January 3, 2022
I am so pumped! Because I just finished recording this episode with some amazing birth photographers and I know you’re gonna get so much value out of it.
Read/listen on to know…
If you’re feeling like…
…these are all reasons that you might consider hosting a staged or a mock birth!
I am joined today by Whitney Williams of East Lane Photography in Dallas, Jelina Sonnenberg of Jelina Sonnenberg Birth Services in San Diego, Regina Martin of Sweet Clover Photography in North Dakota, and Leslie Castleberry of Novita Birth Stories in Lincoln, Nebraska. This episode is literally like a mini course from these photographers who have done mock or staged birth themselves. So definitely do not listen to this without a notepad nearby. It’s gonna be one you’re gonna wanna listen to more than once!
Whitney: So a mock birth is essentially staging a birth that you know is going to happen eventually. You go in and you have a pregnant woman and you have providers who are caring for her during this and that’s where we’re photographing.
Whitney: Originally, I did the mock birth to get my name out there. I wanted to be seen as the go-to birth photographer in my community. I’m from the Dallas Metroplex. There’s a lot of us around. So when I first moved out here,
That was my kind of reasoning behind it. It’s kind of changed and morphed overtime, but that was my original mindset.
Tavia: Was for people to get to know who you are. And by people, you mean you wanted to have the images, but also providers?
Whitney: Correct. I wanted the doulas to know me. We’re very doula-heavy around here. So if I can have, you know, 5 to 10 doulas who know my name, who have seen my work now, and seen them in my work, you know, that’s what they’re going to tell their clients is, “Hey, she’s an awesome birth photographer,” and that was the whole goal.
Tavia: So did you have those doulas come to the staged birth?
Whitney: Yes. So, the very first time I had seven doulas. And then the second time I did it, I believe I had like 15, so it almost doubled.
Tavia: So you’re giving them photos of themselves in action too?
Whitney: Yes. So essentially like the playbook of what a mock birth is, is that we have a pregnant woman and we are in a room, a suite, and the pregnant woman essentially is doing labor positions and the doulas are doing their thing. I always tell them, once we go in the room, I want the doulas to pretty much lead this because this is how a birth is going to go. They’ll do the hip squeezes, they’ll do some Rebozo work, they’ll do just a bunch of comforting measures and then I’m there taking photos as if it were a birth happening.
Tavia: Okay, cool. I got it. Leslie, what was the purpose of the staged or mock birth that you did?
Leslie: So for me, it was kind of COVID-related. I took a lot of 2020 off just because it was 2020 and it was a nightmare. So in 2021, when I was getting back into doing birth work, I kind of wanted my birth people to know, “Hey, I still exist and I’m taking births again.” So mine was similar to Whitney’s as in I wanted to get my name out there and kind of build those relationships with birth vendors. We don’t have much for Midwifes around here. I’m in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska is kind of a home birth-hating state. So most of the people that ended up coming to the mock birth were doulas and then I had a chiropractor as well.
Tavia: Was your purpose to get photos of them in action and network also?
Leslie: Yes. Because it was COVID time and the hospital policies on visitors were really limited, kind of the way that I marketed to them was, “Hey, I would love to follow you to a real birth and photograph you in action at a real birth, but we can’t do that right now.” So that’s where the idea of the mock birth came from, so that we could get them images of themselves in action.
I also, during 2020, kind of did some like marketing help and website design for doulas just to keep myself busy when I wasn’t able to do birth. So the was kind of an add-on to that where I was like, “Hey, you’ve got this website now. Let’s add some pictures of you working to show your prospective clients, what you do.”
Tavia: I love this. Okay. So I’m thinking about all the different ways that birth photographers can do a mock or a staged birth. And I love the idea of using it as almost like a branding session for doulas and midwives. And so I love that perspective. Okay, cool.
Tavia: Regina is that sort of the purpose of yours or did you do something a little bit different?
Regina: So kinda along the same lines as what Leslie and Whitney said, a few other reasons. I had a couple of other reasons as well, where I wanted to add more, I just wanted more home birth content. I’m kind of a leader in my area when it comes to birth work and doulas. And I just saw a need with the doulas in my half of the state for just that kind of elevated professional photography. So I actually did market it as staged birth branding sessions for birth workers. I got a lot of good images. So it was the content, it was the networking, it was establishing myself as an expert in both the birth situation, as well as in birth photography. I wanted to be, you know, the photographer that those doulas thought of to refer to.
And then also we don’t have birth centers here. North Dakota is kind of like Nebraska, doesn’t go up home birth. And so I rented a really pretty Airbnb, so that not only would it be home birth type images, but it would be pretty home birth type images and kind of a little bit doing some PR for home birth and helping create that like, oh, that can be like really pretty. And really like, I don’t know. So those were kind of my reasons.
Tavia: I love that perspective. And I love that idea of like taking a place where home birth photography or home births in general, aren’t really a thing. And going like, “Hey, here’s some probably common misconceptions about what home birth looks like, and here’s what it actually looks like.” So I love that you like tied that into that. So good.
Tavia: Jelina, what about you? Was yours like the same as theirs? Or were you also doing it for profit or was it for photos or was it networking? Like, what was the reason that you did yours?
Jelina: So I kind of did it, two separate ones. I did one for like trying to train people who wanted to be a birth photographer. And then I did one, I branded it like birth worker mini sessions. So kind of along the same lines as the rest of us here. Supposed to be moving out of state. So this was my last like, “To everybody here, let’s get some professional photos before I leave.” And just to kind of see people before I moved.
Tavia: What was the first thing you said? You said birth worker mini sessions, and then something before that, what did I miss?
Jelina: It was a mock birth birth photographer training. So I had people who wanted to potentially become birth photographers come in for four hours and learn the ins and outs of just scraping the surface of what it takes to be a birth photographer.
Tavia: Yeah, absolutely. And I also love the idea of using it to train your backups. I don’t know if it was any of you that did that, but one of the students said something about doing it to train their backups, which I also thought was really, really smart.
Jelina: Yeah. It was me.
Tavia: Oh, it was?
Tavia: Because you were moving and you were thinking like, “Oh, maybe I could do this whenever I moved to train some backups?
Jelina: In the new state? No. So I did it as a potential, like, I should be moving, but if I’m not moving, I have backups for if we stay here, which we ended up doing. So it worked out.
Tavia: Okay. This is so good. Okay. So doula networking, doula branding photos, birth worker mini session type things, actually training other birth photographers in the area who might wanna do birth photography and also training your backups. So many purposes for this. So I love this.
Tavia: I would love to know — I’m gonna circle back to you Whitney — was this profitable for you or did you intend for it to be profitable or was it just sort of like, ‘I’m hoping to breakeven’ kind of a thing?
Whitney: So the first one was not profitable. I gave too many — too many images, I catered food. For one of my things, I want to treat my pregnant mamas, my models, and let them know that what they’re doing is awesome. So instead of me paying them, I wanted to get them gifts. So I got them really cool gifts that are about my brand. So the first one was definitely not profitable. I’m pretty sure I maybe broke even. The second one, however, is a lot more profitable.
Tavia: Right. Like not maybe that event immediately, but what has resulted like afterwards was profitable.
Whitney: Afterwards. Yeah.
Jelina: For the mini sessions that I did, it allowed me to upsell images afterwards. So it was not necessarily dabbling in IPS, but it was how can I essentially make more money off of this? Because it was initially 20 minutes, it was 150 for 10 images. So it was okay. I just wanna break even, but how can I potentially actually make a profit off of this?
Whitney: Kinda what I did as well, very similar to Jelina’s, is I kind of dabbled in IPS, but not the print side, but more of the upselling. Because my very first one was $150 for 10 images and I included headshots in that one. So, I mean, each birth worker, even in a 20 minute session probably received about a hundred photos. And I got to pick 10 from those, so I upsell the rest. The second time I did it, I charged 250 for 10 images, but didn’t include headshots. So if they signed up before a certain date, they got headshots. If not, they had to add-on headshots. So yeah, that’s what I did.
Tavia: This is making me so happy. I know that birth photographers listening to this are like their wheels are spinning like crazy about like all the different things that could happen, especially in COVID times. You know, I know that we have people listening to this, like all over the world. Countries like Australia are still mostly shut down and it’s like this is a way that you could definitely still be making money and making those connections and stuff while things might not be fully open for you right now. So super, super good.
Tavia: Okay, Leslie, I would love to know what would you do differently next time or is there going to be a next time?
Leslie: So that’s a really good question. There is no next time in sight right now, but mainly because I took it a step further and now I’m planning an entire Baby Expo for April of 2022, because we don’t have any here. So I kind of put the smaller event on the back burner.
I did something similar where I rented the Airbnb. And it was the Airbnb itself was pretty and it was nice, but it was kind of small. It was in a little bit of a ghetto area of town that I didn’t realize when I rented it. It was hard for people to find. So I think using the birth center would be good. I just don’t know how open they are to that.
I gave too much, so my event was not profitable. And so for the models I did, I gave them a free like mini newborn session. So I think next time I would give them like 5 images and then upsell the rest or whatever. So definitely be more cognizant of like my cost of actually doing the event, making some profit off of it, even though that’s not my main goal. You know, I’m in business, so we still, we need to make money.
Tavia: Cool. Thank you, Regina, is there anything that you would do differently next time? And are you gonna do it again or do you think you might do it again?
Regina: Yes. I plan to do it annually from now on. This year, 2021, I did two. And from here next year, I’m planning to do one more and we’ll see, I guess, after that, but my plan is to do it annually.
I was kind of running the whole show. And at least in my area, when birth workers get together, they just wanna like hang out the whole day and that’s great. Like that was the space that I wanted to create was like, “Hey, a lot of us don’t see each other all the time because we live far away in different directions. So just like come and hang out and we’ll have some models and we’ll have food.” And so it was a lot of fun, but I was like trying to photograph and run a three-ring circus. And so next time I would like to have a coordinator that’s like, “Okay, it’s this time, let’s get this model in the pool. I’m gonna go around and take lunch orders, etc.” Like kind of have somebody else doing the coordination part so that I can more fully focus on photography.
I would also like to add in the potential for, you know, people that are interested in shooting birth to come in and kind of take it also as a training or as an introduction to the birth space. So those are a few things.
Tavia: Yeah. I love that. And it would be so easy to do all that and have a few photographers just walking around with you, you know what I mean? It wouldn’t be anything extra. It would just be like, okay, these photographers are gonna follow me around. So good.
Regina: Right. Well, actually at the last one that I did, I hired another branding photographer to come and shoot me shooting these staged birth. In her photos, it doesn’t necessarily look like, like, so I gave that opportunity to the doulas and then I was like, oh, I really need photos of me in action as well. So I did that.
Tavia: That’s so good. I love that. You said that’s so, so smart. When I was shooting this mock birth for the Milkyway, I told my husband who was my director, which I definitely agree. And I love that you said that. ‘Cause we had actors and like all kinds of stuff going on. And I was like, I don’t wanna have to be thinking about the logistics side of things. I wanna be the actor that’s the birth photographer, you know? I wanna be in the scene and not have to think about it. And so I love that you mentioned that.
Oh, he took photos of me. I didn’t give him my backup camera. I was like, just use my phone and take that. And he, bless his heart, he did the best he could. But I love the idea of having a photographer there to take that. It’s so meta. It’s like the photographer taking a photo of the like whatever, but I love that.
Tavia: Okay. If I were listening to this episode, I would be sitting here thinking, okay. But like what did it actually look like? Are the models — whatever you wanna call ’em, the moms — acting like they’re in labor? Are they like making the sounds? Is there a cut? That’s my first question.
And number two, did you do the actual birth and did you do postpartum or was it just labor?
Regina: We did labor and then I had other postpartum moms come in with babies for my doulas that wanted to have photos of them doing postpartum support. And so we did labor.
We did a variety of positions around the house, in the tub, in the birth pool. One staged birth that I did had a nice bathtub. So we just used that instead of a birth pool. The other one, we actually set up a birth.
And that kind of had varied success where like some people filled their form out like really specifically and other people did not, but that was what we did.
Tavia: Awesome. Did anybody else, like what did you shoot? Did you do postpartum? Did you do the birth? Did you do labor? Like logistically, what did it look like?
Jelina: With mine, I told them you have 20 minutes. Whatever you wanna capture in those 20 minutes, we tried. But that’s up to you in the sense of what positions you wanna cover. I had one client bring in a baby to do postpartum kind of images. I had a midwife bring in her own client, who was due a few weeks later.
Tavia: Yeah. You’re not trying to like, guess what they want. It’s just like, okay, what do you want? Tell me and I’ll do that. Awesome. Cool. Okay. So yeah, Whitney.
Whitney: I figured I’d kind of go over just because like for new birth photographers or somebody who’s thinking about doing this. So I had about three to four pregnant moms, who I found on local moms groups. I said that they had to be heavily pregnant, but obviously not uncomfortable. So most of them were 36 to 38 weeks along. So I did consultation photos. So I had them come in like a t-shirt and leggings and basically doing a talk with the doula or midwife. So what a prenatal would essentially look like, right? So I had three to four models. I really wanted two newborn models like moms with fresh babies. But for both of ’em I just had one mom with a newborn, so it worked out. So we did the prenatal ones and then we went into the labor and did you know some of those they did about maybe five different positions, that’s about right.
And then they would switch to the other model and do the newborn stuff. So like I had an IBCLC for the first time and she was doing like all the tongue ties and just checking over baby. So that all worked really well. And the fact that I had several different models meant each doula had a different person in every one of their photos. So when they’re posting it on their website, it’s not like the same woman for a prenatal, the same one for labor and the same one for newborn. So that all kind of really worked out for me.
Tavia: So, so good. Do you guys feel comfortable sharing what you charged? ‘Cause that’s always a big question is like, what should I charge? I think some of you already did.
Whitney: Yeah. I can go back over mine real quick. I charged, for my first one, $150 for 10 images. They got to pick out their images from their gallery. Any image over the 10 was $15 per image. For the second one, I charged $250. So I went up a hundred dollars and then charged an extra $75 for head shots if they didn’t hit my deadline. And then same thing, $15 per image over the 10.
Regina: So I charged $200 for mine and I’ll give you whatever photos you get. So $200 was a really good deal because most of my doulas got at least like 40 images, lunch. I gave likely too much, but organizing, doing all of the logistics, with the house and the models, and I don’t know, I thought it was a really good deal.
Tavia: I agree. I think that sounds like a really good deal.
Leslie: Mine was 225. And I did something similar, I think Whitney and I actually talked about this when we were both planning ours. It was 225 and then I had the headshot add-on, but if they registered by a certain date, they would get the headshot add-on in the 225. So I think the headshot add-on was like 75 bucks. So it would’ve made it 300. Same as Regina, I kind of just gave them everything that was good. And I would suggest to anybody definitely run your numbers, figure out how much, like this is, it’s a big time commitment and charge appropriately.
Tavia: Yeah, I totally agree. It’s really looking at, what is my purpose with this?
And then you can base everything on that because yeah, having just come off of this, myself and paying actors and buying, renting an Airbnb and paying a videographer, like it was probably a thousand dollars, maybe more that I spent on all of that stuff. And so if you think about it that way, it’s like, okay, well, if it’s gonna cost me a thousand dollars, how much do I need to charge to actually make like $2,000 or $3,000 to make it profitable, but also building those relationships as well.
Because when you think about it, you’re doing these people a service, right? Like these doulas, yes, you’re building the relationships, but you’re giving them a branding photo session and you’re setting all of that up for them. Like for you to just break even off of that, you’re gonna burnout and not wanna do it again. And then they don’t have that offer available to them anymore. And if you’ve done it before you have the experience and it’s gonna be easier for you to like churn those out, I’m just like also processing while you guys are talking about all of this, so sorry for rambling, but I’m like, yeah. Okay, good. You could do that. And this, and so I like love this in conversation.
Tavia: Is there anything else you want people to know, listening to this about like, if they should do one or tips or like last minute things that you wish you knew before you did your first one?
Leslie: I was just gonna say, kind of just echoing what you said Tavia, is really understanding, like, why you’re even doing it. Like if you hear, “Oh, a mock birth, that sounds really cool. Like I should do something like that.”
Things like that. So just being very intentional, I think on what your goal is.
Regina: And I think too, like the getting into the nitty gritty a little bit, the value of having multiple models cannot be understated, particularly for if you are in a smaller birth community like I am. Like with these branding sessions I photographed, or with this staged birth I photographed, probably like 75% of all of the doulas working in my part of the entire state. So it was really important to have different models so that not everybody has images on their social media working with the same poor pregnant person.
Jelina: Another kind of hack that you can do is if you’re not able to get a whole bunch of different models is make sure the models bring different clothes and have hair up and hair down to make them kind of look different without actually being a different person. If you do end up kind of struggling to get multiple models.
Whitney: So I think a way to cut down on costs, cause I know a lot of you did Airbnbs, so for me it was awesome because we have a gajillion birth centers around. We’re very homebirth happy in the Dallas Metroplex, which is I’m so thankful about. Because majority of my birth have been homebirth or birth center instead of hospital because we have access to that.
Cause I know Airbnbs can be expensive. I think I was only out like $300 or $350. So it was like about $200 in catering for lunch and then about $150-ish for the gifts for my models, because I didn’t give gifts to the birth workers. It was just for my models. So I think that was something that like, because I looked into an Airbnb ’cause Leslie and I were talking about it and I was like, man, this is gonna be so expensive. And I was like, wait a minute. I have these free resources hanging out out really close.
Tavia: This is so good. Thank you guys so much for having this conversation. We are gonna link everybody’s Instagrams in the show notes. So please make sure and go give these ladies a follow if you wanna see beautiful birth images up in your feed, which I know most of you do.
Okay. What did you think? I know that your brain is probably spinning like mine was at the end of this episode. Make sure and jot down next steps for yourself. Are you going to host a mock birth in 2022? And if so, what’s your goal at the end of the mock birth? What do you want to see happen? We talked about in episode, do you wanna see profit? Do you wanna see connections? Do you want brand photos of yourself? What’s your primary goal and work backwards from that goal.
I would love to know what you thought about this episode, DM me on Instagram. And if you’re enjoying this podcast, make sure and hit subscribe wherever you’re listening. And thank you for leaving the show a review on iTunes.
And my friend, remember: if you have a passion, it’s not an accident, not everyone loves the thing that you love. So whatever your passion is, I hope that you will get out there and make it happen. Have a great week.
Loved the insights from today’s guests? Connect with them on Instagram!
Website: East Lane Photography
Website: Jelina Sonnenberg Birth Services
Website: Sweet Clover Photography
Website: Novita Birth Stories
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