While pregnant, I was lucky to be able to take self-portraits or ask my husband (a very talented photographer) to take my picture. However, if I wasn’t a photographer, hiring one would have been a budget stretch with all the baby-to-come related expenses.
Every pregnant woman deserves a good image to be able to look back at those amazing belly moments. That’s why I want to share my most fundamental rules for taking great maternity portraits. The best news of all is that by living in Santa Cruz, moms-to-be have the best landscapes for perfect outdoor shots, from the ocean to the redwoods. Follow my advice and you’ll be able to get the shot that your belly very much deserves.
Probably the most important ingredient for a good photo is lighting. Most would think that a gorgeous sunny warm afternoon is the best time for great photos. However, as nice as those days are, they are not ideal for photos (at least not in the middle of the day).
The best time to take pictures on a beautiful sunny day is sunset. During the early afternoon, the sun is directly above your head or somewhere high up enough to create harsh shadows; these shadows are strong enough to hinder all softness in an image and will make you frown.
At sunset time, the sun is right in front of you (as long as you are facing west), filling every feature and detail of your face with tender light.
Even better are the 20 minutes after sunset. By then the light is pinkish, soft, nostalgic, and most importantly, you won’t be frowning. Forget the flash and let this soft light do the magic!
An overcast day is also great option if you want to take photos earlier in the day and not worry about the sun’s position. Cloudy days don’t create as many shadows as sunny days do.
2. Learn about your camera ahead of time.
Most cameras, even if they are small point and shoots, have semi manual settings. Read about the basic settings for your camera and practice using them at home. If you don’t have an instructions manual, try finding an online tutorial for your camera model. What you want to achieve are good lighted photos without a flash. The settings that would allow for this (if available) are:
ISO: a relatively high ISO will allow to take photos in poor light conditions without a flash and without blur. Too high of an ISO can cause a lot of graininess, so there’s a middle ground to be had.
Aperture: The smaller the aperture number the more light will come in the image.
Shutter Speed: You want at least a shutter speed of 150 or higher.
Another super important feature to learn in your camera is the self-timer. This will allow you to set the camera on a tripod just the way you want it without help. Although for this I strongly recommend to get your partner involved, we don’t want a very pregnant belly running back and forth! Ask your partner to pose for you, set the photo frame where you want the photo, go stand next to your partner and make him/her be the one to push the button and rush back to pose.
3. Scope the location
The issue with the perfect lighting is that it lasts little (especially if you don’t have a professional camera). So you want to make sure you know what kind of shot you want and where. Scope the location ahead of time, arrive an hour or so before sunset to make sure you get the photo-shoot going in the right direction and pick the best spots.
4. Get a tripod or ask a friend or relative to help (and make them read this)
Borrow a tripod if you don’t have one, or ask a close friend or relative to help with the session. Make sure that they learn the basic settings for your camera and practice a bit before the photo-shoot.
5. Background and patience
Think your photo through. Look at the frame, do you really want those cars driving by on the background? or all those electric wires? or those tourists with visors? position yourself in a spot where you’ll have the least amount of non-photogenic or irrelevant elements and be patient, wait for the joggers to leave the frame, reposition if necessary, it’ll be worth it.
6. Respectfully refuse passers-by help
Perfect lighting by sunset doesn’t last long. As sunset nears, respectfully avoid allowing kind passers-by to take your photo – you can thank them and explain that your are trying to learn how to use your camera. If you allow a stranger to take the photos, the most likely scenario is that they won’t know what they are doing other than pressing a button, you’ve put a lot more thought into this than anyone else so be confident.
7. Create a memory
Why do you want these photos? As a mom, I know it wasn’t just because I felt like a gorgeous pregnant woman (which I was!) but because I wanted to look back to these moments, the story of the how most amazing person I’ve ever met (my son) got to this world.
Think about your reasons for the photos while you are taking them, look at your belly, think about “the day” as you look into the horizon, kiss your partner with all that love that brought you to this moment.
Make it a special day, if you have a partner take it as a date, go for dinner after sunset and enjoy the evening as much as you can, you’ll value the memories when looking at the images.
If you don’t have a partner go with a very close friend, parents, or whoever is going to be an important part in your baby’s life.
Most portraits are better when taken at chest height or lower. This gives the image a bit more perspective than a simple flat photo. Think about it, if you take the photo from face height or higher, you’ll probably miss the beautiful sky, showing mostly floor space on the back, you may also miss the pretty mountains, or the board walk rides! Plus these kind of sights are always a better contrast to the main object of the photos, you!
You are pregnant, you are beautiful, and every curvy line is too, you need to show that off! it won’t last much longer…wear clothes that show your curves, avoid loose fitting garments, show belly if necessary. Of course you want to be yourself, so make sure that whatever you wear feels like yourself.
10. Get inspired.
Go online and look for other maternity photos. A great resource is pinterest. Make sure you limit yourself to only a few favorite shots. Allow room for creativity though, use this as a tool to get inspired instead of trying to recreate someone else’s photo. Most importantly is to be realistic, maybe the shot you want doesn’t work with the location or lighting that you chose so be selective.
So go ahead and schedule your very own photo-shoot and have fun! check the weather though, you don’t want to end up shivering while trying to show off the belly. And please, if this helps you as much as I hope, share the outcome with with me!!!!