by Leah Cook
Recently a friend asked me for tips on shooting maternity sessions. I started rattling off some ideas and decided to put them all in one spot. Belly shots are some of my favorites for a lot of reasons. They have definitely gotten a bad rap over the years and we’ve all seen the ‘what not to do’ images on those funny websites, but really they can be so beautiful. It’s a time of anticipation, change and excitement…all of which should be documented! How nice it is to have subjects take direction and it’s also a wonderful time to get to know new parents before you work with their precious newborn. Family maternity sessions with other children (especially toddlers) are a whole other ball game…but these tips can apply too!
Posing and Angles
Flattering a mama and her pregnant belly should be high on your list of things to accomplish. There are all types of body types, which means there are countless ways women can carry a baby. What might look great for one mom could not work at all for another. Here are some go to poses and angles for pregnant mommies (and daddies).
1. Hands on the belly
It’s very natural for her to want to touch the bump! This is really effective in drawing attention to her belly and giving her a place to put those hands. Mix it up as much as possible and try hands on the hips, in pockets or even touching her hair can work too.
2. Up high
If you can, stand on something or bring a stool to your session. Height is a great way to flatter your subject and a bigger belly. Get creative! Have your subject(s) lie on a quilt or blanket so you can shoot from above. Getting up high can minimize parts of the body (other than the belly) that might have gotten bigger during pregnancy.
3. Keep it natural
When she looks down at her belly, make sure her head isn’t completely tilted at a weird angle…it can look unnatural and create a double chin. Have her fixate on a point slightly away from her bump. Don’t forget eye contact and with a smile…everyone loves a classic shot like that. Vary expressions from laughter to more intense. I love having the new dad stand off to the side or behind me (just like for a child session) and make silly jokes or dance. Good practice for what’s to come!
4. Get couples close
A fun tip for couples is to ‘squeeze all the air out’ between them. Have him touch her as much as possible (ummm keep it appropriate!). Try to get full body, half body and close ups of both of them together…even without the belly. Basic couple posing can work well here, and if the belly gets in the way just go with it, usually it will make them (and you!) giggle.
5. Straight on
It really depends how ‘out there’ the bump is and what she’s wearing. If you can tell mama is pregnant with a straight on shot, make sure you get one. Twisting to the side is obviously where it’s at for all pregnant moms, but she doesn’t have to be completely turned to the side, 45° angles can work well too.
6. Standing vs. Sitting
Standing is almost always more flattering for pregnant women, but you still want your subject to be relaxed in their posing so tell her to bend a knee or pop a hip. Sitting can be done though and I find it works the best when shooting a family or a couple together. Just be extra aware of your angles.
One of the things to love about maternity images is the creativity they lend. Now is a great time to play with your composition, color, angles, and breaking rules…especially if you are working with two adults that will take direction. Sometimes that is actually overwhelming and frustrating for me!! When we shoot kids and babies we are forced to take their lead most times, so when we can actually stop for a moment and compose a more interesting shot it can be difficult to think on the spot. Slow down and even plan in your head before the session some new things you’d like to try or experiment with. Photographing ‘just the bump’ has become the thing to do during belly sessions (guilty!) and while I think those shots can be fun, just make sure to include faces as well.
Talk with the mom or the expecting couple before hand about how awkward all of this might feel. Most people feel so silly in front of a camera (I know I do!!) Reassure them it’s perfectly normal and a great warm up for future newborn pictures. I have them focus on the emotions they’re experiencing and keep them in mind during their session. When they really start to anticipate the excitement of a new baby it can show in their faces and body language. Use all those hormones to your advantage!
I truly believe that you could shoot a maternity session with ANY lens. I tend to use my 85mm and 35mm most of the time. Longer lenses can work really well too. If you do pull out a super wide lens just be careful with the distortion, the last thing you need is for mom to look way bigger than she is. Wide angels can be really great for creativity and getting the whole picture. This is a great time to use a LensBaby, tilt shift or practice shooting wide open!
The options are endless. With a first pregnancy you can really go anywhere! Urban, outdoors, a client’s home and you don’t have to worry about nap-time either! This is a great time to use the sun for gorgeous backlighting (obviously my passion) or even head downtown since it will be almost impossible to do when the baby first arrives. Talk with the new mom about what they expect and want – bright colors and fun feel, more natural or a lifestyle session at home? Don’t forget that you will have a mama that is starting to feel very uncomfortable. Please keep her health in mind by making sure you’re not making her walk a mile uphill or having her plop down on gravelly rocks!
What should I wear? This is the most asked question I get from expecting moms before their session and it’s a great one! I always tell them ‘don’t hide the bump…we need to see it, that’s the point!’ I also give them the option of two looks and even have them bring clothes and I’ll help them pick. Keep in mind a spot to have them change since it’s a lot harder to manage a bump in a tight space! Clothes that cling are usually your best bet and more flattering. If mom wears a flowy dress you can make it work, but you’ll probably need her to gather and hold it close under the belly for defined belly shots or try facing her into the wind if you have some. Clothing can also depend on the location and type of session. If you’re somewhere urban then maybe boots and bright colors are in order. More natural and you might have her opt for neutral tones and casual apparel. This is a fun time to accessorize with jewelry, scarves or fun shoes because once she has the baby, fashion might not be high on the agenda. Have the new dad compliment her in his attire, much like you would in a regular family or couple session, just not too matchy-matchy.
When should maternity sessions take place? Again we want to ‘see the bump’ so this might depend on whether or not it’s a first pregnancy. I typically recommend the beginning of the last trimester and hopefully before 35 weeks. Once they reach that point, things start to get uncomfortable – getting up and down is tough work and it’s hard to feel ‘pretty’. If you’ve been pregnant in the past, try to think back and remember. If you do the session too early in the pregnancy you might not be able to tell there is a bump which makes it sort of difficult, since this is the point! The best thing to do is communicate with each other and decide when the time is right. Also make sure there are no complications like risk of preterm delivery, physical limitations, possibility of bed rest or the mom is expecting multiples (and if that were the case you would probably need to schedule her session in the 2nd trimester).
Family maternity sessions can be so amazing but also really tricky. If the older sibling(s) are still very young, it can be stressful to get them in the shot and have mom show off her belly. Remember mom doesn’t need to be chasing them all over so that leaves you and dad to help wrangle. Keep it light and fun. Try to get some ‘classic’ shots like you normally would, but do your best to focus on the interaction between family members. Talk up being a BIG sister or brother. Posing and direction take on a life of their own when you add kids into the mix. Just remember to keep the bump present and try to flatter mom as much as possible. Pets can be a great addition to maternity pictures. I’ve met so many couples that want to include their fur babies. Choose your location wisely when working with animals.
I’ve never been a huge prop person, but they can be really popular in maternity sessions. Sometimes (in my opinion) there is a fine line between something that is cute and something that is overly cheesy. Be upfront with your clients about what your style is by linking them to previous maternity sessions. If the new mom does want to incorporate a prop or idea they’ve seen on Pinterest into their session, pick and choose. Do your best to complete their vision but remember it’s okay to put your own spin on it. Communicating up front is very important here!
If YOU, miss fancy photographer, are pregnant yourself (congrats!!) then consider documenting your own pregnancy. Currently I am preggers with my THIRD boy!! Eek, we are excited. I haven’t done the best job of taking pictures every week, but I do have a few images here and there. Setting up the camera, using a timer and remote or even the bathroom mirror are all ways you can snap some shots. Or how about your own belly view!? Don’t forget to schedule a session with *another* photographer to have images with your family.
So there ya have it…some ways to improve your belly pictures. Keep in mind that most new parents would rather not have a million+1 maternity images which is why it’s a great idea to tailor your packages and pricing accordingly. Currently I have mini maternity sessions as an option when they are attached to a full newborn shoot. If you’re looking to build your portfolio, you might offer a complimentary mini maternity session when clients book their newborn or jump at the chance to snap some pics of your expecting bestie (makes for a great baby gift!)
And for fun, here’s me at 27 weeks!
And we will leave you with this GORGEOUS, STUNNING, AMAZING self-portrait from our very own Sarah Wilkerson. She is due with a baby girl in March!
Leah Cook, Texas
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Leah has always had an interest in photography and art but that interest increased when her dad, who has a great eye for photography, gave her her first digital camera. That interest skyrocketed after she quit teaching when her first son was born. When asked about her style Leah says, “my style definitely has a mix of lifestyle + classic elements…I hope to keep things modern but still timeless and I love adding a sense of humor! It took me a while to figure out what I loved and I think that’s part of my style…being all over the place and loving lots of different ‘types’ of photography.” Her style has continued to evolve, especially after the birth of her second son and photographing and posing him daily gave her a great amount of experience and knowledge. Leah currently uses a Canon 5d mark ii and a variety of lenses. She shares a home in Dallas with her husband, two sons, and two dogs. Spending time playing in the yard, taking a long walk, watching a good game, or eating a yummy meal with her family is the recipe for a good day in Leah’s world. She also loves her iMac, iPhone, the DVR, goldfish crackers, wine, dark chocolate, and ranch dressing.