The clients that book a boudoir session are not relegated to one particular personality or body type. This creates quite the challenge for the boudoir photographer. The key is to start slow, chat up front, and choose a relatively tame and easy first setup in order to gauge your client’s personality and exhibitionist threshold.
Most photographers have a very strict time limit. After all, time is money. However, in boudoir, rushing a client through a session can result in an uncomfortable, and worse, unproductive session. So in order provide a positive experience, harvest some beautiful work, and garner that most coveted word-of-mouth business, I advise setting aside 2-3 hours so that neither of you feel rushed. It will be rewarding for both of you as you stretch your creativity and create an enjoyable and relaxing environment.
The first step I generally take is to go through the wardrobe the client brought with her. The wardrobe will tell you quite a bit about your client’s style and even bravery level. Are there a lot of soft pastels and modest sets? Does she have wicked heels, boots, and a plethora of black lingerie? Whatever she has, this will be her comfort zone.
As I go through and “shop” through her belongings, I start to put together outfits and mentally decide which setups these outfits best belong. I also go through my own stash and supplement with accessories such as fans, boas, gloves, jewelry, masks and other props. Once we have decided on 4-5 outfits, I send the client to change into the first outfit which, based on our casual chat, feels the most comfortable for her.
I shoot all boudoir sessions in my home, mostly because I have the privilege of living in the country and having several rooms for optimal light and staging. It allows maximum privacy, and houses bins of lingerie, accessories, and shoes that are not easily transported. I also have special pieces of furniture dedicated for boudoir, both indoor and out.
The first set-up usually portrays a nervous client. And the most surprising aspect I have learned? Regardless of age or body shape, every woman has insecurities. I have been told about “bad sides”, body issues, and strictly forbidden position instructions from a variety of women. My goal is to start with the basic poses, generally the ones meant to hide whichever insecurity has been highlighted to me. The bottom line is that all women have a beautiful side and it is your job as a photographer to do the best to emphasize it. Some positions will work, and some won’t. If one appears to be an epic fail, it is your fault, not hers. Take the picture and move on, knowing you won’t use it later.
As you work with the client and change up the wardrobe, make sure you are not just taking pictures. Part of your job is to establish a rapport with your client. Some of the poses can feel pretty silly to the client, and it is okay to laugh about it with her. Making an “O” face on command while hugging a stucco wall can seem ridiculous! Often, it leads to the client exaggerating the pose and that can produce some stunning results.
Laughter is an amazingly effective way to push your client out of her comfort zone. By costume change 3 or 4, I hand her a lingerie combination that is opposite of her preference. This is often met with murmurs of protest and some doubtful expressions, but honestly, many of these have become my absolute favorites in post-processing. Hence the appeal of Halloween and cosplay—people want to step out of their daily role and personality once in a while. After all, the women haven’t changed from their childhood role of playing dress-up—just the costumes have.
Finding The Line:
Every woman has her line. It’s invisible and not articulated, so watch her reactions and know where to stop so as not to turn a positive experience into something awkward. This is about what she wants, and if you want unlimited creativity, hire a model. The client’s needs always comes first.
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