Maternity Photography: Ditching the Flowy Gowns for Stilettos

Maternity Photography: Ditching the Flowy Gowns for Stilettos

When most think about maternity photography, the visual is light airy looks with flowers wrapping the soon to be mother. However there have been many changes in the way photographers are shooting this genre and many photographers want to break the stereotype. Remembering back 16 years ago to maternity clothing options, it was if the fashion industry wanted a pregnant women to cover and hide the most incredible time of a woman's life. Layers and old patterns that flowed over the baby bump as if it were a table cloth, were most of what was available. Nowadays, women are in form fitting attire showing off the force of nature she is. In the same light, maternity photography has changed since then as well. Women are replacing the flowers with wings, and the bare feet with stilettoes. 

"Gone are the days where a maternity session only meant light and airy images of expectant mammas in flower crowns and pastel flowing gowns" wrote Shawn Black of Couture Black. Today we are seeing soon to be mothers who want to not only capture the beauty of the baby bump but celebrate the strength inside them as well. Black explains that "they want to celebrate the fact that they are beautiful, sexy, badass women at this special time in their lives". 

When Black is having his pre-session consults for a maternity client, he has a few specific questions that would not pertain to most other boudoir inquiries. Being pregnant can give a woman a whole new idea of their bodies and Black is determined to make sure this is always a positive perception. Pregnancy is taxing on a woman not only physically but mentally, so creating images that can capture the strength can be incredibly meaningful to your client. With any maternity session you should know ahead of time of any complications they have had to make sure you do not overdue the time. 

His clients (who he will refer to here as Mrs. M and Mrs. S) wanted to see themselves as they had never before in previous pregnancies. Mrs. M explained that she wanted to stop her own body shaming and celebrate this stage of being beautiful. Mrs S wrote that "what I came away with from my session was some of the best proof of my life. Proof that I am a BAD. ASS. MOTHER.” 

28mm f/4 ISO 160 shutter speed 1/160 1 GT-400 at 1/4 power

Both women chose wardrobe options that gave an edge to theirs sessions: from spiked Steve Madden stilettos and traditional boudoir session lingerie choices to being wrapped in fabrics or Black's studio custom angel wings. Wings are a trending option for maternity and many other types of sessions. They add a completely different look to the image and make the client feel incredible. His clients intentions with booking were to not only capture this time but to break the preconceived notion as to how they should look or act at this point in their lives. 

50mm f/5 ISO 160 shutter speed 1/160 1 GT-400 at 1/4 power

The optimal time to shoot most maternity sessions is between 32-37 weeks depending on the comfort of the client. You also want to make sure the bump is showing well without it being unbearable to pose due to size. It will be too much for some expectant mothers to pose for long so make sure you have your game plan ready prior to posing. The last thing you want to do it have them in a position while you decide to set up your lights. Have your set ups ready to go and then pose. 

38mm f/3.5 ISO 100 shutter speed 1/160 1 GT-400 at 1/4 power

The difference between shooting traditional boudoir and maternity boudoir is the sessions are definitely longer with a lot more stopping and starting to rest. Ideally Black prefers to shoot in the 7th month as generally the bump is fully pronounced and energy levels are still somewhat there. Both of these clients were in the final weeks before their due dates. He approaches every boudoir client, maternity or not, with the same priorities. "I am going to safely pose them the same until they tell me they physically cannot do something as they want the same experience as every other client. We have had extensive conversations about how they would like their images to look leading up to shoot day and through the session communicate how they are feeling so that they can feel and look their best" he writes.

One difference with boudoir maternity is that they generally will need to bring more lingerie wardrobe options, as some may not work come shoot day. This can be either not fitting, not fitting comfortably due to how the baby is positioned, or just for whatever reason just not feeling that look that day.

45mm f/6.3 ISO 160 shutter speed 1/160 1 GT-400 at 1/4 power

Many feel boudoir is meant to convey the sexual appeal of the client, which if you ask any boudoir seasoned photographer, is not the case. Boudoir for the client is about finding the confidence in their own skin, and the power that resides within them. For expecting mothers this could not be more true. Women can feel vulnerable in their looks at this time due to a rapid change in their bodies, so having a session where she can embrace this change as a powerful reminder of how much she is taking on in her body and mind. 

50mm f/4 ISO 100 shutter speed 1/160 1 GT-400 at 1/4 power

While light, floral and airy is still a beautiful way to shoot your client, if she is looking for something a little more bold, maternity boudoir is a fantastic option. Showing off the bump and a little more will give her the confidence she has been looking for during this time. 

Black uses a Canon 5D Mark IV. His choice of lens is a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8. A Geekoto GT-400 is paired with Westcott 1x4 Rapid Box with grid. He uses the GT-400 at 1/4 power for most of the images here with a range of f/2.8 to f/6.3 and 160 shutter. His ISO ranges from 100-160 depending on the shot. 

All images are with permission and courtesy of Shawn Black. 

Jennifer Tallerico's picture

JT is known throughout the International Boudoir Photography Industry and the region for her unique approach to Fine Art Photography. Her underwater work as JT Aqua is ethereal based and conceptual. She is an educator, writer and currently teaching workshops for underwater and boudoir.

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That's not new. Iman Woods was doing that a decade ago, and it wasn't new with her.


Bet that most of them hate how bad their skin and stretchmarks look in that lighting. Lot of retouching involved in pics like that compared to soft bright glamour lighting. Yes I've done maternity.

Yes maternity especially with the more dramatic lighting approach has a ton of skin work to be done and I only show fully retouched images to clients, but well worth it.

I don't like being negative about the work of other photographers as producing good images is a very difficult thing. The images featured in this article for me are pretty awful. They take a time when many women are at their most beautiful and then smear it with a thin coating of soft porn. I'm not sure what was in the mind of the photographer when these images were planned. The headline image, in particular, is a real grotesque shocker sending out a very strange message about pregnancy. Giving the threatening and foreboding way it was lit It has connotations of back street alleys with no impending joy whatsoever. I wonder what the subjects made of them and would they be happy to show the resulting children in later years?.....

Agreed. I found the photos to be at an unflattering angles, the lighting does not seem like it was picked for the subjects but rather forced on to them. It seems more like a sexualization of the pregnancy, not a celebration.

Eric I'm glad that you don't like being negative about another photographer's work, because considering your second sentence said my work featured in this article was awful, I'd hate to see if you enjoyed it. I don't appreciate you or anyone referring to boudoir as soft core porn as it is an insult to the genre and to the 2 women featured in these images. As far as what the subject thought of the images, they loved them as they were a collaboration creating a not traditional boudoir look and each of them have large pieces hanging in their homes, so yes they not only love them but are proud to display them. As for your insensitive, uninformed description of the headline image, it happens to be the clients favorite. This was her last pregnancy and had struggled to find beauty at this time in her life during her previous pregnancies, that image made her feel strong, feminine, mysterious, and a badass. Who are you to decide what the appropriate message is for a woman to send out about her very personal, very intimate, time in her life.

Teresa as for you opinion of it being a sexualization of their pregnancies who are you to decry how a woman chooses to celebrate this time in their lives. These images turned out exactly as they clients wanted in both look and feel, so how dare you judge them.

If you didn’t want any comment on your images why on earth did you put them on a website used by photographers? What did you expect? The fact that few people offered any comment I think also says something. The fact that you cant appear to hack negative feedback about your work may indicate that putting your images on such a forum is not for you. Assessing the merits of an image is very difficult. Often you go with that initial impact that can be tempered with a second look or the passage of time. As some time has elapsed since my initial comment, a second look at your images has not altered my initial reaction. You have to accept that once an image goes public you have to allow people to react acording to their own aesthetic sensibilities.

Eric I have absolutely no problem with you commenting on the images what so ever and I most definitely can hack negative feedback about my work otherwise I wouldn't be asked to featured numerous times by Fstoppers. You didn't assess anything about the images from a technical standpoint you simply spouted off your opinion that the images are pretty awful, again I refer back to the fact that Fstoppers approaches me to be featured, not you so I guess they don't feel the same way you do about my work. Secondly I don't appreciate you comparing boudoir or maternity boudoir to soft porn. Yes this is an absolutely beautiful time in a woman's life and SHE gets to choose how to commemorate it how SHE feels, not you. These images were a collaboration between myself and my client's vision, which turned out exactly as she wanted. "Being so sick of societal standards that cause women to hate on themselves when doing something so bad ass and amazing by bringing life into this world, I knew I needed to do boudoir shoot for myself. I was simply blown away. I knew from looking behind the camera that I would love the end result, but image after image after image I just kept thinking DAMN HOT MOMMA! THAT IS ME! And for the first time in pregnancy, I have let the hateful words go, and see myself the way every woman should." So despite the fact you have written a response it is obvious you didn't read mine and have still offered no real constructive criticism other than your opinion. Let me know when your next article is published so I can see if it fits with my aesthetic sensibilities.