Pregnancy is an uncomfortable time for many women. Their bodies are rapidly changing, and not always in a way that they feel great about. Acne, swelling, weight gain, and stretch marks are all common experiences, which can make pregnant women feel unattractive.
While some pregnant women may feel wonderful, many others are self-conscious about the way they look. This self-consciousness can be a barrier during maternity photo shoots, leading to unnatural or awkward photos.
For gorgeous maternity portraits, your #1 job as a photographer is to help your model feel beautiful and comfortable. Creating a comfortable environment is important in any type of portrait photography, but especially for maternity photos. You want your model to feel amazing, so she’ll not only have a great experience but also look her best in the photos.
Here are 8 tips for helping models feel great during maternity shoots. With a confident model, good lighting, and tasteful post-processing, you’re sure to get wonderful shots of this special time.
The absolute most important rule to understand is that the mother’s safety always comes first. That means that you might want to limit your physical activity and number of locations on the shoot. That could mean that you always have snacks and water available. And that means, always checking in to ensure that she’s feeling okay, comfortable and ready to shoot.
Make sure the model is wearing something she feels beautiful in.
Clothes can make a huge difference in a model’s confidence. However, there’s no single outfit that works for all women. Some women like clingy dresses, while others prefer loose pants and shirts.
These differences can become more prominent during a maternity shoot, which focuses on the woman’s body. If the model feels uncomfortable or unattractive in her outfit, she might not enjoy the attention given to her body.
For this reason, encourage the model to wear whatever she feels best in, even if that means sweatpants and a baggy shirt. Some photographers prefer tight maternity clothes since they reveal the baby bump more clearly, but really, you can get great shots with any outfit. If the model’s wearing loose clothes, you can simply ask her to cradle her abdomen or face against the wind.
In the end, it’s most important for her to feel comfortable. If a tight shirt or form-fitting dress isn’t her thing, that’s fine.
Choose flattering angles.
Women have a wide variety of shapes and sizes, especially when they’re pregnant. In other words, you won’t be able to use the same angles for every maternity shoot. A shot that looks fantastic with one woman might look unflattering with another. Stay attuned to these differences, and adapt your ideas to each model’s unique shape.
For instance, you can get a great straight-on shot with an obvious baby bump, but not with a subtler bump. Similarly, some pregnant women look beautiful and relaxed sitting down, while others (the majority, actually) look much better standing up.
Sometimes, women are already conscious of what angles look better or worse with their bodies. Or, at least, they feel more confident with certain angles than others. You can ask about these preferences and talk about what features she wants to highlight or hide.
For example, she might be self-conscious about her chin but love the curve of her abdomen. Communicating about these preferences can not only help create trust but also prevent you from taking photos she won’t like.
I love this posing illustration from this article on SLR Lounge. Notice how subtle shifts in the body position can create a huge difference in the final image on the right.
Remember to tell a story and to find meaning
Try to incorporate meaningful elements into the shoot. This could be choosing a location that has significance to the mother-to-be or adding props that include her interests. These things will tell a story and make the photos more than just pretty pictures. They will have a natural connection to the subjects and make them that much more powerful for them and their loved ones. In the photo below, you can see how the couple chose the college where they met, UCLA, for their session.
Shoot outdoors during the Golden/Blue Hour.
The beautiful lighting and atmosphere of the Golden Hour and the Blue Hour aren’t just great for photography. They can also be mood boosters, helping your model to relax and enjoy the photo shoot. With such lovely surroundings, it’s easier to feel at ease and believe that the portraits will be gorgeous.
Your model might also feel better at the beginning or end of the day, depending on her schedule, her body’s rhythm, and the time of year. Hopefully, one or the other will work well with her energy levels.
If neither does (e.g. if she’s tired in the evening, but the sunrise is too early), skip the Golden/Blue Hour and settle for a beautiful location instead. After all, having a model who feels good is more valuable than having golden light. You can always adjust the lighting; adjusting a model’s mood or energy level is more difficult.
Tell the model to look away from the camera.
Eyes catch the viewers’ attention. That’s why they’re often the focus of portrait photography. However, in maternity portraits, you want viewers to notice the beauty of the pregnancy first and foremost. If the model looks directly at the camera, her eyes will likely distract the viewer and weaken the image’s overall power.
In addition, looking away from the camera can help some models feel more comfortable, as it’s less intimate. If you’re holding a good conversation, she might even forget that you’re shooting photos, leading to more natural-looking portraits.
Try shooting in black & white.
Color shots can be confrontational, particularly when a lot of skin is exposed. In color, any irregularities in skin tone – such as blotches, acne, and spider veins – are obvious. Your model may be gorgeous yet still self-conscious of how these blemishes show up in color.
To hide these blemishes, try shooting in black and white instead. The same skin irregularities may become invisible, or at least less noticeable. Since pregnant women are prone to skin changes, this approach can come in useful during maternity shoots.
Make sure the model is physically comfortable, especially for nude or partially nude shots.
Being pregnant isn’t easy. It comes with a lot of physical discomfort, from swollen feet to painful varicose veins. Be mindful of this discomfort as you plan the shoot. For instance, make sure there are chairs to sit on, and create time for bathroom/water breaks.
Being constantly aware of the model’s comfort is particularly important during nude or partially nude shoots, which are common in maternity photography. While not all women feel comfortable with nude portraits, some women would rather go nude than wear frumpy maternity clothes. Talk about your model’s preferences beforehand, and never pressure her to show more skin.
If your model wants a (partially) nude portrait, make sure you’re well-prepared for this type of shoot. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Make sure someone else she trusts is in the room, like her partner or a (female) friend.
- Use lenses with longer focal lengths, so you can stay at a respectable distance.
- Avoid touching her. If something needs to be repositioned, ask her partner or friend to make those adjustments.
- Have a blanket or robe on hand, so she can cover herself between shots.
- Turn up the room temperature, so she doesn’t get cold while exposed.
- Keep the shoot simple and efficient; prepare your camera beforehand, and know what shots you’ll be taking.
- If possible, show example portraits to your model before the shoot, so she knows what to expect.
- Remain professional. Act like nothing is unusual or weird, even if it’s your first nude shoot. If you’re uncomfortable and it shows, that discomfort will affect her as well.
Above all, stay attuned to how she’s feeling. If she seems tense, ask her to imagine her baby, and talk about the pregnancy. Basically, bring the attention away from the nudity and to what the shoot’s really about: the love, anticipation, and beauty of pregnancy.
Ask about props beforehand.
Using props can be a great way to get models to relax. They can be a good conversation starter, and they offer a nice break for the model if she’s tired of being in the spotlight.
Unlike with other types of portraits, props in maternity photos are best provided by the woman/couple. They should be personalized and connected to the coming child. Some popular prop ideas include shoes, a book, a onesie, a stuffed animal, an ultrasound picture, or something that spells out the baby’s name, like block letters.
If you prefer certain props over others, be straightforward with your clients about these preferences. It’s okay to reject certain props if they don’t fit your photography style, but you should communicate these standards in advance. That way, your clients won’t get excited about their props, only to discover that you won’t include them in the shoot.
Consider Using Movement of the Wardrobe for Creativity
If your subject is wearing a long, loose dress, try tossing it for added drama and interest. This may take a few tries, but the end result is usually well worth it. See these example below from Line and Roots. In this particular picture, they also added flash for added interest and a more dramatic look and feel to the overall aesthetic.
Get the partner and/or family involved.
Pregnancy and childbirth are events that affect the whole family. It makes sense, then, to include other people in maternity photo shoots. The partner is the first obvious choice, along with other children in the family. A beloved pet can be fun to include, too.
If a best friend or sister is also pregnant, they can potentially combine their two maternity photo shoots into one, getting both individual and paired pictures. Involving more people like this can help make the photo shoot fun and memorable – as long as the model enjoys their company and feels comfortable having them around.
Many of the above photos were selected from our community on Flickr. Have a great maternity portrait you can share? Post it to the group so we can admire it!
If you’re interested in learning more about maternity photography, we highly recommend the following workshop from our friends at SLR Lounge.