Fatherhood, Photography and Perfecting Maternity Shoots with Andile Mthembu

Fatherhood, Photography and Perfecting Maternity Shoots with Andile Mthembu

Award-winning photographer, Andile Mthembu, is one of South Africa’s most esteemed commercial photographers. His work with Nhlanhla Mthembu (no relation) as Batswadi’s cover star, beautifully encapsulates the celestial connection between mother and child with a simple, naturalistic setting and a brilliant, white backdrop.

Nhlanha Mthembu shot by Andile

Like his work with Nhlanhla, many of his photos are vivid and striking. His luxurious use of colour and ability to glamorously and evocatively capture black skin has landed his work on the pages of True Love and Bona Magazine and has had him working with celebrities such as  Nomzamo Mbatha, Nandi Madida, and Khuli Chana, to name but a few. His client list, which is more than what we can include here, is testament to the trust and reputation he’s built in the fashion and entertainment industry.

Nandi Madida shot by Andile Mthembu ; Andile Mthembu, Instagram

To better understand the man behind the lens, we decided to chat with Andile about his creative process, his favourite celebrity clients, his life as a father to a four year old girl, and tips for parents undertaking DIY and professional maternity/pregnancy photoshoots. ;

How do you know you’ve succeeded with a photoshoot?

There’s a feeling you get when  you know you’ve hit a sweet spot. It’s like throwing a javelin. When an athlete throws a javelin and they release, you can almost see when they know they’ve succeeded. There’s this sound they make when they’ve gotten it right. When you’re shooting, and you click, it’s the same. There’s a feeling and only you know. It’s hard to describe.

What do you wish clients knew about being a photographer?

The photography process doesn’t end on set. It’s like an Iceberg. The smallest part of an iceberg is visible in the same way that taking the photos is visible, but most of the work is below the surface as in post-production. Editing takes up a lot of time and I hope clients can take that into account when they’re working with a photographer.

What’s running through your mind while you’re taking pictures behind the lens?

I’m thinking about the framing of my subject and imagining the end product; what it’s gonna look like. I’m also thinking about if it’s lit properly and if it’s gonna come out the way I envision it. There’s a lot of  detailing that goes on in my head, small things that might need correcting. I try by all means to make sure that when I execute it, everything is perfect in order to minimize  working on post-production as much as possible. You want the work to look as authentic as possible.

Damilola Okunola shot by Andile Mthembu; Andile Mthembu, Instagram

Do you have a celebrity that you really enjoyed capturing? 

The person that comes to mind right now is Nandi (Madida). We really get each other’s ideas. We started working together because she liked my photography and I understood what she was trying to do with her images. She’s a great director. Most of the shoots that I have with her she comes up with most of the ideas and she’s very straightforward. We work really well together. She’s one of my favourites.

How do you approach models of maternity and pregnancy shoots as opposed to fashion models?

Pregnancy and maternity shoots are more personal. When you’re dealing with a fashion model, he/she needs more direction and in maternity shoots, the individual needs more sensitivity because they’re probably dealing with a host of different pregnancy symptoms you can’t even begin to imagine, including maybe insecurities about their body. It’s also about their life, their child, and their family. They’re not selling clothes, they’re making memories and you have to take that into account to capture the right ambiance.

What are the best poses for a maternity shoot?

There isn’t just one right pose. People can be very sensitive about their looks so they need to find their own angles sometimes. What works for one person won’t work for the other. The go-to pose is oftentimes a side angle, obviously to show off the belly, but some people may not enjoy their side angle. You need to find a way of showing the bump that’s comfortable for that person. When newborns are involved in a shoot it’s about the interaction between the mother and child. With Nhlanhla, she had her baby breastfeeding. It showed their bond but it also gave her a look of being empowered.

Do you have any tips for parents who want to have DIY maternity/ pregnancy photoshoots at home?

Try to keep things simple. When you over accessorize, it can almost seem as if you’re hiding something. Simplicity does the trick sometimes. There’s a lot of things that you can use in your house as a backdrop. Find a good corner. If you have nice curtains, blinds or a nice solid wall with nice lighting on it. Try to avoid busy backgrounds that draw attention away from the family or individual. If it’s busy, try and make sure you aren’t too busy (for instance, try to avoid dressing in excessively printed clothing) or else sometimes you just disappear into the background.

For Nhlanhla’s shoot, I asked her for white sheets. There was perfect natural lighting and I knew that it was gonna contrast quite nicely. We rolled out icansi (reed mat) and gathered some logs and tree trunks around her yard. We had everything there. Use what you have and make it simple.

” Try to avoid busy backgrounds that draw attention away from the family or individual,” says Andile on DIY photoshoots. Image: fashion editorial shot by Andile Mthembu for True Love

Do you have any advice for parents who want to have maternity / pregnancy photoshoots with you? 

You can prepare yourself by going on sites like Pinterest to gain some inspiration and get cool ideas. If you do that you have a better idea of what you want and it’ll help me give you what you want as well. It’s also a good idea to practice your poses in the mirror so that when you come on set, you’ll have more confidence and be able to handle your body better. Try and be vocal about what you want and don’t want. Preparation halves the workload in a photoshoot.

What has being a father taught you?

Fatherhood has taught me so much patience. Kids can push buttons that you never knew you had. They can bring up emotions and feelings that you thought never existed before. And you have to take time to learn about those emotions and feelings. It’s challenging because you have to learn and explore so much about yourself, but it’s worth it because you grow and become a better person. 

Andile’s adorable daughter posted on Instagram. Andile Mthembu, Instagram.

What do you enjoy the most about being a father?

I enjoy everything about her and every experience with her. From getting up in the morning, getting ready for school, the silly questions she asks me and how honest she is. I even enjoy going shopping for her clothes. I enjoy everything.

Connect with Andile below:

Website: https://andilemthembu.com/

Instagram: @andilemthembu

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