So this has been on my mind a lot recently. So I wanted to break it down. And maybe this is also for the gals out there getting their start in Birth Photography as a reminder too... Charge your worth.
Now I'm going to start this by saying that I think my rates are still way to generous. I am not charging my worth... I am attempting to navigate my market however, and have only recently had the confidence to say that my work is really good. Even now writing this, my stomach is telling me I shouldn't say that. My years of societal conditioning are screaming to say that I'm no good. And that's point 1 of this blog...
Women forever have been expected to offer their work for less than men. It's even worse when it's in the birth field. So those of us who shoot births, 95% of whom are women (yes I know a few male birth photographers) we "naturally" undercharge for what we do because we are women and society has told us that our work is less than. This is crap. This is bullshit.
Secondly, artists and creatives are constantly asked to do work for free. Birth workers, same thing. And truly, I wish we could all just work for free, but it doesn't work that way. I certainly don't expect an OB/Gyn to show up for free. That will never happen. I've never heard of anyone successfully getting their doctor to agree to deliver their baby for free, so why we do ask other birth workers too? Not sure.
But here's a breakdown of where my base $900 Birth Photography fee goes (and yes, this is going up next year)...
In my bag I bring 2, yes 2, Nikon D750 DSLR cameras. They each cost $1300. I bring 2, because cameras fail, shutters decide to stop shutting, or I might drop one in a birth tub while trying to get the perfect shot. So I gotta have a backup. I can't exactly ask you to pause your birth so I can come back for a reshoot. Nope.
I also have 2 lenses valued at about $1000 and an external flash that's $300. SD Cards that cost about $50 each, and I have two in each camera, just in case. So just in equipment that allows me to capture your birth in the best way I can, I'm carrying $4100 in equipment. This equipment does need to be maintained, recalibrated, and then replaced occasionally or upgraded.
Now, does everyone carry that much with them, or even bring two camera bodies with them? No. No they don't. They probably should. I've had to in 2 separate instances pull out my backup body at a birth. If I didn't have it, I'd have been majorly screwed and my clients would not have had the images promised. If I'd had a lesser camera body, then the quality would have been drastically different. I'm personally not cool with that. ALWAYS ask about this when hiring a birth photographer.
I also carry insurance. It's not a lot each year. About $200
I spend $35/month on editing software
Believe it or not, I do a ton of continuing education so that my work is always getting better. I don't even keep a decent tally of what I spend on that. I know I should... Let's say $50/month
Now I go on call for my clients at 37 weeks and stay on call until they deliver which could easily be at 42 weeks. What does that mean? That means my ringer is ALWAYS ON. As high as it goes. Always. I'm basically never outside of arms reach of my phone. Try living like that for 50 out of 56 weeks a year. It's interesting. That means I don't go further away than about 2 hours depending on the mom. For certain clients, I barely leave my neighborhood because I know that when I get the call I will have to RUN! My husband and I take 2 cars a lot so that I could leave anything at any moment. I left Lobster Night at my in-laws country club to go to a birth once!! All you can eat lobster!! I can't have that 2nd glass of wine and I'm that obnoxious lady at movies that has to keep her phone on just in case. I also always have my phone at the gym, at the pool, everywhere. When I do take vacation (which I plan 10 months in advance) I still pay backup for that time in case someone goes into preterm labor.
I also employ full-time live-in childcare that runs me about $20,000 a year. When I say I can leave at a moments notice, I mean it. I don't have to drop my kids off or call a babysitter, or leave your birth to go get my kids or anything. When you call me, I'm all yours.
I use backups that are also amazing photographers and equally as reliable. They don't come cheap either. Just the other day I saw in a local photographers group that I'm in, a gal who has been charging $200 for birth photography. She was looking for a backup. She "wasn't available until 5pm." Meaning she has a "real job" and is undercutting the rest of us for a hobby. She was having a hard time finding a backup, god knows who went, because she couldn't pay them much. My backup photographers expect at least $400 to just show up. This mama that she was looking for all day backup for was already 4cm. This would never happen to my clients. My backup is secured ahead of time and I am always ready to go. That's what you're paying for right? Babies tend to come whenever they darn well feel like it and those of us that do this for a living have to act that way and be prepared.
Then there's your actual birth. I've been at births that lasted 35 minutes and I've been at births for 4 days. You never know which one you're going to get. But even for those quick ones I spend at least 2 hours afterwards capturing all your newborn special pictures, nursing, skin to skin etc. So lets pretend that at minimum I'm spending 3 hours. I average about 10 hours for a birth photography client. I will come at Christmas, on my birthday, on my kids birthdays... I come when you're in labor if you've hired me.
Then there's editing!! Yep! I now go home and upload all those 400-600 images I took at your birth into my editing software and go through everyone to cull it down to a comprehensive story of about 150 images. Then I edit each picture individually. On average I spend about 6 hours editing a birth gallery so that everything I deliver is beautiful and tells your story from beginning to end. Then I upload it all onto cloud storage that I pay extra for and an external hard drive as well. Then it goes to my gallery delivery platform that I pay $10/month for.
So I'm spending at minimum 9 hours but averagely at least 16 hours on your birth photos. If we broke down my cost ONLY by hours yes, then I'm making $56.25 an hour. That seems pretty good. But I also drove to and from your birth. I also had a consultation with you for 1-2 hours. And I have to as a business owner factor in all the actual costs of doing business as above! Oh, and shave off my 33% in taxes. And I pay for all my own insurance etc.
To pay for my childcare alone so that I can reliably always be at the births I'm hired for, I have to do 22 births a year.
So please, know that I'm not out here getting rich on birth photography. I am PASSIONATE about this work. I think there's no more important story I could be telling right now than the birth of families, than the transformation of women into mothers. Me and my colleagues that charge "market value" for our work do this because we want to ensure that you get the very best images from your birth. We want your story captured! You deserve to be able to look back, to show your children and your grandchildren these amazing moments of tenderness and joy and strength and power. And if someone is charging significantly less than market rate (their right to do so! I'm not telling anyone how they should run their business), you might ask about the above things. Because, like so many things in life, you get what you pay for.... and now you know.