Updated: Jun 8
You want to be a male boudoir photographer? Sounds like an interesting job! Can a man make it in boudoir? In this post we'll take a look at a few important points that can help determine if you have what it takes. Before we begin (and despite what you've read) you need to know boudoir is hard. Boudoir is real hard. It requires an immense amount of practice to do well. --Not only that, as a man you're going to lose a percentage of your potential client base because you're a guy. Phew! This article isn't getting off to a very positive start, is it? Still reading? Well, let's take a look...
Hi, I'm Michael. I'm a boudoir photographer from New Jersey that has worked with hundreds of women throughout my career in photography. Some may think that boudoir is strictly the domain of female photographers. That is simply just not the case. It may take a bit of searching, but there are men out there doing high quality work.
Boudoir photography may seem to be in a bit of a boom over the past several years with lots of people jumping in the pool. Around 2012 or so, people suddenly appeared out of the woodwork and headed into boudoir photography in apparent droves. The stories are fairly similar... they suddenly awoke one morning to realize their life's goal was to make women beautiful. They headed to Amazon and bought the fanciest DSLR camera they find, subscribed to some cheap web hosting for a website, and *BOOM* they were "Pros." It's that simple! Right?!
The mantra of this group, a.k.a. the Boudoir Boomers, is/was "We are empowering the world!" They littered their websites and Instagram profiles with endless slogans and quotes about being "fierce," "self love," and "owning it!" To a casual viewer, you'd hardly guess they were photographers at first glance. It looked more like the promotion work of a life coach... and that is what they positioned themselves to be. This approach is definitely way too heavy on the rhetoric for me, but in the end I'm all for people helping people. Their hearts are in the right place.
There's one small thing this group forgot about the process. The photography part. A camera and a credo does not beautiful photography make. It's been an interesting thing to watch, though. As these Boudoir Boomers slowly fizzle out I'd suspect there are some good deals on used DLSRs on Ebay right about now.
Whether male or female, there's one thing to know about boudoir-- Boudoir is just a small subset of photography. Despite what you hear, boudoir is a niche business. Here's some more bad news: Photography, as a whole. is on the decline. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the photography industry will be hit hard over the next decade, losing thousands of jobs. With everyone walking around today with a great camera in their hands 24/7 in the form of a smartphone why do you they need you?
Despite all this, as a male boudoir photographer, you can have success! Whether you are a man, or a women, it takes lots of work, however. You have to be smart. Target your market. Learn a bit about business. Most of all, you have to be at a level of proficiency way beyond average. You have to create something worth paying for.
You're Going To Lose Jobs... Just Because You're You
A certain percentage of women are just going to prefer a women photographer. There is nothing you can do about that. It's impossible to know what that percentage is, so I won't try to venture a guess. These are women who would feel more comfortable with a photographer of the same sex, and that's OK.
In boudoir photography, women are putting themselves in situation in opposition to some common social mores-- which is uncovering their bodies. It can be awkward. With a man involved, sometimes it can be doubly awkward.
If a women wants to complete a boudoir session, and feels more confident doing it with a women, then by all means she should do what works best for her. People should take a path that works best for them.
I've had an information request in the past from a women (who was probably busy contacting every person in the area and not paying attention...) and when I responded to her email she responded, "You're a man? I was looking women photographer."
It's the reality you have to live with, and you'll learn to make the most of your audience that is attracted to your business. Typically, you will not even be aware this pre-selection process is happening unless you are using a business name such as "Amazing Boudoir," and the client isn't certain the gender of the photographer.
You Have To Be Better Than Everyone Else
There is no way around it. The business world is eat or be eaten. It's survival of the fittest. Starting a photography business with little or no skills is just asking for defeat. It never ceases to amaze me what people do, or perhaps I should say don't do... (meaning: put in the hard work.)
Getting involved in boudoir is great. In some respects I would liken it to opening an restaurant. You may have always dreamed of owning your own restaurant. --That's a great aspiration! Opening one, however, with no restaurant experience or cooking skills is just asking for trouble. In a business where you already start with two strikes against yourself, you're sort of sealing your fate before you get started. Yeah, you may have a great decorating idea for the joint, but if the food sucks and you lack restaurant management skills... you'll be out of business before you know it.
I would liken to Kitchen Nightmares. There's always a restaurant owner who is haplessly wondering why their business is failing... because in their eyes they have the best seafood in the area! Chef Ramsay sits down, takes a few bites and is revolted by what he is served...
...you know the story! We'll, in boudoir photography it can be fairly similar. As an active member of social media I see lots of boudoir photography work being promoted on social media that causes me to scratch my head. The text captions scream "empowerment!" but the photo screams "yikes!"
Your good social intentions are not enough to succeed.
If you have some photography skills, great. It's a start. It's a long road to learn how to photograph women with skill and beauty in a boudoir style. You have to use any resources available to you to help you get going. Browse a website, such as Model Mayhem for local models for hire in your area. Paying a model a few bucks to practice poses is one way to get some experience.
Additionally, if you happen to have friends who are brave enough to volunteer, that's always a plus, too. Start with the basics and repeat over and over till you can get good results from your starter group of poses. How many times over and over? I don't know, maybe hundreds...
Don't have any of those avenues available? I used to practice on a mannequin I had laying around that I had previously used to sell clothing online. I really did! I'd be so determined to get things to look a way I wanted I would practice for hours on that mannequin.
The point of all this being-- the end product. In your restaurant people want unbelievable grilled chicken Pho noodles. They'll tell their friends about your great noodles, and keep coming back for more. In photography, women want beautiful glamour portraits that look great (and make them feel great about themselves.) Neither is easy, and both require lots of hard work to get right.
Once you start to get the feel for boudoir, start getting feedback on your photography. Always work on improving. Don't jump the gun and declare yourself a pro with no skills.
How do you know when you've started to reach some level of expertise? You'll know in form of client referrals and repeat business.
Go Easy On The "Life Altering"
Women have a great time during a boudoir session, no doubt. As a man I would recommend, however, to take it real easy on the "life altering" messages so common with the Boudoir Boomers and focus on the quality of your work, and your session experience.
I'm not exactly sure where these Boomers received their marching orders, but going "Spiritual Sherpa" isn't necessary, and has always seemed a bit of an odd marketing approach to me. As much as I can figure, this is merely a case of one person seeing another photographer take this approach, so they figured they'd do it as well. ---And so on, and so on. It seems in photography people are always looking at what everybody else is doing, then they do something similar. That is a perfect formula for mediocrity. As I've mentioned, this group has pushed all-in on the tact that they are "changing lives"-- so much so that I think they are hurting themselves.
Its completely not necessary. I, myself, have profited from this overbearing approach on a few occasions. I have booked clients, and during the sessions they would tell me they spoke to another photographer and were turned off by the message. I would say, "Let me guess... she was going to change your life?" "Yes!...How did you know that??" I remember one women telling me all she wanted was an anniversary gift for her husband not a "life coach."
The women I meet are great people, and have a great time in a boudoir session. Being I don't have a degree or state license in psychiatry, I'll leave the therapy for trained professionals and I'll choose to focus on amazing photography.
You Need The Right Personality
I don't know how to accurately describe what that means-- but you'll see where I'm driving. This is big. When people find out what I do, one of the most popular comments is "Let me know when you need an assistant!" -or- "You get to see all those naked women..." As a man, that seems to be a natural reaction to what I do, but the exact sort of sentiment that will get you in trouble.
The truth of the matter is I don't even think of it. If I'm photographing a family on the beach or a bride in a bedroom, I'm pretty much in the same mindset to get the job done the best I can.
The truth of the matter is I'm not any different of a person whether I'm with a wife wearing nothing but a g-string, or hanging around home on a Sunday watching Netflix. I'm the same introverted me. (The truth of the matter is I actually feel awkward shooting boudoir sometimes.)
When I'm with boudoir clients I don't do anything different. I don't say anything different. --And I certainly don't act any different. Its just me looking to get through it, and making sure my client has a great experience.
The women are nervous. They're mostly always nervous. Nervous doesn't look cute in photos, nor is it something you can photoshop away. People pay me a lot of money for a certain result. Part of that is being able to set the environment to accomplish that task.
Somehow the nervous needs to go away and the comfort dial needs to be turned up. In addition to that, I think the session also needs to be a fun time for the client. So, not only are you setting a mood, you're also acting as a host while you are accomplishing a fairly technically challenging photography task. Its a lot to do!
If you're thinking boudoir photography is an avenue to get to see lots of women undressed-- that is a path of certain failure.
What that exact personality entails I cannot strictly put into words. I believe, however, you'll quickly know if you have the male boudoir personality, or not. If you can create that sense of comfort for a 28 year old HR manager for a pharmaceutical firm who has never in her life done anything like this and nervous as can be... you're on the way. If you can have her walking out the door grinning ear to ear, you have hope for success. Until you try it, you don't know if you have that ability inside you. Faking it won't work. Using lots of "sweeties," won't work either, which leads me to the my next point...
Know What (Or Not) To Say, And How To Say It.
This, again, is one of the abstract things that is super important, and you need to be mindful of it for any chance of success. This topic is related strongly to the personality topic above-- you are going to have this trait as an aspect of your personality, or you won't. As I mentioned previously, women are going to feel nervous and a bit uncertain at first around you. What do you do?
What is this trait? As best I can describe, its a simple genuineness, acceptance, and empathy for your clients. You need to be able to welcome them, be able to assuage the nerves, and reassure them they will have fun.
In the end, comfort and trust are what is going to create a great boudoir session. How do you get a client comfortable enough to get great poses? How do you build trust?
Part of it is going to come from the way you present yourself online. Your website needs a strong message about you, and how you work. Another part of it is going to come via testimonials from previous clients. Don't forget-- boudoir is a huge referral business. Your past clients will talk about you in either a positive or negative light when they hear their friends are shopping for a photographer. So, you can see part of this comes to be even before you meet your client face to face.
During the session not talking enough is going to be weird. Talking too much is going to be weird. Saying the wrong thing will make the entire afternoon awkward. Women think differently, and seem to always have a bit of doubt about themselves. At the same time you may need them to do certain things you may not say every day to a women you don't know. For example, you may need a client to grab her boobs for a pose-- so, that may not be something you normally say to someone you don't know. How do you approach that? At the same time can you keep yourself from not commenting on anyone's physical appearance-- either good or bad. "Nice boobs!" can really send a session into a downward spiral, and can be something that can definitely cross a line of trust.
Personally, I want people to be a bit nervous to a point-- because I think it ads a bit of a thrill to the session. It is definitely a challenge. Your words are there to lead the client through the voyage from beginning to end. What you say is going to make or break the session.
Beauty Vs Sexuality
Do you know the difference? There is one. As a man shooting boudoir, there is an important distinction to be learned. Before you can be a successful male boudoir photographer, you have to learn what boudoir photography really is. Is any photo of a woman in underwear boudoir? If not, what exactly makes a photo "boudoir?"
Women want to be beautiful! I am not going to elaborate on the technicalities of boudoir too much here, because it can be a bit involved (You can read my blog post about the definition of boudoir photography if you'd like more details), but boudoir is a beautiful form of photography.
Boudoir is about beauty. Once you start to get a handle on the technical aspects of shooting boudoir, you can start to focus on adding the element of making great beauty photos. At the risk of sounding repetitive, this, again, is one of those things that's easier to point out when you see it than describe it. (When you've done it... you'll know it.) Although you may be photographing a woman in lingerie, the tone of the photo isn't always about blatant sexuality. At this point in my life I can look at a photo and tell you within a half second whether its boudoir, or not.
Boudoir is such a simple form of photography that few do well. The equipment is simple. The lighting is simple. The methods are simple. The photo output should be a look of timeless beauty. As a male photography you have to learn that beauty is about so much more than looks.
The beauty vs hotness differences are an interesting study, and the distinction goes deeper into human culture than you may know. Evolutionary biologists have studied these different strategies across the course of human history. Learning more about the differences can be interesting and give a certain insight into your work.
Despite what you may believe, most client's boudoir sessions are fairly reserved. Now granted, there may be shots taken during a session that may swerve in a definite path of overt sexuality, but in large part this isn't necessarily what most women want.
Getting a feel for that line with each client does take a great deal of intuition and communication.
One good things about being a male photographer is you may have a bit of insight into what a man is looking for in a photo. A lot of the albums are gifts for men, whether its an anniversary, wedding, or Christmas gift. You can aid your client in this department, and you're client will really appreciate it. "Wow! He'll really love that shot."
There is definitely room in the boudoir universe for male photographers, although the practice of boudoir needs to be executed in a deliberate, careful manner. In my experience a successful male boudoir photographer needs to have a certain personality traits, as well. Great photography skills, without the means of cultivating an open trusting relationship with your client will not yield spectacular results.
As a male photographer, you will lose a certain small percentage of your potential client base strictly due to a gender preference, but there should still be plenty of opportunity for those who create an end-to-end great experience for their clients-- who in turn will start a strong referral base for you.
Being in the "photography" business, your work needs to be strong. Credos and slogans aren't going to be enough to support weak technical work.
As always, if you have any additional questions, please send me a note.