Midwife-turned-award-winning-photographer empowers her subjects

Interview with Tianna Williams
Nikon Z6 II + Nikkor Z 70-200mm f/2.8 (1/160 sec, f/5.0, ISO100) (Image credit: Tianna J Williams)

Multi-award-winning maternity, boudoir, beauty, and newborn baby photographer, Tianna J Williams, creates absolutely stunning portraits of her subjects while aiming to empower women and couples at the most delicate time of their lives, as they prepare to bring new life into the world. 

A Nikon Creator, freelance photographer, educator, and mother of two, there's nothing that Tianna can't achieve – and this is proven in her dedication to both her work and her clients. 

• Tianna uses some of the best Nikon portrait lenses to capture her work

Midwifery and maternity photography in my opinion should encompass very similar elements: empowerment, encouragement and support. Midwifery translates to "with woman" and I treat the sessions the same.

Tianna Williams

Using her previous background as a highly trained and registered midwife, Tianna knows exactly how to get the most out of a maternity and newborn photo session. With a studio based in the Jewellery Quarter in central Birmingham, England, Tianna has regular clients but has also been internationally recognized for her work.

Tianna kindly agreed to have a chat with us about all things Nikon and what it's like to work with pregnant ladies and their newborns, and it's clear that empowering women and making them feel beautiful is at the forefront of her many talents. We asked Tianna:

How did you initially find your unique style and hone your craft to what it is now?

Finding my style was difficult at first! I really wanted to do everything I saw, and that included fine art as well as renaissance styles, but I fell in love with a really modern and contemporary look. What I wanted to also do was empower women through their cultures and so including that was very humbling to be a part of. 

My style is inspired by fashion, bold colors, culture, and identity. I put time into looking at more of what I wanted my work to look like. Practice, trial and error, and not being afraid to get it wrong (that is still scary at times!), and training too. 

Do you have a different gear setup for when shooting maternity / newborn / boudoir sessions?

I use a Nikon Nikkkor Z 35mm f/1.8 for my newborn work as it gives me a wider field of view, yet I can keep my hands in the frame for safety, which is absolutely paramount. 

Aside from newborn sessions, I use my Nikon Z 50mm f/1.2 and Nikon Z 70-200 f/2.8 lenses, they are the perfect combination for my maternity and boudoir portraits. I am very excited to be the very proud owner of Nikon's newly announced Nikkor 85mm f/1.2 lens, which I have to say is absolutely incredible. 

Nikon Z6 II + Nikkor Z 70-200mm f/2.8 (1/200 sec, f/5.0, ISO100) (Image credit: Tianna J Williams)

How long have you been shooting with Nikon gear?

Since I got my camera in around 2015, I wanted to just take photos – but at the beginning of my professional photography career in 2017, I fell in love with my Nikon gear and have been a Nikon user ever since. 

Being a Nikon Creator is incredible, because being hand-picked by a team from a huge international brand is a truly wonderful feeling. What I love about Nikon is it puts its Creators and Ambassadors at the forefront of everything it does, from hosting incredible events full of creativity and networking to international opportunities at the Stockholm Film Festival. 

Do you feel that your background in Midwifery has contributed to how you engage with your maternity subjects and impacted the beautiful work that you create?

I absolutely believe my midwifery background gives me a USP [unique selling point] and has contributed positively to how I work with my pregnant clients. I treat them similarly to a clinical relationship, where they are still the most important person in the room and that I am there to make their experience wonderful. 

Midwifery and maternity photography in my opinion should encompass very similar elements: empowerment, encouragement and support. Midwifery translates to "with woman" and I treat the sessions the same. 

Nikon Z6 II + Nikkor Z 70-200mm f/2.8 (1/200 sec, f/4.5, ISO100) (Image credit: Tianna J Williams)

How important do you feel it is to document the process of pregnancy for women and couples to reflect on?

I believe it is super important to document this incredible time for a number of reasons. It has been a very long journey for some parents and so for them, each moment is very special to them. It might be a first baby or last, first photoshoot ever or a combination of such and we have to think that each pregnancy is unique and only happens once per baby. 

Looking back on those memories brings about so much emotion and such a talking point for mothers and couples to talk about how much they were loved even before they were born. It also makes women feel incredible, beautiful, powerful. That can be so difficult for some during a pregnancy due to the changes and hormones that exist.

Have you ever tried shooting on location as opposed to a studio environment?

I have done once, with a maternity session! The biggest challenge was changing outfits but she [the model] was pretty happy to do so outside, ha! The one thing for me is the temperature. Aside from the summer, it can be quite cold in the UK and I wouldn't personally do a newborn session outside any other time of year. 

How far along do you recommend that mothers should be when preparing for a portrait session?

I always recommend any time between 28 and 34 weeks, with most women attending in around 30-32 weeks of pregnancy. At this point, most are still fairly energetic and able to do most of the poses they want to achieve. 

Later in pregnancy or if there are pregnancy concerns, I have found women are tired, struggle a little more with aches and pelvic pain (which can actually cause problems as early as 20 weeks into their pregnancy, due to hormonal changes, to allow for a growing uterus and baby). However, sessions are about two hours long and by the end, most are absolutely exhausted!

Similarly, is there a recommended or ‘best’ age for photographing newborns?

- (We’ve heard that they are much easier to pose and position into baskets and such during the earlier weeks of life).

They are absolutely easier to photograph in the earlier days and weeks. Sleepier, too! My recommendation is under 16 days or 21-28 days of age. The later age can be challenging, too, with growth spurts and alertness. 

With your boudoir and beauty photography, how would you advise putting your subjects at ease if they’re feeling a little nervous or body-conscious?

Spend time with them before the session, meet with them beforehand if you can. Talk openly about any concerns they have and support them and share ways to minimize areas they want less attention drawn to. 

They need the reassurance of safety and privacy, so I think that enabling them to see and feel that way before the shoot makes a productive session. 

You have plenty of amazing expert classes and workshops on offer for photographers, what is the one thing that you hope photographers really take away from your sessions?

Thank you! One thing I hope they take away is that while being technical has clear advantages, I go with the feel and what I see. Most importantly, connection with the subject is fundamental. 

I hope that photographers really see that their is value in working with the clients to achieve the results they want. Finally, how simple it can truly be and is for me and my clients. 

Nikon Z6 II + Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.2 (1/200 sec, f/4.0, ISO100) (Image credit: Tianna J Williams)

Lastly, are there any specific things that newcomers to maternity and newborn photography should be aware or cautious of?

Safety is a priority. You must have insurance, in any case, but have a good awareness of some conditions that maternity and newborn clients may have, which will direct the session. You must know when to 'call it' if you have a mother or baby who seems to be unwell, or you aren't sure what it is but have a gut feeling. 

While we are not there to diagnose, though sometimes I have a vague idea of what something could potentially be, it is really important to have an awareness and to recommend that they seek professional / clinical advice at their earliest opportunity. Health comes first, always before photographs.

We can't thank Tianna enough for taking the time to talk with us in light of International Women's Day. Be sure to take a look at her remarkable website and portfolio for some top-tier examples of maternity portraiture, and you can also book in with her for some new photographer headshots too!

Tianna offers a range of training and workshop sessions solely for photographers, and you can catch her hosting multiple masterclasses at the Societies of Photographers Convention in London on March 15 and 16.

Nikon Z6 II + Nikkor Z 70-200mm f/2.8 (1/200 sec, f/5.6, ISO100) (Image credit: Tianna J Williams)

You may also be interested in the best cameras for portraits, as well as the best lenses for portraits, and not forgetting the best Nikon Z lenses and the best Nikon flashguns to enhance your current setup. 

Take a look at these newborn baby photography tips, and learn from my mistakes during that time I did my very first newborn baby photo shoot, and it didn't exactly go to plan.

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Beth Nicholls
Staff Writer

A staff writer for Digital Camera World, Beth has an extensive background in various elements of technology with five years of experience working as a tester and sales assistant for CeX. After completing a degree in Music Journalism, followed by obtaining a Master's degree in Photography awarded by the University of Brighton, she spends her time outside of DCW as a freelance photographer specialising in live music events and band press shots under the alias 'bethshootsbands'.