Birth photographers get asked this question a lot and it is to be expected. Birth Photography is unlike any other genre of photography but in terms of cost, it compares pretty closely to that of high end wedding photography and should be viewed as more of a luxury service as well as an investment. You can expect to pay anywhere from $900-$3000 depending on the package, your area and how long your photographer has been photographing births.
Births have no predetermined time for when they will happen nor how long they will last. Your birth photographer will often be on-call for you for a month or longer which means they have to be available for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They could have to leave their house at any hour in the middle of the night, usually can not travel anywhere with their family without taking two cars or travel more than 30-45 min from your birthing location. They sometimes miss important events like holidays with family, their child’s birthday, prom dress shopping with their daughter, date nights etc. If they have small children, they must have pre arranged on-call childcare (which is not cheap) or someone close to them that is able to drop their entire schedule to take care of their kids. They must have at least 2 cameras and a variety of lenses capable of handling the low light situations that are typical with births and this kind of gear is expensive and has to be consistently sent in for maintenance to ensure there are not malfunctions during a birth.
Birth photographers have no way of knowing when they will get called to a birth or how long they will be there. They could be away from their kids/family for 10-12 hours or more. (I know several photographers that have been at a birth for over 36 hours!)
If your photographer is sick or their sitter backs out on them when you go into labor, they will have to find someone else to cover your birth. Many birth photographers work along side of others so they have a backup in the event they should need one. Those backups get paid too, sometimes even if they are not needed.
The on-call lifestyle is definitely not easy and depending on how many birth clients your photographer takes in any month may mean they are on-call for several months at a time. Photographers have a hard time determining their prices for births because honestly how can you put a price on missed events with family or working a unknown number of hours straight?
Now with all that being said, you can probably see why birth photographers charge what they do. All of this doesn’t even include the stuff that goes on after the birth such as editing time and file/product delivery. Weddings cost about the same and sometimes more than birth photography and a wedding photographer knows well in advance when they will be working and for how long which is typically no more than 12 hours minus the editing time. The majority of couples getting married are willing to pay those prices because they find value in having beautiful images from their wedding day, though I have had plenty of clients tell me that they went cheap on their wedding photos and regretted it ever since so they decided not to do that with their birth.
Now you may be asking yourself… Couldn’t a birth photographer just come later during labor to avoid being there so long? It really isn’t that simple. The majority of birth photographers request to be contacted early on when labor begins, again when you are heading to the hospital, once labor is confirmed and again once you are in active labor 5-7 cm dilated which is typically when they would head to the hospital (depending on how far away that is). Even if this level of communication is achieved and the photographer gets there when you are 7 cm. They could still be there for many more hours. Birth is very unpredictable. Here is an example of a real birth situation of one of my clients. – She followed all the contact requirements and I started to make my way to the birthing location when she was 6-7 cm. When I arrived she was at 9 cm which is a really fast progression considering I was only 10 minutes away when I headed there. We were all thinking, “wow, this is going to go really fast”. Fast forward to 3 hours later and she was still 9 cm. Fast forward 8 hours later (I sat in the waiting area that whole time) when she began pushing and another hour later till baby was born. I stay 1-2 hours after the birth to capture first moments, footprints, measurements etc. I was at that particular birth for just over 14 hours. Once you have gotten past 7 cm, your photographer can’t just leave and come back no matter how slow things may be moving because all that can change in an instant and then they would miss it.
This is just one example and not my longest birth and as I said previously there are some photographers that were at a birth for much longer even though I am sure they arrived in the later stages of labor.
Photographers that choose to offer birth photography do it because it is a passion of theirs. The sacrifices they make in their own lives to be there for this important life event in yours is because they love being able to capture those amazing moments of support, the first time you see your baby and the looks on yours and your partners faces along with all the emotion that comes with that. These moments would otherwise just be a memory that would fade with time. Having a birth photographer to capture those moments for you means you can look at those images any time and relive that joy and excitement. It allows you to also share those images with your child someday and believe me, every child loves seeing images from the day they were born. Those photos will be cherished forever by you, your child and maybe even your grandchildren someday.
Birth photography can be very expensive and it isn’t something everyone can afford but if it is something you truly value, make sure you find a photographer that you connect well with and that has a portfolio that matches what you are looking for.
P.S. The majority of birth photographers offer some type of payment plan. I personally take a retainer fee to book your birth and then the remaining balance can be paid in payments up until your 38th week, which is when I go on-call. If you truly value birth photography and you want a birth photographer present at your birth, ask them what types of payment plans they can offer so you can make it work within your budget.