August 29, 2023
I know that not all of you are birth photographers, but if you are capturing once in a lifetime moments like weddings or newborns or birth, a lot of the advice that I’m going to share here today will help you as well.
Obviously birth photography is unique. The date and time of the birth is unpredictable, it’s all very emotional, there are a lot of unknowns and it all often happens in low-light conditions. That’s why having the right equipment is crucial.
Hands down the #1 question I get asked about gear is, “Tavia what camera should I buy?” and honestly it’s a tough question because it depends on so many varying factors. So this podcast is my answer to that question and the things I think you should consider when investing in your gear as a birth photographer.
Let’s talk about 5 pieces of equipment you need as a birth photographer and how to choose the right ones.
If you came here expecting me to tell you what camera to get, I’m not going to tell you that. Instead, I’m going to tell you the things to look for when you are camera shopping when you’re thinking about getting a camera specifically for birth photography.
Start with a camera that you already have
I actually started with a Canon Rebel. It was a very entry-level, the most basic, the cheapest Canon Rebel that you could purchase back in 2009. And I used that camera for years when I was first starting my business. And as a birth photographer, I probably photographed 20 or more births with that before I upgraded.
And so I know it can be easy to look around at photographers that you look up to, find out what camera they use and try to get that camera, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
But I want to encourage you to just get started with the gear that you have until you find yourself really kind of getting maxed out and you realize the ways that it’s limiting you before you jump to a $5,000 camera.
Mirrorless Cameras vs DSLRs
I can’t talk about cameras without talking about mirrorless versus DSLR. I have not made the jump to mirrorless yet, mainly because I have not been forced to. I guess that I am kind of an old lady in that way, and I’ve got my things that I like and I know how to use them and they produce the result I want them to and so I haven’t made the jump.
It is something to consider if you’re buying a new camera, if you want to go mirrorless or not. So keep that in the back of your mind. But it does mean that some sort of mid-level DSLRs might be slightly more affordable as other people are jumping to mirrorless.
If I could only recommend one focal length (which is the zoom of the lens) it would be a 35mm. It’s wide enough to get a lot in the shot without starting to look distorted.
I am a prime lens girl! I love prime lenses because it’s giving me wider aperture. A prime lens typically could go down to 1.2 or 1.4. And in a birth, having that extra light is critical. So sometimes I kind of wish I had a Zoom lens, so I didn’t have to move around so much. But ultimately it’s worth the sacrifice, giving up the ability to zoom in and out without moving my body to have the wider open aperture.
So those are the things that I would be looking for when it comes to lenses is something that has a wide aperture to let a lot of light in, and something that is definitely like a wide-angle lens, but not too crazy like a 12 or an 18 mm. Something like a 50 mm or 85 mm, I have found to just be really tight in birth spaces, especially in hospital rooms, when we can all kind of end up being crammed there together around the birth bed. Something like a 50 or 85 is just too tight, even with a full frame camera.
This point can be a little controversial so hang on! When I started out in birth photography, NO ONE was using flash or a speedlite. I felt like a black sheep in the birth community. But honestly my clients didn’t care and they loved their images. As more and more birth photographers started using flash, it became a little more widely accepted and now a lot of photographers use a speedlite.
The truth is, natural light is beautiful, but not always available in birth. Think, middle of the night homebirth or a hospital room with no windows. A speedlite can be a lifesaver. Look for one with a rotating head to bounce light off walls or ceilings, creating a soft, natural look.
I will never forget the darkest birth that I ever photographed. It was a home birth. She was having a VBAC at home, HVAC, I guess, in the middle of the night with literally no lights on inside.
I remember the light of the midwives iPad was the brightest light in the room. It was dark. I could barely see my own hand in front of my face. And I cranked my ISO to the highest that it would go, which was 25,000. Crazy! And it was still too dark. So I slowed my shutter speed all the way down to 1/8 of a second.
Now imagine what kind of grainy, blurry photos you are going to get with ISO 25,000 and a shutter speed of one eighth of a second. Not the best, right? Thankfully, I had already spoken to this client about using a speedlite and I was able to get beautiful, well-lit, crisp images at her birth because the speedlite came to the rescue. So definitely something I would consider having in your birth bag, even if it’s just for emergencies.
Ever wonder why some memory cards are so much pricier than others? Yes the storage capacity plays a role (a 128GB card will be more expensive than a 32GB card), but the SPEED of the card matters a lot too – especially in birth photography.
I highly recommend you invest in fast memory cards. They allow you to shoot continuously without lag, crucial for capturing fleeting moments. A camera with multiple card slots can save to both cards simultaneously. It’s an instant backup, ensuring you never lose a precious shot.
As you know, as birth photographers, things are unpredictable. Gear can malfunction, batteries can stop working, memory cards can fail, backup cameras, backup lenses, just so that you’re over-prepared more than under-prepared, I would much rather you have extras that you don’t use.
And this has literally happened to me, you guys. I was photographing a really good friend of mine. She had had a couple of hospital births that she wanted to be home births and she had to be transferred. She was having her dream home birth. She started pushing and my lens out of nowhere that had been using the entire time would not focus. Even manual focus wouldn’t work, and I wouldn’t have relied on that anyway, but it was just failing. And thankfully, I not only had another lens there, I had it on my body, on my person because she was pushing, and so I just quickly swapped them out and had an extra lens ready to go, and it was such a non-issue in the moment.
Thinking back, I thought, “Man, what if I didn’t have that in that moment?” It would’ve been a major panic moment, and so sometimes unexplained things just happen, so always come prepared with backups.
Being a great birth photographer who is reliable and sought after is all about capturing raw and real moments with the right gear. So I hope that this episode answered some of your questions about what gear you need as a birth photographer.
And remember my friend, if you have a passion for birth photography, it is not an accident. Not every photographer loves birth, even though it might feel that way sometimes. So if you have that passion inside of you, it is there for a reason, and I hope that you’ll pursue that passion and make it happen. Have a great week!