In "the basics" I mentioned that maternity photography is not just about photographing the pregnant belly — that it can lead to photos that are anonymous and dull. Without some sort of context, personality or story, the photo fails to have any meaning.
The photo on the left is an example of a photo that doesn't work. Yes, it is a pregnant belly, but is says nothing about the mom-to-be, her feelings, or the form of the belly. Without context, it is nothing more than an object. In many ways a snapshot would be an improvement because it would aspire to less and achieve more.
This does not mean, however, that you should avoid making a photograph of just the belly. I take a few "belly only" photos on nearly every maternity shoot. What is important is that the photograph must have some meaning, either emotionally or aesthetically.
The photo on the right is, in many ways, very similar. However, in this case we have more context for the belly and, more importantly, the inclusion of the hands cradling the belly makes the photo about interaction between mother and child. It is also worth noting the composition - the lines and forms in the photo are much more interesting than in the photo above, left.
Many moms-to-be request to have photos taken of the belly alone. One benefit of such a photo is that if your subject is feeling uncomfortable, or unconfident, those expressions will not show on her face because her face is not in the photograph.
If you are planning on doing the "Hands of Love" pose, you will certainly want to take some if not all of your photographs as a close-up on the belly. This is fine. The "Hands of Love" pose is about the symbol made by the hands.
There are, however, interesting ways to take belly only photos. Most often these photos work as artistic abstraction. Take a look at the two "belly only" photos below:
The photo on the left is exceedingly simple, presenting the belly like an image of the new moon. It is so devoid of context that you might not know it was a pregnant belly at all. It becomes purely about abstract shape. On the right, there are just enough clues to bring the context to the viewers perception. Which one is better is subjective — each viewer may have a different opinion.
Outside of abstraction, there is another reason to take a belly-only portrait. Many pregnant women would like to capture the specifics of how their belly looked during pregnancy. They want to remember how they looked; how they carried. Below is a small gallery of eight belly-only maternity portraits. Even though each photo is more or less the straight ahead photo, each photo is still unique.
The women who posed for these photos would be able to look at these bellies and know which is theirs. While the photos look very similar, note that the lighting is subtly different for each. The key here is to find a way to show the character of the belly, throuh lighting, framing, pose and context. Even in the examples above, there is small amount of context with clothes, posture and the placement of the arms/hands.