Choosing a Photographer: What On Call Looks Like
Looking to hire a photographer can be very confusing and frustrating. Comparing services, packages, investments (and half of the sites don't list prices so you have to ask!) It's a lot. I get it, because before I was a photographer, I was a bride. And a sister of the bride. And a mom to be. And a mom. And I wanted those moments documented as beautifully as possible. So, I googled and compared and requested and "contacted for more info". I'll touch on more aspects of comparing and choosing later but for now I want to break down one of the least understood components in my own birth documentation packages: on call time.
On call time, a reputable backup, birth training and insurance/legal business status are a few of the things that new photographers often leave out of their business structure/pricing early on (because it's hard to start out as a photographer, especially with something once in a lifetime like birth or weddings when you don't have experience. Because clients want someone they can trust!) So corners are cut in the name of "getting out there." No judgement here - just an observation that I personally didn't understand before going pro - back when I was in the thick of trying to compare pricing and quality as a client.
So what is on call time, what does it look like in practice, and why does it matter?
When you reserve your due date with an on call birth photographer, at a certain point they will initiate on "on call time". For me it's 37 weeks. This doesn't mean that your tog won't document your birth if it occurs outside of that timeframe, just that since the majority of births occur between 37-42 weeks, your tog will be EXTRA ready to go once you get to that point. Ready to go will vary depending on your tog's business structure/personal life but for me it looks like:
• birth bag packed
• children's backpacks packed in case they need to go to a sitters
• backup plans upon backup plans - which is very logistically challenging! I can't expect all of my family, friends, sitters or backup photographers to be on call constantly, so I have to have contingency plans.
• no trips outside of a 30 minute radius
• flexible homeschool schedule: no co-ops that require unfailing attendance or might put me in a situation where I'm on the wrong side of rush hour traffic.
• taking two cars if going over 15 minutes, as well as bringing one camera with me. If I brought my whole birth kit I'd be putting all of my eggs in one basket in case of a wreck or theft.
• no drinking
• no other commitments that can't be rescheduled (this means no booking baptisms, birthday parties, gender reveals ect)
I don't list those in complaint: the on call lifestyle is something I'm comfortable with. I don't want to shoot weddings. I work from home, schooling my children and fitting in work for my business/non profits as I'm able to. But it does require sacrifice. Sacrifice of sleep! I won't decline to shoot your birth because it's the middle of the night ;) And if you give me a heads up that you are feeling twingey, I will basically not sleep again until you call me to come. Ha! Sacrificing family events: I've been unable to visit my family farm down in Altheimer for a good long while. This means I've been busy, which is great - but also means I have to say no. When out of state family wants to plan a trip, a cruise for instance: I have to say no. Out of state funeral or wedding? Only if I know far enough in advance to block off a couple of months. Sacrificing my personal life: when it's my wedding anniversary and my husband is secretly planning a weekend away...I have to burst his bubble and we spend his carefully earned days off hanging around the house. When two of my kids have a sleep study - I stay at home with the third kiddo instead of being there for my other guys as they get all hooked up and try to sleep in unfamiliar surroundings.
Again, I'm not upset about these sacrifices! They are so very small in exchange for the experience of witnessing and recording the moments where the veil is thin and one becomes two. I've known since I was a child that birth would be important to me - important enough to make sacrifices. And I'm glad to do it. Even my kids, who hate to see me leave the house, see me off with a bemused kind of acceptance.
Because birth is magical. It is transformative. It matters.
And if it truly matters to you, you want to make sure it matters to the person you hire to document it.