This article was written by the New York Institute of Photography, America’s oldest and largest photography school. NYI provides professional-level training via home study for photographers who want to give their images a professional look, and perhaps earn extra income with their camera.

Take Her Portrait to Honor the Occasion & Give Mom a Present She'll Treasure!

Mothers Day PhotoSince the early 1900s, we have celebrated Mother's Day by sending Mom a card, or flowers or candy. This year, why not give her a more personal gift-a memorable portrait photograph?"

"Years ago, a Mother's Day portrait meant a trip to the photographer's studio," notes NYI Dean Chuck DeLaney, "Having a professional portrait made of Mom, or the entire family for that matter, is a great idea. But today's busy mother-on-the-go may not have time to schedule a professional sitting right away. Why not enjoy the satisfaction of making a professional-looking portrait of your mother right now?"

The Key Tips for Outdoor Photos

For any photograph, the first thing to decide is what is to be the subject of your photo? Is it Mom, or her back yard? It can't be both. For a Mother's Day portrait, the subject is obviously Mom, so she should be up front in the photo as you see it in your camera's viewfinder, so she will be prominently featured in the final picture.

The next question is where to place your subject. Since May weather is mild, outdoors is a good choice, but don't put her in bright sun, since that will cause her to squint. Open shade is a much better choice. With an ISO 200 or 400 speed film you'll be able to get a good exposure and Mom will be more comfortable and look better than she would out in the bright sun.

If you can make sure your camera's flash will fire, set it to do so. This is easy with most point-and-shoot models and "single use" cameras that have flash. Even though the camera may think there's enough light to take the picture without flash, putting some extra light on Mom will make sure she's shown clearly and also add a little warmth to her face. Try taking one frame with flash and one without. See which photo you prefer after you have the prints processed.

You could have Mom sit or stand for a formal portrait, but posing makes most people uncomfortable and that shows in the picture. Instead, why not have her in action doing something she likes, whether that means gardening, horseback riding or jogging? Candid photos of someone doing something are often more interesting and also show the person looking relaxed and happy rather than stiff and posed.

© NYI Student Silvio Tucci, Jr.
© NYI Student Silvio Tucci, Jr.

Indoor Photos

If the weather requires that you make your portrait indoors, you can use flash and pose Mom in one of her favorite spots, be it her favorite reading chair, the piano or the kitchen. Most people don't know what to do with their hands when it comes time to have a photograph made, so give her something to do. Try to find an activity that causes her to use her hands, because this will relax her head and shoulders as well.

Another approach is to photograph Mom with other family members. If it's a group, make sure they're posed naturally, not lined up like a row of soldiers. Have everybody get close together, since the camera tends to exaggerate the space between people. Show the relationship between the family members-they can all look at the camera, or have everyone look at Mom, or find another way for them to interact with one another. One thing Mom can do with her hands is to wrap her arms around the kids!

Let's look at a few exciting photographs that show Mothers as we see them:


© NYI Student Polly Waites
© NYI Student Polly Waites


Here's a Mother's Day photo with a twist:
Mom being tended to by her daughter. The relationship between the two is stressed by their eye contact and the activity. The photographer, by the way, is the proud mother and grandmother of the subjects!



© NYI Student Kenn Martling
©NYI Student Kenn Martling




Here's a grab-shot that shows real intimacy between a mother and her young son. These two look so involved staring at the clouds that we would suggest that the photographer get the two of them to move to a spot where the road behind them and the towels they're reclining on could be taken out of the photograph. Sometimes, after making a candid photo of this sort, it can be worth your while to try to make a posed version of the same subject where you, the photographer, have a chance to exercise more control.


© NYI Student Michael Fuh Ngaling
© NYI Student Michael Fuh Ngaling



This photo of a proud Mom and her slightly suspicious son won First Prize in an NYI "Kids with Parents" contest a while back. Wouldn't any grandparent be proud to have a framed version of this photo in the living room?



© NYI Student Michael Fuh Ngaling
©NYI Student Michael Fuh Ngaling



Here's a photo of Mom with her baby that makes us smile. While we might have preferred an angle that cropped out some of the busy background, the expressions make the photo work.




© NYI Student Andrea Jeanne Petersen
© NYI Student Andrea Jeanne Petersen



This photo captures three generations - the woman in the wedding portrait on the table is the mother of the woman on the right. You can certainly work someone who isn't present into your picture by using a photograph of that person.



Photo of grandparentsJust because it's Mother's Day, don't hesitate to take a photo of Grandma and Grandpa together. It's a photo the whole family will treasure.

If you photograph several different situations, you're certain to come up with the winner. Enlargements will make great presents for all family members, so plan to make the effort to have prints made in a size that will be suitable for framing. Your local photo shop or gift store probably has a great collection different types of frames, and we guarantee that a framed print will certainly be treasured by the person we honor on this special day – Mother.

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