Horizontal Pattern

Paper Effect

Paper Effect

Content Top


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



  1. Lovely work as always Kate,
    where do you shoot though? I'd love to get into boudoir but am not sure where to shoot. Thanks

    1. Mostly at my home - where I have invested in furniture, throws etc to create 'sets'. It also means that people feel very comfortable and at ease. The images above were taken at a very special location - Aynhoe Park. I also shoot at client's homes if that is what they would prefer. Give it a go! x

  2. Beautifully written, and I completely understand why your clients want a boudoir shoot and why they choose you to do it. Your images are gorgeous and empowering, and one day I am going to treat myself to a Kate Hopewell-Smith Boudoir shoot!

    1. I hope you do Sandie - for you. Thank you for commenting. x

  3. Gorgeous images - and I love what you've written. It's so hard for women - we pick up a magazine and we're instantly bombarded with either unrealistic images of fashion models or have to endure critiques of some poor celebrity who has lost too much weight. gained too much weight, or has had the effrontery to start to look their age! No wonder so many women have issues with their bodies and need some positive reinforcement. All power to you and your camera Kate.

    1. Absolutely true. For the record I don't change women in photoshop - apart from skin retouching. What's the point? I use light and posing to show the woman her very best bits and I want them to be able to say with confidence - this is me. On my best day granted! Thanks for sharing Barbara. x

  4. Gorgeous pictures, fabulous location, superb model. I particularly like the last photograph. I agree that the term boudoir doesn't fit. It's too male orientated and linked with male pleasure, when in fact a boudoir shoot is all about the woman feeling gorgeous for herself. If she shows her man and he likes them, that's just an added bonus. The confidence a well shot boudoir shoot brings is priceless. Go girl!

    1. Thank you Angela. Many women look for a reason to book - ie as a gift for the husband, lover etc. Actually it's a gift to themselves and that's the best reason. x

  5. Kate,

    The article above is superb. The 'man on facebook' has no idea what your work means.
    I cannot thank you enough for the new understanding our boudoir photography session has given me. Just like the Husband in your article, my then fiance has been telling me for years that I am 'incredible', 'beautiful' and 'sexy'. Though I have believed he has meant every word, I just thought he was a bit blinded to my faults by how much he loves me.
    I was wrong, he whole heartedly maintains that the images above are how he sees my form everyday.
    Seeing what he sees, has made me feel confident again around him.
    Aside from this is the experience itself. Having the Boudoir shoot 6 days before our wedding was a fantastic idea. My family, fiance and I had spent the last 3 months building an agricultural building to hold our businesses but also as the venue for our wedding reception. This involved me handballing hardcore, shimmieing along roof steels, lugging concrete blocks, mixing cement etc. I felt as far detatched from my femininity as I have ever been - and for a tree surgeon thats a long, long way! From the moment you and Catherine Fransham (Hair and Makeup) arrived at Aynhoe you immediately made me feel at ease, and as the shoot progressed 'at ease' became 'confident' and 'confident' became 'beautiful'. By the time we left my fears about my body had disintegrated and I had found my lost femininity. I felt like the bell of the ball, and that feeling carried through into our wedding day and is still with me. I intend, whenever I am beginning to lose that feeling, to look at the pictures above. I am certain it will be the boost required.
    For women who are boxed into certain roles in life without time to remember how amazing and beautiful they are, a few hours letting you show them is a gift worth far more than money. I am sorely tempted to arrange a shoot for my sister!
    I have been photographed before, but your skill, appreciation and understanding for what you are photographing makes the experience truly wonderful.
    From the bottom of my heart, Thank you Kate.
    Best Wishes,

  6. Nice article. Yes every day now I am working on building a business here in London piece by piece where we get the message out that women feeling comfortable enough to be assertive in their own relationships is a win for both man and woman. It's not always easy as women are very competitive, most who write into me are coming from a situation where their relationship is in a vulnerable or toxic place and they've gone into hiding, for fear of sharing with the world. Fine line to coax the confidence out of them. Love your pictures and would like to talk more.



Content Bottom