Words and photos by Sophia Barrett
My start in photography sounds like many I’ve heard about over the years. I graduated with an interior design degree from the New England School of Art and Design at Suffolk University, in Boston, and was soon on the job. I loved my work as an interior designer, but hated who I worked for. When my fiancé, Derrick, bought me a DSLR camera, it rekindled my romance with photography. Within a year I’d quit my job and opened my own studio. Within 3 years, Derrick and I had married, were averaging more than 50 wedding and portrait sessions a year, and had been featured in numerous wedding/lifestyle publications.
Feeling blessed and excited for the future, we felt it was time to start a family. I expected to conceive immediately, but the months ticked by. After 2 years, a depression crept over me. I cried at my friends’ baby showers. Even seeing a baby would send me into despair. My family kept reminding us how much they wanted grandchildren or nieces or nephews. Motherhood was all I could think of, and I felt incomplete. When we learned medical intervention would be necessary, for us as for so many couples, it was heartbreaking news; yet the possibility of success made us hopeful. I endured injection after injection, test after test, but our attempt at in vitro fertilization was unsuccessful.
After our round of IVF, I began having problems with my vision. I’d stand up from a sitting or lying position and my eyesight would go black. It kept worsening. My ophthalmologist was concerned, and unwilling to give us a diagnosis, referred me to a neuro-ophthalmologist. After his thorough examination, he said my problem was a rare, chronic disease called idiopathic intracranial hypertension (IIH), likely caused by the cocktail of hormones in my IVF treatment. Left untreated, this disease can cause a multitude of complications, including severe migraines, aneurysms, seizures, and total loss of eyesight. I was unable to get pregnant, and now this. Clearly I was failing at life.
“My love for photography was reborn yet again, with a new focus on the miracle of maternity.”
My love for photography was reborn.
After some time in therapy and learning to manage my IIH, Derrick and I decided to become foster parents on the way to adopting. At the beginning of 2017, we dedicated ourselves to the care of four incredible sisters, ages less than a year to 6. They’d endured unspeakable trauma, and each has significant challenges. (The youngest, for example, was born with a cleft palate, two abnormal chromosomes, little muscle tone, and a sensory disorder.) This parenting experience has changed my outlook profoundly. I see now that a child, whether she comes from your womb or from another woman’s, instantly captures every ounce of your love.
The burden of depression lifted, I could now feel an incredible admiration and appreciation for the whole process and experience of becoming a parent, from the conception of a child to the incredible milestones he or she displays day by day. My love for photography was reborn yet again, with a new focus on the miracle of maternity.
How I create a unique maternity session:
1. I understand my client’s esthetic.
My maternity portraiture ranges from simple to complex, but always with the goal of revealing the subject’s personality and spirit. Before each pre-session, face-to-face consultation, I ask the client to send me five inspirational images to help me understand her esthetic — a client may love my work, but I don’t believe that gives me carte blanche for the session. I believe each person deserves to have her individuality be apparent in her portraits.
2. We go shopping.
During our planning meeting, we talk about what I’ve interpreted from the images, and I present my ideas for the session. Once we’re on the same wavelength about the look of the portraits, we go shopping. I look for the creative items we’ll need and she looks for her lingerie and a gown or two in addition to the ones available in my studio.
3. I plan the session and make sure the client has what she needs.
In the weeks leading up to the session, I work on my props and settings, and I check in with the mother-to-be to see if she’s got everything she needs. I make a final call within 4 days of the session. Then I can be confident she knows what to expect, and is prepared to have a wonderful experience in my studio as we create beautiful, intimate works of art.
4. I create a calm atmosphere.
When clients arrive I make sure to have music playing and refreshments ready; the atmosphere helps to calm them. If family has arrived with mommy, our family area is ready to accommodate them while mommy gets hair and makeup done.
5. I capture unique maternity photos that my clients will love.
Once everyone’s ready, we capture the looks with the largest number of people first. These portraits are usually the least complex of all the looks. Then we move on to the creative portraits, which are usually done with mommy by herself and maybe her partner. This session can feel a little like a workout: I prefer four to five scenes, four to five outfits per scene and four to five poses per outfit. But throughout the session I focus on everyone’s body language and breathing to make sure the end result is earnest and heartfelt. My goal for each session is for our clients to be excited about what they’ve accomplished and eager to see their portraits.
The creative planning process.
My client planning meeting prior to each session has helped me facilitate a way to help my subject express her ideas and be part of a design process. I come from an architecture and design background so the brainstorming process at the beginning of a project is integral for me to get from point A to B.
During a planning meeting with my client Akelah, she described what she felt when she thought about her growing child within her womb. She expressed that she felt connected to earth in a new way. She talked about life, nature and her cultural pride. We watched a music video and looked at pictures online that she thought of when she thought about her pregnancy. We then developed different looks that spoke to what she described. In look 1 we attached butterflies that started around a beautiful tattoo of a tree on her hip and found their way up to the top of her head with the help of a butterfly fascinator I made. In look 2 she laid in the center of a bed of textured emerald green fabric to represent vegetation, earth and life.
Images like these are unique and the client had a hand in the creation of the concept. The client also feels like we’ve orchestrated a one-of-a-kind magazine experience.
“I could now feel an incredible admiration and appreciation for the whole experience of becoming a parent…”
Camera: Sony α7 III
Lenses: Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA Lens, Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8
Lighting: 2 Einstein 640 WS for studio sessions, Elinchrom Ranger Quadra on location
Presentation/Printing: I invested in an Epson Sure Color P800 printer for the studio because I want more control over the color and paper selection. I also use Graphistudio boxes, canvas and albums, Photo Flash Drive USB boxes and Tyndall mats.
Sophia Barrett is a portrait photographer in Atlanta, Georgia, specializing in maternity portraiture. Her parents immigrated to America from Haiti, and Sophia is extremely proud of her heritage. She is also a wife and a soon to be mother of many little ones. See her work on Facebook and on Instagram.