I am not going to get all precious and say that a certain type of pose should not be done or that is always the work of a “fauxtographer” (a phrase I dislike). It often comes down to taste and quite often the following poses are used by all manner of photographers, pros and amateurs alike. There often is a lot of snobbishness about “MWC” (mum with camera) or those who are learning the craft but the simple fact is that without guidance and making mistakes (I have made many), we will never learn or grow as photographers. You may be a mum-with-camera, a hobbyist or pro (whatever that means), we all love our craft and we should all support each other to improve the quality of intent. Why intent? It is intent that creates emotion and connection. With a little bit of improvement with the execution, you are able to make an ok photo great very much in the same way that you can also make an ok photo awful by getting some very basic fundamentals wrong.
What follows is a series of photographs from “Awkward Family Photos” or from the public domain. They all tend to be poses and techniques that either break the very basic rules of photography and posing or are poorly clichéd by very many people. There are many examples of great images from excellent photographers using the following poses or techniques but more often than not they look awful. Remember one of my first rules? KISS. Keeping things classic and simple will allow you to create elegant and beautiful portraits, it is as simple as that!
There is an attraction about painting bumps that I can kind of appreciate. The work of art is painted on the bump and then can be built into the theme of the image. This does rely on the painting being good and of course the theme not being weird. Bumps that are painted as pumpkins, planets, footballs, names or with a baby very rarely make for a great portrait and so generally should be avoided. Once the mum-to-be is painted (which takes time), you have nowhere else to go with your images and it ultimately distracts away from the intent of pregnancy portraiture. The bond, connection and emotion that is exactly what we wish to capture in any portrait, is lost when her beautiful bump is painted as a turgid vegetable.
Very closely associated with “painted bumps” is a “bump face”. They are often painted digitally in Photoshop or by holding a scan picture against her bump to show the shortly to arrive baby. Most of us are not Anne Geddes and any kind of gimmick like this is often going to look very bad and sometimes outright scary.
Just the Bump
There are very many excellent abstract artists that can make a body part look beautiful and otherworldly. These are very often highly technical images using lighting and metering techniques that are often more advanced than what most people would use. If done badly you will end up with a pasty looking round thing that is neither abstract nor beautiful. You will need to ask yourself this very simple question. Your client or subject is asking you to take some portraits, could the non-descript bump that is dominating the image be anyone else’s bump and is it really a portrait? A bump protruding across the frame could be any number of women’s, it adds no conncetion or emotion to the subject (the mum-to-be) and of course it is not a portrait. It is a turgid pasty round thing….maybe with a pumpkin painted on it. Keep the portraits exactly what they are intended to be. To be portraits of your subject AND her bump.
A classic pose that is done time and time and time and time again. This pose can be done very well and will be dependent on a couple of factors such as lighting and exposure. More often the “hand heart” is executed poorly and normally just includes the bump (see above) or a face (see above again). This pose is down to taste and it doesn’t suit mine and is not something that I include in any of my shoots unless desperately asked for by the subject. The chances that the image is going to look just “ok” or worse, is very high and as photographers “ok” is not good enough. You should be aiming to have a high number of keepers from your shoot that are of an excellent standard and without taking the spray and pray approach. This pose I feel encourages poor portrait photography.
Boobs go inside bras and occasionally hands but we don’t want to see that (see below)! Let us not beat around the bush here. By grasping a breast with her hands (or hubby’s) you cheapen the image massively. That is not to say that nipples should never be covered by the palm of a hand however by creating the “hand bra” there is the danger that the image comes across as tasteless and slightly pornographic. One would almost expect a “honk honk” noise from the subject, the breast holder or viewer! Not good! Cover breasts with arms, wrists, fabrics and if it cannot be helped, the palm of a non-grasping hand.
Anything that reminds of "The Act"
Yes we know how the baby was made. No we don’t need to show it in portraits even if we didn’t intend to (see below).
Hmmmm naked Dad’s… Avoid unless the Dad is Brad Pitt! By including two naked people within your portrait, you are highly likely to unintentionally create soft porn. Of course I understand the intent however we are not all Annie Leibovitz. Think about it from this point of view… Before a shoot all of my mums-to-be have professional make-up applied, a pregnant woman’s form is majestic and shapely and her form is a celebration of life, female empowerment and change. Do not degrade your images with a naked Dad (grasping breasts) who has no make-up, is less likely to have a majestic form and most likely is going to remind us of the “act” (see above). Of course this can be done EXTREMLY well, however for the most part without great execution your intent is going to be missed.
Weird Bump Interaction
No you do not need to punch, blow up like a tyre, listen to, grow plants from, spot colour or generally act in a weird way with the bump. It’s just weird.
Keep things simple and keep things classic. I not suggesting at all that it means keep things boring! By all means experiment, conceptualise, explore and create art. Just don’t be weird.
A quick note about watermarking your images. What is the point of doing it? I have done it on most of mine but what is the purpose? Allow me to let you into a little secret. Your images (and mine) are virtually worthless. They are not going to be hung in a museum (maybe one of you guys out there will prove me wrong), we are not shooting for Vogue, Kate Moss or Kate Middleton (I hope one of your are). We are shooting for our subjects, loved ones and clients and they are valuable to them only. There really is no point in getting overly worked up about people stealing your images because if someone is using your images to attract clients firstly it’s a great compliment, secondly they must be an awful photographer to not be able to create their own work.
The point of adding a watermark is not entirely about image protection, it’s about image sharing. Lots of my work is spread across different social networks such as Flickr, Facebook, Pinterest and such like. I want people to freely share my work….and marketing. When they see my images I want them to know where it came from and then to head to my site to check out more of my work. If my image didn’t have a watermark how would they know where to find more of my work?
Some of these poses are not hard and fast ones to completely avoid, with correct execution some beautiful images can be created. However with poor technique and following the trend of emulating everyone else's poor posing ideas you are very likely to create an image that is widely viewed as bad. Of course what is good and bad is wide open to debate and highly subjective however what is difficult to argue against is that by following some basic rules, even with poor execution, you are highly likley to create very many more keepers during your shoot. Classic simplicity may not be the lastest trend however it rarely, if ever, goes out of fashion.
The Next Stage
We have seen the poses and learned some of the basic theory. Let us now look at individual images and break them down into their smaller parts.
Next Step - Image Breakdown
Did you know that The Art and Technique of Pregnancy Photography ebook contains 170 pages of pose guide illustrations, high quality portrait images, information and how to's?
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