Jennifer George details her approach to posing subjects who are expecting more than just a good set of prints.
This excerpt from The Art of Pregnancy Photography is provided courtesy of Amherst Media. To purchase the book and learn more about the publisher, visit the Amherst Media website.
In photographic print competition, posing is one element that jumps out at the judges. An awkward pose will destroy any chance an image has of earning a high score.
Poor posing is also readily evident to the general public.When the subject’s pose appears unnatural, the viewer will feel uncomfortable, even if they are not sure what it is that is technically wrong with the image. Conversely, when a photographer is able to capture a natural-looking pose, the viewer will be drawn into the portrait and will feel a connection to the subject.
Posing is an art in and of itself. Some people are born with the innate ability to position their subjects and immediately see comfort and grace in the pose. Then there are those of us who need to study, practice, and experiment in order to portray our clients in a way that looks natural and unposed. There are many steps to learning good posing techniques, and the sections that follow will outline a variety of techniques you can use to improve that aspect of your portraiture.
The History of Posing
From the beginning of time, people have created artistic representations of the human form. From cave drawings, to Renaissance painters, humans are fascinated with depicting one another. That fascination continues for photographers and their clients today.
In the early days of photography, excruciatingly long exposure times meant that portrait subjects had to hold a pose to ensure the success of the image. Today, advances in technology and a host of automated features allow us to easily capture an image in the blink of an eye! Posing, however, is one aspect of portraiture that still requires the photographer’s attention and direction—and always will.
Conceptualizing the Pose
Body language is a form of communication, and you want your image to communicate the right message! When we think of a pregnant woman, we have thoughts of motherhood, love, affection, protection, nurturing, warmth, and tenderness. Today, with mothers taking care of their bodies and our increasing societal appreciation of the beauty of the pregnant female form, we also see motherhood as a time of beauty. You might wish to convey any of these moods or feelings in your portrait. This time in a woman’s life is fleeting and very different from any other stage, and it is a privilege to record it. Make it your goal to capture genuine emotion during the shoot.
Nestling the mother and father together created a feeling of security, love, and anticipation between the couple. Their tender interaction helped to tell their story.
The Basic Pose
A good pose is one that is flattering to the subject and provocative to the viewer. There are many poses—sitting, standing, or lying—that can easily meet this goal.
Standing. Photographers always seem to first tackle photographing a pregnant woman by having her stand upright. The assumption is that if she sits, the viewer will not fully see the developed midriff. While a standing pose can be a good place to start your session, you may find that the design and flow of the image is most difficult with a single standing subject than with multiple clients or a seated or lying pose.
An image of the mother alone will be more dynamic if you take the time to consider the best-possible placement of the hands, arms, and face.
In the image on the facing page, the mother’s arms wrap around and hold her tummy, and she looks away with a thoughtful expression on her face. Note the serenity and poise that is conveyed by the subject’s stance. The portrait shows the subject’s strength and contentment. To create this mood, the subject’s body was turned a few degrees away from the camera. She then turned her upper body toward the camera and turned her face toward the light. The position of her hands implies a sense of protection. By turning her body slightly away from the direction of her feet, a slimming effect was produced. Additionally, turning her face away from the direction of her body produced the desired S curve in the image. (For more on S curves and their role in portrait design, see chapter 5.)
A good pose is one that flatters the subject and is provocative to the viewer. The details of the posing approach used to create this portrait are outlined above.
You can easily create a nurturing mood in the image by having mom place her hand on tummy, holding and loving the expected baby.
Many photographers prefer to begin the portrait session with a standing pose, and the technique illustrated here is a good option. The image was created using a single light and a reflector. The mom was asked to turn her body toward the main light and place her left had at the upper area of her tummy and her right had at the lower area. Her chin was angled toward her near shoulder. The intimate feel of this image is due in part to the fact that the subject’s gaze is not directed at the viewer; creating a profile of the face or having the subject look at the camera would produce a different look. In this image, the mother held the flowers lower and to the side so that the view of her tummy is free of obstruction.
Laying. The mother-to-be must be portrayed in the most relaxed, beautiful manner possible. When the mother is relaxed and surround by props like soft pillows and beautiful fabrics, you can capture something that transcends conventional pregnancy photos. In the past, many pregnancy portraits were taken with the mother-to-be in a standing position with the focus primarily on her midriff. However, that isn’t necessarily the most comfortable or aesthetically pleasing position for the subject. One of the most beautiful ways to photograph the mother is with her lying down in such a position that the woman becomes more relaxed and serene. From a technical viewpoint, her body is more elongated and appears thinner.
Create your scene with beautiful fabrics in colors that complement the subject. Then have her lie down in the middle of a bed or on the floor (note that it will be easier for your late-pregnancy clients to get up from the bed than from the floor). Place her legs in a slight bend, with her arms relaxed and her hands focused on her pregnancy.
Photographing a client in a lying pose elongates her body and makes her more comfortable. It’s a win–win situation.
Good posing of the hands is critical, as the hands express emotion. How and where you pose the hands can make an immense difference in the overall quality of the pose and the message you are trying to convey in the image. The hands can speak volumes about the love the mother has for the baby, and hands touching between a couple tell about their shared love and anticipation. Additionally, the position of the hands, or the leading lines formed when a couple joins hands, can create the needed compositional elements that add polish, guide the viewer’s gaze through the image, and create a dynamic feel in the image.
When posing the subjects, directing the gaze of your subjects can help tell the story. Here the mother and the older sibling are looking off together, as if they are looking to the future as a loving and supportive family.
Making the posing of the hands look natural can be difficult for some subjects and photographers. One easy method is to have the hands gently holding on to something. The mother can gently grasp the edge of the fabric she is draped in, or hold a bouquet of flowers, or simply rest them on her tummy. Make sure her hands are not positioned in the center of her tummy area but are placed side to side or top to bottom. If the mom’s hands look unnatural, ask her to take her hands off of her tummy or let go of the object she is holding for a few seconds, then place the hands back. Many times this will result in a more natural look. There will be times, however, when you will have to demonstrate with your own hands the position you want with the fingers in and the placement you are seeking.
Keep in mind that a flattering hand pose is one in which the fingers are spread slightly apart and bent away from the camera. Avoid having the back of the hand squarely pointed at the camera. Also note that the palm should never be faced toward the camera. If a hand is held away from the body, have the middle finger bent slightly more than the other fingers. This position is used by ballet dancers when the hand is held away from the body, and it produces a graceful look.
You can capture the image with the camera positioned by the feet or the head; either perspective can result in a breathtaking presentation.
Having the hands posed around the baby-to-be conveys a sense of protection and nurturing. In an image of the hands and tummy, an interesting contrast is formed between the mature adult hands and the anticipation of new life.
Seated. By having your seated subject posed with her back straightened, you can present a full view of the mature pregnancy. In the image below, the mother is beautifully portrayed as she sits with her legs bent and to the side. The carefully designed lighting setup cast more illumination on the mother’s left side, leaving part of her form in shadow. This allows for a slim, smooth presentation of the body. Turning the subject’s head to the side brought her striking profile into view. With her eyes closed, a sense of calm and serenity was achieved.
A standing pose is not your only option for posing your pregnant subject. As shown here, a seated pose can be elegant—and it may actually provide your client some relief from an aching back or knees.
This image of a couple has a unusual feel as the point of view is from above traveling down the embracing couple.
Here the unusual angle, from the top of the mother down, creates an interesting and artistic perspective in the image.
To create the dramatic perspective, try photographing the subject from several angles. The simplest change is to shoot from a lower camera angle. Once you have the mother in a lying position, drop the camera down to right above her head level. Take care to arrange her body in a flattering pose, with knees slightly bent, hands on the body, and head at a tilt. Looking through the viewfinder, make sure lines of the body lead the viewer’s gaze from the left side of the image, to and across the graceful lines of the subject’s body, and to the other side of the frame.
You can also consider creating an image from above the subject.When the mother or couple is sitting down, stand directly above her or use a ladder to get a fresh perspective. This viewpoint can slim the subject and make her midriff the focal point of the shot. Adding dramatic lighting from a single source so that the light cascades down the side of the subject can create a calm, quiet mood in the image.
You can also capture an image that shows the mother’s perspective. By standing behind her and photographing over her shoulder, you can capture her hands—or the couple’s hands if you’re photographing the mom and dad—around the tummy.
Every once in a while you will need to photograph a mother who has gained more weight than she would have liked. To flatter the subject’s face, select a pose and camera perspective that allows her to lift her head and push her chin very slightly forward. Capturing the image from above will also help to downplay the double chin and give her a regal look.
As many pregnant women put on weight, they become increasingly selfconscious about the size of their upper arms and thighs. To ensure a slimmer presentation, have your subject position her upper arms slightly away from her body, not pressing against her side. Providing a little space between the knees will visually slim the thighs.
Consider using fabrics to hide or reduce the apparent width of the arm or legs. Remember that while tulle is perfect for hiding imperfections, it should not be used to completely cover the subject’s skin.
Lighting your overweight subject from one side will visually slim the body and face, as the eye will be drawn to the well-illuminated areas of her form and will not linger on the shadow areas.
The lines of the mother’s and daughter’s bodies form undulating lines that draw your eye across the image frame.
For a very dramatic image, move to a nontraditional position. Here, capturing the image from above, plus having the mother’s face follow the line of her body, created an unexpected image.