I receive tons of emails from enthusiastic photographers who are catching boudoir fever and would love to know how to get started! Here’s a perfect example:
“I am just starting out as a photographer and would love to do Boudoir. There are so many things I need to do and learn, and I am working to raise the money needed for equipment, sets, and marketing. I’m not sure what to do first or how to really get started!”
Here is my best advice for a helpful approach in getting started, how to prioritize your investments, create a smoking hot portfolio, and get that first boudoir client!
KEEPING A PLAYFUL AND INTELLIGENT APPROACH
As a boudoir photographer and as a woman, I live by the following three tenets: Simplify, Experiment, and Focus on Emotion. I believe these principles are conducive to creativity and success in all areas of my life, photography, and business. Keeping these in mind at every stage of building your boudoir business as well as your creative process will help you avoid feeling overwhelmed and will not only result in greater success, but also a heck of a lot more fun!
Keep it simple is my mantra — it’s how I shoot and run my business. It’s especially important to simplify when just starting out and learning something new. I believe this applies to everything from gear and workflow to styling and pricing. Why overcomplicate things with a task list that seems insurmountable and will only eat up your resources and further delay your getting started? Keeping it simple will also help your first shoots go smoother.
Go on a journey to find what’s right for you. Think of this process of getting started not as an obstacle, but as an awesome experiment in finding what works for you and discovering your own style. There is no right or wrong, and as photographers, I think we always have a tiny bit of “I don’t know what I’m doing” because that’s called creativity baby! – going into the unknown and figuring it out. So, go ahead and do some research, visit the forums, go to workshops, geek out a ton on practice shoots, and make sure to keep a playful spirit and keep experimenting to see what works best for you and your clients.
FOCUS ON EMOTION
Emotional impact trumps technical perfection every time, particularly in boudoir! Focus on what’s happening in front of you, on connecting with your model/client, and don’t get caught up in your gear or in your head with doubts. Strive to capture the life inside her – something honest, something emotional, some movement, some imperfection, and some sexiness!
PRIORITIZING YOUR INVESTMENTS
It’s important to allocate your budget wisely, especially in the beginning when funds may be limited. You want each dollar to go as far as possible, so I recommend starting with the bare essentials in terms of gear and allocating your funds to improving your skill, getting educated, and building your business.
KEEP TO JUST THE BARE ESSENTIAL GEAR
Don’t spend too much money on equipment right off the bat. You probably already have a great SLR or DSLR camera and a really good lens, so go with what you’ve got and invest elsewhere first. Master one piece of equipment inside and out before investing in another. Rent the lenses and lighting you want to try until you can buy, and add on as you can afford. As far as set pieces or backdrops go, my staples are a $30 grey seamless paper backdrop, a thrift store vintage chair, and a classic set of white sheets. Be creative, and you can transform any space into a simple beautiful setting.
HONE YOUR SKILLS
The number one priority is developing your eye, skill, and style, so make sure to practice practice practice! Shoot as often as you can. Create your own projects. What is your dream shoot? Now go set it up for yourself. Have fun, hire models, get props, hit the streets, or photograph your neighbor. Do whatever you can to make sure you’re shooting at least a few times a week and building a body of work that reflects your true style and a complete portfolio. (More on your portfolio in a minute).
Nothing beats experience and practice, but you can shortcut your learning curve by training with more experienced professionals. Become a sponge. Seek out training, classes, and workshops from photographers whose work you admire. Check out photography forums and blogs. Go to the library and look at your favorite photography books. Again, look for what feels like boudoir to you and see what appeals to you and what doesn’t. All of this will strengthen your attraction to what works, what looks good, and what is technically sound.
BUILD YOUR BUSINESS
If you haven’t done so already, start the business! Set up a blog or website and begin! It’s time. Take inventory of what your strengths are and lean on them. Whether it’s your charming personality, amazing composition skills, or design prowess, make sure to utilize what you have to get your business started. I’m a big believer in jumping in and figuring it all out on the way!
CREATING A SMOKING HOT PORTFOLIO
When viewing your photography, potential clients want to see passion for what you do, as well as consistency, quality and style in your work. Although most clients will hire you based more on your personality, professionalism, enthusiasm and confidence than on your web gallery, it’s remains vital to have a killer portfolio to attract the right clients and to set-up their expectations.
HIRE PRO & AMATUER MODELS
I do understand that many of you just getting started are feeling like you have a chicken and egg situation – you can’t get that first client until you have a portfolio, and you can’t get a portfolio without that first client. So I highly recommend hiring models to help round out your portfolio. Artists’ figure models from art schools and art galleries are great to photograph. They are exceptional at moving their bodies, finding really sensual and beautiful poses, and are experts at small details such as placement of their hands. Artists’ models are also much more likely to happily pose nude and sign a model release for you, even if it’s your first time. Try local art colleges and fine art galleries in your area. Model community sites, such as Model Mayhem, are also great for portfolio building. These communities consist of women who are a mixture of pro’s and amateurs, some of whom will work Trade For CD (TFCD). This is a wonderful way to get exposure to women of all shapes, sizes and ethnicities, and include them in your portfolio. Model sites and communities can also be good resources for makeup artists and hair stylists.
INCLUDE ONLY THE A++ PHOTOS
The best way to have a smoking hot port is to include only your very best photographs. Be a tight editor and remember that it’s far better to have fewer stellar images as opposed to a bunch of mediocre ones. This is why I coined the phrase A++ Images. Pick the best of the best of what you have at the moment; don’t wait for the illusion of perfection. You are going for an honest reflection of where you are right now in your creative process.
BE DISTINCTIVE & CONSISTENT IN STYLE
There should be a common style evident in all of your images. People who view your portfolio should know exactly who they’re hiring and what they’re getting. That is not to say you can’t have a wide breadth of variety in your portfolio, in fact you should. Just make sure that it’s consistent in quality and style.
SHOWCASE WHAT YOU OFFER
Don’t show studio shots if you only want to do location work. Keep images in your portfolio that represent what you love to shoot and want to be hired for. If your thing is black and white fine art nudes, than make sure your portfolio represents that.
GETTING THAT FIRST CLIENT!
I know from the photographers I mentor that getting that first client seems to be the most difficult task of all! There are plenty of women (in fact, most women!) who want beautiful, sensual, editorial-style photography for themselves, but it’s important to take a step back and first consider your brand, your client, and what’s meaningful to you before you start seeking out your first customer. With a clear idea of the value and experience you are offering, you have a far greater chance of success of booking clients.
KNOW YOURSELF & YOUR BRAND
Ask yourself “what does boudoir mean to you?” How can you pitch a session to someone and talk passionately about it if you haven’t taken the time to consider what it is and why it’s so important for your client to experience it. Also make sure to answer “how do you stand out from the crowd?” and “what makes your style, process, products, service & experience unique?”
KNOW YOUR CLIENT
Who is your client? It’s not just “females.” Is she a new bride, a young fun twenty-something who wants pin-up, etc? Or is she like my client: a 40+ mother of two, usually has just had a recent transition in life: weight loss, getting pregnant again, cancer survivor, divorce, new relationship, and she’s a woman who takes care of herself, but has never really let her sexiness come out to play (in front of a pro’s camera anyway 🙂 It’s helpful to be as clear and specific with who you are targeting and what your outcome for her is. When you can talk about how a boudoir photo session with you will give her a once in a lifetime experience.
CALL IT WHAT YOU NEED TO
Some women can get a bit shy when hearing the term boudoir photo shoot, so when booking that first client, call it what you like: a fashion shoot, a lifestyle shoot, a beach shoot, or something equally appropriate and creative. I had one client tell me she would never do a boudoir shoot, but would love to do a swimsuit session! Girls are funny like that.
TARGET YOUR CURRENT CLIENTELE
If you are currently a portrait or wedding photographer, I’m sure you’ve got more than a few raving fan clients who are perfect candidates for a boudoir session with you. Target the ones that gave you a million referrals and offer her a special free session. Target the ones that you could tell spend a heck of a lot of time and money on looking and feeling good. Target the sassy ones. Target the shy ones you would LOVE to open up and that you know trusts you. You know who I’m talking about – I’m sure there are already a few women popping up in your mind.
Best of luck with getting started in Boudoir – it’s a total blast and you will soon become addicted! Just remember to shoot from the heart, and you can’t go wrong.
Written by Christa Meola
Christa Meola has previously shared her expertise on boudoir photography at Pictage U San Diego: Boudoir and Lighting as well as PartnerCon 2010. She is currently traveling and teaching workshops, as well as just finished a book for the Boudoir Photographer called “Exposed: Redefining Boudoir.” If you want more information on Christa’s workshops or how to purchase her book, visit www.ChristaMeola.com/ or email Christa at firstname.lastname@example.org. See more blog posts by Christa on The Photo Life.