[This is a guest post by photographer Becki Robins]
There are a few truly life-changing events in a person’s life, events that dwarf all of those little every day experiences. Marriage is one of them. Purchasing a home is another. And for many people, one of the most profound of those events is becoming a parent.
I’m sure you've shot plenty of baby photos, but what about maternity photos? They’re important too, and you need some special knowledge to do them right. Keep reading to find what you need to know.
Newborn photos are sort of a given. Newborns grow fast, and if you don’t get those pictures in the first few weeks, you can’t ever go back. But what about the months before that little person is born? Like the newborn period, pregnancy is only a small part of the parenthood experience, and once it’s over, you can’t go back.
For me, pregnancy was a sort of love-hate thing. Many women love being pregnant and want to remember the experience—many other women don’t love being pregnant at all and avoid cameras like swarms of mosquitos. I was somewhere in between, but because I’m a photographer I also understand the profound importance of having a photographic history of that time in my life. Unfortunately I was also tremendously unhappy with most of the photos friends and family shot of me (can you say, “cow?”), so I ended up seeking professional help. From a maternity photographer, I mean.
Photos are a great way to remember pregnancy, which is a very special yet brief time in a woman’s life. But with maternity photos in particular you need to have a practiced approach and some sensitivity to your subject. I loved my maternity photographer, because she knew exactly how to flatter a pregnant body—she instinctively knew which camera angles to use and which poses looked best. Not only did my maternity photos look great, but I almost felt like a movie star.
Make her feel beautiful
Ask any woman how she felt about her appearance when she was pregnant, and you will get mixed replies. Some women do feel beautiful, and women like that make for easier subjects. Other women don’t feel beautiful at all (that was me), and with these subjects you’ve got some extra challenges. Your job is to make any woman, regardless of her feelings about herself, feel like the most beautiful person in the world.
Here’s what you need to keep in mind: all pregnant women have beauty, even if they can’t see it in themselves. So the very first thing that you need to do is make your subject feel it. Remember to have some sympathy—chances are you’ll be photographing her late in her pregnancy, and the trials and tribulations she’s faced over the past eight months has probably included decidedly non-beautiful things like morning sickness, bloating and acid reflux. So to help her feel beautiful, tell her she’s beautiful. Make sure you complement her after every few shots. Tell her how great pregnancy looks on her. I’ll be honest and say that this is often easier for female photographers than it is for male photographers. If you’re one of the latter, you need to be careful and tactful. Don’t say anything that will get you in trouble. Make sure you choose your words carefully and be genuine.
Make her look beautiful
This really is different from the section above. Making a woman feel beautiful is about helping her relax, complimenting her and engaging her throughout the shoot. But all of that is going to be for naught if you don’t also shoot her from the most body-flattering angles. During pregnancy, it’s common to gain weight in your face, your hips or other body parts where most women really, really don’t like to be carrying extra weight. So one thing you need to do is become silently aware of those parts of your subject’s body that should be downplayed.
You can use many of the same techniques for shooting pregnant women as you do for shooting curvy models, with one caveat: a pregnant woman’s belly is the star of the show, and should not be avoided the way you might, say, avoid showcasing a beer belly on a middle-aged guy. Here are a few tips for capturing your pregnant subject from just the right angle:
1. Don’t shoot from below. Higher camera angles, in fact, can be really flattering, because the higher angle will have a slimming effect on the face. Beware of distortion when shooting from higher angles and don’t use a wide angle lens—try to stick with a 50mm to 100mm lens and make sure you try a few different angles so you’ll maximize your chances at finding the best one.
2. When shooting full body images, think in 45 degrees. Shooting a pregnant woman from straight on is counter productive anyway, because a pregnant belly doesn’t start to take on that classic baby bump shape until you shoot it from an angle. As a bonus, a 45 degree angle can have a slimming affect on other parts of body.
3. Downplaying a double chin. Nobody likes to see a photograph of herself with a double chin, even if it is part of the late-pregnancy look. Fortunately there's an easy trick for getting rid of a double chin—just ask her to stick her neck out a little bit, and then point her chin slightly downwards. Don't let her tilt her head up even though that will also get rid of the double chin, because that looks unnatural and honestly, a little bit pretentious. In most cases, just slightly moving the head forward and pointing the chin down should be enough.
4. Use arms and legs well. Arm position can help slim-down a woman’s figure, or it could make her body look even larger. Make sure you are always aware of what your subject is doing with her arms. For example, having her put a hand on her waist can not only give her a curvy appearance, but it can make the body look less bulky overall. Remember that bulk is not what you’re going for in a pregnancy photo—you want that belly to look like a pregnant belly, but you want the rest of her body to look as slim as you can make it look. Use the classic one-hand-on-top-of-belly, one-hand-below pose for a few shots, but try different arm positions too, until you find the most flattering one.
Focus on the belly
At the end of the day pregnancy photos really are all about the belly. Make sure you get some hero shots. What I mean by that is, you need to zoom in and get some photos where the baby-bump itself is the subject. Remember to include hands. Dad's hands wrapped around mom's belly is a classic shot, but don't overuse it for that very reason – because it's a classic shot, and almost every maternity album has some version of it. You could also have Mom put her hands there, or you could feature the hands of a brother or sister to-be. You can capture a bare belly, or you can capture a clothed belly—it doesn't really matter just so long as you are featuring that classic baby bump shape.
Setting is an important consideration when shooting maternity photos. You’ve probably seen a lot of maternity shots that were captured in a studio—these can be beautiful shots, but in my opinion, they lack heart. Instead, try taking your subject, her partner, and/or her children into the outdoors. Golden hour light, as you know, has a flattering affect on almost anyone. That evening light will give her a warm glow, which many people associate with pregnancy anyway, even if she still is feeling a little green from all that morning sickness. The soft gradual shadows that you get during the golden hour are great for making objects look three-dimensional, which means they'll make that perfect pregnant belly look even more perfect.
Natural settings just seem to go with pregnancy. There’s something about the ocean, or a forest, or beautiful landscape that complements an expecting woman and her family. Find a place that’s particularly meaningful to her and try to include some of that natural background—but make sure that the background complements your subject, rather than competing with her. Try to include just a suggestion of that beach or ocean, and keep the focus where it belongs: on your subject.
Maternity 17 by Flickr user MakuKulden
Keep it simple
Simplicity is always a good idea in any photograph, but when your goal is to capture a story, you need to make sure that your image doesn’t include any unimportant pieces of information. Your subject is a person, but the pregnancy is the story. So check your surroundings for objects that could serve as distractions and angle or blur them out as necessary. Always ask yourself if your composition could be simplified. If the answer is “yes,” then make sure you take whatever steps you need to take to ensure that you can do that.
Include loved ones
That baby has yet to be born, but she’s going to be a part of a family. So include family members whenever you can—they’re a big part of the story, too. Always try to involve siblings, spouses and even family pets, provided they are an important part of your subject’s life. Small children kissing Mom’s belly can make for a sweet portrait, and photos of Dad whispering to his unborn child are sure to tug on the heartstrings. Be creative, too, there’s no reason why every photo has to be overly sweet—let the family have fun together and just act naturally. The pregnancy is going to be obvious enough and the family just being together is going to help tell the story of that little person’s eminent arrival.
her kiss by Flickr user Jack Fussell
When someone asks you to shoot maternity photos, remember that the importance of those photos is on the same level as a wedding or the purchase of a new home. This is a life experience’s milestones. Take your job seriously and remember that how you capture those moments is going to really make a difference to that family. Along with those wedding and new home photos, maternity photos will be treasured for a lifetime.
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