St. Louis Boudoir Photographer Accused of Scamming Multiple Clients for Thousands of Dollars

St. Louis Boudoir Photographer Accused of Scamming Multiple Clients for Thousands of Dollars

A St. Louis boudoir photographer is facing accusations that she took thousands of dollars in payments from at least five clients but failed to deliver the promised photographs and products. 

Melanie Seleman, who specializes in intimate boudoir portraits, is alleged to have "ghosted" multiple women who paid upwards of $2,500 each for professional photoshoots and albums. Several clients say they received no images at all despite waiting months past expected delivery dates.

Boudoir photography has grown in popularity in recent years as a way for women and men to celebrate their bodies and reclaim confidence. Sessions with Seleman typically cost thousands of dollars and last several hours, including hair, makeup, wardrobe changes, and posing.

But women who booked appointments with Seleman's downtown studio claim their initially uplifting experience soured quickly after the shoots ended. Phone calls, emails, and social media messages went unreturned as weeks turned into months with no sign of their purchased digital images or physical albums.

One woman, Elizabeth Gaines, says she lost nearly $4,500 after her July session yielded no results. After spending hours feeling "like a princess" during the shoot itself, Gaines was unable to get any response from Seleman despite repeated attempts over two months. 

"I left a great review after my session because Melanie has a great way of making you feel wonderful and empowered," another client wrote in her one-star review. "The feelings quickly faded as I left my appointment and in the days that followed. It has been nearly a year since my session and I still have not received the items I paid for."

Another client, Nancy Moore, was eight months pregnant when she paid $1,800 in June to memorialize her baby bump in boudoir portraits. But by August, the photos still had not arrived. "I won't have those memories to share with my daughter," she lamented. 

In total, the accused victims report losing close to $15,000 collectively from Seleman's alleged failure to provide services. Most say they have been unable to get any refund or explanation despite extensive outreach efforts.

Attorney Michelle White is representing some of the women but could not comment further on the cases. Seleman has not responded to media requests for comment on the allegations.

Online reviews reflect a pattern of initial delight with the experience of Seleman's shoots turning to deep frustration over lack of follow-through. Multiple one-star reviews on Google describe similar stories of no contact after payments were made.

"Melanie is a fraud; she stole over $4000 from me," wrote one woman. "Don't fall for this scam. I lost my job while planning the photo shoot, but I went through with it anyway because I wanted to do something special for myself/my husband. She made me feel great, until she got her money and completely ghosted me. I’m out thousands of dollars," said another.

While boudoir photography can be deeply empowering for subjects when handled ethically, the intimate nature makes communication and sensitivity especially important. Customers invest not just money but emotion into celebrating their bodies through art. When trust is broken, the damage can go beyond the financial.

"It’s especially disheartening because these photos can never be retaken," said Moore about her lost baby bump photos. "I feel emotionally preyed upon," wrote another woman who says she is out $4,500. 

Photographers who promote empowerment carry an extra responsibility to safeguard their clients' vulnerablility. While innocent until proven guilty, the accusations against Seleman represent a stark betrayal of boudoir's core values, if true.

Alex Cooke's picture

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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Correct the title to 'Dollars." :-)

won't happen, quality of writing is not a concern at fstoppers.

Thanks for catching that, Linda!

Why are these clients paying total fees in advance?

There's been a resurgence of demand for photo services following the pandemic. I won't speculate on the motivations. But demand for all manner of family and personal portrait sessions has been on the rise. Yet in the wake of the pandemic many long time professional photographers have retired or otherwise left the business. Fly-by-night operators and outright scammers are filling the void.

I don't understand how a photographer can repeatedly do this sort of thing to people. Does word of mouth not travel? There are so many talented, reliable photographers out there who struggle to book clients, but this fraud can manage to land clients repeatedly, defraud them, and still get more?