Tips + Techniques

The Unfiltered Beauty of Intimate Motherhood Photography

May 15, 2024

By Brooke Holliday

At a time when social media inundates us with highlight reels of seemingly perfect lives, there has never been a greater yearning for authenticity. And I’m not talking about the cliché kind of authenticity that’s been played out in lifestyle photography for years. I’m talking about the kind that truly illuminates what it means to be a real human being in 2024 — the kind of images that intimate motherhood photography produces.

After a seven-year career as a family photographer in the Seattle area, I found myself yearning to create images that resonate on a deeper level — images that go beyond the bright shiny, happy storyline, and instead, tell the complete human story. There simply isn’t enough imagery out there that truly represents and honors mothers in all their complexity. I see plenty of happy moments, but where are the rest of our emotions represented?

© Brooke Holliday

The Complexity of Motherhood

Mother’s face many struggles throughout their motherhood journey. Some struggle with losing their identity in motherhood by giving all of themselves to their children and family, sometimes in part by ending or pausing careers that were significant to their lives. Other struggles I have seen are about the changing of their bodies. One mom said to me “I’ve lost feeling sexy. I need to find the woman-ness, or the essence of my womanhood within my motherhood journey.” And one in eight moms struggle with the heavy weight of child loss. And there are so many more to list. Here are a few more examples:

  • Mom guilt of all kinds
  • Grieving not having more  
  • Sleep deprivation and not being able to rest on your own terms
  • Balancing family and work (feelings of having to do it all)
  • Navigating challenges our older children face alongside them
  • Self-worth and body image
  • Gender roles and expectations
  • Decline in selfcare
  • The compounding stress of raising multiple kids
  • In some cases having little to no support (single parenting)

Despite these hard emotional experiences, there is nothing I love to see more than women embracing themselves. To love and accept every piece of themselves as beautiful, perfectly imperfect humans. This can happen inside the safe container of intimate motherhood photography.

© Brooke Holliday

Intimate Motherhood Photography

Intimate Motherhood Photography is focused around mothers and their children, starting in pregnancy and continuing on throughout their lifetime. These photography sessions aim to create deeply connected imagery of mothers with their babies throughout all stages of life and motherhood. I encourage for these sessions take place in a familiar place, like the home. However, they can also be done in a studio or outdoors. It all really depends on what is comfortable for the family. Some examples of intimate motherhood settings are spending time cuddling in bed, sharing a bath or shower with littles and being together enjoying activities they love.

There are three rules for intimate motherhood sessions that are really important to keep in mind:

  1. NO GUARDS OR WALLS — Mothers don’t have to hide who they really are or whatever invisible struggles they are moving through. This is a zero judgment zone.
  1. NO EXPECTATIONS — As the photographer, there are no expectations placed on the mother or her children. This could be worries like “misbehaving children” or about being photogenic.
  1. NO PRESSURE TO PERFORM — At no time will a mother or her children be asked to do anything that makes them uncomfortable or doesn’t feel natural or authentic. This is a safe space.

Within an intimate motherhood session, you as the photographer really have to hold space for mothers and their children to truly be seen and accepted. We can place them in an environment, but we have to let them unfold naturally, so no over-posing. It’s about capturing moments that feel authentic to each mother’s individual experience. To do this you can try the following techniques:

  • Slow down and observe a little more. 
  • See how they naturally interact and encourage more of that behavior. 
  • Speak in a lower and softer tone. 
  • Play music that matches the mood you are going for.
© Brooke Holliday

Facilitating Vulnerability

A pivotal part of creating the space to be open and authentic is vulnerability. Vulnerability often invites the possibility of judgment and can be hard to draw out in someone you don’t know intimately, but our job as photographers is to do just that. 

To help facilitate an open space for vulnerability you can do a few things. 

Before the session you can send a questionnaire that asks each mother to really do some deep thought on their journey, and discuss some of the joys and the struggles they have had. This allows them to reflect and speak their truth. This makes it easier to step into the mindset of being open come session time.

Another way to connect deeper, if you are a mom yourself, is to share your own experiences in session. Being open and honest with your clients about your own experiences can create space to connect on a deeper level and show women that you sympathize with all parts of motherhood. 

Furthermore, showing your clients that they are accepted just as they are and giving them encouraging words and affirmations will really go a long way in making them comfortable. Once their shield falls, it opens the session up for deeply connected photos that tell their unique story.

© Brooke Holliday

Changing the Narrative 

Mothers navigate a world filled with expectations and pressures, where authenticity can feel like a rarity. Yet, it is our job as photographers to tell the honest stories of our clients, and motherhood is one important and incredible story to tell. Through intimate motherhood photography sessions, I’ve witnessed the transformative power of authenticity—the beauty that emerges when the guard comes down and mothers simply allow themselves to be comfortable in their own skin. It is truly an amazing gift to capture and provide to mothers to pass down for their children!

We, as photographers, have the power to change the narrative about motherhood and what it means to be a mom. By helping to change the narrative through intimate motherhood sessions, and the values they hold, we can continue to grow as a society. Photographers have a unique opportunity to do so by capturing images that represent mothers as the real humans they are and not just a perfect exterior image!

So, photographers, I invite you to join me in this pursuit of authenticity—to capture the raw, unfiltered beauty of motherhood and celebrate the strength of the mothers everywhere. Together, let’s redefine the narrative, one frame at a time.

Brooke Holliday serves Seattle-area mothers and families with her photography that aims to capture and celebrate the full-spectrum of the human emotional experience. Learn more about her on her website

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