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Maternity portraits can be slightly trickier than regular portraits – and by “regular”, I mean people who aren’t carrying 20-50 extra pounds around their belly, and experiencing indigestion and sharp kicks to the ribs!
Here are a few keys to taking beautiful maternity portraits:
First, decide on a location that the mother-to-be feels most comfortable in. Some prefer the comfort and privacy of her own home. Some prefer a studio for a more formal vibe. And some are open to doing the photoshoot outdoors. Personally, I prefer using only natural light, so unless their home has a wall of glass and sky lights or there is a hail storm, I will almost always choose an outdoor location.
Keep in mind that an outdoor location for a maternity photoshoot has its own set of potential issues. Mainly, you have to deal with the public staring at your pregnant client. This may not be an issue for some, but I know many moms who consider their protruding belly to be a private body part, even if they used to be regular bikini swim suit wearers during their pre-pregnancy days!
This leads me to my second point…
There is something about growing a human life inside a womb that redefines how a woman perceives her body. It is with this level of understanding and sensitivity that is integral in having a successful maternity photoshoot. For instance, you may need to read her body language and facial expressions to know how she feels about exposing certain body parts.
Once, I did a maternity photoshoot of a woman who was pregnant with her second baby. She had stretch marks that she was embarrassed about and did not voice until the middle of the shoot. It was an outdoor shoot. The lighting was soft and warm. It was perfect for some bare belly shots. During the pre-photoshoot consult, she said she had wanted to do this, but when it came down to it, she was embarrassed about the weight she had gained and her stretch marks. I figured this out because when the first passerby walked maybe 30 feet towards her, she quickly covered up and waited for the person to pass. She was fully clothed, with the exception of her belly.
Be prepared for this by allotting more time for pauses. If your client wants more revealing shots and/or you are in a more private setting, you can have her wear a translucent robe, her husband’s button-down shirt that she can unbutton around the belly, a snug-fitting tank top or shirt that she can pull up, or a solid-colored cloth that drapes well for a Grecian look.
As a good photographer, you need to know how to highlight your subject’s best features. In the case of maternity portraits, you always need to consider how the belly will look its best, not just the pregnant woman.
Try different angles to get various perspectives of the belly. A top-down view will highlight the mom’s face and the roundness of the belly. This view will also hide “imperfections” under the belly where stretchmarks often lurk. A bottom-up view will highlight how large the belly is, which works for almost all pregnant women. I find this perspective to be perfect for pregnant moms who carry low or have a smaller bulge. This perspective gives the appearance of a more rotund belly!
The best time to schedule a maternity photoshoot is when the belly is large, but they’re not in the Oh-My-Gawd-I-Think-The-Baby-Is-Coming period! This is typically in Months 7 and 8. I usually avoid Month 9 altogether because you don’t know if the baby will decide to make an early appearance. If your client is a first-time mother, you could more comfortably choose a date in Month 8. If your client is a woman who has already had a child, then I’d be safe and go with Month 7.
The other reason for choosing to do a photoshoot in Months 7 or 8 (and avoiding Month 9) is because pregnant women usually still feel their best then. In that last month of pregnancy, there is a greater chance of the mom retaining water, getting hormonal skin issues, or just not fitting into any of the “cute” maternity clothes!
And this leads me to the final and MOST important key to capturing beautiful maternity portraits….
I think the absolute MOST important thing during a maternity photoshoot is to make the mom feel beautiful. She is growing a LIFE in there! And very soon she will be holding her little baby in her arms! Tell her how great she looks and remind her how amazing the creation of life is! When your pregnant client connects with her baby emotionally, there’s a good chance she’ll forget about the on-lookers and the stretch marks.
Sometimes I ask my pregnant clients to close their eyes, put their hands on their belly to feel the baby, and think about the baby. The smile and the twinkle in their eyes when they take that moment to connect with their baby is all I need to get the perfect shot.