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