Memoirs of a Male Boudoir Photographer with Scott Detweiler
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It sounds like every man’s dream job: Stand around all day shooting beautiful women in skimpy lingerie as they throw bundles of cash at you. Let me tell you firsthand that there is a tremendous amount of stress when one ventures into this alleged dream job. In this article, I cover tips, tricks and traps of boudoir, with a focus on male boudoir photographers.
Men and women have very different experiences in this field. Some clients—or their spouses—demand a female photographer, and there’s no changing their minds. But I’d say that’s about 20 percent of the market. So there are plenty of other fish in the sea, and with mad photography skills in tow, we can easily win those clients who have no predisposition toward the gender of the photographer.
Consultation Is Key
Have you ever stared at a word for so long it appeared to make no sense and lost all meaning? Many women do this in the mirror each morning. Armed with a hypercritical attitude toward their perceived imperfections and hatred of their hair, they are fully prepared to criticize every image you take. Sure, some are much better at handling this internal trauma than others, but you are walking right into this war zone.
All of our images will be judged to this standard, so we need to set ourselves up for success from the outset with a proper preconsultation. We need to get them set up and measured at a trusted lingerie shop. Improperly sized bras, panties that cut into sides and other wardrobe malfunctions can mean a loss of revenue or even entirely scrapped shoots. As a man, you can’t assist with fitting and shopping, so partner up with someone who can fit your clients and also serve as a potential source for leads.
During the preconsult, getting to know the client is critical. I chat with clients about the shoot, what prompted it, what they can expect, their body issues and, most importantly, their goals. We also discuss the order of outfits, sets and accessories so we have a solid plan and can work efficiently during the shoot.
This consultation gives the client some clear expectations, and it shows them you are a professional and not just some guy with a camera. It builds their confidence that you will deliver great images in line with their ideals or goals. The preconsultation also shows you what traps to avoid—and whether or not you should even take on the client. The preconsultation is as much for us as it is for the customer. I need to know that they have the budget, mindset and attainable goals for this to be a successful experience for all involved.
Sweeten the Experience
Beyond the sexy gift of a boudoir shoot, women seek these sessions for another reason. Perhaps there has been a recent change in marital status, or maybe they’ve reached a milestone in their life. It might be that dreaded birthday that is measured in decades; perhaps it’s a weight-loss goal, or maybe just a general need to boost self-confidence.
Whatever the reason, we need to focus on the experience itself. Many high-end wedding photographers will tell you that selling the experience is how clients choose you over the unwashed masses that own nice cameras.
Treating the lady like a queen for a day goes a long way toward creating a repeat customer. Consider things like wine and cheese while her hair and makeup are being done. Have someone there to do her nails as a perk for some of your higher-end packages. Each thing you add sweetens the experience and will pay for itself several times over.
Avoiding Traps: Focus on Business
So, what are the traps for a man in this market? Keeping your libido in check is critical to your success. It can be difficult to focus while shooting a beautiful woman. You need to learn to think of it as an artistic business. I concern myself with the comfort of the client, the variety of images, the quality of the lighting, perfect poses and the model of Rolex I will buy if she purchases all of these fantastic shots. Keep your mind focused on the business and creation of the art. You’ll tend to forget about the sensuality of the scene.
Less Is More
Ladies prefer shots that leave a lot to the imagination. This is why sexy lingerie is so titillating, even though men just want to remove it. The images clients will most likely purchase are those that flatter and tease, not those that show the world all there is to see. Cast those shadows, use solid poses, block lines of sight and use props to keep things implied and in the realm of the imagination.
Learn the difference between sexual and sensual. A sexual pose is made specifically for sexual gratification, and often shows way more than most women care to show. Sensual images portray the romance of the moment. You are selling the lingerie, pose, softness and romance. I don’t accept clients who want images that could be used in the pages of a men’s magazine. I don’t want the reputation that comes with that type of imagery, and higher-end clientele don’t want it anyway.
Keep It Clinical and Know What NOT to Say
It’s critical that you know what not to say. A female boudoir photographer can get away with tossing around terms like hot ass during a shoot. Men who use these terms come off as creeps. Choose your vocabulary with care, or you risk making your client uncomfortable.
Show her the best images you capture during the session. These sneak peeks give her confidence and make the shoot roll that much smoother. I have often been described as “clinical” because I tell the client to push her bottom up, move her chest toward the window and use simple terms like that. I tell them when the images are looking great, that they are beautiful, but I do it in a way that doesn’t sound creepy.
Don’t Work Alone
Working with anyone alone is always risky, especially given the current stories in the news. You might not have done anything wrong, but someone can fabricate a story that destroys your business and reputation. I often have hair and makeup professionals hanging around who are covertly acting as chaperones. It’s an added bonus to have female assistants who can reinforce the positives and say things that a male photographer shouldn’t say.
Shoot for Variety
Take a look at your last session and choose a random sequence of 10 photos. How many of those 10 images could be sold because of their uniqueness?
Amateurs are comfortable shooting from a single position while making slight changes to the pose. Staying in one place results in a large number of similar images and works against the maximum sales we want to achieve. If I move around, from full body to quarter body, to headshot, to close up, and then do the same sequence using different poses or parts, I end up with a ton of unique shots. I work from the broad side of the light to the short side and back again, headboard to footboard.
Don’t forget those macro shots of the eyelashes, lace, ribbons, anklets and other accoutrements. Many of these images might be weird choices for wall art, but they are ideal for background or filler shots in a book.
Don’t Retouch Much
I have a rule when retouching boudoir: I do not Liquify the body unless it’s for something I could have avoided with a better pose, like a pinch in the side because I didn’t ask her to stretch out.
I also don’t remove that often-requested stubborn 20 pounds because everyone involved knows it is there, and removal of weight can cause psychological issues. Say you decide to knock some pounds off of the client. When viewing those images, she might acknowledge she looks great, but she knows how much she weighs, and this might turn into the nightmare of, “He removed some of my fat so he must think I’m fat!” Avoid this with proper posing, props such as sheets, men’s dress shirts and long mirrors. And never light a lady like the broad side of a barn.
The type of work you shoot determines your reputation, so choose carefully. It is quite difficult to undo many of these decisions. Be sure your client’s goals are in line with yours, and everything will work out. Work that diva angle, keep your mind busy and make sure they leave the studio with their head in the clouds.
Pull this off, and chances are good that you will get calls from your client’s friends before you even deliver the first image.