Being a female boudoir photographer for many years, I may take some things for granted with my clients. There is not a shoot where a client doesn't ask me to assist in attaching a garter belt to her stockings. So, I am literally kneeing on the floor, with a woman's bum close to my face. We laugh the whole time, but in all seriousness, I sat back and wondered one day if I were a man, would this be any different?
I turned to my good friend and boudoir photographer, Shawn Black, of Couture Black, to give me some input on being a man in a typically woman-dominated genre. (I said typically; don't go off the deep end with comments there!)
He wrote that in the boudoir business, a man is perceived one of three ways.
- By a male that is not a boudoir photographer and always begins with the question: “Oh, do you need an assistant?” They don’t think we work and all we do is shoot half-naked women all the time.
- By women who either don’t know much about myself or my brand as a whole and react with “Oh I could never be shot by a male photographer; that is just weird."
- And the last (best) group is by my clients who absolutely love my work and are the biggest evangelists of myself and my brand.
As a female photographer, we get a lot of "can I be your assistant?" By the way, a little tip for anyone who is a habitual offender of this: it is not original, so please stop asking. However, I did realize that I never had to worry about a woman not wanting to shoot with me simply because of my gender. It was not something I thought of before.
He noted that it was difficult to overcome some of the obstacles presented to a male photographer in a female-dominated industry. Shawn was a well-established wedding photographer prior to being a boudoir shooter, whose brides were more than happy to help when it came time to build his portfolio. Starting off in the wedding industry has given him a great level of respect from his already booked clientele. The trust they put into him for their big day does not fade away and allows them to work together on a boudoir session.
Without starting from my wedding business, I cannot begin to fathom that initial hurdle of building a brand from scratch. Initially, this was the focus of my business, but once I shot my first non-bridal client, my focus and perspective changed as I had my eyes opened to the greater world of female body confidence issues. These non-bridal session were for the women themselves, whereas my bridal clients focus was on creating beautiful images to be given as a gift. Not dealing with many of these issues myself as a man, it was eye-opening and made me really start to delve into how to create an experience that leaves each woman with a different view of herself. So, I find myself doing a lot more research and asking more questions so I am sensitive to their concerns about their body.
Some of the other challenges that he faces is the need for more staff. He felt that even if he could do hair and makeup, which he cannot, he would still need female assistants in the room purely to cover himself against any possible legal situations. He admits that as his business grows and the brand's reputation has spread, it has become easier with far fewer obstacles than he had in the past. There will always be hindrances as a male that cannot be directly overcome.
The ability to attend women-only networking groups whose memberships very often are comprised of my key demographic I can only tap into by sending members of my glam team, who are awesome, but can’t speak to the work with the passion that I have for it.
Success Rate Is Not Gender Specific
I did some digging and research to see what the consensus was on the idea of a male boudoir photographer's success rate over (or under) his female competition. It was noted in several outlets that some women actually prefer a male over a female photographer for one reason: a male can shoot edgier sessions. What was a photographer's perspective compared to the client's? I was intrigued to know how Shawn felt about this statement.
A little of it may be the male/female aspect, but I feel that is more of the individual photographer's style. I've seen many female photographers shoot edgier and more provocative images and males whose entire portfolios are soft and airy.
However, my hypothesis held true on the success rate depending on gender. It was irrelevant. If the photographer is professional, respectful, and can put out images that cause a client to change her tune about her body image (for the positive), then the gender behind the camera loses its value. The artist's work is not diminished in value simply because of their gender.
Easing the Comfort Zone
Ultimately, the majority of clientele are nervous shooting a boudoir session for the first time. They are doing something outside of their comfort zone and sometimes baring it all in front of the camera, regardless of who is behind it, female or male. As the session progresses, those nerves fade away. They let go of who is behind the camera and focus on how amazing they feel in front of it.
By the time they see their images at the reveal, they are your biggest supporter, and that is because you are not a female photographer, not a male photographer, but a professional photographer that created beautiful images they are proud of and showed them exactly what they never thought they could look like.
All images used with permission of Shawn Black.