Is Adding Boudoir Sessions To Your Photography Business Right For You?

When winter hit and weddings and senior portraits weren't generating any income, Michael Sasser decided to expand his reach by adding boudoir style photography to his repertoire. If you're looking for a way to increase your business through the slow months, this might be just the thing for you. In this interview, Michael explains how his new sessions have been working out.

You might recognize some of Michael's work– he's a Denver based photographer that had a great behind the scenes video posted on fstoppers in May of 2012. His previous video is posted below:

I noticed a few weeks ago that he was now advertising for boudoir photography, something I knew he didn't always do, so I reached out to Michael and inquired how and why he came into this new line of work.

"I don’t really have any income over winter. I mostly shoot Weddings and Senior Portraits. It’s enough to let me have down time and travel over winter, but I wanted to continue shooting and stay creative in my normal off season. Petra Herrmann of Bella Boudoir came to Denver as the first of her Master Classes. I took it. It opened my eyes as to how powerful boudoir photography can be. After that I hit the ground running."

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While being different in the approach to posing and getting "the shot" I could imagine that there would be a learning curve. I asked Michael if he naturally picked it up, or struggled at first, and he was quick to admit that at first he was terrible.

"I had played around with similar types of shoots before, but they sucked. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what I find sexy. It’s different for everyone, and at first I was a little uncomfortable showing what I wanted. Men aren’t the only ones who want women to be sexy. Women want to be sexy. Don’t be embarrassed about it. Be supportive of it. Once I got that through my head, everything started to flow. I learned photography by looking at images that I liked and attempting to recreate them. I did the same here."

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In order for this to be sustainable work, there has to be a market. Even in the off season for weddings and senior portraits, the time and effort that goes in to marketing and promotion needs to have some return. Michael told me plenty of women have been interested in these for special occasions, as gifts for their partners. Boudoir photos as a Valentine's Day gift is apparently very common.

"They also come in for themselves. Maybe they recently finished a workout program, maybe it’s their 30th birthday. From my experience, women have a hard time seeing anything in themselves besides their flaws. These shoots give them a chance to see how their husband sees them. They get a chance to see how beautiful they really are. They leave saying 'Thank you so much for making me feel beautiful!' and 'I haven’t felt that feminine in a long time.'"

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So what about wardrobe? Having sexy clothes that compliment the model seems like a very important part of the equation for success. Additionally, Michael says that besides the clothing, having makeup and hair done are a great way to provide a more full experience.

"I recommend some lingerie of course, but 4 sets of lingerie doesn’t give you much variety. Oversized sweaters, tank tops, a nice pair of jeans, teddies, slips, stockings and more help tell a story, give options, and make it easier to fill up an album. I also have a few tank tops, sheer tops and other things I’ve picked up in case their selection isn’t very good. All of my shoots include makeup and hair. They get pampered and love it. As a bonus it gives us time to chat and laugh and get comfortable with each other before we start shooting."

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So in closing, I asked Michael what he would say to someone who was looking to get into that style of photography, or add it to their existing business. His response:

"I would say go for it! This is definitely not for everyone but it’s been extremely rewarding to hear the responses of the women that I have shot. It’s been awesome to hear what the husbands are saying after they are surprised by this type of gift. If you are going to do it. Go at it 100%. Get the legal stuff like contracts and model releases out of the way first. These are intimate photos and should be handled delicately. Make sure everything is inline before you get out there and start shooting. Good luck!"

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To see more of Michael's boudoir work, you can follow him on facebook page. The videographer who made the featured video was Kyle at KHodgeFilms and the Makeup Artist was Brittany.

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34 Comments

Jon Sharman's picture

I'd be interested in thoughts on how to get into this as a male photographer - without (a) looking a bit creepy, and (b) turning people away from other segments of your photography business because of it? Really would like to get into this.

So do I

the fact you have to ask question a, I would say boudoir is not for you and not to try get into it.

what kind of BS answer is that lordvader.

Jon Sharman's picture

Yeah that's a dumb response.

my point is, the fact they think they could be seen as creepy, shows the way they are thinking about boudoir photography, and in fact is already turning the subject into a 'sexual object'
if you are going in thinking like that you are going to come across as creepy - either by doing the natural thing of looking at the model as an object, or by overly trying to hide that fact, and it too being obvious due to that
its a 2 way confidence, you need confidence in each other, and if the photographer doesnt have the confidence, i doubt the model with
i am not saying this will always be the case
but if you are having to ask that question and you are not just seeing it as your job, maybe its worth asking yourself why you are really interested in this area of photography?

Jon Sharman's picture

And your point is still very, very wide of the mark.
(a) Michael himself says that this is a thought process he had, and something he spent time considering before he launched into it.
(b) it's not a question of "going into it thinking I'm going to come across as creepy" - it's a question of knowing your audience, and if you think that no girl is going to be awkwarded out about the idea of a guy doing boudoir photography, then you're a hermit. It doesn't make them RIGHT, but perception is reality.
(c) I absolutely guarantee that ANY boudoir photographer looks through their lens and judges if a pose looks sexy/sensual or not - just as we look through our lenses and judge many other things in many other segments of photography. Watch Sue Bryce, one of the leaders in the field, and she does it too - doesn't mean she's objectifying the client, it means she's doing her best to get her the results she's after. Acting as though the words sexy and sensual shouldn't be anywhere near boudoir photography is just plain silly.
(d) And finally, again - the guy who the article was written about was concerned about it too, as most guys who would like to get into it are. We're not concerned that we ARE creepy, we're concerned that the perception will be - as in Michael's case, some mothers would have been turned off if they looked him up for senior photography and saw he did boudoir. It's not fair, it's the world.

Jason Ranalli's picture

Even beyond the run-on sentences and generally awful grammar this is an awful response to what the gentlemen above initially posted.

(a) Don't look creepy and don't be creepy. Don't use it to pick up girls in a bar.
(b) If people are satisfied with your results why should they turn away? You don't need to show pics of naked women/men on your website. The more subtle boudoir is the better.

Jon Sharman's picture

I mean, that's a bit of a Captain Obvious answer, I get that. My point was that simply posting that I DO boudoir on my website, without any photos, will get a negative response from some females, so would it be better to brand that side of the business differently?

Jason Vinson's picture

i would say yes. if you shoot something like weddings. then have a site for your weddings and a site for your boudoir. you can have links posted leading to each site form the other... but don't have a wedding gallery next to boudoir galley.

as far as getting into boudoir, you need to have some images to show. so hire some models or do some trades with models. once you have a decent set of images to show, then you open your site and pushing.

Jon Sharman's picture

Thanks yamaha, appreciate the normal response!

I just was about to post the same. You need to have some images. Hire a model or do TFP to begin with.

With the two different sites for your photography I am not d'accord... But I am not living in the U.S. We go to Saunas naked and there are boobs on television during prime time. :P

Having separate galleries or subsites is enough for me.

I don't know if I am too prude, or if I'm just brought up with different values, but as a man I have a great deal of issues with just being in the same room as a woman that isn't my GF who isn't dressed. I don't know either if I should desensitize myself to that mode of thinking or if it is the sane thing in this female semi/full-nudity normative business.

I totally get it Tobias! Like I said, I was uncomfortable at first. Everyone has a different view of what they think is right but it is important to think of the purpose of these images. It is not to get women naked in your house. Or to be lucky enough to see another women undress. It's about giving them a powerful experience that gives them confidence and gives their significant others something special.

Mike Wilkinson's picture

My non-boudoir photographer self will add this... like Michael suggests, approach it like you would any other style. Take a workshop or class about it, look at a lot of examples, and then start to build a portfolio of shots. The point is to take sexy photos, so explore sexy photos and what you like or don't like about different styles.

I don't know why it would turn people away from other segments... but if you're worried about that, host a separate site for that stuff like Michael does. (he has a main site for wedding/portraits and video, and another site for boudoir)

Jon Sharman's picture

I think Michael having a part of his site that says "A male boudoir photographer? Umm...." says that it's a pretty understandable concern that it might turn people off. A separate site is a great idea though.

Hey Jon! Great question. I was worried about it too. The bigger deal you make of it, the bigger deal they will think it is. So far I haven't had any issues. I knew that people would question it going in. So I made the video showing that I'm not a creepy guy in a basement. I'm a serious professional photographer who is expensive to shoot with. I also have a testimonials page, and a picture of both myself and the studio on the site to take away any suspicions from possible clients. Lastly, if people say "I wouldn't shoot with a guy" I respond by saying, "That's fine, its not for everyone. But you are giving these to a guy to view them, wouldn't it make sense to have a guy shoot them who understands what men find sexy?" If they don't agree, that is fine. There are a lot of possible clients out there :)

I created a separate site because I didn't want my HS Seniors and their parents looking at my boudoir work. You have to be 18 to view my facebook page, and I don't post any boudoir related things on my personal facebook page. So far no issues.

Just to chime in here. I'm the guy who shot the video of Sasser and it was my first experience in a boudoir setting. It couldn't have been any more lighthearted, fun and professional. Michael is very good at getting the girl to relax and after five or ten minutes it was all good. I don't think there was a single moment of awkwardness and once the shoot got going, you could tell the only thing Michael was thinking about was the light, angle and pose of the girl. He was all business and I think that's the key to success if you're going to do this as a male. Be confident, respectful and help the girls ease into it... they're probably more nervous than you are!

Also, a video like this showing how fun it will be can help a lot too in fighting the "pervy guy" stigma.

Jon Sharman's picture

Great info, Kyle!

Jason Ranalli's picture

As I mentioned above the video is a great way to fight that stigma and it was very well executed...very well shot.

It's a shame that professionals need to resort to video at this point to prove they're not pervs(or even professional)....but the truth is that video will help his business ten-fold IMO and be a better marketing tool than him trying to sell someone over the phone. I have a feeling after seeing that they already know they want the end-resulting product.

Nice work!

Jon Sharman's picture

This is great feedback, thanks Michael! Love the idea of separate sites, and your portfolio already shows to clients that you're not a Model Mayhem type photographer - the video backs that up nicely too. Great work!

John White's picture

To add on to all of this. I recently was thinking "how can I do this as a male and not seem like I just want to see girls in sexy outfits all day and seem creepy". So I went and talked to my girlfriend about it and brought her in and actually started up a seperate business name for it and new website with her as my partner and created a couples team. She handles coming up with some cutsie girl ideas and thinking of sexy poses while I knock out lighting setup and so on. This allows the girls/ladies to feel comfortable with having another female in the room focused just on thinking about things from a girls perspective (it's true guys, like myself, don't realize some things when posing a girl) and also it helps me knowing everyone in the room is feeling really comfortable in the whole process. Obviously this isn't necessarily the best way things can be done, but it is how I went about it and I have a blast on the shoots and don't worry about the ladies thinking of me as a creep.

Jason Ranalli's picture

Really like this article on FStoppers and your idea on branding seems dead-on.

I'm very happy this was a male telling the story. Over the past 5-7 years women have taken a HUGE foothold in photography across a number of different genres and that's generally a good thing. However, the only downside I see is that males are now viewed as creepy if they want to take pictures of kids, models, or boudoir for either a hobby or business. As photographers we all find joy in capturing something unique and beautiful to us...male, female, old or young.

I think the video you have is a fantastic and well thought out way to fight that stigma.

Wow, Thanks JR for the kind words! I totally agree with you. I find it interesting that people shooting model portraits, things like victoria's secret ads and maxim are almost all guys and people shooting boudoir are almost all women. It doesn't need to be that way. Glad you enjoyed it!

Gorgeous shots, Gorgeous light - Beautiful Ladies..Well done man

Thank you Gary!

Anthony Woodruffe's picture

Naturally this is a very intimate connection between you and your client. Initially It can be quite a strange feeling being fully dressed in front of someone who is either or partially naked. It reminds me of my 1st experience at a nudist resort in the south of France as a teenager. I was a withdraw person and quite conscious of my physique, or lack of it. It took me 3 days to finally get out of bed in the morning at not put some clothes on. It was the fact that I felt the 'odd one out' being clothed and everyone else not wearing anything.

In boudoir photography I feel my concentration is constantly at a peak on making those shots work. That my model is relaxed and chilled out while I'm moving lights and making test shots. That we keep a dialog going, that we can laugh empathically when we're doing balancing acts for a pose she really wants but is struggling to maintain, of that I've got my head buried into a carpet trying to get the right composition. That your client, subject, model has your full attention and that you both are on tune with what you're trying to achieve.

I certainly recommend having shots that both you and your client would like to emulate to start with and then go with the flow. However I would recommend you pay a professional model a few times who understands that you are starting out in this line of work and that she can spontaneously strike poses whilst you concentrate on lighting and composition. It removes any expectations of great shots because ultimately you are just paying for her to stand there whilst you're finding your feet and she's not all that concerned about being in lingerie because this is a natural environment for her.

The image is from my 1st session where I realise this is the wrong light for the job. Not the sort of thing you want to be doing with a paying client in front of you but this model Viktoria Alexandra sure found it quite amusing and we had a nice giggle about it.

Thx for photos! Also checkout www.99phototricks.com

my facebook feed went up in flames after I had post my first Boudoir image. one lady said that it wasnt christian of me for posting something like that.

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