One of our PhotoMint readers recently asked for some advice on how to shoot while pregnant, so I talked to a number of photographers who have been there and done that, so I can report back. If you're thinking about a pregnancy now or in the near future, there are probably a million questions running through your mind:
What do I tell my clients? How to make it work financially? How long can I shoot for? How long after the birth before I should plan to shoot again? How do I nurse at weddings? We'll get to all those questions and more.
One of the biggest misconceptions of wedding photographers planning a pregnancy is the belief that they can control when they get pregnant, and schedule their baby during the perfect time of year-off season, of course. Many wedding photographers choose December /January as the perfect time for their baby to be born, thinking they can safely get through the end of wedding season and then have several winter and spring months on maternity leave, so to speak. It turns out that people can't schedule their pregnancies quite so perfectly.
“I wanted to have a baby in December, so that I wasn't too pregnant for my Fall weddings but would still have a couple of months off before my Spring season started up. So my husband and I started “trying” in earnest around March of that year. March became April, April became May, May became June and still no baby.” –Chenin Boutwell, Boutwell Studio.
Not to say you don't want to have a target date in mind, but just know that things don't always work the way you plan.
Another photographer, Jennifer Skog of Jennifer Skog Photographers, had a completely different experience. Thrilled beyond belief at her luck in getting pregnant right away, she immediately began to turn work down during the 10-12 week window she expected to be in her last stages of pregnancy. And then she miscarried. Not only did she have to deal with this devastating emotional loss, she had to deal with a financial loss as well. After a series of several miscarriages, she chose not to start officially planning until she was much farther along.
Jen's tips for planning your pregnancy while balancing your studio schedule-get as many albums done as you can while you are pregnant. This way you won't have such a backlog waiting for you when you return to full time status.
That's impossible to say. Every pregnancy is different, and you really can't know how yours will go until you get there. Portraits are easier as you don't have to be on your feet for 8 or more hours, and you can reschedule if needed. Many pregnant photographers are able to shoot weddings up through their seventh month, but there are no guarantees.
In order to make sure your studio and weddings are able to run smoothly as the date gets nearer, you should have a backup plan and a lead photographer who is prepared to shoot your weddings for you should you You'll want to put together a backup plan and a support team, so that you can smoothly deal with changes as they come up.
The other thing that may impact your shooting is morning sickness. Some people experience morning sickness all day long, and there's nothing to do but shoot through it, and hope the adrenaline kicks in.
With a little planning, most photographers are able to shoot throughout most of their pregnancies, as long as they make some adjustments in their approach.
How and when you let your clients know is up to you. Some people prefer to keep it to themselves, while others enjoy sharing their news on the blog, and therefore with the world. You are not obligated to tell everyone, the choice is up to you.
Chenin Boutwell shares that she chose only to tell clients that would possibly be directly affected. “I considered my pregnancy as a private health issue and my decision to work through my pregnancy as a personal issue. Other than those few clients, I did not feel the need to discuss my pregnancy with my other couples.”
Jen Skog took to her blog to share the happy news, and also shared her journey and trials in getting pregnant. Unlike the first time, however, she waited until she was 4 months along before sharing with anyone or making business plans.
Whatever you are comfortable with, you'll still want to let clients know that may be directly affected. Weddings happening during the 8 week window before and after your due date are most likely to be impacted. Most photographers choose to offer clients within that 8 week window the opportunity to cancel without repercussions if the client is uncomfortable with the situation, but it may not be technically required, depending on the terms of your contract.
When informing your clients of your situation, it's best to present them with your backup plans at the same time, so they know you have it covered and they don't have to worry about it.
One of the biggest impacts your pregnancy will have on your business is on the finances. Some things to keep in mind:
Jen chose to book as many shoots as possible leading up to her due date. She knew that she would need that financial cushion to help deal with some of the expenses and loss of business when you have to turn away business.
Chenin recommends that you have enough business savings to offer refunds to those clients who might choose to cancel their contract and book another photographer.
What about insurance? If your spouse has good insurance coverage, this is likely something you don't need to worry about. But if not, you'll want to make sure your medical insurance covers pregnancy or upgrade your insurance before you get plan to pregnant. Remember that besides pregnancy medical costs, you may also incur additional costs due to fertility issues as Jen did.
After Baby is Born
You should plan to give yourself a minimum of five weeks off prior to any shooting engagements. If you have a cesarean, your healing time could keep you from shooting for up to eight weeks, but every situation is different. Jen was able to shoot her first wedding 5 weeks after a cesarean, but it wasn’t easy.
If you have weddings booked for after the baby comes, the biggest factor to consider is if you are nursing, how to do that on a wedding day. Most new mommy photographers say this is one of the hardest parts of shooting a wedding. Your body knows it should be nursing about every 3 hours or so (every time your baby needs to eat) but it's next to impossible to find the time to pump every three hours at a wedding. Jen says she was able to pump right before the wedding coverage began, during the dinner break and then at the end.
Be prepared to be uncomfortable, but you should be able to get through it. Chenin highly recommends using a Medela Pump in Style Advanced Breast Pump with On the Go Tote so that you can save time and pump both breasts at once.
In the day to day studio operations, one of the best things you can do is take advantage of a system like Shootq or Tave to help your studio run smoothly. Jen says one of the most helpful things she has done is set up email templates.
Obviously, having a baby is going to affect everything in your business. If you run a full time studio, you'll need daycare. If you meet with clients in your home, this becomes tricky-it's harder to keep the client areas clean, and a crying baby in the background does not exactly help bookings. But how do you kick your baby out of the house for every consult? This is why Jen is now looking for a studio space, as it has become more challenging to maintain her business in her home.
The point is, you can make it work with some careful planning. Hopefully this gives you some ideas and things to consider. Many, many photographers have done it, and so can you. It's not a piece of cake, so the more you can plan and be prepared, the better off you and your family will be.