Over the past several years, the birthing community has grown. Merge that with the overwhelming need for photographers to document all of life’s important moments, and we’ve got quite a demand for birth photographers.
But, what exactly does it take to become a birth photographer and a registered one at that? There’s not exactly one solid route that leads to becoming a registered birth photographer. But it’s actually fairly simple, as long as you’re willing to pay a fee to join an association, as well as take a course or two. Also, earned hours of experience are another key element.
If you’re a photographer, looking to break into birth photography, or you want to know what it takes to become a registered birth photographer, I gathered a ton of info to help you learn what it takes. You’ll find out how to become a registered birth photographer, as well as the who, what, when, where, and why of the registered birth photography world.
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How to Become a Registered Birth Photographer
As mentioned, there’s no clear path or one course of study that leads you to becoming a registered birth photographer. But there are three factors that most professional birth photographers mention in their own journey to becoming a registered birth photographer:
This doesn’t mean that you’ll need a photojournalism or photography degree before you can start in birth photography. Because that’s not the case. There are plenty of very successful birth photographers that started as amateurs and built their business off from real-life experiences.
Often times, in order to register as a birth photographer with various organizations, there are classes that you’ll need to take. Some are offered through the organization, while others will just ask for completed hours or the names of the courses completed.
There are certain things that are helpful to know before you go all-in on the birth photography world. Therefore, it might be handy to take a class or two to help learn those nuances, before committing to the occupation. There are also photographers that are willing to share what they’ve learned through private lessons.
There are many classes out there that are offered in a traditional classroom setting, so this is just a matter of finding a location that will work for you, and of course, a time that works with your schedule. There are also many online courses in birth photography that can help you learn what you’ll need to know to avoid any mishaps during a shoot.
Birthing experts are an essential part of your education, too. Talk to midwives, doulas, delivery room nurses, mothers who have given birth – learn about the experience and learn what to expect, whether the baby is being delivered at a hospital or at home.
Since you’re documenting one of the, if not THE most important few hours of a families’ lives, it’s pretty important that you know what you’re getting into, and there’s little room for “on the job training,” if you will. Below are a few things that registered birth photographers should be familiar with, that can be learned from taking a class, opposed to learning through trial and error, on your own:
- What to capture
- Photographer’s well-being
- Medical staff
Of course, all photographers are aware of the challenges of getting just the right light for the best shots. But, birth photographers face this on a whole different level, with the hospital, birthing center, or even lighting at home. In most situations, when photographers are involved, they’re able to control the lighting.
But not this time. It’s completely out of your control, as the photographer. Birth photographers have zero say in the quality or even quantity of light that they’ll have. And, in fact, oftentimes, there’s no way of knowing this until they’re on the scene and ready to start taking pictures.
Taking classes in the birth photography field is a great way to learn how to adapt to the light that you’re given. Whether it’s moving around or adjusting your camera, there’s something to be said for learning how to control the uncontrollable in this situation.
Every photographer has their tried and true favorites when it comes to gear. But there are different things that work best for different jobs. And, if you don’t have a lot of experience with birth photography, it’s hard to know what to use.
We’ll discuss space next, but this is clearly an obstacle that photographers face since there’s not a lot of room to set up all the gear and spread out, as many other photographers are able to do.
Learning from experience and trying different gear works when you have the option of retakes, but birth photography doesn’t offer that luxury. It’s important to show up with the right gear, right away.
There are no second chances here. Having an instructor show you what you’ll need and how to use it is important to success as a birth photographer.
Another factor that allows no room for change within a birth photography session is the amount of space you or the photographer will have to work with. Whether the birth is taking place at home or in a birthing room at a hospital or birthing center is up to those giving birth…not the photographer.
This is another element that can be learned through classes or coursework with an experienced photog. Capturing all of the right moments while blending in is a form of art all in itself.
What to Capture
There’s the inevitable question of “what exactly do I need to get pictures of” that lurks in every photographer’s mind, especially in this type of instance, where there’s so much weighing on your photography skills.
Learning what to shoot during a birth photography session is really important. And of course, meeting with the family that you’ll be snapping. But, often, new parents don’t know exactly what to expect, so they’ll be relying on the photographer to guide them. This is where you’ll want to sound especially confident and knowledgeable, both of which you can learn from a birth photography class or birthing expert.
The Photographer’s Well-being
As a birth photographer, being on call is a must. There’s quite a bit of unpredictability that comes with this line of work. And, more often than not, births don’t go according to plan, and they are certainly not timely events. You’ll most likely be photographing for hours on end, and often with little to no sleep.
Learning from someone else’s experience in this area, whether it’s a photography instructor or even another professional photographer, will help you avoid putting your own health at risk. Knowing what you should keep in your backpack is something that will help you stay alert and get the best shots.
Working with Medical Staff
While the mother and baby are the most important people involved in a birth, the medical staff are typically the second most important. They’re there to make sure the birth goes as smoothly as possible, in the safest of spaces.
Learning how to maneuver and capture the birth moments, without hampering the medical staff’s ability to do their jobs, is very important in being a successful birth photographer. This is also something that cannot and should not be learned through trial and error since one small misstep can have great consequences.
Classes and lessons – either in the classroom or set up with an experienced doula or midwife – are a great way to learn what you can do to stay out of the way while achieving the best shots.
This area can be a little tricky, since gaining experience is necessary to join many of the registered birth photographer organizations, but it’s hard to gain experience without credentials. And, being a registered birth photographer is one way of doing that.
Most people are looking for an experienced birth photographer that they can put all of their trust in, knowing that they’ll capture all of the birth stories without needing any extra guidance. Because, well, when you’re birthing a baby there’s not a lot of time to be answering questions or directing the photographer.
Becoming a registered birth photographer, depending on the organization or photographer’s association, usually comes with hours of experience on the job, so that your organization can let you use their name in confidence.
Experienced and registered birth photographers are on call, as we previously discussed, almost all the time. When you commit to becoming a family’s birth photographer, you’re basically giving up anything else that might come along around the due date.
To become a registered birth photographer, you’ll have to show that you’re committed to this in order to maintain your credentials. The organizations that provide memberships to become a registered birth photographer expect this from all of their members. This is something that is best developed through experience in the field.
Being a birth photographer is not for the faint of heart. There are all kinds of things that can go on during delivery and being prepared for the unexpected is something that photographers gain through experience. The more you see as a photographer, the less surprised you’ll be when it happens again.
A birth photographer has to be ready for just about anything. Including a Cesarean delivery. This is something that might be hard for some people to watch, but as a birth photographer, it will most likely happen at some point in your career.
In a birthing setting, there’s no room for judgment or shock from a birth photographer. Again, the types of job hazards are really just things that might be upsetting to the average person, but a birth photographer can’t be rattled. This is something that can only be gained through experience.
The final piece to becoming a registered birth photographer is to join an organization for photographers, but specifically, birth photographers. There are a few to choose from, and most come with different levels of memberships.
Most organizations have different fees that will allow members access to different resources. Depending on whether the fee is monthly or annually varies amongst different associations.
Some organizations ask that their members show their experience or take a course, both of which we’ve already discussed. There are also other boxes that some birth photographer organizations must have checked before someone may join, although again, this can be different depending on the organization:
- Client references
If you’re looking for a place to begin, check out the Professional Photographers of America or International Association of Professional Birth Photographers.
Benefiting from the Resources of Membership Organizations
Registered Birth Photographers offer an added level of prestige to their craft when they’re able to say that they’re a part of a specific professional organization. While this is a great way for clients to find birth photographers that have been screened through the organization, it’s also a great way for photogs to access valuable resources.
As mentioned, different organizations offer different levels of membership. Some start with a basic and very affordable monthly fee with a few simple resources, then work their way up. Others offer one annual fee and access to all the resources.
It’s really just a matter of what you’re looking for, as the photographer. Or, what you’re looking for in a birth photographer. Here are a few resources that are commonly offered from the most widely known organizations:
- Database listing
- Discounts for specific vendors
- Business guides
- Marketing resources
- Eligibility for different photo contests
- Additional opportunities to be published in well-known media outlets
- Networking with other registered birth photographers
Who Can Become a Registered Birth Photographer?
Now that we know how you can go about becoming a registered birth photographer, it’s important to discuss who exactly can become a registered birth photographer. The answer is: pretty much anyone that’s willing to commit their time and possibly money to doing so.
Clearly, there’s a ton of knowledge that birth photographers have to have in order to be successful. However, that does mean committing a lot of your time to be on call, as well as learning and perfecting the art of birth photography.
Also, as mentioned previously, most of the registered birth photographer organizations and associations require a membership fee. So, to be a registered birth photographer, you’ve to be ready to go all-in and pay the dues.
Another important element in becoming a registered birth photographer is whether or not you’re able to handle the medical and true-grit aspect of what goes on in the delivery setting. Earlier, we touched on a few of those job hazards, but it’s definitely worth mentioning again.
Although the idea of being a birth photographer sounds great, discovering that live births aren’t your thing by passing out mid-photo isn’t the best way to figure that out. So, before any aspiring birth photos commit to the process of registering, it’s important to figure out whether you’re physically and mentally able to handle everything that comes with it.
Are There Different Types of Birth Photography?
There is some confusion as to what an actual birth photographer does, now that there are so many different kinds of photography and photo sessions available within the birth to newborn phase. Within the first few days of having a baby, options for photos sessions include:
- Fresh 48
While each of these is great for their own purposes, they’re very different from a birth photoshoot. Let’s briefly discuss how and why they’re different, just to avoid any confusion.
Newborn Photography Sessions
A photographer that does photos with a newborn focuses his or her attention on the baby after it has been born. These are typically done within the first 24 hours of a baby’s life. This also usually when babies are still in the hospital or birthing center. Newborn photographers are capturing the baby itself, whereas birth photographers are getting the entire birth story, through pictures.
Fresh 48 Photography Sessions
These are relatively new on the photography scene and often done by newborn photographers. Again, these sessions are for babies and aren’t meant to capture the whole family or share the story of the birth itself. As the name suggests, these are done within the first 48 hours of a baby being born.
Lifestyle Photography Sessions
Once a baby and family have been released from the hospital or birthing center, parents might hire a photographer for a lifestyle session. While this is meant to document the family’s moments together at home, with their new addition to the family, it’s not the same as birth photography.
Sibling Photography Sessions
Photographers are often hired to document siblings’ interactions with their new baby brother or sister. Sometimes, this is part of the birth photography session, if the siblings are part of the birth experience. But usually, this is done separately, after the baby has been born.
While birth photography is different than all of these, and birth photographers have a different job to do, they are often mixed together because they’re all ways of documenting fresh babies and the families that love them.
Side note: if you’re on the fence about committing to becoming a registered birth photographer because you’re not sure about the actual labor and delivery aspect, or being on call all the time, you might decide to focus on the post-birth photography shoots!
When to Become a Registered Birth Photographer
This isn’t a decision that should be taken lightly. Birth photography isn’t an area that’s full of photographers that woke up one morning, picked up their camera, and started taking pictures of women having babies.
If you have gone through all of the motions and put a lot of thought into whether or not you’re ready for all that comes with being a birth photographer, then becoming registered is a really great option.
There are also many birth photographers that have been professionally documenting labor and delivery for quite some time but haven’t taken the extra step to become registered. It could be because they weren’t financially ready to pay the necessary fees, or possibly looking to build the experience needed by a specific organization.
If this is the case, the photographer should become registered as soon as he or she is ready. If that’s you, and you’re ready, then go for it!
Where to Become a Registered Birth Photographer
Like most things we do these days, online is where you can become registered as a birth photographer. This isn’t like a license or certification – it’s more likely achieved by affiliating yourself with a reputable association, as mentioned above.
Depending on the organization that you register with, you’ll be able to find all of the information you’ll need to become a registered birth photographer on the Internet.
So, if you’re willing to put in the extra work to become a registered birth photographer, then this could be a great way to meet new clients and to gain access to a new community of professional photographers.
Why Become a Registered Birth Photographer
There are many reasons that photographers choose to venture into birth photography. In addition to those reasons, there’s a whole different specific set of bonuses for becoming a registered birth photographer.
This is probably one of the best, most important reasons that birth photographers choose to become registered with a photography association. Being a registered birth photographer means adding extra credentials, and your name as a photographer is now backed by the photography organization.
Since the photographer that’s registered has had to put in more work to become registered, that will instill more confidence from potential clients. Therefore, the professional photographers, or you, if you’re the photog, will be able to increase your rates.
Resources and Contests
As we discussed earlier, registering as a birth photographer comes with access to different resources within the community or organization that provides the registration.
Also, even though this was mentioned, it’s worth noting again since contests are so important for photographers, registering with a photographers’ association gains birth photographers’ access to contests that are otherwise limited.
In addition to the resources already mentioned, there is also a lot of advice from within the community. One of these types of advice being legal advice and guidance from experienced professionals for writing your birth photography contracts.
These are both very important because there is some risk that comes with being a birth photographer. And, as you can imagine, legal advice can be pricey. However, many birth photographer organizations offer access to legal advice, or you’ll be able to communicate within the community.
Often times, other registered birth photographers are the best resource in these situations, so photographers can reach out to one another in the organization with any questions you might have.
Learn About Medical Staff
Registering as a birth photographer, as we know, allows access to various resources. And of course, a specific birth photography community. This is a fantastic way to learn which doctors, midwives, doulas, or other birthing staff allow birth photographers in the room while a baby is being delivered.
Being a part of these community discussions is also a way to get a feel for how different medical staff interacts with birth photographers, as well as any expectations they might have that you won’t know about until you’re in the birthing room.
These are all things that will make your experience easier as a birth photographer, but also lessen any tension that can possibly arise. Since the overall goal is to capture the entire birth story in photos, you’ll want to be able to do your job without any unexpected speed bumps, and shield the family from any additional worry, all at the same time.
Avoid the Process of Trial and Error
So much of photography is learned through trial and error. As we know, there’s zero room to learn from mistakes in the birthing room. There’s one chance to get every shot, and then the moment is gone.
Photographers might be able to go back and think of what they’d like to improve on next time, but the family should have the confidence in their photographer, without knowing that. They should believe that you’re 100% capable of providing the best service.
One way to learn through trial and error, without having to make any terrible mistakes, is by listening to others’ experiences. Registered birth photographers, again, have access to communication with other professionals who can share what they’ve learned.
What Other Registered Birth Photographers are Saying
Testimonials from registered birth photographers definitely show that there are some serious advantages to be gained from becoming registered. Here are just a few tidbits gathered from professionals that chose to become registered birth photographers:
- Owning a photography business, similar to being an owner of another type of small business, can be lonely at times. Being a registered birth photographer alleviates some of that feeling and allows you to feel like you’re not alone all the time.
- Communicating with other photographers that share the same overall vision is very inspirational and helps keep registered birth photographers focused on their main goal, which is to provide a birth story in pictures.
- Get some exposure to the birth experience, either through birthing films or by visiting delivery rooms of those who will let you. Birth is beautiful, emotional – and you have to find out if you are up to the challenges it poses.
- The access to various discounts on gear and other equipment that comes with registering as a birth photographer with one of the various organizations is really beneficial, especially for those that are just starting in the field and needing to get equipment on a budget.
- Exposure to larger companies and corporations that work with different birth photographer registries provides photographers with networking capabilities that they otherwise wouldn’t have.