How to take photos of your friend's pregnancy

Last month I got an e-mail from an on-line friend asking me questions about taking pregnancy photos. The ironic thing was that I had just done my first ever pregnancy shoot for my friend Naomi 2 days prior. Maybe I mentioned it on the blog? I'm not sure why H. thought I would know anything about taking pregnancy photos because I really don't. But I have done it once so I thought I'd share my answer to her questions here.

First off, here's the questions in a nutshell: Any words of wisdom? I don't have a studio or lights... any suggestions for creating backgrounds? I don't I crazy?

Let me begin by saying I am not a portrait photographer nor do I have aspirations to be one. If fate so decides to lead me down that path I am open to the possibility but I am not pursuing it.

I do consider myself a photographer though. I love taking photos, I think I have an eye for beautiful details and I know how to get the light I need into my camera to take the kind of photos I want. I am steadily gaining confidence in my abilities to use my camera as a tool to capture and create beauty.

  1. Go for it
  2. When my friend Naomi originally asked me to take photos of her third trimester pregnant belly I questioned her judgement. "Me?" I asked. "Are you sure?" She was sure of my abilities even if I wasn't! So that leads me to my first point; if a friend is asking you to take their photo and you have the time, do it. I honestly didn't know how the experience would turn out but I knew I'd grow as a photographer regardless. Also because she was my friend and was asking me (not me advertising my services) I felt comfortable saying "I've never done this before but I'll do my best".

  3. Don't sell yourself short
  4. I believe strongly that my time is worth something, even if I am still learning. I knew I'd get at least ten or so nice photos for her (I actually got dozens and dozens) and I knew it would take at least one hour to do the shoot and then more hours of processing time so I felt confident in bartering a trade for my services. If you are just new to photography you'll want to do stuff for free to gain experience and knowledge. But if you have some skill already don't just give away your services unless that is your desire. (I should add that I volunteer my photography skills on a regular basis in my community).
  5. Natural light is your friend
  6. You know what? I don't know how to use the flash on my camera. Ok, not totally true. I know what little button to press to make it pop up but I have not taken one photo with the flash that I like so I don't use it (an external flash would solve this problem but I'm not there yet). When my friend Naomi asked me to take photos of her and we decided to do it at my house I spent time watching where the light was best and at what time of day. So when the day of her photo shoot arrived I knew which couple rooms in my house would allow enough light for nice photos.
  • Raid your linen closet (or find a deal at Goodwill)
  • I'm just a 2 bit amateur at this. I obviously don't have a studio or fancy equipment. But I do have flat white sheets I bought at Goodwill last year for a sewing project that I decided would be better used for photo backdrops. I used these to cover the furniture to provide a neutral background for the photos, especially since we were in my home not hers. In somebody's own home you might want more background to tell the story of their lives. I would of preferred to be outdoors but there's only so much you can do in January in Maine - and a pregnancy shoot outdoors ain't one of those things! A couple other handy tools to have on hand are a step ladder (for from the top shots) and a stool (to stand on or have the person sit on).
  • Check out on-line resources
  • I've seen pregnancy photos on the photography blogs I read but thankfully Naomi sent me some links in the weeks leading up to the shoot to give me an idea what she liked. I was very up front with her and told her I'd do my best with what she sent but I'm not a professional (nor have I advertised myself as such). I also assumed she asked me to take photos because she liked the style of my photography. I was open to inspiration but I'm not going to try and re-create someone else's "look". As it turns out I think we got the photos she was wanting to get and we were both happy with the outcome.
  • Remember to breathe
  • Literally. To reduce camera shake I find I hold my breath so much when taking photos. Plus I'm crouching down and moving around into awkward little spaces and positions that I actually feel more body aches after a photo shoot (all three I've done) than a day of hiking! I'd like to know how other photographers deal with this. Special stretches?

    That's all I can think of for now to help answer those questions. I LOVE taking photos. I think taking photos of people on demand, like a portrait shoot, is very challenging. Half of it is understanding the camera, lighting etc. and the other huge part is interacting with people, putting them at ease and getting them to feel natural in front of the camera. This is the part that scares me about portrait photography and why I don't pursue this much.

    A note about my friend Naomi; she is a doula and natural birth advocate. I met her 7 years ago when she attended Brienne's homebirth as my midwife's learning assistant. You can check out some of the photos from our session and her extensive resources on birth at her blog.


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    • nicola@which name?

      nicola@which name? on Feb. 13, 2010, 4:21 a.m.

      first of all, i LOVE reading how you know each other. thank you for the tips. the photos look incredible! it is a compliment to your photography skills AND to you as a friend that she asked you. i had a horrid pregnancy with my first, but with my second (and maybe last), it was beautiful. i felt worried that my second pregnancy was so short changed in many ways (father in law dying) that i wanted to do something special. i paid a pro for photos (my friend negotiated a deal with her photographer for me) and i am soooooo glad i did. more info than you needed, nicola


      • Naomi Kilbreth

        Naomi Kilbreth on Feb. 15, 2010, 2:15 a.m.

        I think I was equally as honored to attend Renee's birth as she was to have me ask her this favor! Thank goodness for friends who we can feel comfortable being vulnerable with! And by the way, I recently wrote a blog post about celebrating pregnancy, because as you mentioned Nicola, it is important to do special things for our babies and our pregnant selves.


    • Tea and Chopsticks

      Tea and Chopsticks on Feb. 13, 2010, 8:48 p.m.

      These are great tips. I love taking photos as well and I recently did a shoot with friends and a newborn. Lots of fun. I love, love, love natural light. Flashes seem to drown out so much. Thanks for posting. "Don't sell yourself short" YES indeed!


    • Hillary

      Hillary on Feb. 14, 2010, 3:15 a.m.

      Thank you so much Renee! This is just what I needed to hear. I don't why I asked you either except that I know you did some portraiture for friends and I like your style of photography and I guess I felt comfortable approaching you.

      I loved reading this because these are all things I can do! I never use the flash on my camera...ever and I'm sure I can dig up some

      Great post and again thanks for the boost of confidence.


    • Naomi Kilbreth

      Naomi Kilbreth on Feb. 15, 2010, 2:19 a.m.

      I've been looking forward to reading this post, Renee! I really am so very happy with how the photos came out, and I'm glad to give you the opportunity to grow, even if portaiture isn't your goal! I'm also looking forward to the newborn photo shoot, and I'm starting to collect ideas for that as well. I hope you and your kids feel better soon by the way!


    • Jamie

      Jamie on Feb. 15, 2010, 6:19 p.m.

      Woohoo! You did it! Portrait photography really can be a beast but as with all things - you get better with practice. My latest maternity shoot is sooo much better than the first handful of shoots I did. But that doesn't mean those first sessions were any less special or less loved by the recipient. You captured some great expressions and Naomi looks fabulous. Way to take on the challenge!


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