During my photography career, my mission has always been to unite women and celebrate the lives of mothers. I do this by creating meaningful images for my clients and, on a larger scale, through my photo series, United We Feed. When I can help a mother feel connected and empowered, my heart is happy.
That’s why I decided to collaborate with fellow photographer, Jade Beall, on a book that would encourage other photographers to facilitate unity among women. Our book, Photographing Motherhood, highlights all types of women and encourages photographers to connect with their clients to capture motherhood in an authentic way.
Here are six tips for photographing motherhood and all of its raw emotion in a way that resonates with your clients on a very personal level.
1. Ask your clients how they want to feel when they see their photos.
It’s important that you get to know your clients so that you can be sure you are a good fit for each other. Communicating before the session means you can be sure you are both on the same page with your expectations.
I adapt my pre-session approach to the needs of my clients. Some clients prefer emails and texting and some prefer to chat over the phone. I have a questionnaire that I send digitally and most clients complete it thoughtfully. If a client prefers a phone consultation, I schedule a time to review concerns and questions and to plan.
During your pre-session communications, ask the women you photograph how they want to feel when they view their images. Ask them about their lives and don’t be afraid to ask if they have any insecurities or hesitations. By taking the time to learn about your client, you’ll gain her trust and be able to make images that offer her healing and comfort. Your images can have the power to help women feel seen, cherished and beautiful — you will help women see themselves the way we all see them: strong and worthy of love.
2. Set the tone for a great session.
Think about all the steps your client has taken to prepare for her photo session. She had to get herself (and everyone else) ready and out of the house to arrive on time. Or, if the session is in the client’s home, she probably cleaned the house just before you arrived. It’s understandable that clients often show up to a session feeling rather frazzled. But, as the photographer, there are several things you can do to make sure your clients are relaxed and comfortable.
Before your clients arrive (or before you arrive at their house), decide what type of music would be fitting for the session and create a playlist. Music can calm the scene and improve the mood. Consider asking your clients their favorite musicians or genres of music on a survey before the session.
At the beginning of the session, offer a time for everyone to have a cup of coffee or glass of cold water as they warm up to you. Sit on the floor and talk to the kids — this will help you bond with them, and they will be more open to following directions and participating in the session. Gain the children’s trust by asking them questions — their favorite shows, movies, toys, etc. Show them you are interested in them and don’t be afraid to be silly! You could even consider letting the kids see your camera and help them take a picture with it.
When you are ready to begin, make sure the temperature is comfortable. Don’t hesitate to ask your clients if they’d like the space to be warmer or cooler.
I advise against scheduling back-to-back sessions when possible because you don’t want to have to worry about time. Every client should be a priority and sometimes it takes a little longer than planned to get everyone comfortable. If you rush, the images will surely reflect that and I can guarantee your clients will notice in the finished product (that’s not fun for anyone!).
3. Encourage your clients to practice self-compassion and self-care.
I like to remind my clients that when they practice self-care and self-love, they will feel more comfortable jumping into photos with their kids. In the weeks leading up to the session, I suggest that my clients consider scheduling a haircut, a mani/pedi, an eyebrow wax or any other treatment they feel might help them feel great. I also suggest that they drink lots of water. On the day of, I ask them to avoid excessive caffeine, and to feed everyone a healthy meal with protein in it. I suggest avoiding greasy, fatty, sugary meals, as it can lead to a sluggish crash in some people.
As the photographer, it’s important that you practice self-compassion and self-love as well. When you feel great, you help your clients feel comfortable, calm and confident as well.
4. Celebrate a mother’s body — with clothing or without.
Let’s face it — as mothers, we sometimes don’t even recognize the woman we see the in mirror. After a couple of kids and countless sleepless nights, it’s understandable that we’ve changed. We have been through a beautiful war (physically and mentally!). I want my clients to feel comfortable just as they are in this moment of life. This can be difficult for a woman who is pregnant and uneasy with her weight, or to a new mother who has not yet lost her baby weight.
But guess what? Children love their mothers just as they are. When they look back at old photos, they may giggle about the trendy hair style or the type of clothing, but one thing will remain true: Children will look at old photos with their mom and they will feel warmth. They will experience a flood of memories.
Photographing motherhood nude:
Some mothers want to document the stages of motherhood without clothing. Others would rather walk a tightrope than disrobe. I can understand both trains of thought and I encourage women to mold the experience to match their level of comfort. We discuss the options and generally it’s clear to me right away if a woman is comfortable being photographed nude.
No matter if a woman is clothed or nude, I take similar steps to ensure they are comfortable. I make sure the temperature is appropriate. We talk — before, during and after the photos. I am patient, I am calm, and I find opportunities to make my clients giggle and loosen up. If we are taking some nudes, I give them directions like where to sit and how to pose (I will model to them first). I turn away while they disrobe, unless they have already expressed that they are comfortable with me helping them.
Using angles and framing to your client’s advantage:
When photographing women, I am careful to elevate myself whenever possible to create flattering angles. Sometimes they are seated and I stand, other times I stand on a step stool or bed. Whatever you do, make sure you are safe while climbing — both for your sake, and for the sake of your camera!
As we begin making pictures, I scan the perimeter of the frame and make sure I am framing the image in a way that flatters my client. Next, I share some images with her so she can see what I am seeing. Often, this is an “aha” moment for her — she can finally see herself through my eyes, and often this can bring some happy emotions to the surface. Be ready for some tears of relief, and have a tissue ready, just in case.
5. Capture the expressions and emotions of motherhood.
I love photographing emotions because they bring images to life. I do believe there is a time and place for posed portraits, but there is nothing like an image that shows a huge crocodile tear running down a toddler’s cheek or a mother and a child laughing hysterically!
To capture these types of images, I sometimes let my clients just do their own thing. Some clients act naturally in front of the camera and don’t focus on the looming lens. Others need a little help. I always have a few prompts ready just in case.
Prompts to loosen up your clients:
Newborns and babies: Prompt mom to smell the baby’s hair, to kiss the baby’s head, touch toes, hold her newborn a certain way, and to close her own eyes as she snuggles in deeply.
Toddlers and children: Have surprise tickle attacks. Tell mom and her family that you’ll count to three and then say someone’s name. The person whose name you called gets tickled. This can create really funny and engaging images. You could also have them blow bubbles, read books, or do other fun activities. I like to ask the kids questions, like who has the stinkiest feet. Let the interactions unfold naturally.
Older kids: Play off their hobbies — encourage dance parties, have them toss a ball with mom, or pose the family like a rock band. Consider photographing them doing something out of the box, like eating ice cream or making breakfast together. If you’re feeling really wild, let them play in a creek together, climb trees, have a water gun fight, attack each other with silly string or throw color packets at each other.
Since you will be talking to your client before the session, you can plan in advance. Your client will know her family best and probably has an idea or two for activities that might work. Be firm, direct, and fun with your prompts.
6. Photograph this stage of motherhood.
For some reason, life seems to move really, really quickly. As they say, the days are long but the years are short. There is no truer statement for me as a mother!
Every state of motherhood is incredible and important. We tend to take a lot of pictures when our children are little and less when they are older, but keep it up.
When I photograph expectant mothers, I aim to show the excitement and anticipation. When I photograph a birth, I document the details and the actual phases a mother goes through while in labor, during the birth, and the moments afterward. For breastfeeding or feeding session, I’m sure to notice the small details, like how mom holds the baby or what baby does while eating.
For the preschool years, my focus is on the personality that is often exploding. If a child is shy, I capture mom comforting her child. I try to incorporate big kids’ hobbies so I can show their interests. Teenagers are on their way to adulthood so I work on photographing them with less child-like poses, but I do still encourage them to interact with their mamas during sessions. It’s eye opening to see just how tall these kiddos get!
When I photograph adults with their mother, I am able to capture emotions and interactions, just like when they were younger. I always include some posed portraits as well so they can compare through the years.
All photos by Caitlin Domanico