What do Gwen Stefani, Rachel Zoe, Halle Berry, Tina Fey and Selma Hayek have in common?
They all birthed babies in their early 40s.
Shocked? You shouldn’t be. The number of women giving birth after 40 years old has nearly quadrupled in the past 30 years according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As a photographer in San Francisco, I noticed this same trend emerge in the Bay Area market. Simply put, much of my pregnant mother clientele was skewing older for both first and second pregnancies.
Sure, it’s a small number: The birth rate is just 10.6 per 1000 women between the ages of 40 and 44 according to the 2016 National Vital Statistics Report. But the increasing birth rate in this age group trend that’s been emerging for decades.
I embraced these mamas and became so inspired by them that I started a Pregnancy After 40 Project. It’s a photography project dedicated to empowering and inspiring women through photographs and storytelling. While my project only highlights a handful of mamas pregnant in their 40s, I have photographed countless other expecting moms who are having babies later in life, too.
Here are a few tips for photographing expecting moms in their late 30s and beyond.
1. Age goes up, body goes down
We all know it happens. For those of us who aren’t spry 20-year-olds, we’ve experienced it firsthand. Arms soften and chins relax. These are areas to pay extra attention to during photo shoots, especially with older expecting mamas. Here are a few of my favorite tricks for posing.
Have the mom point her elbow slightly out as though she was putting her hand on her hip. This will move her bicep away from her side, slimming the arm.
Have mom stick her chin forward like a turtle or a bird, you choose your favorite animal. This will give the neck and chin an instant lift. It’s important she doesn’t put her chin up towards the sky because otherwise you’ll be photographing up her nose. The movement happens at the neck pushing the chin forward, not the head. Practice on yourself in a mirror at home so you can demonstrate.
Boob not belly
During maternity sessions, it’s common to ask the mom to look at her belly. This typically results in mom looking like she has multiple chins.
Instead, ask her to look towards one of her nipples. This angles the head and keeps the chin from tucking in too much. The finishing touch is to have mom slightly turtle her neck while looking down to elongate her neck and flatten her chin. This pose is a good icebreaker, too. “Please look at your boob and turtle your chin slightly” always results in chuckles.
2. Wrinkle release
When working with older expecting moms, I often get asked about what I do in post and if I do any retouching. The answer is yes but also no.
It’s important that people look like themselves, even if this means having a few laugh lines. That said, here are the things that I look for to ensure they look their best regardless of their age.
Recommend a hair and make-up artist (HMUA):
I have a gal I recommend to all my clients. Most of them hire her or they’ll find their own.
This is important because HMUAs use special makeup that makes the skin look youthful, silky and smooth. This adds an extra layer of refinement in photos. It also gives the mamas more confidence on the day of the photo shoot. Plus, who doesn’t love to be pampered?
My favorite way to retouch skin is with Portraiture by Imagenomic. It also saves a ton of time. But remember, apply it super lightly so their skin doesn’t look like plastic. Many times I forego this step altogether but if I know the mom is extra sensitive to the way her skin looks, I’ll do it.
If you couldn’t tell, my pet peeves are droopy chins and flabby arms. This is where the Liquify tool in Photoshop comes in hand.
In the Liquify filter, I use the “forward warp tool” (it has a pointing finger) to gently pull chins back into place. I also will use the “pucker tool” (looks like an X being squeezed) to slightly suck in arms and legs.
Just like with using Portraiture, I’ll forgo this step unless it’s needed or the mom makes a point to tell me she’s not happy with her arms or legs prior to the shoot. Again, these touch-ups are very slight and should look natural. The goal is to make them look like the best version of themselves at their current age.
3. Her story
Every expecting mama has a unique journey to motherhood. I’ve noticed that with the late 30s and beyond, expecting mama stories can be more complex. These stories provide insight into what makes these photos so special and may inspire the mood or the moments you capture.
Many expecting mamas in their late 30s and beyond have had fertility issues or miscarriages. Don’t be afraid of overstepping boundaries. They want to share their story. They have conquered so much already and are now celebrating the life growing in their belly.
For example, here’s a story from an expecting mama I photographed. I’m paraphrasing but here’s what she shared during her photo shoot.
“My husband and I were devastated that we didn’t get pregnant again. We didn’t feel that doing special treatments to get pregnant was a fit for us; it was either going to happen or not. And it didn’t. My uncle was very sick and moved in with us so we could care for him. He asked me if we were going to have another baby. I told him we don’t talk about that anymore. He said, ‘Well, if you want me to ask the big fella to send you a baby, I will.’ A few weeks later, my uncle died and a few weeks after that we found out we were pregnant.”
Be mindful that for some of these mamas their pregnancy could have taken 10 years to happen. Perhaps this is the first pregnancy they’ve been able to carry to full-term or maybe they’ve been focused on their career or finding a partner.
In most cases, a lot of engineering, thought, and hope has been put into their pregnancy. Celebrate this special time and make their once-in-a-lifetime photo shoot memorable.
Words & photos by Tarah Beaven