From underwater portrait sessions to floral crowns and flowy fabric, recent trends have reinvigorated the field of maternity photos. If once the genre was considered radical (think: Demi Moore on the cover of Vanity Fair), it’s now entered the mainstream (think: Beyonce’s 2017 pregnancy photoshoot with twins).
These days, maternity photos are equally at home in art galleries, family albums, and social media feeds, and parents-to-be are eager to capture this unique and special time in their lives through the lens of a professional photographer. In this genre, genuine enthusiasm and passion for the subject—and your clients’ vision—is a must. Below, you’ll find a quick guide to breaking into the business.
Firstly, after your clients’ initial inquiry, take steps to make sure you understand what they want from your photoshoot:
–Schedule a call or a meet-up
Listen for things that are meaningful to them that you can incorporate into the shoot.
–Bring lots of suggestions
They may not know where to start, so you can get their creative juices flowing with some tried-and-true starter ideas.
–Direct them to Pinterest (or the idea saving/sharing platform of your choice)
They can show you what they like more easily this way, even if something is difficult for them to describe.
Now you’re ready for the fun part: planning a maternity portrait session that will have them coming back for updated family photos every year.
When to schedule a maternity photoshoot
For pregnancy announcements, it’s good to meet sometime during the first trimester. Your client may already have pregnancy reveal photoshoot ideas to discuss with you, and you want to get that shot, edit it, and send it on before the surprise starts to show.
For a true maternity shoot, ideally, you will start planning around month seven, with the shoot taking place during month eight. You’re more likely to get a nice, full bump this way, and the mother won’t be in one of those in-between phases as she transitions to maternity clothing. You also want to leave a little breathing room before the due date in case she goes into labor on the early side.
Cute maternity shoot props and equipment
Props are especially useful with maternity portraits since there are so many things to convey at once. It’s a good idea to stay plugged into Pinterest, Instagram, and 500px to keep an eye on current trends. You can always add to your prop kit, but consider some basic things to start with:
A pair of baby shoes, a plain white onesie, a tiny bonnet—the parents-to-be will be busy getting themselves ready and off to the shoot, so they may not think to bring those little touches along. The best part is, they won’t take up much space in your kit.
Baby bump-sized objects
Especially for pregnancy announcements, bump-sized objects are fun props to add to your photoshoot. Have your model hold a pumpkin in front of her belly (“Can’t wait to meet our little pumpkin!”) for something seasonal or use a basketball, soccer ball, etc. if your clients are sports fans.
Nothing says “baby” like a crib. Chances are, the parents-to-be have been carefully planning the baby’s space for months already, so a lifestyle shoot in the nursery is almost always a winner. It also opens the door to a gentle pitch for newborn photos in a few weeks; imagine the couple snuggled in front of the crib, then recreating that idea with their newborn wrapped up snug in their arms. It’s a before and after they’ll treasure for years.
What your maternity clients should wear to the photoshoot
Your clients will almost definitely want to talk about what they should wear to their maternity session. While the most important thing, of course, is for them to be comfortable, there are some things you can suggest:
Dresses and tops that fit through the bust and flow below are perfect for showcasing that telltale baby bump. They’re also great camouflage if your subject is shy about some of the recent changes in her shape.
Maybe your subject is all about embracing her new figure, in which case bodycon dresses are a great fit. Keep in mind that movement may be more limited with these outfits. If you’re going through a couple of wardrobe changes, it may be a good idea to go from tightest to loosest. Your model might decide to use shapewear beneath her bodycon outfit, which will be a lot easier to take off than to put on during a shoot.
Showing off that bump is the whole point of a maternity shoot. Maxi dresses that part in front or tops that can be pulled up will make it easy to flash a bit of belly skin. A button-down shirt can also be left open on the bottom half for some photos of the baby bump, then buttoned up for other shots.
PinkBlush and Motherhood Maternity have formal and casual options that are ideal for maternity shoots, or your client could consider renting maternity outfits. Some maternity dress rental companies will work directly with photographers, so you could consider rolling that into your fee.
Pregnancy photoshoot pose ideas
The mother-to-be (and other subjects in these photos) can do a lot with her body language to keep the “maternity” in her maternity photoshoot:
Have your model keep her shoulders slightly back, which will accentuate her belly by naturally pushing it forward. This should look natural and not forced or uncomfortable. If she needs some help nailing the posture, have her lean back, and look over one shoulder.
Using hands automatically draws attention to certain parts of an image. Whether this is a finger heart around the belly button or your client holding a significant item, it’s an easy strategy for pointing (both literally and figuratively) to the most important thing in a photo.
Baby bumps make great shelves in a maternity photoshoot. Place those baby shoes we talked about on top of it from different angles; your subject can be sitting, standing, or propped up on a bed. If your clients have brought sentimental items, you can use these as well.
Proximity to your props
For pregnancy announcements, remember that you’re helping your clients send a message to an audience that is not expecting it. So although the subject matter may be obvious to you, it could easily go right over Grandma Ruthie’s head. Unless your clients are intentionally going for a “Where’s Waldo?” approach, keep the baby props front and center for the big reveal photo.
By putting your subject between the camera and a light source, you can get some high-impact shots of that classic preggo shape. You can also use this idea with her shadow. It’s an especially savvy tactic for shoots where you have limited space but want to capture something unique and different.
Family maternity photoshoot ideas
Although the mother-to-be is the star of the show in a maternity shoot, there’s always room for supporting players. Including other family members will add another layer of sentimentality that will become more meaningful as the years pass.
Possibly to most excited members of the family will be the siblings-to-be. Capturing candids of them helping to prepare for the new arrival will help them feel involved in the process. There’s also the potential for sweet, belly-kissing photos. For smaller siblings, posing them carefully atop the bump with mom’s help is a fun way to highlight the strength of motherhood.
Other family members
Reaction shots of family members being told the big news are comedy—and memory—gold. You can also involve grandparents, aunts- and uncles-to-be, and so on in the shoot as long as your clients feel comfortable doing so. If they can bring a bit of family history along as a prop, all the better. For example, you could have each person holding their baby picture in front of them while the expecting mother holds her own baby photo in one hand and a recent ultrasound photo over the baby bump.
A new arrival impacts the furry members of a family, as well. Your clients can include their pets in the shoot if you feel comfortable with it.
Working with bed rest mamas
By the third trimester, some expectant mothers may be experiencing pregnancy complications. If a client is put on bed rest after booking a shoot with you, there are still many ways to get meaningful portraits without risking her health:
Mothers who are on light bed rest may be allowed to do a milk bath shoot, as long as someone else does the prep work for her. You can use flowers or other props to add a pop of color (and help her relax at the same time).
Rocking chairs and gliders
The mother-to-be may be allowed to sit upright for some nursery shots. Pose her sitting in the nursery chair, reading a book on motherhood, or gazing at the crib. Since nursery chairs are usually chosen to accommodate long, sleepless nights, it will hopefully be a comfortable experience for her. However, if the only seating available is a hard, family heirloom rocking chair, you can easily use some throw pillows to soften it up for her.
Strict bed rest should be respected at all costs. Be sure to pose your subject on her left side, if possible, to avoid straining her blood flow and certain organs. Putting up some netting or a sheer bed curtain can hide some of the medical bric-a-brac in the background and help to diffuse the lighting. Bringing in siblings to read a book and getting some shots of the father-to-be snuggling with her will add variety to the photoshoot.
Folding baby clothes is an intimate moment that you can photograph with the mother in almost any position. Shots of her preparing to welcome the baby are possible at nearly any level of bed rest, and she’ll treasure those memories down the road just as much as the perfectly posed ones.
Working with non-traditional family additions
Parents-to-be come in all shapes and sizes, so don’t be surprised if you get asked about a maternity shoot by a family that’s not (technically) pregnant.
A photoshoot with a surrogate can be every bit as special as a first-hand maternity photoshoot. Gauge everyone’s comfort level carefully and talk openly with the couple and their surrogate during the planning phase about what they do and do not want. Some surrogates develop (or already have) lifelong attachments with the family they’re carrying for, so this shoot should be every bit as unique and sentimental as a traditional maternity portrait session.
Adoption timelines can be tricky, but the good news is that they come with a lot of props. The paperwork, while tedious, is something parents will always remember about the process. You can also have them put together a chalkboard with the information about the child, how many days they waited for adoption, or really anything meaningful about adding this person to their family.
Working with a rainbow pregnancy
Pregnancy loss is a delicate and painful topic, but many clients still want to remember all of their pregnancies when they find themselves approaching the end of a healthy one. A healthy pregnancy and birth that follows miscarriages or loss is often referred to as a “rainbow pregnancy.” If your clients would like to reference that in their session, they can do that through text on a chalkboard or added in post-processing (“After the storm comes a rainbow”) or rainbow colors in their wardrobe and/or props.
Maternity photoshoots are some of the most exciting and special sessions you can book. Be ready with lots of ideas and information for the (probably stressed) parents-to-be and be flexible and understanding. Pregnancy is rarely predictable! For more maternity portrait session ideas, search an extensive 500px library here, or you can add your own maternal photo portfolio to 500px.
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