My journey to becoming a birth photographer

So this is a total first... (at least from what I can currently recall). I actually had someone email me and say "I'd love to read a blog post about how you became a birth photographer!" Hah! A blog post by request - how fun?! 

But BEFORE I get to that story... I need to say THANK YOU. To all of you who emailed me, commented on my blog, facebook messaged me, texted me and even called to encourage me about my last blog post. Y'all are super fab. It was kind of embarrassing to write that - but getting the feedback from you all made it completely worth it. I was just having an identity crisis, as Kristin so kindly labeled it for me. "Am I REALLY that kind of a mom?" Well, yes. I am a working mom trying to balance life and sometimes that means sending my baby away on a vacation with her extended family. And that is okay. :) Thank you for all the pats on the back and virtual high-fives, friends! Also! I totally thought no one even read my blog anymore, so that reassurance was just the cherry on top. :) :) THANK YOU!

So... the story of how I became a birth photographer. The pieces are all around here on the blog, but it would probably be nice to bring everything together in one place. 

How it started

In 2009 my sister was expecting her fourth child, Reece. I had just gotten married a year prior and I knew some day I would be having my own children. Knowing this was their last planned child (okay fine, he is their last kid. I'm still in denial five years later), I asked my sister what she thought of having me present in the delivery room. I just wanted to see a real, live birth. And I wasn't going to ask a friend of mine... because I thought that was just weird. (Too funny considering my career now!) After some thought and discussion with her husband, my sister invited me into their delivery room with one exception: bring your camera. "I want pictures like this," she said. Immediately, I was on board. Of course!

Being her fourth child, you would think her labor would be a little predictable. Hah! She ended up being at the hospital probably less than 2-ish hours before Reece landed into the arms of his mom and dad. So, it was a quick job. But that was all it took. I had been bitten by the bug of birth photography. I immediately drove home and processed those pictures. I had a slideshow built and online the next day for my sister to watch in her hospital room. (For fun, you can watch that slideshow here. Yes, she really is that calm in labor. Crazy lady!)

And then there were five

Shortly thereafter, (like maybe within a week) I posted on my blog that I was accepting 5 mamas for FREE birth sessions. I knew I couldn't commit 100% to being at their births because I had a full-time job. I also traveled a lot, so I didn't want to charge a dime in the case I would miss one. I quickly heard from and ended up booking 6 births and in the end I made it to only 4 of them. I was out of state for two and unable to make it back in time to capture them. (Luckily, the mamas were okay with it. :))

You can see those first four births here:

Sidenote: Check out all the old cell phones in those pictures! Hah!

After I had the experience of shooting those birth sessions, my heart was there. But my lifestyle was not. So I shared about my passion for birth and photography (and birth photography) on my blog and with my friends. Over the years, I had the honor of photographing about 1-2 births a year for dear friends. They were not portfolio-building births, so I won't share them publicly.

Then, I had my own birth experience

I knew I wanted my birth photographed and my sister knew she owed me. :) Honestly, there was a mutual desire for her to be present, of course. So she shot my birth. I've posted it before, but you can also watch it below if you haven't seen it yet:

My birth experience further opened the opportunity for Tommy to understand my passion about birth photography even more. After our childbirth education classes and our own home birth, he also began seeing birth as intriguing and miraculous, and has supported my desire to be a birth photographer from day one. With every midnight phone call and 2hr drive away, he has adjusted his days without complaint so that I can simply do what I love. Over and over, he'd ask "Are you getting paid for this one?" I'd have to say "No, but!" My justifications ranged from gaining experience, to "she knows a lot of people," to "she's my FRIEND." :) He just took it all in stride.

But after having our own baby, watching him adjust his day to take care of Sunday and make arrangements for her without complaint, made it CLEAR to me how much he truly supported this passion of mine. (And as if I doubted, I just barely missed his graduation ceremony last week because of a birth and he didn't care one lick. ;))

Then, I started meeting a lot of mamas

After I had Sunday, I became super active in a local mom group called The Motherhood Collective. This opened a lot of doors for my photography locally which gave me the chance to stop traveling as much for work. Perfect timing, because suddenly traveling with a baby was not as fun as traveling alone used to be. :) 

In addition to meeting new people and gaining new clients, my passion for birth grew and I started pursuing further education about birth. I felt a calling to the community and I struggled for a long time with what that would look like. Volunteer to bring new meals to mamas? Chauffeur new mamas to the cafe so they could be surrounded by support and understanding during such a vulnerable season? Maybe I was just supposed to help The Collective with their website and branding to help spread the word that we were available to local moms. I had my hands in all of these things. I didn't consider photography as my service because it was something I was being paid to do... it was my job. Isn't serving someone.... free? 

My life-changing moment

I previously wrote about my experience at the Pursuit31 Conference last fall and you can read it here. But it was at this conference that things suddenly clicked for me. God GAVE me this desire for birth... for mamas... but also for photography. He gave me the passion and talent to provide people with forever memories. He wanted me to DO THIS. 

So I returned from my trip to the Pursuit31 Conference and spent a few weeks praying about everything I had learned. Then, I presented the idea of offering birth sessions (with contracts and a commitment to BE THERE) to Tommy. You see, being a birth photographer isn't just shooting births. It's saying to each and every person in your life (your immediate family, in-laws, friends, hairstylist, doctors and colleagues) that you are essentially a little bit unreliable. Okay, not even a little bit. You are just unreliable in every area of life except to your clients. Your schedule is unpredictable and you may miss a lot of meetings, playdates, holidays, and nights of sleep. And you have made the well thought-out decision that the sacrifice is worth it, despite how it affects the people around you.

That's a tough pill to swallow. But I felt sure this was what God wanted me to do. And with Tommy's neverending support right in front of me, I couldn't say no.

So, I went for it

In December of 2013 I announced that I was officially offering birth photography sessions. This time around, I knew I could make the commitment to be present at each birth and that my time, experience and energy was worth more than FREE. So I gathered together all of my resources and built a birth photography package that worked for my business. But, because it had been so long since I had shot a birth that I could post publicly, and my work has changed so much over the years, I needed new portfolio images. So I offered my birth package at a significantly discounted price to mamas with due dates within the next 2 months. This way I could get those portfolio images quickly and I wasn't committing to shooting a heavily discounted birth 9 months into my new career. This worked great and I shot 4 amazingly beautiful and different births. Each one helped round out my portfolio. (You can see some of them here.)

After I had my four mamas booked, I removed the special from my website and simply waited. 

Birth photography is still new in this area

One of the main reasons Tommy and I decided that I should just go for it was because I knew this would take some time to catch on. Birth photography is HUGE in Texas, Seattle, and the Portland areas. It's growing leaps and bounds across the country. But our little town here in Virginia is one of last to catch on to trends in the world. We're about 2 years behind the west coast, f'real. :) 

Knowing this, I knew I wanted to be ahead of the trend. I want to be a part of spreading the beauty of birth photography and showing people how incredible it can be. So while I don't have women banging down my door to come and photograph their births, I do hope that some day that might happen. (Big dreams, people!)

In the meantime, what could I do to help spread the word? 

Enter, Virginia Birth Photographers

The idea of Virginia Birth Photographers came to me soon after I decided I wanted to do this birth photography thing, but I had NO ONE to talk to about it. Virginia has a small circle of birth photographers and it didn't seem like we were connecting with one another very well. So I came up with the idea of Virginia Birth Photographers with a two-fold mission: To create a community of local birth photographers, and to help spread the beauty of birth around our state. 

The website launched on May 1st of this year and since then I've been busy sharing the work of our talented members all over social media (find us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest!) and connecting with other birth professionals across the state.

So while we work to spread the beauty of birth, I am also shooting births here and there and simply loving this new life. Yes, I will ideally some day shoot less weddings and more births. I don't know that I'll ever be able to leave the wedding industry completely, but I do know that this new venture also offers (in a roundabout way) the opportunity for me to work with engaged couples that I truly connect with. Honestly, I haven't felt so fulfilled in my work as I do these days and all of this has been a wonderful adventure. 

If you have any specific questions about my journey to becoming a birth photography that I perhaps didn't cover here, feel free to shoot me an email

Liz Cook

Liz Cook is a wedding, birth, and motherhood photographer based in Central Virginia. Her intuition and creative perspective allow her to connect both professionally and personally with her subjects, and thus, her portfolio is saturated with authentic emotion. Whether she's sharing her story with fellow entrepreneurs or enjoying quality time with her husband and two daughters, Liz is both present and passionate about capturing and celebrating life. Her work has been featured by O "Oprah" Magazine, The Huffington Post, The Glitter Guide, Essence Magazine, domino, Rue Magazine, among others.