Maternal Imagery

Melissa at Casa Feliz
Melissa at Casa Feliz

I just received the prints that I ordered from Miller’s Professional Imaging of my client Melissa’s maternity shoot. I must say that I’m very impressed with Miller’s. Why is that exciting? Well, for one, this was my first maternity shoot; second, I went a bit crazy with my proposed “imagery”; and third, Melissa loved the outcome.

This is the third photo shoot that I’ve done with Melissa. The first time was at a friend’s studio (whom I’ll call Robin), which was also the first time I used strobes. I’m a natural light kinda guy and the lighting equipment intimidated me at first. The reason I was shooting rather than Robin was as a favor to her. Robin knows the equipment very well and is adept at studio lighting. I learned a thing or two from Robin that night.  The second shoot was outdoors on the grounds of a historic Spanish house known as Casa Feliz, in Winter Park, Florida. Naturally, when Melissa decided to have maternity pictures taken, she called me.

I didn’t want to treat this like any other portrait shoot. I needed to make sure that the pictures come out flattering. Even though “normal” portraits can be unflattering. Being pregnant can exacerbate that unflattering look! I decided to be a bit unconventional. I looked towards the fashion scene and thought about making “being pregnant” as “being sexy” at the same time bringing attention to the state of being pregnant. Most of the time, fashion depicts how you can look good despite what you really look like. This tends to “hide” who you really are. My intent was to juxtapose rather than replace.

I had an idea for a pose that would depict this “juxtaposition” and wanted to run it by Melissa before the shoot. Using my wife, Carline,  as a model, I clothed her with the epitome of sexiness: I told her to wear heels. I wanted to depict a sense of awareness both from the subject and viewer of the pregnancy and all that comes with it. Usually, maternity pictures depict happy people. I felt that realism would convey a better message paired with a bit of fashion. My idea was to give a sense of anticipation by the subject. Here was my proposed pose:

My wife posing my idea

I thought this would be a bit risqué for Melissa, but she agreed to it.

The day of the shoot, I intended to do just one shot, but Melissa had other ideas based on maternity photos she’s seen on the Internet. I tend not to duplicate other people’s work, but conceded because she asked. We took the “usual photos” and then came time to do mine. Melissa did not bring heels with her, but I thought I could still make it work without them. Here’s the shot:

Melissa in my “anticipation” pose

I took a different lighting approach with Melissa than with Carline. With Carline, I used to soft boxes aimed at the ceiling and set the strobes at full power as soft a light as possible. Pointing the soft boxes at Carline created reflections on the sofa which didn’t sit well with me. With Melissa, I did the opposite. I wanted harsher but somewhat widespread light to accentuate her since her skin is dark and blends with the sofa. I added a bit more contrast in Photoshop as well as slight softening of the skin with the Portraiture plug-in. Though this was the last shot, I wanted to carry on the “somber” demeanor in the other photos.

Photo one (there were a total of four poses):

Melissa looking out my studio window

I decided to make this a portrait proper. I left the shadows on her left side as is. I could have used a reflector to add detail, but this added to the somber look that I was going for. To my surprise, her navel decided it didn’t want to be in the shadows! I used the 85mm f/1.2 @ f/1.2 and spot metered on the lit side of her face to blow out what was going on out the window. I then added a black and white adjustment layer and pretty much used the defaults. The photo had enough contrast to it to begin with.

Photo two:

Silhouette with detail

Melissa wanted a silhouette like one she saw, but I thought a true silhouette would be too common. I decided to allow the camera to expose for the scene as opposed to the background light (strobe with no diffuser at full power pointed at the wall) and gradually hide the detail in Photoshop. There is just a hint of detail in the photo.

Photo three:


This pose is all over the Internet. The difference here is I shot it in a “gritty” fashion as opposed to a soft, romanticized look typical of this pose. I left the stretch marks visible and accentuated the details in her hands by using a bare bulb flash. This gives it more of a documentary feel to it; adding more realism to the image.

Though I will cover this in later posts, my approach is akin to “the right tool for the job”. My goal is to realize “the right look for the subject”. Though I verbalized what I did in this article, I actually visualize these elements and then make sense of them later. This is why I like to meet with my clients a day or two before a shoot or have them send me a snap shot of themselves. Understand that this may not be the case in all situations and that the more shoots you do, the easier it will get to make these decisions on the spot. There will be, eventually, a convergence of “looks” to a point that you don’t have to figure it out. Instead, you would apply something you’ve done before on the new subject because it fits. It’s almost like a golfer picking out the right club for the shot at hand.

Earlier I mentioned that this was my first maternity shoot. Well, as I was writing this, I realized that I lied. Here’s a shot of Carline with our daughters Farah and Alfre (hidden) taken twenty-two years ago:

Farah, Carline and Alfre – taken with a Canon AT-1 and a 50mm f/1.8 lens
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Mike Scott

Very nice, Alfred. Thanks for sharing the shots, and especially for setting out what you were thinking about when making them. I think the idea to have the silhouette show just a hint of detail was excellent — that shot is really striking.

Alfred Lopez

Thank you for the kind words!

Alfred Lopez

I want to thank Matt for allowing me to write this post here. I also want to give a big thanks to my wife, Carline, and Melissa whose patience and trust allowed me to express myself through them and their beauty.