15 Tips for taking better maternity photographs

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.

Composition

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.

Emotion

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!

Lenses

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!

Location

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!

Wardrobe

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

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

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.

Props

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!

Selfies

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!

maternity self portrait by Leah Cook

About the Author:

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. 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.

48 Comments

  1. Rebekah Feb 19 2013 at 12:01 pm - Reply

    I had what I consider my first “real” maternity session a couple weeks ago. I call it my “first” because at the real first one I didn’t give any direction at all on what to wear and she came dressed in a black lace top with matching lace fingerless gloves! EEEK! Not exactly my style or what I wanted to show in my portfolio. But this time I was much more certain of the shots I wanted and was able to tweak the client’s prop ideas to get what she wanted and, secretly, what I wanted as well.

  2. Carla Bagley Feb 19 2013 at 12:20 pm - Reply

    I have my first matenity session next week! i cannot wait and so thankful for tips like this!!

  3. Briana Hedden Feb 19 2013 at 12:52 pm - Reply

    I have my first maternity session this Sunday! I am excited and a little nervous. I hope I get some great shots! This post was definitely helpful! Thank you!

  4. Jordan Maconachy Feb 19 2013 at 1:29 pm - Reply

    Wonderful article, Leah! Some great tips!! Thank you!

  5. Sarah Feb 19 2013 at 1:49 pm - Reply

    Lovely images- thanks for the tips, Leah!!! I especially like the idea of offering a mini-maternity session add on as part of the newborn experience. Great idea. You’re such an amazing photographer. 🙂 Can’t wait to see your new baby in your photos soon.

  6. Inga K Feb 19 2013 at 2:08 pm - Reply

    Thanks for a great article Leah, some brilliant tips! 🙂

  7. Sophie Feb 19 2013 at 2:15 pm - Reply

    Maternity sessions are such a great opportunity to get creative, and these are some wonderful tips. Thanks so much for sharing!!

  8. Melissa Stottmann Feb 19 2013 at 3:09 pm - Reply

    Wonderful information and tips in this post Leah! SO much to think about 🙂

  9. Mel Feb 19 2013 at 6:13 pm - Reply

    i LOVE this……I felt like I won a prize, waking up and being able to read this. Thank you so much for sharing Leah 🙂

  10. Mara Vaughan Feb 19 2013 at 6:28 pm - Reply

    Yay, Leah! I loved all of the tips and images in this article – you are such a gifted photographer! And I love your self-portraits, too! Best of luck with the rest of this pregnancy!

  11. Jen Dunham Feb 19 2013 at 9:51 pm - Reply

    Great tips! TFS!

  12. Kim Kaye Feb 20 2013 at 10:29 am - Reply

    I love baby bump pics!!! I shot this of my daughter’s dance teacher last week. (Small file upload) 🙂

  13. jerilynn Feb 20 2013 at 2:23 pm - Reply

    this was a great article, thanks! your straight on shot (#5) looks like the lady from the framed show.

  14. Kristin Dokoza Feb 20 2013 at 7:37 pm - Reply

    Wow Leah! This was such a great article. You could easily apply your tips to any type of session. Look forward to seeing your new baby boy’s lifestyle NB pics 🙂

  15. Emily Carroll Feb 20 2013 at 11:32 pm - Reply

    I’m a newbie trying to get into the awesome career of Photography. My friend is pregnant with her 3rd child. First girl! I’m shooting her maternity photos in 2 weeks! I am super excited but very nervous about it at the same time. This helped A LOT! I’ve got a lot of ideas but I’m still trying to figure out ‘my style’. Thanks so much for the tips! Might post some photos later on…get some feedback? That would awesome!

  16. Emily Feb 21 2013 at 9:20 pm - Reply

    Wonderful tutorial! I just did some self portraits of my own bump yesterday and I had a blast. I’m actually just a couple of days behind Sarah! She is so incredibly gorgeous, as are YOU! Thanks for all the great info and tips. I can’t wait to do my next maternity shoot so that I can use some of what I just learned 🙂 My cousin’s wife is due in July, so I’ll be doing her photos in a couple of months. Seems like so many women are pregnant right now! Lol

  17. Michelle Feb 22 2013 at 4:59 pm - Reply

    Thank you for the post. I am a nature/landscape photographer, but on occasion, am asked photograph people. I try to stay away from it because of the trends in photography. However, the photos posted here are beautiful and timeless. Thank you for sharing.

    Michelle

  18. Courtney Karban Feb 24 2013 at 9:15 am - Reply

    Thanks for a wonderful read! I am doing a maternity session today in the bitter cold but we are determined to make it work. 🙂

  19. Mary Lake Feb 26 2013 at 10:47 am - Reply

    Excellent information! I’ll be doing my first maternity shoot in a few months. A friend of mine is preggers and we are getting so excited about doing her session. Just bought the cutest basket to put her sweet baby girl in once we get to the newborn session!! The information here is going to come in so handy for me shortly!! Thanks for posting this!! 🙂

  20. Roger Simmons Mar 16 2013 at 11:28 am - Reply

    Thank you for a very informative read. I have a bump shoot to do and this has given me some great tips.

  21. Cindy Mar 16 2013 at 5:38 pm - Reply

    Funny I came across this just hours after I did my first maternity photo session for my niece. We both had ideas of what we wanted and she had some props and had herself and her two daughters all color-coordinated which made for some great photos.

  22. Amanda Mar 22 2013 at 11:12 pm - Reply

    LOVE THIS!!
    i’ve only done 2 maternity sessions,and they’re so much harder than you’d think..
    I’ll definitely be taking this into account on my next one=)

  23. Cassidy Apr 09 2013 at 1:16 am - Reply

    I have my first maternity shoot this coming weekend and I remembered reading this post and how helpful it was, so I’ve come back to re-visit it for some super helpful tips and ideas. Thanks for this!

  24. maureen Apr 09 2013 at 10:59 pm - Reply

    There’s are all awesome I have two beautiful pregnant women to shoot..These are all stunning!! Fabulous idea’s can’t wait to try some 🙂

  25. Rob Fitch Apr 22 2013 at 10:34 pm - Reply

    Wonderful article! And congratulations on your 3rd pregnancy! I believe, above all else, emotion is the most important element of beautiful maternity photography. Whatever may or may not be in the background, a beautiful sunset, a window, a bedspread, whatever… the viewer always returns to the subject (consciously or subconsciously) to “confirm” the emotion in the shot. Your photographs all have a strong element of emotion in them. Beautiful work! Cheers, Rob

    ps. The portrait of you pregnant with your boys is stunning…coming around to the “other side” is tough for me, you nailed it! You have a beautiful and growing family, congratulations!

    • Leah Cook May 23 2013 at 8:13 pm - Reply

      Rob – thank you so much…I really really appreciate your comments =)

  26. Betania May 29 2013 at 12:09 pm - Reply

    Hi,

    My name’s Betânia I’m pregnant and now I’m about 35 weeks. I would like to make my maternity session with your company.
    So if you don’t mind please let me know more details about the prices and proofs and when I can make my appointment.
    My number if you need more information 832 805 6417
    Hope to hear from you soon

    Best regards
    Betania Barros

  27. Diane Harrington Jun 04 2013 at 1:14 am - Reply

    Great tutorial! Loved the both inside the home and outside variety!

  28. reezluv Jul 05 2013 at 11:28 am - Reply

    great shot and what a nice tips there..thanks..I will go for a shoot tomorrow..:D

  29. Arcy Oct 21 2013 at 10:50 pm - Reply

    I’m excited now for the next maternity shoot practice 😉

  30. Rachael Nov 21 2013 at 11:15 pm - Reply

    Such a beautiful read, just love your tips thank you, I recently did my first maternity photo shoot, hope you like my picture, any tips would be greatly appreciated x

    • Todd Dec 10 2013 at 5:00 pm - Reply

      Rachael,I LOVE your picture!!!!! You have an AWESOMELY BEAUTIFUL pregnant belly!!! I couldn’t help but notice that you have a jutting(outie)bellybutton.So many moms-to-be think that a button of the jutting variety makes for an unappealing pregnant belly,but that simply isn’t TRUE.To me a jutting bellybutton emerging from a big round protruding pregnant belly makes said belly that much more intriguing and pleasing to look at!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  31. Kerin Dec 08 2013 at 9:00 pm - Reply

    really enjoyed this post. Such classy photos. I’m not big into the naked maternity shots and was looking for some ideas for my own. I really thought these were all well done and made the moms to be look elegant. Thanks for sharing.

  32. Linda Jan 09 2014 at 3:15 pm - Reply

    I love these tips. Thanks for sharing.

  33. Linda Jan 27 2014 at 1:48 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the great tips.

  34. Debora Suterko Feb 18 2015 at 9:19 pm - Reply

    Thank you for the maternity tutorial. That is very generous of you! I am doing my first maternity shoot this weekend, so I need all the help I can get!

  35. Alan Taub May 01 2015 at 2:52 pm - Reply

    Great tips. I am doing a maternity shoot for a friend and these tips provide wonderful guidance. Thanks for sharing this information.

  36. Gustav Oct 16 2015 at 1:41 am - Reply

    Wow! What a lovely photos! Thank you for sharing your great ideas for maternity photography. These will be a big great help. 🙂

  37. jennifer May 11 2016 at 12:52 pm - Reply

    Hello Leah, get article. but can i ask you….what lens did you use in you composition image? i have been trying to get something like that mastered and i dont think i am using the correct lens. can you help?

  38. Newborn Photography Singapore Nov 22 2016 at 12:52 am - Reply

    Great tips. I am doing a maternity shoot for a friend and these tips provide wonderful guidance.

  39. Vera Kruis Apr 05 2017 at 7:58 pm - Reply

    These are great tips. Can’t wait to use them on my next maternity photo shoot

  40. Kylie Dotts Jun 08 2017 at 6:57 pm - Reply

    I really like how you said in your third point that the woman’s head shouldn’t be tilted at a weird angle. I think this is why it’s a great idea to hire a photographer with some expertise to come and do the photos for you. My younger sister is just starting to show and has been contemplating whether or not she should take maternity photos so I think I’ll share this tip with her and see what she thinks!

  41. These are great tips to take photos of your pregnancy. The best dates for pregnancy photo shoot are going to be towards the end of your pregnancy but not too soon as to be in the possible delivery window. Yes there are early babies and they just want to come out and see you sooner. Ask your photographer to book your maternity photos from weeks 34 and 35 where you will be showing the most and still have several weeks til possible delivery.

  42. ERic Nov 08 2017 at 6:35 am - Reply

    Very interesting article. Thank you

  43. Luis Mar 19 2018 at 6:12 pm - Reply

    Great tips, thanks so much !!!

  44. Penelope Miller Sep 19 2018 at 2:57 am - Reply

    Wonderful post and some great tips! I can’t wait to style my bump someday.

  45. Meg Sep 21 2018 at 6:03 am - Reply

    Amazing Post!! Thankyou for sharing

  46. Arina Sizemore Oct 08 2018 at 10:01 pm - Reply

    Wonderful article! I still remember my first maternity shoot. It was for a friend, and I was so nervous. One more tip I’d like to add is to pay very close attention to light. My friend ended up having some ugly shadows in some of the pictures because I wasn’t paying attention to the light.

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