3 Tips That Will Take You From a Beginner to a Maternity Master with Casey Dittmer
Maternity portraits. What once was taboo and frivolous is now becoming more and more mainstream. Growing in popularity and trendiness, maternity has come a long way since I began shooting. It continues to evolve in styles and approaches and is given more recognition as a powerhouse in artistry as well as a stable and sustainable income stream.
Maternity photography intimidates many. Feeling foreign in the approach, whether it is in the posing, sales structure, or client interactions, is enough to prevent people from taking hold of the huge advantages that offering maternity services could provide. And really, for most wedding shooters, family photographers, or even seasoned high school senior photographers, maternity is not that far of a leap. And even if you are just starting out brand new as a portrait photographer, there is no need to be overwhelmed or scared to shoot maternity. I am going to lay out 3 key elements for you to follow that will take you from a beginner maternity photographer to a master in no time.
1. Change how you think about the belly
The first thing to do on your journey to becoming a maternity master is to change how you think about the belly. During other sessions, we would more than likely never feature someone’s belly. That would just be weird in a family session… But here, you are literally saying, “Hi, I know we just met, but I’m going to focus on taking pictures of your belly. I will have your face in many of them, but for much of the session, I’m just gonna focus on your gut.” (OK, so don’t actually say that, but you know what I mean…) Since we are going to be focused on that, we need to make sure we are thinking about it in the right way. During maternity sessions, it is not just a body part, an appendage. It is a person. Treat it like a face. (Yep, I keep making it weird.) But this is really important. You have to think of it as a face. Otherwise, you will light it poorly, pose it poorly, and just plain miss the mark on showcasing why we’re even doing this session. Make sure while lighting faces that you are paying attention to what is happening to the body and belly. I see maternity portraits all the time where the momma’s face is gorgeously lit and then the belly is hit broadside with light, spreading it and making it unflattering. Would you do that to a face? Nope. Would mom want to order a picture of her face all wide and unflattering? Nope. And she definitely won’t want one of her body that way.
Use lighting techniques that provide flattering shape and yet minimize overall size. Short lighting is going to be your best friend for making the belly look amazing. Remember to use light to cut shapes and flatter the body. Don’t make it look even larger than it is. Thinking of the belly as a face helps you with posing as well. You want to feature the belly as if it were a person. So, when you are posing mom and dad together, you don’t want it squished in between like a forgotten blob. You want it positioned as if you were shooting a family of 3… well… ‘cause you are! Same thing with your body angles. You don’t want to turn mom away from you so far that you start featuring her love handles and back more than the belly. First off… that shit is a great way to make your clients cry. Second of all… in terms of thinking like it’s a face, it’s like shooting the back of your client’s head. You wouldn’t do that. There is no need to see her back unless it is a profile. Keep the belly forward and it will help slim her shape and hide those trouble spots that she might be less than enthused about. Angles matter too! Would you shoot up your client’s nose? No. So why are you shooting up into your client’s belly? This spreads her body out, makes the belly look disproportionate to the rest of her, and overall is not her best angle. Treat that “belly face” to the same slimming and contouring angles you normally give faces. Your focus is the belly. Make sure it is always featured in flattering light and angles.
So now that you will forever see a face when you look at someone’s belly, let’s move on to the next key to dominating maternity portraits. Connection. I’m going to talk about connection in a couple different ways. First, connection with your clients. Maternity portraits—well, pregnancy really—is a funny thing. It’s temporary. Women either love it or they hate it. So, your job is not only to be a photographer, but a lot of times you are a cheerleader and therapist. Many women are uncomfortable with their bodies. It’s foreign and they need someone to give them the confidence to not only go through with booking a maternity session, but the confidence to rock the shoot. That all comes from you. Your biggest tool in accomplishing this transfer of power is to listen. Listen to what clients are saying and what they are not saying. Acknowledge their fears and insecurities, don’t try to belittle or sweep them aside. I find that by hitting it head-on, they feel more confident in my ability to make them look great because I will be aware of those things while posing, lighting, and shooting. It’s always great if you can relate to them in some way or hey, if you can’t, tell them that! Honesty and just being approachable will go a long way. It will help them feel at ease and build trust between you both. Listening will help you know what approach to take and to learn their “why” for this session. Knowing that can be powerful.
Equally as important as building a connection with your client is creating connections while you are shooting. This could be a connection between mom and soon-to-be baby, dad and mom, siblings and baby, children and mom, and even connecting with your viewer. This is all achieved by hand placement, body position, and expression. Without building and creating connection, it’s just someone showing off that their belly is large and in charge. Pretty sure no one does maternity portraits just to show that. What are you trying to show? Say? Slight changes can completely alter the tone and message of the image. My style of maternity portraits really focuses on connecting mom to her inner strength. It celebrates the amazing woman who is creating a human being! It doesn’t shy away from the fact that it’s hard and uncomfortable and that we are fucking rockstars just for making it through it. It allows her to be confident and bold and to see herself as the beautiful being that everyone else sees. It’s a lifechanging experience for most to feel that way. I use strong body lines and dramatic poses to do this. I want my viewers to feel empowered just by looking at these images. Most women have no idea how to display this type of body language, so you must guide them. Don’t be afraid to be assertive and take charge. When I have maternity couples, I want to showcase not only that the family is growing in numbers, but the connections between each family member. Dad focusing on mom and vice versa. Hands on the belly but also embracing each other, caressing each other. It’s like an engagement session, just don’t forget there is a belly down there when posing. You want to showcase their love to each other as well as the excitement for this new little one. Change where they look, eyes open, eyes closed. Kissing. Give them lots of variety, make them laugh… build the energy. These connections, in any form, will make for stronger images, and ultimately higher sales.
3. Have a Plan
The final piece to your mastery of maternity is having a plan. For some reason we all try to reinvent the wheel when we shoot a session. Especially when you are starting out with maternity, this will cause you to become overwhelmed with what to shoot, how to shoot, or even worse, freezing up and not being able to shoot at all! This is silly. You should have a method to your madness. A game plan. This allows you to create a consistent client experience as well as shooting sessions that are efficient and maximize variety… (read as higher sales potential.) You might think that this is cheating. And it won’t allow for maximum creativity. I strongly disagree. If you aren’t using all your brainpower to think about the basics, you can use it to add extra special elements, whooshes, and see organic shooting opportunities as they come up. Think of each session like a recipe. You should have all your ingredients in your bag and then the way you decide to mix them together will create the outcome. During your session, your ingredients come in two main categories: poses and location.
Poses: Create a library of go-to poses. This isn’t complicated. Profile shot, full body, mid length, close up. Have her look up, down, and at belly. Next, stand straight to the camera legs crossed, looking at camera, looking down at shoulder, looking away… These poses should be consistent shots that you get for every client. Think standing, sitting, on the ground, leaning, couple’s poses, family poses… all different categories for this ingredient. Don’t get overwhelmed. As you shoot more sessions you will continue to add to these. You will get more confident and it will become second nature.
Location: I’m not talking about the actual park or venue where you are shooting, I’m talking about the different posing areas that you will be shooting during that session. Break it down as follows: tree, river, tall grass, broken fence, dirt road, vineyards… and so on. Also consider if certain spots will be deemed the epic shot, or if it’s a great spot for tighter closeups. How can you maximize each area where you will be? Especially during the hotter months, the more walking you make momma do, the faster she will tire. You don’t want that.
Now that you have your two main ingredients, you just pull from each one to create your session. It looks like this:
Broken fence- Laying on fence, eyes closed, eyes open, face to sky, full body shot, close shot, belly shot.
Trees- Walking through trees looking forward, looking back/dress whooshed, tight shot just belly through trees, facing forward dramatic symmetrical shot.
Rocks- Dad sitting with mom standing, facing each other, facing me, dad looking at mom/mom looking at belly.
(These are very basic examples, but I try to do at least 2 completely different poses, with expression variances at each spot.)
To create your plan, you are just mixing and matching to build combos that fit that session. It’s all poses and body positions you are familiar with, so it makes sessions smoother and efficient. See how without even moving momma I am getting 5–6 different shots at each spot? This saves on wear and tear on momma while maximizing the opportunity to sell. You don’t need to worry about sessions looking exactly the same. They won’t! Just to be safe and to give them their own unique experience, make sure that with each session you create a few “signature” shots. Still use your mixing and matching, but that particular combination of pose, location, and details are all their own.
It’s that easy. Like making cookies.
Mastering maternity isn’t something that happens quickly. In fact, it’s a lifelong journey. You will continue to find new ways to push yourself while treating the belly right and creating connections. You will discover new locations, new poses, and ways to exploit both. The process is simple. So fight the urge to over complicate it. Have fun and push yourself outside of your box. Study others’ work while finding your own creative voice. The best way to grow is to shoot. You will try some things that fall short, but most of the time you will find success. Both will grow you as an artist and Maternity Master. So no more excuses or hesitation. Go get shooting and master that bump.