Updated: Apr 7, 2021
I have been a photographer for over 10 years and have been capturing professional portraits for about two years under the company name of Bella Voyage Photography. My tag line is “Capturing the Beauty in the Voyage of Life”. I created the name based on the fact that I knew I would be photographing individuals at milestone moments in their own or their family’s life. From Christenings, to birthday parties, and newborn photos I capture it all. However, to date, my favorite area of portraiture to capture is maternity photography. I believe it is an honor to capture such a pivotal moment for an expectant mother and her child’s father. It is not only rewarding, but also extremely gratifying. Women only spend such a short time of their life being pregnant, yet that time is preparation for a life-changing event. The importance of capturing this life-changing event is crucial to any woman. When a woman is pregnant she may feel bloated and often times not pretty. My goal when capturing a maternity photo shoot is to change that outlook. For the time an expectant mother is in front of my camera, I promise her that I will capture the genuine beauty she and every mother holds— the beauty of bearing a child. However, it takes much time, patience and experience to fully understand how to capture these photos and show the pregnant mother just how truly beautiful she is, because “looking at the pregnant figure is not simple” (Matthew, xiv). There are so many components that go into creating a genuine, yet curated look such as proper angles, lighting and the correct type of outfit for the pregnant mother to wear. I work with my clients to make sure that the outfit they choose will be flattering in photos and will also appropriately display her belly. Naturally, the pregnant belly is the center of the photo and often times, “even without props, the pregnant woman can, and often does, deliberately point to her belly as the snapshot’s central fact. Through this indexical ‘pointing’ to herself, she actively acknowledges her condition and can show it to others” (Matthews. 93). We see this in the way women typically frame their bellies in maternity photographs (images 18 and 19).
Image 18 (Nicole Gubelli, 2018) Image 19 (Nicole Gubelli, 2018) Both Images display the subjects framing the bellies with their hands. In Image 18 we see both the mother and father placing their hands on the pregnant belly.
Many times I have clients who want photographs with their significant other as well as on their own. While the addition of a new baby into the family is an adjustment for the pregnant mother as well as her significant other, it is more about the woman who is bearing the child. In the wake of the nude and pregnant Demi Moore photos, and many celebrities after her doing the same, society too has began the shift in undressing before the camera to show off a bare belly. Society clearly understands that “Reproduction itself is a sexual function, and childbearing is an aspect of female sexuality that is both powerful in itself and different from the male norm” (Matthews. 13). And showing off this sexuality and confidence in her skin is something maternity photographers often times try to pull out of their clients. The photographer has the ability to imagine the finished product, and with that tries to relay trust in the client to fully go with what the photographer is suggesting. Being that child reproduction is indeed a sexual act, going back to an intimate component is very important. We often see either nude pregnant bodies or sheer coverings on the pregnant mother, again drawing attention to the moon belly (see images 19 and 20). If the significant other is also in the photographs, I often times will urge he or she to also be either bare chested or show a little more skin to recreate the sexual intimacy that went behind the development of the child (see image 21). Bare skin takes away the distraction of clothing and draws an emphasis on the purpose of the photo shoot to begin with: the belly (see image 22).
Image 19 (Nicole Gubelli, 2018) Image 20 (Nicole Gubelli, 2018) Image 19: The subject chose a dress which is completely open in the front to display her bare belly. The white also can signify a purity to the act of becoming a mother. Image 20: An intimate angle, but the subject too chose a white, open front dress to show off her pregnant belly.
Image 21 (Nicole Gubelli, 2018) The expectant father is shirtless, and the belly of the mother is exposed displaying an intimate moment between the two.
Image 22 (Nicole Gubelli, 2018) A nude body and belly follows the light to emphasize the pregnant belly. The use of Black and White rather than color is also intentional to keep minimal distractions in the photo.
Within the realm of pregnant pictures, historically when a pregnant woman was shown in any kind of piece of art she had the effect of creating a goddess-like image, or embracing the Madonna and Child imagery. The goddess-like or Madonna and Child images are often times intimate images, that display the expectant mother by herself, surrounded by flora and a bounty of fruits within nature. She appears to be powerful and intimate at the same time. A sample image of these is what is seen in the ever-popular milk bath photo shoots. Milk baths are exactly as they sound: the subject is submerged in a bathtub that has been filled with a mixture of both milk and water. Often times added to the bath are flowers or slices of citrus fruits (see image 22).
Image 22 (Nicole Gubelli, 2018) A sample milk bath maternity photograph.
These images show a bountiful and intimate rendition of a pregnant mother. This is the Madonna-imagery as alluded to. Like many other things in life, there are often times a learning curve and time used to “warm-up” to one another in the client-photographer relationship. However, after seeing a couple photos of her, learning the typical poses and a few deep breaths, the photographer can see the confidence in the client begin to develop. And soon, the photographer is, “no longer the challenger but the one being challenged. The roles [become] reversed. [The photographer] becomes the subject of her
gaze” (Matthews. 22). As the confidence increases, the photos become more relaxed and intimate. It is the intent of the photographer to capture the natural beauty that is displayed by the pregnant mother and present this beauty to the viewer of the image. Ultimately, the goal of a maternity photographer is to “marvel photographically at the aesthetic beauty of the pregnant body” (Matthews. 13). Through the use of photography, the photographer is capturing an actual moment in time to be revisited at a later time. The actual moment being captured in maternity photography is a moment that is heartfelt, intimate and overall beautiful. The physical differences are captured in the photographs that then lend themselves to the emotional and mental differences that develop in the transition of motherhood. Being a photographer, and being welcomed into one of the most significant and intimate moments of a woman’s life is an honor I will forever cherish.