Why does birth photography cost so much?

December 04, 2015  •  3 Comments

Why does birth photography cost so much?

Chicago Birth Photographer


This morning I received an inquiry about birth photography.  The mom’s first question was cost.  I do have my starting price on my website so people can have a beginning gauge, but this mom-to-be was only concerned about the dollar and cents of it.  So I decided to deviate from my normal process where I get to know the client and find out why they are considering birth photography, and instead I jumped right into pricing.  Her immediate reaction was sticker shock; she spent the next few minutes complaining that most of the professional birth photographers she had researched cost the same as her monthly mortgage payment.

I could tell right away that there was no changing this woman’s mind, she ended the conversation by telling me, “I’ll just buy a fancy camera like you and have my husband do it.”  An immediate feeling of sadness washed over me, not because I was not booking her birth, but because I had a feeling she wouldn’t end up with the story of her daughter’s birth told through photographs like she was hoping.

So the questions remains, what is behind the price of birth photography?  Or, as this morning’s inquiry asked, but never let me answer, “Why is birth photography so expensive?”

So let’s talk about it!

When you ask people about the most important day of their lives, they often say that it was the day they got married or the day their child was born.

For many people, the last time they paid for professional photography was for their wedding.  People expect to pay money for beautiful, emotional wedding photographs..  They are spending a lot of money on their celebration, and they want it documented to be able to look back and remember the beginning of their lives together.  They often want a keepsake album that will be their first family heirloom, and many couples want prints and digital negatives from their big day.  People understand that when it comes to weddings, photography is going to cost, and they are willing to pay for quality and experience.

I recently heard a quote by Portland birth and wedding photographer Lexia Frank that really struck me:

“Shooting a birth is like getting an inquiry from a bride saying that she wants you to come photograph her wedding, but isn’t going to set a date. She’ll just call you whenever. and when you ask her how many hours of coverage she would like, she says she’s not sure, probably around 24, but maybe only 2.

And you ask her when she’d like for you to start coverage and she says she won’t know, but probably around 2am. And also, that she doesn’t want any use of flash. So when you ask her if there will be bountiful natural light she says that she’ll be getting married in a dark closet with no light whatsoever. And, she’s going to want the images right away to send out announcements. AND you’re not going to be able to use them anywhere on your website or blog because she wants to keep her privacy intact. We’d all be quoting this bride $50,000.00.”

Of course I don’t charge $50,000 for birth photography, but Lexia Frank’s words do a good job of putting birth photography into perspective.

In the Chicagoland area, birth photography seems to finally be picking up in popularity.  Hospitals, birth centers, midwives and doulas are more and more accepting of having births documented, and birth photographers are becoming more welcome in the delivery room.

Birth photographers must have a technical knowledge of photography and they must know their equipment and have backup equipment.  They must understand lighting and be steady and comfortable working in tight spaces.  Birth photographers must know how to read a room and be respectful of their clients in some of the most intimate and emotional experiences of their lives.  Birth photographers also need to understand the birth process.  Of course we aren’t hands on, but we still need to know what is happening each step of the way.

Being a birth photographer also means being “on call.”  Let me explain what that means: when I get the call that one of my clients is in active labor, I have to drop everything to document the birth.  Personally, I go on call for my clients at their 38th week of pregnancy (36 weeks for twins), and I stay on call till baby is born.  This means that during my on-call period, at any moment I may have to drop whatever I am doing to attend a birth.  It also means that I can’t travel too far from where client will be delivering; I have to be careful of what other jobs I book because they may have to be rescheduled; I may miss important events with friends and family; my gear and backup gear has to be with me anywhere I go; I can’t have a glass of wine or a drink with friends because I just don’t know when the call is going to come; I often have to turn down last-minute plans because I am waiting on that “it’s time” phone call from my client.   Most of my birth clients book months before their due date, so it means blocking up to a month of time.

Being on call can be stressful, and it’s not easy on friends and family that love me.  They all know that when I have to choose between a special event or one of my clients going into labor, my client is going to come first.  My time with each client can be as short as 2 hours or as long as 22 hours.  Birth is unique and unpredictable every single time!

Still, I just love it!  I love that I am always technically challenged with different lighting situations every time.  I love the tender touches as partners support each other through labor.  I love documenting the hard work and sheer determination it takes to birth a child.  I love capturing the moment baby takes its first breath.  I love the raw emotions as a mom sees the little life she created for the first.  I love the moment when the dad realizes he is a father and this is his newborn baby.  I love documenting the start or addition to this new family that will be treasured, a reminder of the joy they felt on that day as their child grows.

I can’t help it, but there are often tears of joy streaming down my face behind the camera because I have witnessed a beautiful miracle.  There is nothing like it.

Birth is also not like other photography because I can’t book multiple sessions per day or even per week.  My personal rule is to accept up to 3 birth clients per month.  Just in case one goes into labor late and one goes into labor early, I always have a trusted backup photographer on call with me.

Birth photography is not for everyone.  I often receive crazy looks when I tell people that I am a birth photographer.  But those that do “get it” truly value the ability to relive the precious moments of the birth of their child.  They understand that to serve them, it may mean a sacrifice on my part.  Many see birth photography as a luxury, and I believe it is.  Having a professional birth photographer means labor support for the mom is uninterrupted and free from the worry of who is going to capture those memories.

Being a birth photographer will not make me rich in terms of money, but it does enrich my life in so many intangible ways.  I appreciate each and every client that values me, my time, and my work.  

If you are interested in having your birth story told Contact Forever Incredible about your Birth Story


Wow, you are such a good writer! This explanation was perfect, I had never thought about just how much goes into being a birth photographer- being on call for weeks at a time, bad lighting, the most intense moments in a couples life, working anywhere from 2-22 hours in a row- of course that's why it's not cheap. It makes absolute sense. Hopefully the woman who (was pretty rude when contacting you) will read this and get some perspective. Thanks for helping me to better understand this industry!
This was fantastic! It's not just about taking a picture, it's about capturing a moment and there so much that the customer doesn't see that needs to be factored in!
wow I never knew how incredibly dedicated and hard working birth photographers are, especially when it comes to having to drop everything to arrive to the labor and delivery. I feel its so important to document such a beautiful time in life! such a wonderful job you have!
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