Where to look? Up, down, left or right? What about upside down or inside out? Now the feet, the pose, the settings, the light!?! It’s all too complex! Or is it? Ok, some of it might be especially if you are still new to portraiture and photography but there are a few “rules” we can put into place to make life easy for ourselves, and where to look is one of them.
I have three basic positions that I use when directing a client where to look.
At the camera (the viewer of the portrait). At her bump (the very reason she is having maternity portraits). At someone she loves. I do on occasions use the “look out of the window” shot but I am not overly a fan however it can work. Let us look closer at each one.
By getting your client to look directly into the camera you are creating an immediate connection with the viewer. That might be her partner, parents or children and you can really adjust her head ever so subtly to change the mood of the image.
Get her to sit tall in her spine and neck lifting her head proud and then slightly lower her chin. Watch that her lips are not too stiff and puckered, if they are get, her to blow them out and relax before resetting the pose. Be mindful of squinting eyes and those which are straining. If she wears glasses, leave it to her to decide if to keep them on or off. If she needs them to see, it is better to keep them on rather than let her go cross eyed, just make sure you can actually see her eyes though those glasses.
For the “blinkers” or those who are still showing tension in the eyes due to nerves, get them to close their eyes and rest. On the count of three, open her eyes and look at you. As she does so, keep your finger on the trigger and discard the bad ones.
If you build a good rapport with your client the gaze directed into the camera can be very sensual and alluring. Ask her to “smile in the eyes”, creating a gentle smile will help to lift the eyes. Remember a genuine smile is much better than a false one. Relaxed lips that are not puckered and are slightly parted should be your go to “glamour shot”.
Note how she lifts her neck through the head and slightly lowers her chin
Quite obviously she loves her family and her bump so having her look at her yet to be born baby directly connects her to it. This does remove a lot of the “glamour” from an image and replaces it with a sense of romance and love. When you ask her to “look at her bump” she is very likely to physically move her head downwards, hunching her shoulders and neck and most likely creating a double chin. Not something we want to create!
Instead get her to move her slightly downwards to give the indication that she is looking towards her bump and then move her eyes downwards. Sometimes clients will over strain their eyes so that they can see their bump and this can look odd. Explain that it doesn’t matter if she cannot see the bump, it is the illusion that is given within the image. If that fails get her to close her eyes which will achieve a similar effect.
Note the image on the left where her head is physically looking down causing her to hunch. A slight adjustment and moving her eyes instead helps remove the problem and improves the image.
The same gazing and expression rules can be applied to any of the poses within this guide, for nudes, sheers and fashion. Also note small details such as showing the wedding ring within the image
Someone She Loves
Very often when on a shoot, the mum-to-be will bring someone with her. It could be husband or her family. It is not unusual to have a whole group of people following you around, so use them to your advantage by getting her to connect with someone she loves off camera. They could be directly behind you or off frame giving a more authentic “look other there” type shot. These work great as they offer a chance to capture moments of real emotion and connectivity.
A genuine smile to her husband makes a much better portrait than "say cheese!" also note details such as wedding rings within the image
Her husband is just behind the camera
Sometimes just looking works
I am not a big fan of the “look over there” shot. I often wonder if there is something more interesting I should be looking at rather than the image, but sometimes it can just work. It offers a moment of contemplation and dreaming but I use these shots sparingly.
I normally use three types of gazing positions which helps add some structure to the shoot. Remember that you are working with amateur clients who may never have been in front of the camera before and so giving them some basic easy to understand directions and rules to follow will help put them at ease and give you some better looking portraits. Of course this is a not hard and fast rule and rules should always be broken! Sometimes just looking out to the distance or a window can be beautiful but be aware of giving the sense of disinterest. With these basic rules and understanding of what to do with her gaze, you can start to apply them to some of the basic poses to help create some beautiful maternity portraits.
The Next Stage
All posing starts from the feet up. Place the feet in the correct position and you will instantly change the way she is standing from a slouch and a poor portrait to something that is more brilliant!
Next Step - Posture
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