, is more than a job. It is a most sacred calling.
One of my favorite things about the field of birth photography, is the lack of competition. I do nooootttt buy into the idea of competition among birth workers, birth photographers, or women in any community. It is a story we have told for too long, and I aim to be a part of the movement that is writing a new story.
For me, its community over competition every time.
When I see a new birth photographer or birth worker pop up in the area- I get excited. Why? Because more birth workers means more support for the mothers in our community. Despite having more people in our time, we have less community. Having more people to pour into those communities is never a bad thing. There are not enough birth photographers to go around. There are especially not enough birth photographers of color, or coming from various cultures, speaking in various languages, representing and serving every community within our communities. More birth photographers means a greater representation for the beauty of birth, a greater acceptance for the tradition of hiring someone to document this most precious season, and more options, support, and connection for us all.
The strength of a birth community, makes each of us individually stronger.
I am only as strong as the women standing next to me.
As this field grows in numbers, it needs to also grow in education. As with any birth worker, a family needs to carefully and intentionally choose the birth photographer that is right for them.
There are so many factors to consider, and none of them end in who is the "best" in this field. Honestly there is no such thing a birth photographer who's better than the rest. The value of a birth photographer resides within your values as a human being- what matters to one mother might be a dealbreaker for another. The best birth photographer, is the one you can trust, the one who understands your intentions and can serve you in the ways you value and desire most.
This means that I am not the right fit for everyone, and not everyone is the right fit for me.
I will be the first one to refer out if I feel or know that someone else is going to serve the family better, or in a way that this family needs more. I will be the first to send love and support to a family who chooses to go with someone else.
Support and connection is more important to me than anything else. Birth is sacred and vulnerable in the best ways- you should have someone who you vibe with.
With the intention of help you find that person, with my personal inside wisdoms to boost, here are some great questions to ask your potential birth photographer.
Let me preface this with a disclaimer. This list has tough questions. It is not a popular practice for birth photographers to confront these issues before they have experienced them, and some birth photographers have little to no birth or trauma training. These questions may offend some birth photographers, they may feel that it is not their job to answer these questions or act in any role that is not photography and documentation only. Sometimes all they want to know is when you're due, and where your giving birth. I am definitely one of the odd ones out when it comes to my in depth relationship and story building with my clients. This does not mean you shouldn't hire them or consider them. You have to consider what you value. There are no 'one fits all' perfect answers. You have to understand in yourself, what answers you are looking for. Where your boundaries and expectations are.
These tougher questions are most important if:
-you are hiring a photographer who is also a birthkeeper/doula.
-you are hiring a photographer, but no birthkeeper/doula.
-you desire photography coverage in a birth that may vary from you plan.
-you have a history of trauma, pain, abuse, or mental illness.
-you value depth, trust, and education.
Give them grace and time to answer each question you choose to ask, and remember that tripping over a few words, or awkwardness does not mean they are incompetent in any way. Some people have auditory/speech processing disorders and these typically have no impact on their work or service. Be patient, some of these questions may be brand new to them especially fi they are just starting out.
1. What led you to birth photography?
This question is a fun one to start with, because it allows you to connect to your photographer and get to know their roots in this field, as well as their "why." You may also get a good feel for their experience level this way.
2. What type of birth education or training do you have?
You need to know what they know about birth. This can help you prepare in many ways, but will also help you see how dedicated they are. (weather this is their main passion or if its just a side gig)
3. Do you use flash?
This answer varies vastly. Some birth photographers do not use flash, some do for every birth. Typically, an experienced birth photographer who does use flash- does so in a way that is unobtrusive to the birthing process. Highly recommended birth photographers use flash. Highly reccomended birth photographers do not use flash. It is a personal choice, and both paths are acceptable. This is where you need to decide if you are an "embrace the grain, embrace reality, embrace the mood of the room" type of person, or a person who wants their birth images to be lit, crisp, and airy. It's no more than a style variation. You might be someone who wants a bit of both, but also just realize that this is very low on the priority list and shouldn't (for most people) be a deal breaker either way. Their style and vibe is way more important. I only include this question because you should, for your own mental prep, understand how they personally approach their work when it comes to lighting.
Do ask if they do not use flash, how they handle low light situations, and please communicate if you need complete darkness to birth. Photography does not work without some light. (p.s. find out your midwifes policy on this also, some of them are very against flash and that can take your photographer by surprise if she is unaware of that preference)
4. If you are asked to stop documenting, what is your policy and who's lead do you follow?
Unfortunately some birthing locations have strict photography rules. Even further, some birth attendants and staff member have their own harsh opinions and rules about this. Educate yourself on your birthing location, and come up with a plan with your photographer to work within or around any restrictions.
It is the policy of some birth photographers to only stop documenting if the birthing person has requested it, but this can also (potentially) (rarely) get a photographer thrown out of a birth space. On the flip side some birth photographers are not willing to do anything variant of what the hospital or attendant is demanding or requesting, regardless of your desires. It is a line, and it's worth knowing how they individually choose to walk it.
Please also consult your photographer on any other hospital restrictions and how they handle them. (pandemic related or otherwise)
5. What types of births are you able, or unable to support/document?
Do they support elective or emergency cesarean births? Do they support home birth? Unassisted birth? Will they still document in the case of a transfer or emergency? Do they limit their support to certain types of people, or families? You need to know how open they are, how inclusive they are, and where their prejudices lie. This is important no matter how they are serving in your space.
Birth is a field that can be very difficult to work in, this pushes some people to make certain choices on how they are willing to serve in a space. Everyone has boundaries. You need to know how expansive theirs are, to find the one that's right for you and your birth.
6. Do you have any education on supporting ____ women/families?
Insert your culture, race, religion, nationality, disability, or other defining trait here. If your birth worker does not understand the disparities, is not comfortable with your lifestyle, or is not attempting to educate their own internal bias, they may not best the best fit for you.
7. If this pregnancy ended in early or late loss, how would that effect our services or relationship? Additionally, do they have any experience with loss personally or proffesionally?
This question is so so important. I can not stress this one enough. I have seen mothers brutally ditched by birth workers, photographers and doulas alike, in the face of loss. Birth work requires transparency, and often faces us with loss, death, social confronations of various kinds, and emergencies. You need to know their experience, and how they handle emergencies so that you know what to expect, and are as supported as you need to be in such events. I know this is the last thing you want to consider at any point in pregnancy, but it's better to know now than it is to be surprised when you are actively grieving, when you're facing your babies last moments on earth and want them to be documented. (you may or may not desire documentation during such a circumstance.)
This is also a great time to understand their refund policy.
There is no right or wrong answers here, only personal values and choices.
8. Do you have any experience or understanding of obstetric violence, and what would you do if such a thing came up during a birth you are serving?
Another very difficult, but very important question. I wish this was a mandatory course for all birth workers. I have experienced many forms of obstetric violence in my time as a birth worker and it is never ever easy to know what to do. Most reasonably, some birth workers would not feel comfortable to stay. Some would not document. Some would want to contact authorities or the hospital patient advocate. Some will advocate for you on the spot. Some will support you, and help you process. Just ask, know, and have plan that you both agree on. Preparation is a form of prevention.
9. Do you have any experience or education regarding mental illness, or PMADS (perinatal/postpartum mood and anxiety disorder)?
PMADS (including prenatal and postpartum- depression, anxiety, OCD and psychosis) affect a huge percentage of expecting parents. They effect both mothers and fathers. Don't assume it won't affect you, prepare as an act of prevention. I have seen clients with all forms of PMADS, some whom have always struggled with the storms, and some who never do until pregnancy or birth or postpartum. Mental illness (ours or theirs) does effect how we serve our clients, and it definitely adds an extra layer of needed awareness and conversation.
10. If you are unable to make a birth, what is your back up plan?
This is a great opportunity for your birth photographer to talk to you about her back up options. Most professional birth photographers have back up birth photographers to attend a birth in cases of their absence. This could be due to sickness, childcare complications, weather, distance, car trouble, vacation, family events, or various other issues. Every birth photographer is going to miss the birth now and then. We are all human, privy to mistakes and events that would prevent our ability to serve. Whoever you hire, they absolutly need to have a plan and policy in place, regardless if that includes back ups or not. A red flag is someone claiming to never miss a birth, or a 'superhero' mindset on this policy.
There is also the unique event of precipitous labor, which is a separate situation. When your birth happens too quickly for the photographer to arrive, or if you fail to communicate in time, you should come up with a plan that suits you both. This might look like extra time spent after the photographer does arrive. This might look like a make up photography session later down the road. In this type of situation, it is always best to practice grace and understanding.
Please remember to communicate quickly and often to give your photographer the best chance, and plenty of time to arrive. Also please remember that we are only human, and birth as well as life is unpredictable. It is often better to work out a plan that includes make up time, vs expecting a refund. Our on call time, time spent with you pre birth, and our in depth educations and preparation time is valuable, and we typically can provide excellent care even in events where the birth moment itself is missed. If your photographer has been generous enough to offer a payment plan and not ask for payment in full before the birth, please communicate well and plan to compensate her for her efforts and time as originally agreed upon.
11. What is the best way for us to contact you?
Set up your contact plan clearly from the beginning. Don't wait until you want your photographer there to call her. Talk to her about your pregnancy, what's going on, when you "think" labor may be starting, and any expectations you have on arrival. They need to be able to pack up, get gas, secure childcare, and shower before they can start the commute to your birth. Keep this in mind. Most phones have the ability to set contacts to favorites or priority, utilize this and the bypass features to ensure those communications go through. If your photographer does not respond, contact them again. And again. Don't use this time as an excuse to roll your eyes or distance yourself. Remember you are partnering with a human and not a machine. They may be doing the dishes, fell asleep, or in an area with bad signal. Make a plan, stick to it, and don't be afraid to contact more than once. Ask about back up contact methods. Set someone on your birth team as the designated contact person, for any case in which you are unable to. Make sure your photographer has the number programed for anyone who might potentially be calling or contacting her.
12. What are your privacy policies?
Marketing is how we get clients. Most professional birth photographers love to share and use images on social media, blogs, websites, adds, and even in publications or contests. All of these things help spread their services to the community. Besides being great for their business benefits, sharing birth images is a great way for birth workers to fight stigmas, educate communities, and represent underrepresented people, cultures, and life moments. Its a beautiful time to be able to see people who look like you giving birth. It is POWERFUL.
That being said, this is your birth story. Your comfort matters most. If you have concerns, talk them through. Instead of complete privacy, consider allowing them to share certain types of images.
If you do need privacy, or desire that they do not share any images at all, please, consider tipping them well, compensating them for that extra level of care and time understanding that taking you on as a client may prevent them from acquiring the business needed to support their families, not just because of your due date booking but because of that extra gap where they won't be able to add your photos to their marketing and social portfolios. Another amazing way to help is to please recommend them to your friends and family in person and online and in any way you can! Good referrals that result in actual clients are gold.
Lastly, and most importantly, make your concerns or preferences CLEAR from the beginning so they can prepare and decide if they are able to take on your birth at the time.
13. Do you have any boundaries, allergies, or requests? (and after:) Would you accept a thank you gift?
This is a beautiful way to show your photographer that you value them as much as you desire their support.
14. Can I read over your contract?
Please please pleaseeeee make sure they have a contract. Ensure it is signed and in place before your birth. This not only shows their dedication, it also protects you both, and shows that they are running a legit business. A contract should clearly spell out what their policies are. That way there are no surprises, or conflicts. Please read and understand it well before signing. This is not a "terms and agreements" 20+page tiny print computer software. This is an important document that is a contract between them and you, in a most vulnerable space. You need to read it!
15. What is your approach to providing both photography and Birthkeeper/doula support?
This is going to be different for everyone, and obviously only applies if they are serving you in both roles. It is a great way to understand how they work. Express your vision, tell them how you see them serving in your space. Make sure you are clear about which role is most important to you in early labor, during the moment of birth, and in postpartum. Because there are times when we have to choose between taking that photo, and supporting. Note if this preference would change in any emergency.
16. How can I make photographing my birth easier for you?
This is a great way to help them get the amazing photos you both want! They can give you aesthetic tips, light tips, space tips, or even just describe what to expect from their approach. I would feel pretty excited if a client asked me this question, and i'm sure it would get a wide variety of answers.
It could also be beneficial to let your photographer know anything you want to give them grace on. Communicate if you want privacy during certain moments. During a long labor, envision what their support will look like, how you can best prepare and allow them breaks, communicate if your cool with them resting near you or in your space, weather they can eat in front of you or if you will give them time to step out as needed. Though they won't expect this and will prepare in their own ways- providing water, snacks, or including them in the after birth meal is a great way of going that extra mile.
17. What is your favorite moment to document?
Also, just a fun question to foster connection. This is a great time to talk about any specific photos that are must haves, or photos you'd like to avoid. Typically they can adjust their documentation based on your modesty and comfort levels or visions. For example, if you want them to focus on your face, your birth moment. If you want them to focus on your support team, your partners reaction, or the hands in the space. Anything that is important to you. Every person has a different vision, communicate so that you won't be surprised if their approach is different than what you desired. Also, understand that every birth vision is dependent on the wild ever changing nature of birth.
18. What kind of resources do you have if my needs are beyond you?
This is great to know, many birth workers have connections deep and wide that you wouldn't even think to ask for. Also ask about prints, what's included in their packages, and if they have any extras that they offer.
19. Do you have any testimonials, blog posts, or photo galleries I can see?
This is a wonderful way to see if their style meets your vibe, to understand how they frame and story-tell within their galleries, what's important to them behind the scenes, and to see how their past clients are talking about the experience.
20. Tell me about the first birth you attended, or the last birth you attended. (or their own births)
A great way to hear how they talk about birth, and to connect over stories. A fun bonus question. Please don't ask this question if you are sensitive to birth stories, or if you are not open to hearing about their stories in a case where they included trauma, loss, or sensitivity.
Be wary of a birth photographer who tries to push their story on you without asking in a harsh way. This is different than sharing or relating, this red flag looks like venting or trying to influence your birth decisions because of how they feel about their own births. They should approach you with an openness and a respect for your own path.
21. How do you feel about energy? (or prayer)
If this is important to you, you want to make sure they know how to carry the right energy into your sacred space and home. Share with them any spiritual ingredients that make up your life, story, and birth intentions. This can help them better understand how to serve you, and even if they are the right person for the job. You may desire someone who is on the same level, or simply someone who expresses an open respect for your differences.