Looking for real emotion
Along with Annie Leibovitz, whose studio gave Loomis her first big pregnancy photography referral ― and who caused a stir with a photo of Demi Moore naked and pregnant on the cover of Vanity Fair ― Loomis was one of the first maternity photographers out there. When she was starting out, Loomis says, "No one believed I could do this. And I thought maybe they were right." So instead of setting out to be the next Annie Leibovitz, Loomis pursued a master's degree in photojournalism at the University of Missouri. As part of the program, she documented Japan's elderly population as well as HIV and prostitution in Africa.
"I think I'm the only maternity photographer with a degree in photojournalism and fine arts." And that, in a nutshell, is what sets her apart. "My biggest criticism of pregnancy photography is that it doesn't feel real to me," she says. "What I'm looking for is real emotion, and photojournalism teaches you that."
Identifying the kind of real emotion that makes a great photo takes patience ― and compassion, Loomis says. "When you're working in Japan, emotions are so far beneath the surface that you have to hunt for the real moment. Seeing a grandfather hug his grandson is a real moment."
In pregnancy photography, the challenge is even greater because, except when a woman's partner is involved in the shoot, there's no hug, no interaction to add drama to the photo. It's just the woman, standing in front of the camera, often only partially clad, feeling more exposed and vulnerable than ever before.
But Loomis puts women at ease. She plays music and talks and laughs and asks questions: "How do you stand? How do you hold your hands?" If a woman's partner takes part, Loomis tries to elicit natural interactions: "How do you hold her? How do you love her?"