Sonar: Maternity Photos from NYC to the Ocean in One (Long) Day

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Here’s the answer to “Why would I need an entire day to take my maternity photos?” This photoshoot took 12 hours and developed some pretty cool maternity shoot ideas.

Meet Karen and Matt whose photo (left) at the City Winery NYC from their Manhattan engagement session has been sitting in the “Best of” collection for almost four years now. As it is often the case, things slowly but lovingly progressed to an email with a request for Karen’s maternity photos. My portrait shoots start from two hours but I usually probe clients if there is an interest in a very thorough and diverse artistic adventure which would take an entire day. All-day maternity photo sessions are naturally more challenging and thus questionable by the expecting moms although they hold their honorable place in the studio’s collection of such committed projects.

It wasn’t questionable this time. Karen dreamed of an underwater maternity photos and those require at least a half-day commitment. She also wanted to expand on the water theme after seeing my milk bath maternity session for another loyal client. Some advanced studio lighting techniques would be needed for her requested silhouette series. A lifestyle feel was easy to create with the natural light but would require a change in looks and setup (indoors and outdoors on the rooftop), and a particular shot with her husband (more on it later) would again call for some elaborate studio lighting and posing. With so much on our plate, going for a full day photo session was clear. Because it also involved two remote locations in Manhattan, the work day clocked more than 12 hours which is never a problem with my full-day sessions, they are pretty much unlimited! As a returning client, Karen enjoyed her loyalty discount making this long-lasting venture even more attractive.

We started dry in the cold February morning and worked with Matt who took a couple of hours off work. Some traditional shots as always, and then a little more unconventional imagery when I surprised him with a request to put on the tuxedo jacket on bare body. Could not resist their model looks without going a little fashion-oriented.

Then I did something I cannot remember doing in the past 10+ years: recreating someone else’s photograph. My clients know my stance on their offering a “shot list” or inspirational boards. It is addressed in my FAQs: committing myself to such photos inhibits my own creativity so while I don’t refuse to look at them, I am careful to not promise similarities, just limiting myself to learning what appeals to clients in case my ideas can be adapted to theirs. This time, however, there was one striking image that thrilled me so much that I put aside any reservations and agreed to bluntly copy it, inch for inch… It’s the B&W photo of them kissing on the floor and all credit and respect go to the author (do not know his/her name as I was looking at a Pinterest photo on client’s phone). I have not seen this image in the past.

Matt left before noon and we continued with her solo maternity photos in their apartment bathtub filled with water and two gallons of milk. I love the gentle ethereal feel created by my studio lighting that I managed to squeeze in, be the milk, and the artificial flowers which again started to sink too soon. It is that special engulfing soft light on my Hensel strobes that helped me create her astonishing porcelain quality.

Finally, we drove to the pool which (major surprise!) is located underneath a cathedral… in Manhattan… on Park Avenue! I’ve passed that church many times and little did I foresee that I would dive underwater for maternity photos below that cathedral… Kudos to St Bartholomew’s Church for opening its underground (I wonder what it was used for before) to the community: it houses a swimming pool, gymnasium, training studio, and karate dojo. Athletic programs and offerings take place year round, including swimming, tennis, soccer, basketball and more. Collectively, the recreation program is called the H.E.A.R.T. of St. Bart’s, for Health, Education, Aquatics, Recreation, and Training, and is geared towards children. Karen took some swimming classes there and her instructor generously allowed us into the pool during his classes. You cannot see anyone (no Photoshop yet) and such was the avoidance strategy for two hours.

This leads me to the final image where Photoshop is the Zeus. No diving in the real ocean, of course… Up until now I touted all my photos, no matter how unrealistic they seemed, to be real. Photoshop is always there for dramatization and beauty enhancements but I never layered a green-screen expecting lady on the snowy mountains, nor digitally painted jellyfish on the deep darkness of the ocean, nor a Phoenix woman on the wings on fire. I shot them in real life, in Alaska, in a pool wrapped in black muslin, and on a rooftop in the rain.

Not in this shot, seen as last in the series below. For the first time for a client, I went to a stock photography site and downloaded the dolphins photo (they helped me with a canny title, too)… Not that I have anything against such technique. Quite the opposite, I plan on developing and offering it in the future to select clients as a unique product. Some know that I used to draw and paint so progressing to digital art is a matter of time for me. For now, I decided to take this little baby step. No drawing involved there but the concept of “epicizing” maternity photos (and portraits in general) with the fantasy and cinematic touch is very dear and near to me, and hopefully to my clients in the future!


Canon 5D Mk II and 5D Mk IV DSLRs
Ikelite DSLR Housing
Ikelite Substrobes 51 and 125
Hensel Integra Monolights

Click images for full size. Kindly refrain from re-uploading images to social media during the first week of feature. Share instead!

Check out these behind-the-scenes. My wife helped me a lot throughout the long day both with the equipment and shooting as a second photographer. I finally got to see myself in the pool handling the bulky Ikelite with underwater strobes.


Ed Hafizov
Ed Hafizov
Ed Hafizov is a creative director and lead photographer of Zorz Studios, Manhattan-based boutique photography studio, offering arousing and daring fashion, commercial, beauty, and wedding photography. Multiple Fearless Photographer™ award winner, named among the top 50 US wedding photographers, top 10 NY wedding photographers, winner of Adobe contests, featured by Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Elle et al, Mercedes Benz Fashion Week photographer, and a distinguished member of Grace Ormonde Wedding Style‘s Platinum List, he is eager to step out of his and willing clients' comfort zone to pursue original artwork with a lasting impression.

1 Comment

  1. […] just a few months ago in a residential building pool, also in Connecticut. Or, would you think a church had a pool underground? On Park Avenue, in Manhattan?? […]

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