To be a Birth Photographer in South Africa

You already know a little bit about what it feels like to be a birth photographer from our first blog. If you missed it follow the link here to read some incredible experiences from a birth photographer.

Today we wanted to take time to look a little deeper into the different parts of being a birth photographer. 

This is a new and growing industry which makes it exciting to be apart of. Most often then not birth in South Africa happens in a medical environment. Working in the hospital environment and getting access to labour wards and birthing centres is one thing. Not getting in the way of care for the mom and baby is another crucial element. Without this knowledge and respect the industry will struggle to build trust. Being correctly registered is of utmost importance when thinking about becoming a birth photographer in South Africa.

We cover how to work within the medical environment in our follow up blogs. Also other key factors you need to keep in mind to be a successful birth photographer. Now let’s look at the different stages that birth photographers go through. From the start to their birthing parents big day and what some of their tips for you are:

We asked some photographers a few questions:

Why did you chose birth photography?

‘Births are really special to me. The bond between the parents. How the father supports his partner is so special and just the relief once their child is born healthy. I get such a knob in my throat every time when the parents cry after the birth. I have experienced that moment with them from the very beginning.’

‘I have even taken a step back now in my photography career. I have really evaluated what I really love shooting. Seeing that I was doing events, weddings and other types of photography. Now I really want to spend more of my time specialising in birth photography. Because of all the emotion in the day – in the moment. For me, that is so much more rewarding, so much better than any posed photo could ever be. The warmth and the love in those moments. Births for me are very special.’ 

What is it like to get a birth booking?

‘The client will contact me and ask for prices. I email my packages and explain a little about how it works. I send through forms to be filled in by the mother and her doctor. The hospital and doctor ultimately decide whether it will go ahead and I have to respect their choice.’  

‘If she wants to go ahead I meet her for a coffee and we do all the paperwork. After she’s booked I stay in contact with her and ask how she is doing once a week. This shows interest in her and creates a personal relationship.’

How do you prepare for the call?

‘The most important thing is not that moment when I get the call. The most important thing is all the preparation I put into that moment anticipating the call.’

‘I get my gear completely ready and my go bag completely stocked and ready. Make sure my camera is on my most frequently used setting for a hospital birth with the setting I am most comfortable with. I make sure my backup gear is already stocked with a charged battery and clear memory cards. As well as my primary gear. I make sure that I have everything. My license card and my ID card is right there at the top ready to go.’ 

‘There is parking money, I make sure that my scrubs are clean and set aside.’ 

‘I have thought through when my gear comes with me and I have Uber installed on my phone. In case I need to quickly leave a function and my family needs to stay behind.’

‘That moment only goes so well when you have prepared.’

‘I make sure that my client is on a special ringtone, that it is loud enough, that my phone is charged,  that there is petrol in my car.’

What happens when a birth photographer gets called out?

‘You usually get the call when you have just gone to bed. Or you have been sleeping for an hour or two. Usually, when mommies relax they tend to go into labour.’

‘So when I get the call, I make sure how far along she is or how far dilated she is. If it’s usually about 1 or 2 cms I will just wait it out a bit. Go back to bed, sleep for a while. But when mom is at around 4 to 6 cm I’ll get dressed. I’ll call my child care and see whether they can come out or whether I can drop the kids off.’ 

How do you keep in touch with the client?

‘I definitely feel that rush but also sometimes when you get the call, it is not time to go yet. It is just the call that things are starting to happen so you need to learn how to communicate with your client and not always just jump immediately.’

Figure out whether this is truly go time or whether you are just on higher alert now and go time is coming at some point soon. Give them clear enough instructions so that they understand that they need to keep in touch. Be specific so that they know to check in every hour or when something important happens. When the doctor comes in or something changes. I just want to make sure that, with a client especially if I am communicating with a birthing woman’s partner that I am giving clear enough instructions. Because he or she is going through a lot of emotions and may not be thinking too clearly as to what is coming next. Especially if this is their first birth and I am more experienced in birth and I know what could potentially come next.’

When should you arrive?

‘With a call. I always get the husband’s or birth partners number as I will likely speak more to them on birth day.’

‘With a c-section, I will arrive 2 hours that’s when they admit. I will give them a chance to settle in and then I will start with the story. And I make sure all paperwork is done with the hospital. I stay max 2 hours after birth. Then come back the next day to take more photos because that’s included in my package. I will leave the room as well when a nurse or Doctor enters.’

How long does it take?

(keep in mind this will be different for each birth)

‘Most of my call outs have been very quick. The one particular one was actually 20 minutes and the baby had arrived.  The other one must have been half an hour and another was 45 minutes. They have all been very quick when I have been called out at night.’

You now have some inside tips from a few birth photographers. And a better idea about the preparation that leads up to the birth. 

How does this all make you feel? Can you see yourself doing this? 

If you feel at all apprehensive don’t worry. There is a community at The South African Birth Photographers Association (SABPA) for support. Training and access to many of the things you will need. This career is something you grow into and learn from more experienced birth photographers. Who are friendly and so helpful towards each other. We really have a wonderful community of photographers all working towards the bigger picture and love for birth photography.

We talked about meeting the client and getting permission to be at the hospital today. Let’s talk about what do you charge and how many clients can you book a month?

Follow on as we continue our learning in the next blog.