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Friday, March 11, 2011

Maternity Photography – 7 Tips for Taking Great Shots

Maternity Photography – 7 Tips for Taking Great Shots

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 When I first began doing maternity work I made a pledge. A commitment I swore I’d stand by through thick and thin. I promised myself I’d never take “the maternity picture.” You know the one. Daddy’s arms around mommy’s belly with hands affectionately forming… gag… excuse me… a heart. There’s NOTHING wrong with this photo. AT ALL. Calm your rage oh you who just did this exact shot this afternoon. It’s just that I didn’t want to do the typical maternity image that every mother who’s every had her belly photographed has in one of her 9 baby albums (9 for the first child that is… 1 for the second…a few images in an envelope somewhere for the third… and oh, that poor fourth child, he has to borrow pictures from his brother when he’s highlighted on the bulletin board in Kindergarten). I marched right into that first session ready to stand by my commitment to creativity! I’d no sooner pulled out my camera than mom, all giddy with excitement, said “Woo! Can we do that shot with Daddy’s arms around me and our hands forming a heart over my belly button?!?” I stood by that pledge of mine for a full… well, 2.4 seconds. Of course I did the shot. But guess what? I did a lot of other stuff that she’d never have dreamed of. Guess which image DID NOT get purchased. Belly button heart.

1. The Great Outdoors:

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So many maternity sessions are done in studio. I understand the reasons behind this. I’ve been pregnant. 3 times over. I’m not the petite and pretty pregnant. I’m the gal you find wedged between the double doors at The Sizzler. Studio shoots are great because there’s privacy. I can’t argue with that. Particularly if you’re going to do anything in less than a fully clothed state (that’s my PC way of saying naked). But there’s something about being outside. Taking that natural beauty of a woman who’s ready to bring new life into the world and placing her in the majesty of the great outdoors is simply breathtaking.

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2. At Home:

When you shoot a mommy-to-be in her own home she’s comfortable to let go in a way that she may not be otherwise. This is a fantastic reason to hold maternity sessions at home. This is not however why I do it. As a photographer I feel like it’s my responsibility to help my subjects feel comfortable and capable of giving me their best, no matter where we’re shooting. I pride myself on my ability to do this. To me, it’s a HUGE part of my success as a photographer (Uh oh. I feel a post in this regard coming on… check back soon). I shoot maternity sessions at home primarily because it’s wonderful for a couple to have a capture that truly shows what their life was like at the time their baby came to be a part of their family. I’m a second generation photographer so I’ve got some really lovely shots of my sweet momma awaiting my arrival. My favorite however is a simple picture of her standing by my bassinet with her hand on her tummy. I CHERISH it.

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3. Simplify:

No matter where you shoot, studio, home, outside, 7Eleven, you’ve got to simplify your surroundings. The beauty of a mother anticipating the arrival of her child should be captured in a way that allows the miracle to speak for itself. Pregnancy doesn’t require anything “else” to be present in a photograph to help tell it’s story. Everything in the frame that may not belong will simply serve to distract from the story that’s already being told, naturally. Pay attention to background.

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4. Help Her Feel Beautiful

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Women don’t generally feel very sexy when they’re pregnant. Understandably so, and trust me I connect with this feeling as much as the next gal. But just because an expectant mother doesn’t feel sexy, that doesn’t mean she’s not totally knock out. Bring that out in her. Pull that beauty out of her. A good way to do this is by talking as you shoot. It’s perfectly appropriate to say things like: “That’s beautiful!” “Yes, perfect!” “Oh that’s just LOVELY.” “Pregnancy looks good on you girl!” Whatever works! If you’re a male photographer you’ll need to be careful about what you say in this crazy world of sexual harassment, but you’re even more capable of pulling the beauty out of her than a female photographer. It’s one thing when your girlfriend tells you you’re beautiful, but when your girlfriend’s brother tells you that you’re looking good, you actually believe it. Obviously be careful and be genuine. The success of this tip will depend on your personality, but you can help her help herself. If she feels pretty she’ll look a whole heck of a lot better. It’s that simple. 

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5. Highlight Relationship:

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Hopefully new babies are coming into a loving home. I always try to include photographs that highlight the tender relationship between mom and dad, because bringing a child into the world with someone is arguably love in it’s purest form. 

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6. Don’t Forget the Siblings… or the dog for that matter:

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Remember that often a baby is coming into an established family unit (not to say that Mom and Dad alone aren’t an “established family unit” but for the sake of my point, go with me on this one). If the siblings are available, make sure to include them in at least a few frames. I have to mention the dog, because I’ve got a sister-in-law who’s dog, Wanda (seriously that’s her name) is her pride and joy. When she and her hubby have kids, you can trust that Wanda will be right there in at least a handful of her maternity photos. She’s as much a part of the family as the next guy.

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7. Give ‘em Something Different:

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Don’t just shoot what’s always been shot. This is a good general rule of photography. I really try to be “consistently inconsistent” (I recently heard another photographer, Nate Kaiser of theimageisfound.com, use this term and I had to pirate it). Let me explain, you’ve got to approach each shoot as it’s own. I’m very committed as a photographer to tailoring each shoot for the subject I’m photographing. Like I said before, this is a good general rule that applies particularly to maternity photography. Even though millions and millions of mothers have given birth to millions and millions of babies for millions and millions of years, a momma-to-be needs to feel like her pregnancy is miraculous, special and sacred, that the things she’s experiencing are unique only to her. Because they are.

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