I teach a class entitled The Intimate Female Portrait. It focuses on the client-photographer relationship as it evolves from the initial interview through the photo shoot. At the beginning of each class, I ask the attendees what they want most to learn. The consensus so far? They want to know how I interact with a private client or someone new to modeling—how I move beyond a conventional portrait to something more intimate, something more sexual.
Good question. Look, asking a woman to tilt her head is decidedly different from asking her to unbutton her top or remove it altogether. And that alone is not nearly enough: At the same time as she performs this act of exhibitionism, she must show the camera how much she’s relishing it.
When I’m successful at directing her to do these things, it’s because I’ve forged a relationship with her not possible in a single meeting. That’s why the in-and-out portrait studio business model doesn’t work for intimate/boudoir photography. Believing that someone you’ve just met—someone who has never done this before—will or can step in front of your camera and perform in this manner is not only wishful thinking but also costly (think re-shoots at your expense). There are exceptions, of course, but they are just that: exceptions. So make sure your business model includes some relationship-building time.
How can I describe this relationship? It is a temporary pass based on trust and issued by the client. In the case of a private client who has come to us for a “his-eyes-only” gift, the pass allows her to be an exhibitionist for a surrogate, and that surrogate is me and my camera. And the trust? Well, she’s trusting that the images we produce will have the desired results.
The all-important thing to remember about the pass is this: For it to work, it is she who must issue it.
How do she and I build this relationship? I wish I could give you a link to my one-size-fits-all formulaic approach, but no such approach exists. I have, however, come to understand the two essential elements. First, she must determine whether she can do this—be an exhibitionist for the length of time necessary for the photo shoot. And second, she must determine whether she can do this in front of me and my camera.
These are her decisions, making it pointless to attempt persuasion of any kind. So, what’s my role at this point? It is to be an open and observant guide. We begin, she and I, by looking at prints from previous photo shoots, some of them before & after shots. By observing her reactions to these images, I can answer her unasked questions, allowing her to know me better, to understand how—if she chooses—we will work together, and how I’ll help her achieve her goal.
If we’ve made sufficient progress, I’ll do a brief photo test, nothing fancy, perhaps available light by an open window or one light and a reflector. I may show her how to stand or sit, how to move her head or form her mouth, I may have her unbutton her blouse or put on one of our posing robes and then drop it off her shoulders. If she’s brought some lingerie for me to see, I’ll ask her to try it on. If she has an image in mind, we might try it. Whatever we do, the goal is the same: I want her to learn to have fun following directions in front of my camera, because if she can do that, she’ll be able to achieve the level of exhibitionism required for a successful shoot.
I’m frequently asked if I ever forego any of this for a new client and go directly to the photo shoot, you know, to save time or money. No. Never.
I’m also asked, and even more frequently, what I do when a shy, very shy, woman comes to us for boudoir photography? I’ll write about that in my next article.
Today’s image: Danielle, having fun.