How to Shoot an Indoor Maternity Session

How to Shoot an Indoor Maternity Session

Fellow DPS photographer Natalie Norton wrote an article awhile back giving tips on shooting pregnant tummies outdoors. This article covers what you need to know when doing it inside with controlled lighting. I questioned whether an article about maternity photography would be useful to many readers, but in the end, most of the tips shared here can be used for many types of portrait photography, be it mothers-to-be or couch potatoes with beer bellies.maternity.jpg

Step 1: Setting up your backgrounds.

When mentally preparing for a photo shoot, it’s good to have an idea of what type of images you want to end up with. For both studio and outdoor sessions, much of the mood in an image comes from the background. Because it’s below freezing in VA right now, having a pregnant woman sit and freeze while I try and position her chin just right isn’t an option, so down to the cozy basement we went. I wanted two dramatically different backgrounds typical for this type of shoot: black and white. A plain white wall usually doesn’t work well. Most painted walls provide too much glare. So, to get a smoothly lit background many studios turn to the high-tech material commonly known as paper.

I had a giant roll of white paper still in its tube that I ordered from B&H for about $40. I used duct tape to hang the paper from the top of the wall down onto the floor where she would be standing, creating what the industry refers to as an seamless background.

As a side, background paper can also be converted into gigantic paper airplanes when you’re finished.

For the black background, I rummaged through our closet and found our trusty fuzzy black blanket and hung that on the opposite wall. The fuzzier the blanket is the better, as it absorbs light without bouncing it back into the camera. Also remember the basic rules of lighting, the brighter you make your subject, the darker the background will appear to be in the image.

maternity 6.jpg

2. Lighting

Most of us won’t want to purchase a nice Alien Bees or Pocket Wizards set for a specific photo-shoot so you’ll probably have to make due with less expensive solutions. The good news is that great results can be had on limited budgets.

For my setup I used 3 standard SB Nikon flashes in remote mode and two inexpensive umbrella stands. I started with the typical two-light setup, each at 45 degrees as shown in the diagram below, with the third flash directed behind the subject onto the backdrop to eliminate any silhouettes and shadows.

If you’re putting together a kit, I recommend you pick up a pair of barn-door attachments to better control the light coming from the strobes. You can’t go wrong at only $10 a pop and they allow you to focus the light where you want it. Once you’re set up, the three flash units can be moved about the room to experiment with more artistic and dramatic lighting techniques.

Check your camera to see what capabilities it has on controlling flashes that aren’t connected to it’s hot-shoe.


3. Posing with confidence

Now it’s time to get your subject onto the set. This is the point in which you as a photographer need to exude confidence. As much as they seem unrelated, your ability to interact positively with whomever you’re shooting is as important as having the proper technical skills to take the picture. This is something that can’t be learned from books or trade magazines.

My advice is to act what may seem overly confident, constantly giving positive feed back and reassuring your subject that they are looking great. I’d even go so far as to avoid showing them the pictures on your camera’s display. An “I look fat” comment from your subject can ruin a session and you’ll quickly loose all positive energy and cooperation you need for a fluid photo-shoot. Part of being confident is preparing in advance.

Have sample pictures you’d like to emulate on hand. This relieves the pressure of having to remember all the sitting positions and lighting techniques you want to try. A quick search on Google images can give you more than enough ideas to pull from. Finally, prepare a few props, stools, or wardrobe items you can use to mix things up. For this shoot I had a white tablecloth on hand and large paperclips that converted it to something wearable.

maternity 1.jpg

4. Coloring and cropping

No matter how good your images look straight out of the camera, you can always add a little punch in post processing. This usually amounts to picking your favorite raw editor such as Lightroom or Aperture and perhaps a few colorizing filters or effects. Although I have learned to do most everything directly within Photoshop, these days I generally turn to products such as Viveza, ColorFX or Kubota.

These tools allow you to convert the images to black and white, soften skin, bleach or saturate colors, and much more. Be careful in the application of these, as it’s easy to overly alter the image. Lately I’ve even found myself adding in a touch of grain or noise, something I always removed previously. In the end, with all these effects it comes down to personal taste and style. Another feature we are all familiar with that comes with these programs is the crop tool.

Subconsciously I tend to shoot a little wide knowing that it provides more options in postproduction. I can always crop in closer for artistic reasons, but if the pixels weren’t captured I can’t go the other way. Notice the different feel in the two images below that is conveyed with slightly different cropping and coloring. Also, don’t be afraid to try cutting off heads, feet or other body parts to emphasize areas of your image.

If you’d like to see more images from this session they are posted at

Good luck with your shooting and leave a comment with your own results or tips below.

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Chas Elliott is a freelance photographer in the Northern Virginia and DC area. See more of his work at

Some Older Comments

  • liran September 5, 2011 07:16 am

    I just had a "sudden" pregnancy shoot this morning(i only had few of these)...and did as your advice step by step, although only now at night i came upon your post, it's was nice to read it, giving me confidence for doing the "right thing/choices".thanX.

  • Plum Tree Studio December 17, 2009 07:30 am

    Great article! I love that you are showing the various light uses for the techniques. I know matenity portraits can be nerve racking for any photographer. Good luck everyone!

  • Natalie November 20, 2009 06:56 am

    Thank you so much for the tips! I just did my very own maternity photo shoot for a friend, and it turned out great!
    - Natalie

    Here's the link to my picasa album of it ALL. . .

    I had fun playing around. . . the finished product was a 20 page memory book I had printed for her with selected photos. . . she loved it! . . And I was very excited about how it all turned out.

    Thanks again for the insights! :)

  • Mark July 12, 2009 06:00 am

    Thank you so much for this article. I am getting ready to shoot my first maternity session and this was invaluable. I'll check back for more informative posts. Thanks again

  • wedding photographer hampshire March 12, 2009 09:02 am

    Good article Chas. I checked out the rest of the images on your blog. I loved the overhead/ mum's eye view of the bump, very clever.

  • Rick Mason March 11, 2009 07:32 pm

    Hi Chas - a great read! I have a portrait shoot for a lady and 2 small children this coming Saturday. I will be using a small Interfit portable studio kit for the first time - and will be living on my nerves. I only have 1 SB800 (my other was stolen!) - any killer advice, technical or otherwise would be much appreciated!

  • Chas February 16, 2009 01:57 am

    Keep the wide angle lens handy for sure. You'll get some very cool effects with it and expecting mom's are often less concerned about how their figure looks in the shots :) I'd have at least one other lens handy, preferably in the 50 to 85mm range. Most of these were taken with a 24-70mm 2.8. If you have to buy a lens just for this shoot, look for a prime 50mm lens. They'll run about $100.

    Good luck.

  • Nina February 14, 2009 05:12 am

    What kind of lens do you recommend? I've got an uber sweet wide angle, but I'm worried that it may distort the poor mama-to-be. What did you use in these shots?

  • Chas February 12, 2009 03:28 pm

    RC: Very nice shots! Good work.

  • RC Gold February 12, 2009 02:51 pm

    hi there, i made some of my first photo shoot at home with my wife, hope you like it

  • RC Gold February 12, 2009 02:47 pm

    nice techniques it helps me a lot,next time my wife will be having a baby again or to my friends ill gonna use it, thanks, anwyay , i have some photo session with my wife at our room, well hope you like it and could give me some advice also regarding my photo shoot, well, i edit it from photoshop after i finish taking her

  • Margie February 6, 2009 02:59 pm

    Very helpful, I recently did my friend and it was hard to make her feel relaxed while posing.
    I wonder if soft music would help. I like your "prep list" of things to have on hand.
    Thank you for sharing.

  • Chas February 5, 2009 10:24 pm

    Exciting Sandi. Feel free to share some of your shots. What stock photo site do you use?


  • Pat February 5, 2009 08:23 pm

    Nice article Chas.

    Maternity photography is something I would like to add to my portfolio for confidential portraits.

    You are so right about being confident and knowing exactly what you want to acheive. The more advance planning one does the more prepared they will be. If a set up does not go to plan move on quickly to either fix it or try something else. Even if you're feeling flustered don't let it show on the outside otherwise your subject will pick up on the negative vibes.

    Inner Beauty Photography

  • Sandi February 5, 2009 06:24 pm

    I have just finished my first maternity photo shoot. A friend of mine is due in 4 weeks time, and asked me if I could take some of her and her lovely bump.
    Of course I had to take up this challenge.
    I just used a soft box on low setting and used a dark backdrop- very soft lighting on my subject.
    Also, after having a great pep talk from Natalie who features on here quite a bit,I wasnt nervous at all. We had an excellent shoot and they loved the photos I produced. I have also had one of the shots accepted from a stock library!
    Sandi :)

  • Jared February 5, 2009 08:55 am

    very well written, and good examples. love seeing lighting diagrams keep them coming!!
    Natalie! you're my hero!

  • Heidi February 5, 2009 04:22 am

    Great! I'm just getting ready to do 2 maternity sessions. So this really helps since this is a first for me! Thanx.

  • Aimee Greeblemonkey February 5, 2009 03:41 am

    I really enjoyed this post. I have only done a few maternity shots, so it's great to have some more firm advice to go by.

  • MariaT February 4, 2009 12:38 pm

    I used a large piece of black felt when I did an at home photo session of my little guy and it worked better than I had hoped! It was really cheap to get what I needed from the local craft store and it can be used as a felt board background in my elementary school teaching lessons.

  • Ali Bagherzadeh February 4, 2009 05:36 am


  • Regina February 4, 2009 04:13 am

    I have to say I am so THANKFUL for this article. I just bought some continuous lights. Nothing expensive or flashy since I like to shoot outside. But in Michigan I can't. I was just asked by a co-worker to do some maternity shots and I was scared to do so. But now after this article I am so happy to try it and play. I yet to have a background or stand so your ideas of a makeshift background is the key for me. Thanks so much.

  • Maria Sabala February 4, 2009 04:12 am

    Thanks for the good tips. I have several maternity sessions coming up in the next few weeks and have only done a couple in the past. I definitely need to put together some cheat sheets to take along with me. Thanks again!

  • Tanya Plonka February 4, 2009 03:50 am

    Black velvet is the best fabric for absorbing light, and will work better than most other black materials.

  • Chas February 4, 2009 02:55 am

    Good point. Most have probably never done a shot like that and we should make sure they are comfortable with certain aspects of it before starting.


  • new media photographer February 4, 2009 02:09 am

    Very good examples.

    This is definitely the type of assignment that demands a good conversation with the subject. Often subjects have a look in mind. This doesn't mean you can offer and try your ideas.


  • Ilan February 4, 2009 01:25 am

    It's not my field of expertise but I surely enjoyed the article and the examples. Thanks!