Magazine Article


Lighting Maternity Portraits
How to Stay in the Mother’s Comfort Zone

In this classic high-key portrait, I use a three-light setup with my Westcott Spiderlights: a single hair light above the subject, one slightly behind her to rim light her tummy, and one above my shooting position, as a fill. The Westcott Illuminator helps eliminate glare.
Clay Blackmore

Clay Blackmore

When lighting maternity portraits, I’m always prepared to be flexible in my approach, and have several sure-fire, tried-and-true lighting setups that I can always rely on.

I don’t believe that an extended 60- to 90-minute portrait sitting captures sufficient spontaneity, so I prefer to work quickly, often using a high-key setup or a three-light rig of Westcott Spiderlights. When shooting digital, we use the ExpoDisc to nail the white balance and produce skin tones that are just fantastic. At the end of the session, I offer the client five or six different pose options and expressions.

Working With the Mother-To-Be

The first step in approaching how I’ll light the mother-to-be is to determine what it is that she—and her husband— want from the sitting. If there’s ever any question in our initial conversation as to “how much nudity,” I’ll suggest that she do a Google search for “maternity portraits” and bring printouts of a few pictures she loved to her session. The amount of nudity in the pictures she brings will give me immediate feedback on how comfortable she will be in various states of undress.

Once the subject is appropriately attired, or disrobed, we guide her into poses under one of the two lighting setups I’ve prepped in my studio. While my studio doesn’t offer much in the lines of soft, available window light, I can recreate it using Westcott’s fluorescent Spiderlights. Sometimes our setup for maternity shots will incorporate as many as five lights, but for the most part, I suspect you’ll find, as I do, simplicity is best and three lights are plenty. I learned Monte Zucker’s lessons well, and I rarely depart from them.

With this lighting setup, I know I’ll get plenty of fantastic shots. I’ll use the Westcott TD5 Spiderlights (sans baffles, as their light is adequately soft without them) on a typical three-light setup: a hair light above, with the other two lights in a “v” shape—one from a back 45-degree position to act as a rim light, the other at a front 45-degree angle feathered toward a Westcott 28” silver/black Illuminator (black facing me) to act as a gobo. This is helpful on profile images, when the Illuminator is on the same side as the mainlight, to eliminate lens flare. This lighting setup works great for high-key and low-key tapestry portraits.

Another technique is to shoot from between six-foot panels of foam core forming a “v,” with the subject between me and a bare-bulb Photogenic PowerLight. I’ve also done this on location with a Quantum Q-Flash.

Many of my maternity clients favor the classic high-key portrait, which creates a pleasing, smooth skin tone with a bright, back-lit effect that focuses on her midsection, with the highlighted edge of her belly drawing the viewer’s attention where it belongs.

For the next set of shots, I’ll hang drapes of fabric. The Photoshop Liquify filter is a must for tightening up areas pregnancy has affected. Many of my clients are more comfortable when their husbands are involved in the shoot, so the father will be incorporated into several additional poses.

The session lasts about 30 minutes and offers genuine engagement with the camera, respects the comfort zone of the mother, and focuses on the child inside the subject. It’s one of the most beautiful ways a woman can be portrayed.

If you take the time to know what will work best during this period of pregnancy, paying attention to lighting, comfort, and focus, the results will be stunning every time.

And that’s the bottom line in our business.