Have you heard about motherhood photo sessions? They’re all the rage at the moment and with Mother’s Day fast approaching now is the time to find a gorgeous mama and take some photos for her to cherish!
Merissa Wakefield is a master of this session type, and she’s generously shared everything you need to know to nail it, including posing and prompts to bring out beautiful, natural connections!
Designed to show the intimate love and connection between a mother and her children, motherhood sessions are all about getting mum into the frame, making her feel special, and taking some beautiful, soulful and heartfelt images of her with her children. As mums we are so often behind the camera taking the photos, so it’s extra special to have a photo session focusing just on mum and her little people.
When I’m shooting motherhood photo sessions I love to use a wider aperture, but a word of caution, just because you can shoot wide open at F/1.4, doesn’t mean you have to or you should! You can still get lovely, dreamy bokeh at F/2 (or if your lens doesn’t open this wide, f/3.5 is fine too).
Don’t worry so much about whether everyone is in sharp focus, we’re not taking school photos! Focus more on the feeling. I start shooting my sessions at F/2.8 and usually finish a session at about f/1.8. I keep my shutter speed nice and high, at least 1/320, and adjust my ISO to balance my exposure.
Related: Getting out of Auto Mode
I shoot with both a Canon 5D mark iii full frame camera with a Canon 35mm 1.4L series lens, and a Fuji xt-2 mirrorless camera with a Fujinon 23mm 1.4 lens.
The benefit of the Canon is it handles higher ISO slightly better, however the Fuji is smaller, lighter and easier to use, and for that reason it’s the camera I choose to shoot with for my everyday photos of my own family.
Think about your session and loosely plan the flow beforehand. If you go in unprepared you might miss shots you wanted to capture, but conversely a rigid plan will mean you’ll miss those organic in between moments. Also, if things don’t go perfectly to that plan you’ll get stressed, so you need to be flexible with the plan.
My plan for motherhood photo sessions generally includes the set ups I want to capture. I start with a seated pose with everyone in the frame. Mum is seated first and I encourage the child / children to then make themselves comfortable snuggling in with mum.
I’ll then swap out a child and do one on one shots with mum, slightly varying poses to get variety. I might have an older child recline on mum’s lap, a younger child carried and snuggled closer to mum’s face.
Then I change locations and follow a similar flow, getting more relaxed and playful as we go to capture those spontaneous moments.
I love the great outdoors for my client sessions and motherhood photo sessions are no exception. I like to use wide open spaces like beaches, fields or epic cliffs to enhance my images. My favourite locations compliment my sessions perfectly, they look striking printed and framed on walls and my clients love them.
That being said, intimate indoor photo sessions also work beautifully for mums who want to remember the sweet moments they share with their children in their love filled home.
I always encourage my clients to be comfortable. A comfortable subject is much easier to shoot than one who is worried about what they’re wearing. I was once a subject in my own motherhood photo session, and I wore a wrap around maxi dress which was too big. I spent the entire time adjusting the top to make sure my bra wasn’t showing!
How frustrating for the photographer!
Long flowing dresses on mum are perfect for motherhood photo sessions. They’re universally flattering (different styles suit different body shapes), the movement in the skirt makes a beautiful feature in photos and they add a dreamy, timeless feel to the session.
Children can wear dresses/skirts, or linen pants and a shirt or plain tee that compliment mum’s outfit. For example if mum’s dress is floral, put children in block colours picked out from her dress.
Pay attention to colours. All whites/neutrals add a light, vintage feel to a session, and work well ify ou love a light and airy style of photo.
Colours can be fun, but be careful to only choose 1-2 strong shades and work within that colour scheme. Dark, bold colours can create moody, intense and romantic images.
Some things I ask my clients to avoid:
Motherhood photo sessions can be shot both indoors and outdoors.
If you’re shooting indoors, great! You can shoot at any time of the day, just opt for rooms with nice big windows to let that light flow in.
If the master bedroom is well lit, position your subjects with the light to one side, pose them on the bed and take some cuddly, snuggly shots of mum surrounded by her little loves.
If you’re shooting outdoors during a sunny day, a nice shady spot under a big tree is perfect for this style of shoot. Position your subjects just inside the shade line for well lit images.
But when using trees for open shade, look out for dappled light on their faces and avoid at all costs! If you get that it’s an indicator the tree isn’t dense enough or the sun is quite high in the sky, shining downing through the leaves instead of side lighting them which would avoid dappled light.
If you’re super keen, wait until sunset and backlight to add a special, warm glow to your images which heightens the emotion and drama of the photo session.
If like me during this feature session you get an overcast day, well then lucky you, you can shoot just about anywhere at any time. However to avoid flat, lifeless images, still be mindful of the direction of the sun behind the clouds – just because it’s diffused doesn’t mean it’s a free for all and you can shoot anywhere. You still need to position your subjects in relation to the light in the same way you would if the sun were out.
The bonus of grey skies is you can use them to light up your subjects like a giant soft box, just by getting them to tilt their head up to the light.
While I love encouraging mums and children to find their comfortable place, there are some specific poses I use at every session.
Speaks for itself really! Mum and child embrace and you capture that beautiful moment, but this is a pose that needs a little massaging to get a natural connection.
First encourage mum and child to talk to each other while looking at each other, mum might stroke the child’s cheek, and then when they’re relaxed encourage them into a hug. They can kiss or snuggle, anything that feels comfortable for them. This is a great pose to take a pull back of and then come in for a close up.
I love this with both younger and older children.
For younger children I get mum to hold them and as they connect, I get mum to swirl or sway slowly. The movement adds a storytelling element to the image. As they sway I encourage them to get nice and close and even close their eyes to capture the tender moment.
For older children I ask them to dance with mum, which often ends with a perfect twirl.
This is such a lovely pose to capture connection. Have the child relax into mum’s arm, or across her lap and look up at her face. You can shoot this one straight on, or looking over mum’s shoulder to capture the child’s face looking upward.
In addition to the kind of poses I’ve mentioned, prompts can help you draw out the connection between mum and child.
I like talking to my clients, especially the children, to put them at ease. Talking can range from general chatting to ease nerves to specific directions about where and what you want your clients doing in a specific pose.
About half way in-between the two is prompting, which is a more gentle, natural way of directing your subjects to do what you want them to do, and it draws out more natural connections.
Next time you’re shooting, when you want them to do something specific such as hold mum’s hand, think “how can I re word my directions into prompts to get a more natural reaction?”. For example instead of saying, “look at mum”, I might say “tell mum three things you love most about her”. The child will naturally look at mum, smile coyly and as they start speaking mum will melt.
For each set-up/pose vary your composition to create an interesting gallery. I’m constantly moving while shooting. Think pull back, mid range and close up for every set up/moment to enhance your storytelling. A pull back makes use of the environment to “set the scene”, the mid range shot is often the nicely framed, “safe shot”, and the close up captures those intimate, tender moments.
Don’t just shoot straight on. Get down low and shoot up, get up high and shoot down, and move around them for different perspectives.
Shoot through things to frame your subject, or behind things to put something in the foreground that works with the environment. Anything you can think of to add interest to your session.
Don’t forget to capture the details too. I always tell my clients at the start of the session to stay physically connected throughout their session. Hold hands, snuggle in closely, caress your child’s cheek. These moments really bring together a beautiful, well rounded gallery.
And there you have it! The ingredients for you to go out and capture your own, gorgeous motherhood photo session!
Merissa Wakefield is a lifestyle family photographer based in Melbourne’s bayside, and when she’s not shooting she’s supporting CLG students as one of our instructor team!
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