Of all the subjects that I have photographed, I have found that working with an expectant mother is one of the most rewarding sessions a photographer can have. Not only is it a wonderful first sale with a new client, it is also an opportunity to create a relationship that can last a lifetime. Maternity clients are looking for a studio they can trust. With proper attention and care, you can become the photographer that documents their most important memories year after year. This can be done through attention to detail and excellent customer service. I learned this early on in my career. At first, I pursued every type of photography. All I really wanted was an opportunity to capture one more moment—I didn’t care who or what the subject was. The creation of a visual history was an incredible high for me and I loved every minute behind the lens. Little did I know that for many of my first clients, I would capture some of the greatest moments in their lives for many years to come.
I remember the first maternity session I ever did. I was so excited for this new opportunity. Back then we did not have the advantage of the Internet to glean ideas from. Most information on poses and technique came from books. I remember scouring every resource I had, looking for anything to prepare me for this exciting session. The day of the session finally arrived. I was nervous and excited all at the same time. I had vision, energy and finally a subject too. I will never forget that first maternity session as long as I live. In my mind I had the perfect image designed. But as I started the session, I was blindsided by reality. Working with a pregnant body was not as easy as I had assumed it would be. My vision slowly faded as I tried to make this woman look radiant. I could see that body size and weight, along with the subject’s personal discomfort, were all factors that were going to impede my success. As I struggle to find the perfect shot, I quickly realized many obvious issues that would later formulate the future guidelines that I would follow to make maternity sessions for enjoyable, exciting and profitable.
One of the most important lessons I learned from that first session was the value of a good client consultation. Taking the time to sit with your client and discuss the details will ensure that your client understands the session and knows what to expect. The consultation will also eliminate the fear that most expecting mothers may feel, by determining many of the client’s expectations and insecurities. This is a good time to ask questions and show sample images, to show the client their options and get an idea of what they like.
As you may know, when it comes to maternity sessions, every body is different. You will want to create your session at the point in gestation where it is obvious that the subject is pregnant, but not too close to full-term, when she is swollen, uncomfortable and feeling unattractive. The best maternity sessions are held between the seven and a half and eight months. The goal is to wait until the belly just passes the breast line. For some women, this can be earlier. For others, it will arrive in the last few weeks of pregnancy. It is a good idea to be flexible about session availability, should your client be showing earlier or not enough when their appointment arrives.
There are several styles that can be utilized in maternity portraits, and it’s wise to find out what your client is looking for. Some will prefer a traditional style. I like to say that this style is nice enough to show grandma. Typically the client will be clothed and may just expose the belly. These images are my least favorite to create, though important to collect and offer your client. There are several reasons for this. Some clients are uncomfortable exposing their skin. It is best to take cues from your clients and not encourage them to expose more than they would like to. However, the beauty of the pregnant form is easier to capture and emphasize with less clothing. Another style of maternity portraits utilizes fabric wraps. This can create unique images, while still providing strategic coverage. This is one of my favorite styles, because it allows the photographer to be creative and yet the client stays clothed. The choice of fabric can range from silk scarves to muslin backgrounds. The coverage can be almost the entire body to simply covering the bare minimum. Part of the learning process is trying different angles, drapes and lighting, to find the perfect image. Many times, these images will have a storybook feel. They are timeless and engage the viewer in the excitement of a new life and the beginning stages of motherhood. Nude portraits are another style of maternity photography that can be used. While posing new challenges, this style can be one of the most dramatic, if done correctly. Every woman’s body will be different than the next. It is the photographer’s job to find the most flattering angles. Understanding light is critical in nude portraits—especially for maternity sessions. Transitions between shadow and highlight can be used to accentuate or hide features. Your client will specify which areas those should be during their consultation.
Every pregnant woman will have features that she loves and others that she does not. As a photographer, it’s your job to capture the vision of what being pregnant means to her. Everyone you work with will be different. Some will carry all up front, while others rout out in the back as well. Many will gain weight in their hands, feet and neck—even their faces too. Be prepared with options to cover your client’s problem areas. Fabric, flowers and furniture are great choices, because they provide coverage without too much distraction from the subject.
While it’s best not to over shoot, I have found that maternity sessions are the time to allow more freedom. Even with a trained eye, it takes more shots to find just the right pose. It’s also best to keep the poses moving, so the mother won’t be in one position for too long. I try to shoot quickly and efficiently to keep the session moving along.
Typically, I start every maternity session on a black background. This allows me to use light to accentuate the positive features like the belly, and eliminate areas that are carrying extra weight. I use small strip lights with egg crate modifiers. These 10x48 softboxes force light into a more direct angle and allow me to target specific points. One light is aimed from behind to create separation on the body, and the other is aimed from about 45 degrees off camera on the opposite side. I also use a 3x4 reflector to bring a little detail onto the shadow side. I usually start with black because it detracts from the subject’s weight. However, once I complete that series, I try to incorporate unique backgrounds and ideas to give my client something different as well.
Because every body is different, I am constantly looking for new angles that are most flattering to the subject’s body type. I often shoot on a ladder from above, so that I can elongate the body and extend the chin upward. This gives a more slimming position and eliminates extra weight on the face. You can circle your subject several times until you find the perfect angle. It might take several attempts before you find the look that you want. Make sure your client is comfortable and relaxed. She shouldn’t be in an uncomfortable position, regardless of how much you want the shot.
I have heard many photographers complain that maternity sessions are not as profitable as others. I believe that maternity sessions can be highly profitable if you plan ahead. During the initial consultation, it is important to discuss not only the session expectations but also the pricing and product options as well. At our studio, our goal is to sell an album and other art products that are specifically designed for pregnancy sessions. We actually recommend that the client come in twice after their original appointment. The first time they will see a wonderful slide show that showcases all of the images. These images have been edited to the best work and are cropped, with the exposures adjusted. We run them through a basic action that softens them and provides a slight vignette. No other retouching is done. I typically select two or three favorites and completely prepare them for viewing, so the client can see exactly what the finished images will look like. During this one-hour meeting, our goal is to educate the client on the many products and art styles that we offer. After the slide show we then review the images two at a time to further edit the client’s selections. As we review those images together, a sales associate will suggest art products that will compliment the images the most. We want our clients to be a very active part of this process. After discussion of albums, wall collections and gift portraits, we explain that the next step is to design the products and then return to view them as slides with all the completed artwork. About five days later, the client will return to see a new series of images that are completed artwork. In this second one-hour meeting, we include a few custom album pages, wall collections and other unique products as well. We create these products easily, using a series of templates and actions that are designed for this process. Our clients are typically more excited to purchase a collection of work because they have been involved in the design process. At this point, we start to build packages based on the client’s feedback. We allow them to dream big and assure them that if the final selection is over budget they can eliminate items as well. Depending on the package they purchase, we may offer a complimentary bonus that will include our first year baby program. This will ensure that the client is motivated to come back and complete the first year baby program with us as well. Remember, the pregnancy session can be the beginning of capturing a lifetime of memories for your client. Invest your heart into your work and the return will be great.
Get this campaign on Ukandu.com!