Pregnancy is a tricky thing. Some women bask in the “glow,” loving every change it brings, wishing it would never end—while others struggle each moment with accepting this new body shape, the changing routine, and all the other challenges that arise. Both women love their growing child; both women know that the process is temporary and that it leads to one of the most amazing things; but both women cannot be expected to process or celebrate this moment in the same way.
This revelation came from personal experience. I am the proud mother of three wonderful children. But my pregnancies were tough. Sickness, weight gain, exhaustion, you name it. And I struggled with the pressure and guilt of not loving every minute of it. The thought of a “soft, beautiful, belly-kissing”-type maternity session repulsed me. I didn’t feel beautiful. This didn’t feel natural, and having my portraits taken while being told to just “act normal” was ridiculous. This was not normal for me. I needed someone to tell me it was OK to feel different about this process. I needed someone to guide me on how to embrace this amazing body shape. I needed someone to remove my guilt of not conforming and replace it with a celebration for being bold, strong and beautiful in my own way. At the time, I had no idea that these feelings of inadequacy, vulnerability and displacement would play huge factors in creating the Goddess Experience.
Over the last 20 years, as my business and career grew, I found a distinct trigger that was present when it came to my success: daring to be different. It was the key. Choosing to not cave to the shoot-and-burn movement. Always treating it like a business first, art second. Upholding the entire experience for the client, not just click and go. I made a point to swim upstream. It made me stand out in the sea of photographers. One of the things that kept me fresh and moving forward was that I loved taking “normal” sessions and putting a unique and interesting twist to them. I had taken a few maternity sessions since starting my business, but not a lot. I had a hard time connecting with the client. As I mentioned above, I wasn’t a rainbow-and-unicorns kind of pregnant woman, so to create and guide that type of maternity session felt foreign to me. Fake, even. But when my sister became pregnant with her first child, I knew I wanted to do a maternity shoot that was different. It was to be dramatic and new. It would instantly stand out. In my head, I told myself that this was just for me. Maybe it would create a little buzz on social media, but it was a passion project, because “no client would hire me for something this over-the-top and different.” We shot in my backyard, which was part vineyard and had an amazing view. The dress was simple—purple chiffon to offset the vibrant green of the vines. While shooting, I got a whim to have my husband give the fabric a little whoosh. Voila! The original Goddess image was born. She was strong, beautiful and radiating confidence … everything I wanted her to feel about herself at this moment.
This single image changed everything. We posted it on our social media, and the response was fast and strong. People had never seen anything like it. It was a marriage between a fashion and a portrait image. She looked amazing. Strong. Powerful. I was jealous. I wanted to look and feel that way when I was pregnant. The emails began streaming in. Women loved how this was different. Not the same Pinterest blah, vanilla crap. It was meant to show the woman as the powerhouse she is. She is creating a freaking human, for Pete’s sake! All of a sudden, this concept that I thought was too out of the ordinary for the everyday client and wouldn’t resonate on a larger level was being requested. Not just requested—demanded.
As I began pondering how to structure these sessions as a regular offering, I realized there were commonalities for most of the women wanting to create their very own Goddess images. We used these to build the Goddess Experience. It had to be more than just a session.
The first thing that struck us was that women were first grabbed by the beautiful image they had seen. But most importantly, they were compelled to inquire because of what it stood for. This had to be an intricate part of the way we approached these sessions. It was more than just a picture of them while pregnant. It was a visualization of the powerhouse that they had become. It was an affirmation that, “Hey … you got this.” It told their story. Many clients had specific reasons why they wanted a Goddess session. Some were celebrating their first baby; others their last. Some women were acknowledging a hard journey through IVF or a rainbow baby. Most women had a “why” that was bigger than just “I need maternity portraits.” These images were going to represent part of their soul, and we would need to plan each session accordingly. We would need to style these in dramatic, boundary-pushing ways: Long, flowing gowns and intricate details. Styles you wouldn’t normally see on pregnant women. Think high fashion and oh, by the way, she is also pregnant. The posing would need to be a mixture of thoughtful connection and bold empowerment. There would be no hearts on the belly. Many poses and shots would need to break from the traditional cuddle-belly posing. Long lines, great form, power. The scenes and locations we chose needed to compliment her and add to the impact of each session. Big, scaping views, stunning architecture and painterly drops. These were all about her amazing shape and energy, and speaking to the viewer on a higher level.
Most women were very quick to make sure we knew that this was not something they would normally do, from styling, to posing, to choosing the location. They were putting themselves out there, while handing over complete control. They trusted that the professional was going to do what it took to make them look and feel amazing. What a huge responsibility for us, but also very exciting. It gave me near-complete creative control. I could stretch my artistic soul and truly push boundaries for each client. But first, we needed to make sure that every step of the process was clear and guided. We needed to not only create amazing images the day of the session, but we had to make sure the entire process was stressless, exciting and geared toward making them feel confident in themselves and in us. We created scripts and steps that each Goddess client would get after booking, to help them plan and know what was to come. We spelled out the process and what to expect, so that there were no grey areas or confusion. We made sure to answer questions and concerns before they even came up. Being the harsher personality that I am, I felt that acknowledging some of the elephants in the room, point blank, was important. I would tell them straight up that I would be bossy and pose them to make sure it was the most flattering position for them. I let them know that I’d be upfront when they needed to fix their face or get rid of the double chin. And that, if I couldn’t verbally get them there, I would just come over and put them where they needed to be. I understood how it felt in this temporary body, and I would look out for all those little things that we become self-conscious about. And you know what? No one got offended. Actually, it built a stronger bond. They knew that there would be no fluff, no BS. I was honest and real. We would all work hard and do what was necessary to get the shot. And they loved it.
I found that many women were just like me—excited to grow their family, but unsure and uncomfortable in their temporary body. Leery of what society was telling them about how they should feel, celebrate and process this transition into motherhood. But this time, I would be the one that would guide them toward embracing this amazing body shape. I would help remove the guilt of not conforming and replace it with a celebration for being bold, strong and beautiful in their own way.
To this day, I continue to push myself creatively so that my images are never boring or mundane. I challenge the norms and break the molds of what the industry tells us maternity portraits should be. Every day, I feel honored when a client books me for the Goddess Experience. I find strength in being me, in the hopes to help others do the same.
About the Author: Casey Dittmer
Casey is an award-winning photographer from Western Colorado. With over 19 years’ experience in the industry, she has seen trends, economies and businesses come and go. Best known for her high-dynamic maternity portraits, she combines amazing scenery, custom-styled gowns and powerful posing to create maternity portraits unlike anyone else. In the sea of photographers, she wants to help you to stand out and never be afraid to hustle. Casey is the 2018 Rise Awards: International Maternity Photographer of the YEAR.