Pregnancy/Maternity and Photography – Gerry’s Tips and tricks and the stuff to remember for the next session

People photography, not a strong point for me, nonetheless one must persevere and try new things and get out of the comfort zone, this is one such example and pleasantly enough it is relatively enjoyable and certainly a great way to learn new techniques, plus with all these baby factories about there is no shortage of models 😉

This is more a summary of what I have learnt and experienced, I am by no means experienced at this and I have mainly typed this out to serve me in the future to avoid making the same mistakes and remembering the key elements for things that work. In short YMMV. But hopefully someone else may learn from it, particulary from my errors.

So, in summary and before I forget, a couple of main points that I have found are key elements in regards to photography pregnant women and their partners (note, some of these are obviously cross-overs into many genres):

Note, I refer to the yet to be born baby as bubs, belly, bulge and all other manner of things…mostly nice things 😉

1) Eye Contact – In order of effectiveness a) bubs to mum and/or dad b) mum to dad with bubs to be as a second element. c) direct eye contact with viewer with bubs as second element.

2) Lighting – keep it simple – single source, softboxed. Also a second source to blow out a wall would be nice and a reflector just to take a bit more edge off the primary softbox source, mental note: purchase reflector.

3) Location –  probably one of the most important bits, scope it out before hand if possible, or at the very least have a backup plan when that the room or wall falls thru.

4) Poses – well, this is where the photos become good, excellent, money shots or downright fugly. Hand placement, leg placement and where the mum looks and how she looks are critical, watch those double chins and maintain a connection between bubs, mum and dad or between mum and dad.

5) Facial Expressions – remember mums to be are not usually models, they will not typically know about pose techniques or facial expressions or counting in (for example). Keeps things simple, small gentle smiles and laughter works well.

6) Wardrobe – different people will have different outfits and will have varying levels of comfort for semi nude stuff. Plan for both. Recommend colours. Remember black tops on the belly make it hard to define that bulge, white tops with a shawl covering the breats or just a simple boob-tube work well. Remember the attention is on the belly, make it prominent and ensure it does not get lost in the scene.

7) PP, black and white is where its at, why it looks better I dunno, maybe its a cultured thing (I have seen heaps of maternity shots and the majority are BW) however that said colour can and does work well too, choose the dominant colours carefully though, try and not detract from the main subjects. use solid prominent colours to define the bulge? or work with pascal colours?

1) Eye Contact and Connection

Its all about the belly and the bubs, this is directly linked to eye contact and connection. Whilst direct eye contact with the viewer may work in some cases I have found to these to be more manufactured and artifically posed images. The direct eye contact with the viewer gives the impression that the image and reason for the photograph is about the mum and dad and the bubs takes a second place. Now this is not to say never have any direct eye contact, rather choose these shots carefully and ensure there is a link to the bubs, this can be as simple as hands on the belly or the belly being prominent enough (bare, fabric covered etc.. more on that later) to add that extra element to teh frame. However always remember that with the direct eye contact shots the mum and dad’s eye will be the primary anchor point and hence they will be the primary subject, therefore utilise the bubs as a key second element or balancing element to the image.

Eye to bubs contact, this is the money shot in my opinion, or more correctly, its a easier shot to attain since you can have other elements that are a bit messed up and this eye to bubs contact can hold it together. At the the end of the day parents, in most cases, want images that portray this particular point (pregnancy that is) in their life, this connection they have with the child inside them, they want images that remind them of their physical change during this time and the connection they develop and nuture during the time, to couple with a sense of emotion and feeling between the parents can generate stunning images.

Parent to Parent eye contact, I think this almost falls into the same category as direct eye contact, however again, if you couple this as the primary focus/subject and use the bubs to be as the key second element and/or balancing element it can certainly work. I did have some ideas on trying to get the mum and dad to be head to head and create a silhouetted heart shape with the bodies and big belly, however its more of a unbalanced heart shape (due to the belly) and you gotta have peeps the same height! That also said the parent to parent eye contact does work well for some frames but in my opinion the parents to bubs eye contact works better.

2) Lighting

Keep it simple, rocking up with two umbrellas 3 strobes and a multitude of light modifiers is probably gonna make anyone nervous. I think you will get quite few comments about even a single off camera light source. Off camera flash is always an improvement to the standard onboard flashgun, this remains applicable for pregnancy shots i reckon. Remember the basics of single source lights and reflectors (if used), look for the butterfly shadows on the women and don’t strees about the blokes too much, keep them in the shadows if necessary, I think its is primarily about the mum and she should be the #1 element when all three parties are in the frame. Light up high and at 45 degrees seems to work quite nice, remember to adjust the distance to subject to modify the light fall off. Reflector on the oppositeside if used.

Backdrops, sometimes out of control depending on the location, I guess avoid messy background, this is pretty typical of most people shoots, however that said vine covered wall worked OK for me. Contrasting backgrounds is key for making that bulge stand out, blowing out the BG is a good idea however watch that the white top (if used) does not get lost in the scene, here a black small boob-tube would work well in my opinion. Black or White BGs will work I think, obviously to completely control these you would need your own backdrop, a wall with teh subject placed far enough away also works OK, but be prepared for some PP cleanup.

Outside lighting – a topic to be investigated

3) Locations

Windows work well, just remember to blow the window out, use only natural light if need be, door frames are also another winner, again blow the BG out, silhouette and go BW.

Most places are going to be homes or public areas keep this in mind when thinking about what location to use. Is there a large bare wall? is there enough space to get some separation between the subjects and the wall?

Always have a backup plan and also try and have at least three different backgrounds, all the same shots on the same BG can be a bit tedious.

A couple of things to try,

  • Window and Door
  • On the floor
  • Couch/Lounge (make sure its not too soft that they get lost in it!)
  • In the Nursery

4) Poses

Quick before I forget this one – remember to do both sides of the face, look for the better side, everyone has one 🙂

First thing first – remember the basics of what makes a good pose, particularly for a woman, make sure thighs, and leg areas are minimised, this is easily achieved by avoiding front on poses and using  the one foot forward resting on the toe tip technique. Note the front on pose can work, but remember to make sure those legs are crossed to minimise the apparent area.

Something else to remember and this is very much mum dependent, is their size and far off the drop is – I can only imagine the body change, the additional weight, tummy activity and chaos that harbouring a child can feel like, however it is not rocket science to know that the body changes and the mums body function changes and does become limited, moreso physically – it is not always comfortable and standing on one leg is not as easy as it is when not pregnant, hence being mindful of this and and how the poses are going to affect the mum is pretty important. In a nutshell it ain’t rocket science, use your common sense and be observant on how the mum feels and look and of course always ask if she is comfortable.

The next key points are SHOULDERS BACK and CHIN UP, simple as that, imagine if you hauling two bags of oranges around ya neck the postures gonna suffer, gently remind to keep those shoulders back and chin up and eyes down (for those belly connection poses). The chin up can help define the face and more importantly minimise any double chin action.

Hands and arms – the placement of these are critical, the placement of the mums and dads arms can really seal the connection between the parties, couple this with the eye contact and the image becomes all about the bubs.

As with any posing, remember the old saying, ‘one arm up one arm down’, this remains applicable in most cases for pregnancy/maternity stuff with a slight variation to accommodate that rather large thing inside the tum!

One hand placed below the belly and one placed on top, try different combinations, however I think the arm on top of the belly should be the arm that is closest to the camera/viewer, this maximises the view to the belly. This is classic arm placement for maternity and works best for the mum, bring the dad in and get a single hand on the belly or try both hands with dad standing behind, be careful not to portray them looking/facing out of the frame, angling them 45  degrees to the camera or so that they appear to ‘wrap around’  works well i reckon. The placement of the dads arms is also critical, if both arms are placed under the belly, do the same for the partner, try different combinations of dads hands on the outside and vice versa, this can change the dynamic of the image from the father providing a protective feel (arms on the outside) to a more secondary role, both can work well I think and is dependent on the parents and their relationship.

The classic side on pose works well with the hand ontop of the belly (and one underneath) and also the alternative one, hands on the back pushing the belly out, this is the proud mum pose and really shows off the belly – look for the ‘S’ shape and also work with the placement of the hands to hide any unslightly lower back bulge or on the flip side to show off the figure. Moving the hands up and down can change how the pose looks, work with different eye contact as well, however the mum to belly eye contact probably works best.

Moving from the side profile into the 3/4 position is a good change in poses and can often really engage the viewer more due to the more direct angle of the body to the viewer, take for example the side on profile where the body is ‘looking’ out of the frame and compare that to the 3/4 pose where the body moreso ‘looks’ towards the camera. Remember to get that forward leg on the tippy toe and point towards the camera or at 45 degrees.

Mum in front with dad cradling from  behind or slightly to the side is classic stuff and can be a really powerful image, some things to consider are the height of the two parents, and where to get those eyes to look. I found getting the faces in close is a must, the stronger images were the ones where the dad had his face directly on mums shoulder and they both looked towards the bubs.

Mum sitting cross legged on the floor – this is one pose I have not really tried and does not particulary ring my bell – this comes more from the fact I find sitting cross leged pretty uncomfortable on a good day, let alone what it would be like with 2 bags of oranges hanging off ya sternum! That said, i can see the benfits of the straight on shot (sitting down crossed legged) where you could really put prominence on the reverse belly button or similiar.

On the couch, this one is quite a bit harder than it looks in my opinion, couches are those things where its easy to slide into and be really comfortable, often getting lost in there, as one can imagine this is not necessarily desirable for a maternity pose. However given that it can be a comfortable position and relatively easy for the mum to move around, being off her feet and all, its worth trying. The key aspect, in my opinion, is the get the face out and defined, don’t lose it in the cushions and don’t let them (cushions couch) compete too much. Getting one arm up behind the head propping it up seems to work, this coupled with the other hand (far one) on the belly can be nice.

On the floor – yep as one can guess it ain’t comfortable, use a small pillow to prop the head. I only have one style of shot that I like on the floor and its more of a glamour style pose than a pregnancy pose, its more about the mum and gets the eye contact straight to the viewer, this works well with diagonal compositions and using the face to lead the viewer to the belly, however the bubs will always be second fiddle in these shots. I find that the strike rate is pretty low for this pose and you have to be careful with the angle of the face, it can really look uncomfortable with only the slightest of changes in position. Also getting the facial expression is tricky and also minimising the forehead wrinkles is quite important.

Peek -a-boo – this is alot of fun and really simple pose, simply use a doorway in a hall and get the mum to poke her belly out, I found this works well with half the face, legs and some chest in there, just the belly looks a bit impersonal, having some more in the view and having the mum look at bubs to be seems to be sweet spot.

Pose-age summary – basically as previously mentioned you really need to lock in that closeness and connection between the mum, bubs to be and dad, without this single factor I think you are working uphill to get a good frame – obviously where bubs is not the primary point then its an exception. Closeness is also key when all 3 parties are invloved, if dad has a bit of distance between him and the mum or bubs, this can just scream out ‘distance’ and look crapola, blokes typically need a bit of proding to get them in closer, i am certainly the same! I don’t think I have any images or seen any where I thought ‘thats too close’ hence get them in close. Take lots of shots with small adjustments in the poses, a small change can often make the difference between a ok shot and one where you go ‘wow’. This can also cover you for various facial expressions…segway…

5) Facial Expressions

We have all had shots taken of us where the eyes go one way the mouth the other way or something similiar and it all looks like a bad viral email image for the freak family! Sometimes i think taking a few extra shots with different expressions can really help nail that money shot. So the best way to do it, well i don’t think there is forumla for bring this out, however, engaging with the mum/dad and getting them to feel comfortable in front of you will definitely bring out those beautiful natural, genuine smiles. Those with a bit of charm will excel in this area I reckon, for those like me with people skills that have been honed for grunts, cuss words and typical engo talk will have to work a bit harder!

6) Wardrobe

Pretty important aspect, obvioulsy working within the limitations of the mums wardrobe is a must and more importantly what she is compfortable with. This is something that is going to be different for each session and dependent on whether the couple want to go topless, fully clothed, nude or somewhere in between. I don’t think I am a fan of fully nude maternity shots – semi nude ones where there is some skin seems to work well, having the bulging belly bare is a preferred option in my opinion, mainly since it makes it a bit easier to define the belly, when you work with a black top covering the belly you really need to think carefully about how to define that belly and not to lose it in the frame. This is particularly important for mums where their bulge is not that big….yet.

Irrespective of clothing amount, good solid colours are paramount, avoid patterns and lairy colours, these in most cases can compete or draw attention away form the mum and bubs to be. If images are going to be BW conversions then the actually solid colour becomes a little less important, however I think working with pascal colours is prefferred and makes for a easier composition for those colour shots – i also like pascals…

Simple boob-tubes work well, remember to get up nice and high on the back and keep them as small as possible, you can also use this with a single arm over the breasts and this can give that illusion of semi-nudity.

Single colour pants like jeans/slacks work well, I am not a fan of the tights in most cases, I like a loose leg pant, it can help balance out the form – this however is more a preference thing than anything else.

Fully clothed shots – either white or black tops work well with a shawl placed over the shoulders and breasts, this can really get some nice depth and definition to a covered belly. Try different props to help accentuate the belly and profile.

Semi-nude, this to me means topless bloke and a woman with pants and breasts covered – this seems to be quite popular and really works well in black and white. I don’t think you need buff people for this and it can work for the skinny guys, like myself!

7) Post Processing

Post processing is a subjective part of photography. Two things are worth mentioning about PP in my opinion, 1) what a photographer perceives in a image in terms of processing compared to the average punter is typically vastly different. 2) Work on developing your own style, it may grow from an existing style of another more proficient photographer but as long as you develop and cultivate your own style then in my opinion its all good.

There is no doubt that Black and White Photography is more utilised for maternity photography, I am not sure whether BW suits maternity any more than normal portraits which often can really sing in BW, but I reckon its got more of a social stigma about it, BW may convey that slightly more edgey feel, more reminscent of the older days when photography was more valued and required a higher skill set. The BW also breaks the image down a bit more, reduces it to sub-elements and removes some of those often distracting elements, loud colours which can detract from the main subject (s).

Blown out backgrounds work well to give that dreamy glowed look, this can also be achieved with high key processing to an extent.

Soft focus, warmer tones, glow all these are just tools that you can use for portrait stuff and its applicable to maternity stuff, really there is not set forumla (and there should not be) for getting the best images from a session, its more a thing which depends on the couple, the setting and the dynamics present. Use the PP tools available to compliment the subjects, frames and scene…..segway

Compliment the subjects…this is photography 101, PP should compliment the frame and subjects not overpower it or detract attention, it should accentuate the image and typically does not require alot of application, I personally find when applying an effect I dial it in to where I can notice it or where I think it starts to look good than back it off a bit.

Finally, as my motto goes – “no amount of processing will fix bad composition”, for maternity, this has the added the … “will fix bad lack of eye contact/connection and poor posing”

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