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Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Why I Love to Shoot Boudoir Photography

I recently wrote a column in Professional Photographer dedicated to this subject.  And this is what I wrote:
Now that we are finally in British summertime you can’t open a newspaper or magazine without articles about getting your body ‘beach ready’. Many women are secretly terrified at the prospect of getting into swimwear publically because whilst very few people actually suffer from body dysmorphia most women have body issues. You may wonder why on earth I am discussing this in PP and not Red Magazine but the truth is that I deal with this reality on a regular basis because I shoot a lot of boudoir photography.

Last week I put a few pictures on Facebook from a shoot that both I, and the lady in question, loved.  There was an incredible response and I had 4 enquiries that same evening, however, nestled amongst the positive comments was this; “no wonder women have serious body image problems, your setting them up as porn stars…you know full well what your doing to women. Your doing this for money not art” [sic].  The man in question is clearly an idiot and I retained my professionalism and refrained from pointing out the obvious.  But in truth it does rankle because he is just so wrong about my motives – although of course I need to make a living. Hand on heart I believe that every woman should experience a boudoir shoot once in their lifetime

When I get asked what I really, really love to take pictures of the answer is actually women.  I often chose to paint the female form so it is no surprise that I also enjoy photographing it.  However the reason I enjoy boudoir as a genre goes far deeper than ticking an aesthetic box.  It is without doubt the most psychologically rewarding part of my business. 

The truth is that most women, including me, would love to have some beautiful images of themselves that explore their sensuality.  What is absolutely critical in my work is that the images are about the women being in control.  She is choosing to celebrate herself on her terms and is absolutely not being sexually objectified or presented as a commodity. 

I don’t actually like the label ‘boudoir’ but I understand that the genre needs a name.  It is still a misunderstood term and is open to stylistic interpretation – as in all photography your own taste barometer will play a big role in developing and positioning your work.  I am absolutely clear about what boudoir means to me and I attract the kind of women that I want to photograph – of all ages, shapes and sizes (despite what some of you might think).  Most of them have had children, which means they might not love the physical reality of their bodies, but they have a deep respect of what it is capable of.   At the start of the shoot all of them want to point out their ‘flaws’ which is why I always ask them what their partners most love about them physically.  That’s the only way to get a positive out of a woman – sad but true.

A boudoir shoot with me is an indulgent treat, a journey of self discovery and hugely empowering.  Women leave on a high with confidence levels through the roof and yet they have not seen an image.  I have learnt, with interest, that the end result is only one element of the return in investment and probably the least important. 

My boudoir work does not need a hard sell nor any marketing  - each shoot leads to another through genuine, word of mouth, referrals.   The emails that I get from the women I’ve photographed are wonderful and I am now quite used to this kind of reaction to the experience: “I surprised myself about how much I enjoyed the shoot itself and without a doubt it’s done more for my confidence than anything else in the past 10 years”.

What I didn’t expect, but has delighted me, has been the response of the husbands and partners of my clients.   Because whilst they obviously get to enjoy the resulting imagery the biggest gain for them is a change in confidence in the woman they love.

I visited one of my dearest friends in New York last year and suggested we did a shoot whilst I was there.  We had a lot of fun – drinking vintage champagne and laughing together over a long afternoon.  I remember telling her how beautiful she looked and that this (ie what I was seeing through the lens) was how her husband saw her.  I immediately saw that she doubted what I was saying – that’s women for you. As soon as her husband returned to the apartment she wanted to show him the images on the back of my camera.  She was clearly on a high and as he flicked through the images he turned to her and said “stunning, darling, but that’s how I see you”.  It was a very special moment and I just kept quiet. 

The next day as we wandered through SOHO he stopped me, looked me straight in the eye and said a heartfelt thank you for what I had done for her.  I asked him to comment for this column and he wrote to me saying: “My wife has always been beautiful to me but I have learned over the years that how women see their bodies and how men view them are two very different things. The revelation through the boudoir experience, is that for the first time in 14 years, my wife now understands exactly how I see her body. The impact this realisation has had on her has been very liberating and the photos which are tasteful, natural and in my view stunning, are an added bonus”.

It took me a full year to persuade another of my closest friends to do a shoot with me – she was reticent following breast cancer and a mastectomy.  It was almost like seeing a phoenix rising from the ashes and her husband is deeply grateful for the part photography played in his wife finding herself once again. 

With all these positives does come a negative – and that is the fact that boudoir photography is really hard to do well.  It takes a lot of practice to get good at it and practice you should - for the sake of the delicate egos that you hold in your hands."

I took the images below just over a week ago as a wedding present and the lovely groom has agreed to let me share these ones from the shoot. I love them for many reasons but critically because I believe that I have managed to capture both the strong, confident, sexy side of this incredible lady - but also the more gentle, vulnerable side too.  

Please feel free to leave comments - but if you are going to sound like the man on Facebook please save your breath because you just don't get it. x


Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Jonny & Rebecca's Old Worleys Wedding

Jonny and Rebecca (Bec) chose to hold their wedding celebrations at Old Worleys in Henley because it gave them 2 very important things - 1) an amazing setting/view and 2) a totally blank canvas to create what they wanted.  And create they did.

The girls preparations took place at Bec's parents' and it was a hive of activity because there were 5 bridesmaids: Emily, Holly, Leiha, Emma & Caroline.  As the day developed it became clear just how much thought, time and effort Bec had put into the details of the day - she'd even sown the girls' names into their dresses so that there was no confusion.  Bec has incredible taste and I loved her Gucci shoes, hair piece and each individual item of jewellery.  Her hair totally blew me away and her final look was very elegant - Grace Kelly-esque.  Her stunning Sassi Holford dress fitted her to perfection.

During the morning I made a quick trip to a local pub to see the boys who were having a pint or two before they jumped on one of the vintage buses to the ceremony.  After their happy and relaxed vows the buses headed towards Henley and I travelled with the bridal party who all enjoyed mini bottles of champagne en route.

Stunning weather and a fabulous marquee was waiting at Old Worleys.  During the drinks reception their lovely dog, Winnie, arrived for some pictures so we headed across the meadow in the blazing sun.

Bec had a huge surprise waiting in a brown parcel on Jonny's seat.  You can see what her wedding present was and the little fella is called Worley.

Not even Bec could have imagined quite how perfect the fan and beer cooler favours would be considering the temperatures.  She's also provided a basket of flip flops in various sizes.  And the cake speaks for itself!

It was a wonderful wedding full of personal touches and a pleasure to shoot. 

Thanks to Jonny and Bec for choosing me to capture their day, to Nikki Sheffield for her assistance, to Holly for being so helpful, to Helen and Brian for the tea/glass of wine and to Victoria for the stepladder amongst other things!

Click on the images if you want to see them larger. x


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