If you’ve kept up with this blog for even a short while, I’m sure you can tell how much I love taking and sharing photos — especially those that capture family love, such as when breastfeeding. I’m often complimented on my photos (I’m shy so it means a lot to me — thank you!), then asked for tips and advice on how to have a successful breastfeeding photoshoot.
To be honest, I think every breastfeeding photoshoot is the epitome of perfection and a success, even if the nursling got distracted or wanted to jam tiny fingers up his mother’s nose. That’s just breastfeeding! Try to remember: the idea isn’t to compare your photos to the outcome of others’. YOU get to decide what “successful” means in this instance — how refreshing!
I decided to let a professional handle some of the main concerns I hear a lot. I interviewed Whimsy Candids Photography‘s Anel Lestage, a Houston-area family photographer and editing expert who specializes in breastfeeding portraits.
**You can see pictures from my session with Anel in this post. Contact details for Anel can be found at the end of the interview.**
Read on for what Anel suggests to optimize your nursing shoot experience!
Breastfeeding Portrait Background
How did you get into breastfeeding photography?
“While breastfeeding my first and second children, I became involved in breastfeeding support groups. I attended La Leche League meetups and other similar events. Then, secondary infertility hit us and I stopped going to the support group meetings since I was no longer breastfeeding. I began to put my free time toward photography to keep my mind off the infertility struggle. During this time I photographed a few breastfeeding moms here and there but it wasn’t my main focus.
For five years we tried to conceive with no luck. When I finally got pregnant, it had been so long that I was afraid I had forgotten so I began some research and joined a few online support groups. In those five years while I was trying to conceive, a huge change had happened! Breastfeeding had become more mainstream and I was eager to be part of the revolution!
By the time my third baby arrived, I had already begun to niche in baby photography so I was eager to be able to document every detail including breastfeeding. That August (last year) in honor of breastfeeding week, I took my camera, my tripod and my 3 month old nursling to a nearby field to get some breastfeeding portraits. The result was magical and I was hooked!
I realized I have a special place in my heart for breastfeeding photography. Not only because it is a way to share how I feel about breastfeeding as a movement, but also because I can connect with those moms and their nursling on a deeper level.”
Why do you think mamas want breastfeeding portraits? What do they use them for, and why do you think it’s important?
“I am still happily breastfeeding my third little nursling and can totally relate to the many reasons why mamas would want breastfeeding portraits. For many, breastfeeding in the beginning stages is a difficult uphill struggle; being able to capture their breastfeeding experience after overcoming their obstacles is a way of documenting their victory. They are no longer going uphill, they are now proudly standing at the top as breastfeeding champions.
For other moms, a breastfeeding session marks the end of a chapter in their lives. Once they have decided that they will not be having any more children, documenting this special phase seems even more precious than ever.
Every mom has different reasons for booking breastfeeding portraits, but I can assure you that every single one of them will sit there and look at those photographs over and over again because it evokes something within her.
Breastfeeding Photography isn’t just the latest trend, it is a way to promote and normalize breastfeeding. Photographs have a powerful impact in our current day and time. With the use of technology, a photo can reach millions of people. What better way to spread our message of acceptance for breastfeeding than with beautiful portraits?”
What are the main differences between professional breastfeeding photography and taking photos at home?
“While taking pictures at home with your phone or camera is great for everyday documenting; professional breastfeeding photography is a wonderful experience that you just can’t get at home on your own. Not only is the quality of the photographs that a professional can take much better, but a professional will capture the true, raw emotion of that certain moment. The photographer has a trained eye that can see the details that you would otherwise miss trying to do it yourself at home. A professional photographer can offer you a different perspective, from the outside looking in.”
What have you seen are the main worries of mothers in regard to breastfeeding portraits? How can they feel better about each of these concerns?
“Most mothers are concerned that they will not know how to pose for their shoot. It is an understandable concern but not one that you need to spend much time worrying [about]. You do not need modeling experience to book a nursing session. It is the photographer’s job to guide and direct the shoot. I think the perfect breastfeeding session is created when little direction is given and the photographer focuses on making you feel comfortable and letting the rest happen on its own.”
What criteria should mothers look for in a breastfeeding photographer? What are some “red flags,” if any?
“Definitely look for a photographer who specializes in breastfeeding photography. Review their blog or portfolio for other breastfeeding photos. You want to be sure that you are booking someone who has worked with young children before. If they have kids, even better! Definitely look at how posed their work is. Do you see lots of ‘cheese’ poses on their website or page? A breastfeeding session should be mostly candid shots and not forced, fake, or posed.”
Tell us about one of your favorite breastfeeding shoots so far.
“My favorite sessions are those where moms let go completely and put all their trust in me and my ability to capture them perfectly. I love when a mama comes in and just makes herself at home in my studio. I can then be a fly on the wall, giving minimal direction and just soaking in that magical moment through my lens.”
Have you needed to troubleshoot any “disaster” moments? How did it get resolved?
“I don’t think I’ve ever had any real disaster moments, but children are all different and can be unpredictable. I always welcome a challenge though. I guess I could say that the challenge I face most is little ones who aren’t really all that interested in nursing. I’ve had children who are more interested in exploring my little studio space and discovering all the cool props I have.
There have also been a few kiddos who would much rather play. In these cases, patience truly has been my best virtue. I never force the child to do anything they don’t want to. I follow their cues and wait until they are ready to nurse, even if it’s just for five minutes.
Then, is when the magic happens. I use angles, lighting, and other techniques to my advantage to create an entire series of beautiful portraits out of those brief minutes. My favorite part is when moms come back for their viewing and they are amazed to see so many good shots in their gallery!”
When a mother’s packing her bag for the shoot, what are the must-have items?
“I recommend bringing the child’s favorite stuffed animal, a favorite blanket, or any other item that is used at home for soothing. A professional photoshoot can be intimidating for a little one. This provides some familiarity and can help make the experience less scary.”
Don’t bother to bring these things:
“PROPS are not necessary. A breastfeeding session should be all about that special bond between mother and child and not about random objects. Of course, heirloom items like a special book that you always read is okay.”
Anything to avoid in preparation or during the shoot?
“Definitely avoid telling the child to look at the camera or to say cheese. Do not pressure your child to pose. Let the photographer take control of the photoshoot and just be as natural as possible.”
What should a mother inform her photographer about prior to the session, if anything?
“Let your photographer know if your child is shy or timid so that she will know ahead of time to give the child space and not push boundaries. I believe respecting a child’s boundaries is crucial to a successful photo session. It’s also good to share a few of your child’s favorite things with the photographer so that she can have a few tricks up her sleeve; your child’s favorite song or favorite storybook, for example.”
What type of clothing do you suggest mothers and their children wear? To avoid?
“I am a lover of neutrals. My goal with every nursing session is to capture that brief quiet moment that is shared while breastfeeding. I find that neutral colors allow the me to showcase the mother/child relationship in a very natural and harmonious way. I absolutely avoid hot colors such as yellow, orange, and red. Also stay away from busy patterns or anything that could distract away from that sweet moment.”
What type of lighting is best and how can one achieve it, whether with a professional or at home?
“I am a natural light photographer. Natural light can be harnessed and used for a photograph no matter the location. If you are inviting a photographer into your home for a photo session, you want to be sure that you provide enough natural light by selecting a room with large windows.
For outdoor sessions, the best lighting occurs during the golden hour; this is typically the first hour of light after sunrise and the last hour of light before sunset. Avoid booking a session during midday; you will get harsh, unflattering direct sunlight.
If taking your own photos outdoors, aim for the golden hour. When that is not possible and you absolutely have to snap a pic during midday; find open shade and then shoot away. Cloudy days are your friends when doing your own outdoor photos.
When taking your own photos at home try to sit near or facing a window and avoid artificial overhead light coming from the ceiling. Open the blinds or the curtains and let all that beautiful sunlight in.”
How much time and money should one expect to invest in a good-quality, worthwhile professional photoshoot? How can a mother both stay frugal AND keep this experience affordable?
“I always suggest that people take their time finding the right photographer for them. Carefully review their portfolio, their style, and technique. Don’t just look at prices, look for quality.
Sadly, our industry is currently oversaturated with folks who claim to be photographers. There will always be someone who will claim to do it for less, but the difference in service as well as in their work and their editing is obvious.
As with anything else in life, with photography you also get what you pay for. Before hiring the person down the street who can do it for $50, think about why you are hiring a photographer to begin with.
What are you planning to do with those photos? Do you want to display them in your home? Do you want to be able to pull out those beautiful prints and hold them in your hand as you remember nursing your child like it was yesterday? How wonderful would it be to sit with your grandkids one day as you flip through a beautiful heirloom album and tell them all about their mom/dad when they were little? Connecting the older generations to the next, capturing a moment that sparks a memory of a youth once lived, stopping time just at the perfect moment and having it to reminisce upon time and again … that is the true investment of professional photography.
Most professional photographers offer payment plans and accept all major credit cards as well, making the custom portrait experience more accommodating to different budgets.
I think that when we put an emotional value behind portraits, we can then stop seeing it as just another product that we can bargain for.”
Should the child come hungry, freshly-nursed, or somewhere in between? Any tips on making that ideal situation work out? What do you do if the child arrives to set too full to nurse on-cue again, or too hungry to relax and feel comfortable?
“I recommend following your regular routine and booking your photo session at a time when your child regularly nurses. It’s best if baby is neither full nor super hungry. Hungry babies make grumpy babies, which makes the whole experience unpleasant. Nursing up to one hour before the session is generally a good guideline but we all know that children nurse on demand and not necessarily on a schedule. I have a few babies who have arrived too full to nurse again. When this happens, I usually wait it out and try again and when little one finally nurses, I shoot quickly in order to capture as much as I can.
When hunger strikes children’s emotions become heightened. Tears flow and mom begins to stress. When this happens, I will play some relaxing music, leave the room and close the door behind me. I give them some time and then return after the child has settled down into their nursing groove.”
What do you suggest to mothers who want breastfeeding photos but aren’t comfortable showing skin, or are used to covering up? Can they get beautiful shots, too?
“Absolutely! I tell moms they can show as little or as much skin during their session as they like. Scarves, shawls, blankets or fabrics in neutral colors can provide a bit more privacy if they wish to cover up. Some of the mothers I photograph choose to keep their images private and I do not publish or display their photos in any way. This is another way to keep this sacred moment between baby and mom private if the client so chooses.”
What do you think about breastfeeding portraits that include siblings or the partner?
“I can say from personal experience that breastfeeding is a natural part of life at home for a nursing mother and the members of her family. My husband and I often lie in an embrace with our baby nursing in the middle at bedtime. Every morning, my older children join us in the bed for a cuddle session while I nurse their little brother. There is no reason why the rest of the family shouldn’t be included.”
What tips do you have for a mother with an easily-distracted nursling?
“I find that if moms wear a necklace or other jewelry, it really helps the little one to focus on mom, which then makes being able to photograph them a lot easier. I have photographed easily-distracted nurslings and really the only thing you can do as a mom is to leave it in the hands of the photographer. I always ask mom to forget I am there and just nurse as they normally would, even if that means lying down or even breastfeeding topless; however you do it at home. Let the photographer work around your little one. Just relax and enjoy.”
Can a mother take breastfeeding portraits if she’s exclusively pumping breast milk but not nursing?
“A mother who exclusively pumps still enjoys a special bond with her little one. A pumping mama can absolutely bring a bottle to her photoshoot and feed her child while the photographer captures as baby gazes up at her. Ask your photographer about a Mommy & Me session to capture that special bond.”
What are the advantages/disadvantages of picking a certain age to take these photos?
“There is no wrong age to book a breastfeeding session, whether you have just begun your breastfeeding journey with an infant or are at the end of it with a weaning toddler. Each stage is different and deserves to be captured.
An infant is a breeze to photograph since they nurse on cue and seem to always be hungry or looking for comfort. I suggest that you do not book a nursing session too early on with a newborn. Definitely wait until you have settled into a comfortable groove with baby. You don’t want to book a session while you’re still trying to figure out a proper latch because it simply will not go well. Once you feel that you have gotten the hang of things, you can go ahead and schedule a breastfeeding session.”
Walk us through a typical breastfeeding shoot for a younger infant.
“A breastfeeding photoshoot with an infant is very relaxed. Usually baby arrives asleep in a car seat so transitioning into the nursing session is very easy. At this stage they aren’t mobile yet and don’t care too much for where they are so we go straight into it. I will play quiet lullabies or white noise to help baby feel calm and peaceful. I do very little talking, if any. I simply observe and take it all in as I click the shutter. Younger infants yield for a longer session and very tender images. It hardly even feels like a photo session at all.”
Now walk us through one with an older infant or toddler — what can we expect?
“A session with an older infant, one who is mobile specifically, or a toddler can become quite a fun adventure. I like to think of it as a play date. I introduce myself to the child and give them a little bit of time to look around, maybe do a bit of exploring and get comfortable. The older the child, the more time they will need to feel at ease in a new environment. It is crucial not to rush this part and not to push the child beyond their limits or the photoshoot will be a disaster. Once the nursing begins, I find that the photoshoot goes rather quickly. Breastfeeding sessions with an older infant or a toddler will result in lots of candid shots, which are my personal favorite!”