HOW TO BUILD A BIRTH PHOTOGRAPHY PORTFOLIO
So you've decided that birth photography is calling your name. You know photography, you've got the equipment and you know how to use it well. Your family is supportive, you've got on-call childcare lined up, and you're ready to go. What's next? You've got to build a portfolio that shows your birth photography skills. So, you enthusiastically contact a pregnant acquaintance and tell her that you are eager and excited and will shoot her birth for free, right?
Wrong. While this is a tactic that many, many aspiring birth photographers have used,
experienced birth photographers will tell you this is NOT the way to go if you want people to value your services in the future. Birth photography is so much different than a 15-minute mini session you might offer for a discount to boost your portrait portfolio. Birth photography not only requires a huge sacrifice of your time, but it might actually require a great deal of expense to you as well--paying an on-call babysitter, having a spouse take a day of vacation time while you are at a birth, paying parking fees in the parking garage of the hospital, etc. By offering a free birth, you are actually losing money while investing a great deal of time in your client.
Losing money on a birth client is a bummer, but you know what is even more of a bummer? Being on-call for that client, night and day, for weeks; anticipating the moment they go to into labor and give you that call to let you know; waiting and waiting for that chance to finally go photograph your first birth...only to wake up one morning and see a cell phone pic of your birth client's brand new baby in your Facebook newsfeed! You've rearranged your schedule, you've had on-call childcare waiting, your bag has been packed for weeks, and they don't even bother to call!?!?! Yep. It happens all the time. Why? Because they don't necessarily value the FREE service you are offering them. She goes into labor, real life gets in the way, things get hectic, and that call to you never gets made. They've invested NOTHING in you, so they have nothing to lose. How do I know this? Because I learned the hard way. It happened to me 4 out of my first 5 births. It was devastating! I wasn't charging a deposit, and they had no real reason to call me. I started charging a deposit and do you know what happened? Clients started calling me every time.
So here is my suggestion. The first step in portfolio-building is to SET YOUR PRICES and post them publicly. Let people see the true value of birth photography from the get-go. Then start trying to get clients. Offer a portfolio-building discount (in exchange for the clients signing a full model-release so that you can use their images publicly). Perhaps you advertise that the first couple that books you gets a 75% portfolio-building discount, and have them pay the balance (or at least a good deposit) up front. It's a win-win. Someone gets a great deal on an incredibly valuable service, and you get a client who values your service and has invested in you...and will most likely actually call you when the time comes! The second couple that books you might get a 50% off discount, which they'll be thrilled with after seeing the images you took at your first birth. After 3 or 4 births, you should have a pretty great portfolio and be ready to start charging your normal fees. In the mean time, you haven't lost money, you haven't gotten burned by no-calls, and everyone can see your amazing images that you have captured along the way!
Just to recap: 1.) Don't offer free birth sessions for portfolio-building. 2.) Don't take a birth without a deposit. 3.) Set your pricing and value yourself highly so that potential clients will value you as well!
Don't undervalue your time and expertise. You are offering an amazing service to your clients, and if your portfolio and photographic skills speak for themselves, there are plenty of clients out there who will value and invest in your service!
by Laura Eckert of New Creation Photography & Birth Photography in Cedar Rapids/Iowa City, IA.