DISCLAIMER: THIS POST CONTAINS WOMENS’ BARE BODIES
Ever been in your underwear on a rooftop in the rain?
But seriously. This day/night/next morning was something I think most photographers dream of. Shooting all day, drinking wine and whiskey with your friends, so many laughs and cheers, dancing while waiting for our delivery pizza, and then shooting all the next morning in a glorious AirBnb.
I’ll link our AirBnb here so you can see and go stay there. Shout out to Nancy, our host, who completed the experience with chocolate on the pillows, and fresh cookies from Mary’s Mountain Cookies (it’s like she just knew).
Click here to get $55 toward your next stay!
This blog post is all about the women who made this day possible - all 8 of them.
I share with you their excerpts from the day, their favorite photos, and my words to them.
Then, I offer my advice for photographers who are thinking about doing a boudoir shoot and what to focus on.
As well as why YOU - the client - should book a boudoir session.
Lastly I link a short list of photographers and accounts that have inspired me and keep me going when I feel inadequate.
So strap in! Here we go…
The morning of, I woke up - tired from barely sleeping the night before because I was so excited - to a rainy and gloomy day. I told myself after I had a mini freak-out, that we’d have plenty of light and all will be well.
And boy, was it. I got to the apartment early to set everything up and to snoop around. I turned on the vintage radio and danced around to some oldies (and shhh don’t tell Nancy but I jumped on the bed). Then, I drank some wine and waited for the ladies to arrive.
But before we go there, let’s talk about what Boudoir photography is all about and why I chose to do this in the first place…
Boudoir literally translated means: a woman’s bedroom or private room. In photography, it’s so much more than that and so much more than girls half-naked in lingerie. For boudoir photographers (not speaking for all of them but at least for me) boudoir is a chance to take portraiture to the next level.
For me, boudoir is all about the WOMAN I am shooting - not just her body in a gorgeous body suit.
I love boudoir photography because it displays the woman in her truest form.
It is raw, honest, soft, and freaking powerful. I have never seen a boudoir photograph of a woman that didn’t invoke power and confidence. That’s what I wanted to find. That’s what I wanted to bring out in these women. Above just getting everyone together outside of work, I wanted to give them an experience, complete with a getaway from regular life. For me, boudoir is all about the WOMAN I am shooting - not just her body in a gorgeous body suit. The act of being vulnerable in front of the camera is a beautiful thing.
My past experience in boudoir was pretty amateur…
As in, it consisted of a friend of mine and I getting a polaroid and some twinkle lights and wrapping ourselves with them so tight we almost choked ourselves. Albeit this was in college, post horrible break-up, and smack dab in the middle of my studying procrastination. Laugh all you want, but it was still so empowering! I can’t tell you how fun it was to direct Katie and put her in positions I thought might look good (yes, ones I had seen on Pinterest). It was also fun getting told how to pose, doing it, hearing the shutter and then hearing Katie go “Oh my gosh that looks SO GOOD!!”
As the polaroids began to develop, I couldn’t help but be a little awestruck. “I actually look like that? Wait, what?!” My hair looked really wavy, my underwear complemented my skin tone, and I was hooked. “Let’s take more! Do you have any more rolls???”
It was a day I remember vividly and it was a memory I brought with me at the Wilma with eight other ladies.
Here’s one from that day, scanned, sealed, delivered.
The photos that I took last Sunday, they weren’t for anyone. They weren’t for this blog post. They weren’t even for me. They were for THEM. They were/are for the women I captured. In fact, half of the women didn’t even have significant others at the time of the shoot. As Cathryn so eloquently put it:
“[the shoot] wasn’t necessarily about sexuality or doing something for a man (or any sexual partner for that matter). It was about feeling good in our own skin and recognizing our own and each other’s beauty as women, NOT sex objects”
For this blog post,
I wanted to feature each woman’s favorite couple (or five) photographs in addition to a blurb THEY WROTE about their experience that day. I am not including these photos or blurbs to brag or to show off. I am including these to not only showcase these beautiful women, but also to encourage each and every person who’s afraid of being in front of the camera, especially for any boudoir photoshoot, and show them that they are 🔥
So without further ado…
“Where do I even begin. For those of us who don’t spend much time in front of the camera or are even comfortable with the concept, this day captured a very different essence, because that feeling melted away in the presence of Mary and wonderful women alike. After this experience, it’s really resonated with me that every woman is so powerful in their unique skin and undoubtedly beautiful, regardless if we fail to see ourselves that way. This boudoir session was not only loads of fun, but empowering, captured with such talent by the amazing woman behind the lens. Mary turns nerves into grace and doubt into mindful progress involving self love. Boudoir is sexy and powerful!”
“I approached the day of the boudoir shoot with apprehension. Don’t get me wrong, I love this style of photography and I celebrate the beauty of the human body, especially the female form. But rarely is the form that I celebrate my own. And never have I felt comfortable amongst a group of beautiful women who were so exposed. Because of Mary, this day changed all of that for me.
As a gay woman, achieving self-affirmation of my sexuality and being in tune with myself to display confidence in my physical form, especially in front of other women - these aspects are only just starting to fall into place for me. Mary created an atmosphere that broke down all of these worries and made room for us to build each other up with support, love, compassion, and understanding. We all arrived in that space carrying the weight of differing insecurities, but we took a deep breath, accepted ourselves, accepted each other, and let our vulnerable, strong, and beautiful individualities be captured on camera by a woman who is so damn talented that the images she captures transcend photography. The way Mary photographs encapsulates the essence of a moment - its energy, emotion, intent. It’s breathtaking.————
BRB sorry - crying writing this…no big deal. Ahem. Just carry on.
———I left this day feeling empowered, seen and accepted. So, to Mary and all those gorgeous gals: Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.”
But seriously these women. I’m speechless.
The main thing I wanted these women to take away from this day - what I envisioned in my head - was experience over product. I feel like so often, especially in art forms like photography, the product is the only thing that the client is looking forward to. If they can get through the session itself, pay the money, and engage in enough small talk, they can get to that email from their photographer that says “Your photos are ready!”
This day was the opposite of that. While I admit, I was ecstatic to see the some 9,000 photos I took during those 24 hours, I knew I left that day with more memories than tangible photographs. There was no rush, nothing was forced, they brought their own lingerie, t-shirts, bodysuits, make-up, and booty shorts.
In general, I try to demonstrate this with every shoot, as many other photographers do as well. Getting to know your client, family, couple, etc. is more important than getting through the photoshoot itself. As a photographer, you are a memory-capturer, a story-teller, a part of their emotions. You aren’t there to just snap some pics and treat yourself to a beer after. You are there to preserve something lasting and special that nobody else gets to see. This is especially true with boudoir photography.
“EVERYONE SHOULD DO A BOUDOIR PHOTOSHOOT! I, like everyone, have insecurities and always focus on what could be better or what I don’t like about my body, but after getting together with this amazing group of women and listening to their own stories and insecurities (which in my mind seemed outrageous), it made me question if my own insecurities were a little silly.
Being the newest to this group of girls, I was a little intimidated to just show up and hang out in lingerie, but the amount of acceptance and encouragement I received within five minutes of being there erased any doubt. Mary was absolutely amazing at capturing the natural beauty of each and every girl there while also keeping the environment very chill and relaxing.
I personally have never felt overly sexy or confident in my own body but seeing the photographs that came out of this girl’s night changed that. I had no idea I could look like that! I felt absolutely beautiful and confident! Almost everyday I look at these photos and am shocked at how beautiful they are. As I said at the beginning, I think everyone should have a photography session dedicated just to capturing their natural beauty because everyone has it but sometimes it takes photographic evidence to make us believe it!”
“This day was so much fun! I think this was outside of everyone’s comfort zones but having a group of beautiful women, no judgement, and a little wine and whiskey made it all work beautifully. One thing I loved about the day was everyone talking about their insecurities, which are bound to come up when getting a little nakey and taking pictures. The reason I loved this is because everyone’s insecurities seemed ludicrous. These women are all drop-dead gorgeous and perfect. It makes you question the validity of your own insecurities. Maybe they are just as crazy to the rest of the world.
The second thing I really loved about this day was seeing Mary take the photos. It is always amazing to see someone doing what they are passionate about and you can see the passion and joy in Mary’s face when she’s photographing. Her passion is capturing the subtle beauty in others and in the world and that is important!”
“I never thought I would be one to pose in front of a camera in lingerie, let alone fully nude.
Like any other person in the world, I am full of insecurities about myself and my body.———
Are we noticing a theme here? EVERYONE HAS THOSE THAT SHAN’T BE NAMED. But to everyone else, you’re a boss a** b****. So. Anyway.
——When I stepped into the apartment where we had the shoot, I was feeling as if my life was, frankly, in shambles. I was fresh out of a horribly painful and messy breakup, my dog was having serious health issues and among other things, my mental health was at a record low point.
I checked it all at the door. As I walked in, my friends (proud to call them friends and not just “coworkers”) celebrated my mere arrival. As we all undressed, helped each other with hair and makeup, drank wine and whiskey, gossiped and enjoyed the beautiful space, my problems seems smaller and farther away.
Mary, who joined us in her skivvies,————
It’s true I did. Now before you go and say “Oh garsh how unprofessional!” These girls are all my close friends. Also I was sweating my butt off photographing these ladies. I guess you just had to be there…
——has been a friend for over a year and taken photos of me on several occasions. However, this time, I could feel her passion and excitement absolutely filling the room, and we all fed off of it.
When I stepped in front of the camera, my insecurities began to creep in on me. ‘I don’t know what to do with my body,’ I remember saying. But then, every woman in that room, some of whom I hadn’t known very well before this, began cheering me on. They made me feel beautiful and confident in a way that nobody has ever done for me. They watched as the photos of me flashed on the computer screen and showered me with love.
Empowered does not come close to doing justice to how I felt walking away from this experience. I feel more confident in my own skin everyday thanks to this experience. I feel my strength, femininity, and one of a kind beauty because I stepped out of my comfort zone.
I don’t pretend to be perfect and my insecurities still nag me, but I look back at these photos and the voices of self-doubt, self-consciousness, and inhibition seem much quieter.
Thank you, Mary, for this gift.”
Yep, there I go again. Goosebumps.
Those of you who are still with us, congrats. This post is long because the day was long. But like the day, this post is also filled to the brim with importance and extreme value.
As I, and some others, go into finals week with bags under our eyes and brains that feel like mush, let us remember that we are the most beautiful creatures on the entire planet.
Each. And. Every. One. Of. Us.
As the photographer that was fortunate enough as to watch all of this unfold, let me just say how thankful I am to each and every one of these women who came - some of which didn’t even want to have their picture taken but later did - and participated so willingly in this day.
It means the world to me, you have no idea.
This day was a dream come true for me and this feedback brings me to tears. Being the catalyst to such an incredible event and moving experience is indescribable.
I will carry it with me for the rest of my life.
“The day of the shoot was amazing. I was very nervous at first but it ended up being so much fun. I felt like I was at a slumber party. Mary also looked so happy taking all of the photos and I felt very powerful and beautiful in my own skin.”
“Some words that come to mind when I think of our boudoir shoot are: terrifying, encouraging, incredible, and empowering. Leading up to the shoot I was terrified of not just others seeing me so naked and vulnerable, but also seeing myself in that light. It’s cliche to say, but ‘I am my harshest critic’. After I arrived, I had a glass of wine, got into my lingerie, and started posing. OH MY GOODNESS, did my fear melt away. The other girls were around cheering me on and it felt so incredible.
After Mary sent me my photos I could not stop going through them! I couldn’t believe that she made me look so good. It was very empowering to have the photos for no one but my damn self. It was so empowering to have these beautiful and vulnerable photos just for me.
This shoot made me realize how much self-confidence I should have. I should love the dent in the side of my leg and my disproportionate body. I am beautiful in my own skin. I am a beautiful, awkward, intelligent, powerful, sexy, and strong woman!
It’s hard to put what the shoot meant to me into words.”
Hannah, who is swamped with finals will hopefully send me her excerpt from the day, but for now, I’ll write about her and show you my favorites.
Hannah killed it. I don’t see her much anymore but I have to say, she owned her body and she was incredibly adventurous with poses and had a lot of ideas for herself - a photographer’s dream. One of these included using the couch, throwing the pillow around, and dumping half a gallon of milk on her head and making it (somehow) look so sexy. Her tattoos only accentuated her beautiful features. I was blown away. She made us laugh, kept the energy up when my hand started to cramp from the shutter, and was a gorgeous addition to the day.
Thank you darling!
Boudoir and portrait photography is intimate, important, and vulnerable. It’s hard to not create the subject in accordance with what YOU as the photographer imagine (i.e; retouching up the wazzoo, smoothing, skin tone correction, photoshop, etc.). The best thing about boudoir is the intention in keeping it real while getting under the skin of your subject.
Have no idea what I’m talking about?
Here are my tips for photographers:
Not a photographer? Scroll down!
Top 5 tips for boudoir sessions - for photographers
Get to know your client
This one is vital. You won’t be able to truly capture the beauty of your subject if you’ve never had a conversation with them. Ask them what their favorite part about their body is (shout out Devin Helen Boudoir), ask what they brought to wear and why, tell them something about YOU and what you might be insecure about! Getting a drink beforehand will ease the client and make it easier for them to open up around you, therefore producing better photos!
NO FLASH PLZ 📸
If you’re trying to use a flash - even a soft box in my opinion - you’re going to get a tacky, fake look. Even if it seems way to dark in the room you’re using, fix your ISO and aperture and try try again. If they come out blurry, okay! If they come out grainy, okay! If you must, use a bounce to focus light on the face but do your best to use natural, soft light. As it got darker during our shoot the other girls would try to turn on the kitchen light to see what they were doing. But I quickly paused shooting until the light was back off. Better to be cold and dark than orange and overexposed.
snacks, wine, champagne, pizza, etc.
Look, I know for a fact your client will say “Well, I don’t want to eat and get all bloated”. But trust me, and hour in you both will be starving. So bring snacks, order pizza, drink some vino and relax.
take a time out
This one kind of goes with #3, but don’t be in such a rush that you forget to sit down and take a break. I know during this long day, I needed to stretch my back and my forearms and sit down and rest. The subject too, felt relief to collect herself and shlump on the bed for a few minutes. This made the photos that much better when we snapped back to it.
it’s not about you
It really isn’t. Photography never is, oddly. It is rarely ever about the photographer behind the lens. Yes, I know you have an editing style, I know you have a “vision”. I know you want these photos to match your insta aesthetic. But girl, IT AIN’T ABOUT YOU. Your client paid you to capture HER. Do your best to not erase or edit over her quirks and her scars and her beautiful imperfections that make her perfect. My rule is, if it’s not permanent (a pimple, chocolate stain, yellow teeth) go ahead and get your little correction brush out. If her scar on her elbow from falling on the ice skating rink when she was four is right in the foreground, if that stretch mark is just a little too discolored, if her toes are a weird shape, BACK AWAY FROM THE COMPUTER. The whole point of boudoir is to embrace who we are - every detail good or “bad”.
Okay cool, Mary, but I’m not a photographer…why should I do boudoir?
Well luckily for you I put together my
Top 5 reasons to do a boudoir session - for clients
Get out of your comfort zone
This one seems pretty self-explanatory but at the risk of sounding cliche, the worst adventures are the ones you don’t take, right? I know near-naked pictures of yourself with a stranger - or even with a friend - seems nerve-wracking and even vomit-educing for some. But it is an experience, like sky-diving, going on a roller coaster, or seeing the Eiffel Tower (okay maybe not sky-diving), that is vital and so special to receive. I believe these photos are life-changing and every client I’ve talked to after doing a boudoir session can’t recommend it enough.
Ever feeling down on yourself? Remember in Sex and the City, when Samantha gets nude photos taken and she hangs a big print of her in her entry way? Yeah, be her. It’s not crass or dirty or sinful to see yourself exposed and raw and be proud of it. Your body is exquisite and you should celebrate it. You don’t need anyone else to validate these photos or you for that matter. Have this session for yourself. To look back at on bad days - or good. To remind yourself of your immense beauty and uniqueness. That there is no one like you and there never will be again. Own it, sister 💪🏼
For your partner
Okay I lied, you can for sure take these photos as a gift to your partner. Wedding boudoir shoots are absolutely beautiful and are a fantastic way to remind your partner how hot and special you are. They don’t have to be sexual, but they can remind your partner, when you’re mid-argument, or when you feel like a pregnant whale with that baby inside you, that you and the light you own is brighter that anyone else, and that’s why they chose you. Not because of your body, but because of the beauty you emulate. The right boudoir session can help achieve that.
to embrace your sexuality - whatever that is to you
Okay, so you’re awkward, and don’t see yourself as a very sexy or sexual being. No problem. Bring your granny panties and let’s do this. No but seriously. Bring what you feel comfortable in, what you feel confident in, it doesn’t have to be a pearl thong and lace nipple pasties. This isn’t a porno. This is a representation of your powerful, beautiful self. What do you find beautiful? Is it your grandma’s earrings? Your great-aunt’s dress she passed down to you? WEAR THAT. The right photographer will bring out your beauty without you feeling awkward or stuck.
Seriously, it is so fun. For both you and the photographer. Some photographers encourage you to bring booze, snacks, a friend, a sister, or your partner. When you start to feel comfortable and you nail it, you’ll hear “Oh yeah! That’s GORGEOUS!” And when you hear that, you know you’ve got nothing to worry about. The right boudoir session should leave you feeling invincible, powerful, and incredible sexy. You’ll remember that day and those photos for the rest of your life and they have the ability to power you through some of the darkest times.
Lastly, I want to end on some inspirations and tips for other boudoir photographers. While this post and this day was client-heavy, we all know that the key to a successful session and successful photos is the PHOTOGRAPHER.
So, I’ve put together a list of fellow instagram accounts that have inspired me and made me better rather than made me feel like I wasn’t good enough:
ETC. THERE ARE SERIOUSLY SO MANY OF YOU.
Thank you to the gals who made this day possible, for inspiring me, and for giving ME the confidence as your photographer to push through the hard times. You are irreplaceable.
And thank you for reading.