Being a pregnant wedding photographer: planning + managing your work and clients
Finding out you’re pregnant is a rollercoaster of emotion no matter who you are. You’re absolutely over the moon but also faced with a sudden raft of new practical considerations and concerns… How will we manage financially? What will happen to my job? Where can the baby sleep? What stuff do I need to buy? WHERE THE HELL ARE THE BISCUITS AND GODDAMN IT WHY THE HELL IS THE TAKEAWAY NOT OPEN YET??? You get the gist. It can be a nerve-wracking time.
EXTRA OBSTACLES FOR PREGNANT WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHERS
As a pregnant wedding photographer you can also throw a whole load of extra obstacles into the mix. Firstly, there are issues that any self-employed mother-to-be faces, particularly when you work solo. Being self-employed has many advantages, but it’s a disconcerting position to be in when pregnancy and parenthood come into the equation. You get minimal maternity allowance and know that any time spent away from your business could jeopardise its success, or even there being any work to actually return to later on.
In addition to this, as a wedding photographer, you’re in one of the only professions on earth where you can be booked several years in advance and have to commit to being able to work on that specific day for an unrepeatable event. It’s not a booking that can be rescheduled… To the people who book you, it’s usually the most important day of their life, irreplaceable and immovable. And they 100% want YOU to be there – it’s you they’ve chosen, and it’s you they want.
So, unless you’re one of the very lucky few who know a year or two in advance when you’ll want to get pregnant and can get pregnant when you want to, so can plan your work and bookings accordingly (do these women even exist? I certainly was not one of them) you’re going to find that pregnancy raises quite a few tricky and worrying questions and scenarios.
When I discovered I was pregnant with my second son Huey, my intense and overwhelming joy about becoming pregnant was met with intense and overwhelming panic and terror about being a pregnant wedding photographer. There were SO many questions…
What do I tell my couples? Do I have to tell my couples? Will they be angry?
Will I have to cancel any weddings? How long will I be able to work for?
How will I cope with the physical demands of shooting a wedding? What if I’m sick on the day?
What if I go into early labour? How soon after the birth will I be able to shoot a wedding?
Do I get maternity pay? How will we get by financially?
How will I be able to leave the baby to shoot weddings?
Is it possible to breastfeed whilst shooting weddings regularly?
How will I manage to keep fit enough physically to lug all that equipment round?
What if the baby doesn’t let me sleep the night before the wedding?
Will I need second shooters? etc etc.
WHAT WORKED FOR ME
Since contending with these questions myself, and successfully shooting weddings right through my pregnancy and during the last part of Huey’s first year, I’ve had a few people ask me similar questions. Lots of female wedding photographers find themselves in this position so I thought I’d write about how I coped and hopefully it’ll be helpful to some people! Please let me stress that I’m in no way offering a definitive guide to the right way to do this, I’m purely sharing my own experiences and what worked for me.
In this post, we’re starting at the beginning of the journey – planning (or in my case, NOT remotely able to plan) your pregnancy, and managing your work, including telling your couples.
ALLOWING YOURSELF TO TRY FOR A BABY
This is for me the most emotive aspect of this whole issue and something I feel really strongly about. I know several female wedding photographers, myself included, who expressed actual terror at the prospect of planning a pregnancy… The fear that they would be letting their clients down, the worry about their reaction… sometimes to the point that it was putting them off trying. How much of a tragedy is that?!
PUT AWAY THE GUILT, IT’S ABSOLUTELY YOUR RIGHT TO TRY FOR A FAMILY
Firstly, I have to assert, it’s absolutely your right to try for a family. No-one’s wedding is more important than your right to have children. Of course you have a practical and ethical obligation to take good care of your clients and ensure that they’re not unduly disadvantaged by your pregnancy. However, it’s clearly unreasonable of anyone to think that you simply shouldn’t have children because you’re a wedding photographer.
So first of all, before you do anything else, PUT AWAY THE GUILT and allow yourself to feel happy and excited about the pregnancy (or prospect of a pregnancy) like any other woman would and should. Don’t let the worry about your work cast a shadow over what should be one of the happiest times of your life. THAT’S AN ORDER.
KEEP IT IN PERSPECTIVE, YOU ARE REPLACEABLE
Couples have a huge choice of wonderful wedding photographers. I know you’re without doubt completely awesome, but you’re NOT the only one out there. Having a different wedding photographer at their wedding is not a life-altering thing for them, whereas whether or not you have your own children and family could not be more important and life-altering.
Provided you commit to taking good care of them and their wedding day, your clients will understand. If they actually think their wedding photography is more important than you being able to have children then they’re the kind of people, quite frankly, whose approval you can do without. So whenever you start to feel overwhelmed by the impact on your weddings, do try to keep it in perspective. Remember, with all due respect to your couples, it IS just work… and with enough notice and careful planning, you ARE replaceable. Their world is not going to come crashing down if they have to use a different amazing wedding photographer.
TIMING THE PREGNANCY
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Sorry. I had to get that out of my system. After a heart-wrenchingly long struggle to get pregnant myself, the phrase and concept ‘timing the pregnancy’ is so alien and unattainable to me as to sound utterly ridiculous.
PREGNANCIES DON’T USUALLY COME TO ORDER
Other than for a few very lucky individuals, pregnancies don’t usually come to order. They happen when they’re ready and sadly sometimes not at all. Some incredibly fortunate ladies are able to intentionally ‘time’ their pregnancies to fit around wedding season. But for me, as for many others… try as I might, I was in no way able to make it happen as and when I wanted it to.
My own experience is that if you get too hung up on timing the pregnancy, you’ll just stress yourself out unnecessarily. There’s also the possibility that it may not happen at all, or may not happen for some time. If you don’t take bookings on the assumption that you will be pregnant, you could end up doubling your heartache. You could end up not only without the longed-for pregnancy, but also without any wages. Work on the assumption that it could take you years, and continue your working life in the same manner as before.
MONEY MIGHT BE TIGHT FOR A WHILE, BUT YOU’LL GET THROUGH IT
Try not to get too hung up on the worry that you have to time the pregnancy so you don’t lose out on work. To a certain degree, it’s unavoidable that money will be tighter around the year of a pregnancy as you can’t take on as much work. This is the same for most women, even employed ones. Try to just accept that it will happen, but that it’s just for a limited amount of time. Things might be tight for a while, but you’ll get through it.
It’s surprising how much people can live within their means and manage on a smaller amount of money if they have to, so don’t panic. Without being overly hippy about it… money isn’t everything… but family IS. In a few years’ time, a temporary skint blip will be a distant memory. But if you’re lucky enough to have children, they’ll still be there bringing you untold joy for the rest of your life. A temporarily reduced income does NOT automatically spell disaster.
TELLING YOUR WEDDING COUPLES YOU’RE PREGNANT
Ok. This is the biggie. For me, this was the knee-shakingly, stomach-churningly, nausea-inducingly most terrifying aspect of the whole process. I was literally shaking as I typed out the emails and I lost so much sleep over it in the days before I did it. I needn’t have worried. As with most things in life, the thought of doing it is much worse than the reality. My couples were, without exception, absolutely wonderful – understanding, supportive and positive.
I planned carefully how to approach each couple depending on where their wedding fell during my pregnancy. I was lucky that I was fit and well and had no reason to anticipate any particular health problems in my pregnancy. My previous pregnancy ten years before had been completely straightforward. Although ten years older, I exercised more and was fitter than I had been then. Therefore, I worked on the assumption that this pregnancy would most likely also be relatively straightforward. If unexpected complications cropped up, I’d deal with them if and when they happened.
Again, I’m not suggesting this is THE correct or only way to do things, but this is what I felt appropriate in my own circumstances. I do appreciate that for many women there are additional health concerns that would require a different response. Here’s what I did for weddings I’d already booked in.
ALL WEDDINGS UNTIL 30 WEEKS PREGNANT
I just dropped my couples a quick courtesy email to let them know I was pregnant so my bump wouldn’t surprise them on the wedding day! I explained that I was keeping fit and healthy and that I was going to use a 2nd shooter (funded myself) as extra support and reassurance for both them and me. I explained that their wedding date was well within the normal parameters of women working during pregnancy, and that I didn’t anticipate it impacting their wedding negatively in any way. I said of course, feel free to call / Skype if they wanted to chat or ask any questions. None did, they were all totally fine with this.
ALL WEDDINGS BETWEEN 30-37 WEEKS PREGNANT
I followed a similar procedure as for weddings before 30 weeks. However, as I’d be heavily pregnant by this point, I made sure that the 2nd shooters I used were really experienced and capable wedding photographers in their own right. They had to be people with their own established businesses, who’d be capable of stepping in for me completely if I went into early labour or couldn’t shoot the wedding for whatever reason. I chose people whose style was similar to my own and who I knew my couples would be happy with, and again, paid for them out of my own pocket.
I emailed all the couples whose weddings fell within this period, reassuring them and explaining the arrangements, as outlined above. I sent them a link to the other photographer’s website so they could see their work for themselves. All of them were absolutely fine about it, and many were really chuffed to be getting two experienced photographers for the price of one!
ALL WEDDINGS BETWEEN 37-42 WEEKS PREGNANT
I had to face up to the likely possibility that these couples WOULD be directly affected by my pregnancy and I may well not be able to shoot their wedding. So for this group, it took a little more planning and preparation to ensure that I didn’t unduly inconvenience them.
Before emailing these couples I contacted an amazing photographer I know really well and trust completely, and whose style, skill and experience are totally in line with my own. I asked if they’d be able to shoot these weddings instead of me and would be willing to split the fee 50/50. The booking would remain mine, but I’d contract them to take the photographs at the wedding(s) in my place. They’d then give the unedited images straight back to me and I’d handle absolutely everything else. I’d do all the planning beforehand, liaising with the couple before and after, all culling and editing, supply of all images and album, USB etc.
I also contacted a number of excellent and experienced photographers whose style is similar to my own, in order to compile a list of those who were available on the various wedding dates within this period. That way, I had a fantastic list of available alternatives to give my clients if they wanted to cancel their booking with me altogether and didn’t want to go with the mixed-photographer approach above. I felt it was crucial that I didn’t leave my couples high and dry in any way. Therefore, I wanted to have all of this information in place before I contacted them so they didn’t have to go through any period of panic or uncertainty about their photography.
Once I’d done all of the above, out of courtesy I then emailed my couples affected as soon as possible. I didn’t wait until the 12 week scan. I just told them straight away so they had as much notice as possible to mull it over and take whatever action they wanted to. I explained the situation and apologised profusely for the impact on their wedding. I then gave them two options:
Find another photographer and cancel their booking with me altogether. I would refund their deposit in full and would actively help them to find someone new. As explained above, I’d already compiled a list of amazing alternative photographers who I knew were available on their wedding date. So, if they decided to go with this option, I could reassuringly send this list over immediately if they wanted it, no faffing.
Continue with their booking with me, but I’d contract another very similar photographer to shoot their wedding (as outlined above). I explained that if there was any way I could be there to shoot as well, I would do, but that I couldn’t guarantee it. They should assume that I wouldn’t be there and it would only be the alternative contracted photographer. I sent them a link to this photographer’s website and links to a couple of their full galleries so they could see who and what they’d be getting instead.
I explained that I’d take care of everything related to their wedding and the contracted photographer. That way, they’d have no more work to do repeating the rigmarole of the sourcing/booking/planning process with someone else. Their booking would just continue with me stress-free and uninterrupted as before. I explained I’d still edit their photos so they’d still get some of the same service and aesthetic they originally booked from me.
As compensation for them not getting me on their wedding day as they originally expected, I also offered them a couple/family shoot free of charge, so they’d still definitely get some of my photography whatever happened. All couples went for this apart from one couple who chose to get their deposit refunded and look elsewhere – but this couple were still really lovely about it, not at all angry and panicky as I’d feared!
So that’s it! My approach to by far the scariest part of the pregnancy – contemplating the road ahead and telling your couples. As with most things in life, the thought and anticipation of it was MUCH worse than the reality of doing it. Once I’d done this, the weight I felt lifted was HUGE, and I really felt like I could finally relax into enjoying the pregnancy without reservation. Another reason to do it as soon as possible!
I’d love to hear your input about how you coped or plan to cope with being a pregnant wedding photographer – feel free to chime in, in the comments below!
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