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Gear hire a birth photography solution?

To keep her Melbourne-based birth photography business afloat, Lacey Barratt, is offering clients the option to rent her camera to capture high-res images for her to edit into a gallery.

Lacey Barratt.

Restrictions currently prohibit non-essential workers from entering hospitals, meaning birth photography is effectively on hold. Yet no matter how much the unwelcome Coronavirus impacts daily life, the number of births were pre-determined around nine months ago. Unlike weddings, a birth can’t simply be rescheduled to a more convenient time.

‘Birth photographers are at home right now, and most likely experiencing some kind of financial difficulty. So we need to solve that problem,’ Lacey told Inside Imaging. ‘People are still having babies, and want their birth documented. The current situation is that photographers are either there, or are not doing it at all. There is no middle ground.

‘So it’s really nice to have an income stream via photography just from making one simple change. And we’ve found that clients would much rather pay somebody who is offering their gear, than to not have it at all.’

Lacey returned home from a speaking tour of the US in February, right before restrictions came into force, with a clear job schedule. This was fortunate, she says, as most clients hire her to document the full birth journey – from maternity, with baby bumps to a swollen belly, through to the birth and a newborn shoot. There would have been a problem if she had captured the moments leading up to birth, only to miss out on capturing the big event.

‘It crushed me every time I was asked “can you still photograph births”,’ she said. ‘I can’t get in the hospital, and also a lot of the Melbourne midwives are older so it’s not just about protecting the family but also the medical staff. So I started offering people who were inquiring whether they’d want me to edit their mobile phone photos. Then it hit me, why can’t I just give them my camera? They can actually have something quality that they can print.’

Another thing about Lacey. She’s a serial business entrepreneur, and a firm believer in having multiple income streams. As well birth photography, she works as a doula and birth photography business coach, offering numerous specialist one-on-one and DIY courses.

When Lacey’s primary income streams came to a halt – birth photography and doula work – she naturally shifted focus to online mentoring and teaching through Birthphotographer.com.au. Demand for these services simultaneously increased, as birth photographers had time to work on improving their business.

‘The online course is what’s keep us afloat at the moment. Before it was strictly photography, but over the passed few months we had to shift where our priorities were to make sure there was money coming in.’

The comprehensive online courses delve into numerous topics associated with birth photography. Everything from client communication, technical tutorials like low-light photography, working safely in a medical environment with birthing professionals, building a narrative around each birth, unexpected outcomes such as stillbirths, and so on.

Photo: Lacey Barratt.

‘Since birth photography has become more popular, there needs to be an understanding that this is not just walking in and snapping a few photos. You have to understand the energy that is associated with a woman giving birth, and that the vulnerability isn’t just with the birthing person but also the medical staff. Being able to navigate this is such a big part of process of being successful of birth photography.’

In Lacey’s one-on-one mentoring sessions, she suggested photographers also offer a gear-for-hire and post-processing service.

‘So many photographers had to refund all clients when the restrictions came in place. The birth photographers I was coaching, I recommended they hire out equipment and offer to edit photos. It’s about doing whatever had to be done to avoid having to refund. If I’m charging $3000 a birth, and I had to cancel and refund numerous clients, that would be a significant loss for me.’

Success!

Sydney-based birth photographer, Sarah Widnyana of Life and Lens Photography, was booked for a birth and newborn shoot in May. After talks with Lacey, she decided to loan her Canon 5D Mk IV to the client for two weeks, and left the photo shoot in the husband’s hands.

Sarah Widnyana, photographed by Lacey.

‘I felt comfortable loaning my camera because, sometimes when a woman is in labour she will need a C section and photographers aren’t allowed into an operating theatre,’ Sarah told Inside Imaging. ‘In those cases, I give my camera to the dad or midwife anyway. There is already a copyright clause in the contract covering this scenario. The only difference here was I wouldn’t be on call and the client photographed the whole thing.’

Sarah prepared a user-friendly camera guide, drafted up a new contract including a $1000 bond for the camera and a equipment lease agreement, locked down camera settings, and provided a demo to the husband, who had never handled a high-end camera.

‘It was perfect – there were no problems at all. I went around the day after their daughter was born to pick up my camera and take newborn photos. And now I’m editing the photos, as per usual. You really can’t tell the difference. I’d take different photos to what they would, but the finals are the same – they look the same as any other gallery I’d deliver.’

Sarah offered a big discount from the original agreement. ‘I had already been on call for a little bit anyway, and I needed to cover myself for that time. It ended up significantly cheaper for them this way, and it was nice on my part because I didn’t have to be on call but still felt like I was part of it’.

The Sydney-based photographer is considering leasing her gear again in the future, including when restrictions are lifted. Birth photography is expensive, with photographers on call 24/7. Having a dedicated camera for clients to hire and editing the photos into a gallery provides an affordable additional service.

‘But I’d really want a rock solid contract to cover myself. If this was something I’d offer ongoing, I would go to a solicitor to draft up an actual lease agreement. I didn’t feel confident writing the contract to protect me and my camera gear. I did as much as I could, and read up on equipment lease contracts, but this gear can be worth up to $10,000. I trusted them, but it was a risk.’

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