Updated: May 11
Maybe calling it a lie is a bit harsh, but this certain boudoir "untruth" surrounds you everywhere... Have you seen it?
What are we talking about? Well, it starts something like this...
Just a few months ago you woke up early in morning raring and ready to start your new calling...you were going to be a photographer. Not only that, you were going to be a boudoir photographer! You popped out of bed that day with a certain spring in your step which was fueled by your sudden new found passion to "make women beautiful."
Being a creature of the 2000s, you did your boudoir research online (because if it's on the internet it must be true...) and received your marching orders from the internet "experts." Now that you are going to be a boudoir photographer, your prescribed mission was to "empower the universe." You were ready to accept to your new purpose in life, empowerment, and much like Captain Kirk in the "The Wrath of Khan" you let out a primal "KKKKHHHHHHAAAAAAAAAANNNNNNNNN!" to let the universe know you have arrived. --Er, or maybe something else along those lines.
Somewhere along the way, though, things didn't go as planned. Where could it have possible gone wrong? This was supposed to be easy...
You did mention the word "empower," right? You put it on your new website. Posted on every social media post (sometimes several times.) All the shots you did of your friend Debbie were posted religiously to your Instagram feed and you told the world how she "rocked it." You posted every "strong woman" meme you could dig up. You were a photographer with purpose! Didn't the universe hear your good intentions and start sending the masses your way?
Didn't work out like that, huh? --Did you mention you were "empowering" women? Yeah, I think we covered that. What wen't wrong? You did the same thing every other boudoir photographer was doing...
The Big Lie Of Becoming A Boudoir Photographer
There in lives the big lie. The lie about becoming a boudoir photographer.
Boudoir photography is a super strange business. First, its probably one of the most technically difficult forms of photography there is. Its really hard to photograph women! Second, photography in and of itself is a difficult art to master... so combining the two makes for a challenging path to success. Additionally, in a day and age where there are literally millions of photographers walking around in this smart-phone era, what makes you think you're so special?
Then, of course, there is the big "boudoir delusion." You see, to some degree in photography as a whole, and more specifically in boudoir photography, there is this over arching idea that you wake up one morning to decide your going to become a boudoir photographer...and the next moment people should be knocking your door down for your "scary" good services.
Your "good intentions" and "empowerment" dreams aside... you're living the "Big Lie of Boudoir." Let's step outside of photography to look at this from another point of view...
Let's say you woke up one morning, and instead of being a boudoir photographer, you decided you were going to become a pro rock guitarist. (We'll preface this by saying you know absolutely nothing about playing a guitar.) You race down to your local Guitar Center, run in, and tell the associate your new plans to become the world's next Eddie Van Halen (and he seems less than impressed.) --Not only that, you tell him you want the same exact model Eddie uses.
You race home with your newly purchased guitar, sit down at your desk, and go over to Wix and create a brand new website "JennyJonesProGuitarPlayer.com" and you're off! You now own a "pro" guitar and you have a website that tells the world you are a "pro"... You've arrived! You're serious! You are now officially a "pro" guitarist, right? Your new website explicitly says "You ROCK!"
Now you can just sit back, and watch the offers from major rock bands come rolling in for your amazing guitar skills, right? ...Next stop: touring the world with the Foo Fighters and all the rock glory that comes along with that!! Whoooot!
Think it would work like that? After all... your website says your a "pro," right? Forget the fact that you can't even play the guitar, that shouldn't really matter, should it?
That scenario would be a bit odd, right? If that individual was your friend, you may smile and wish him/her well, but in the back of your mind you'd likely think they were a little strange sitting around waiting for a call from the Foo Fighters. Well, that's exactly what hundreds (maybe thousands) of men and women do yearly when it comes to starting a boudoir photography business.
What are the odds of becoming a pro rock guitarist? Small, right? First, and seemingly most importantly, you need amazing guitar skills. How does that happen? Hours and hours and hours of practice while locked up in your bedroom after work every day. Week after week. Month after month. Year after year.
Even if you did that... does that mean you're a pro guitarist? No. What would be the path to success there be? Maybe finding a few friends or co-workers and starting a band. Practicing with that group. Playing for free in a local bar or local event. Then repeating that maybe dozens or hundreds of times. Building up a local following. Finding some kind of a first "paid" gig along the way...
By some small chance, and after maybe switching bands a few times, getting your name out there on social media, and somehow being in the right place in the right time... some very small percentage of people who have a passion for guitar are able to earn a living by playing one.
Overwhelmingly, 98.47% of people who play guitar do so for pure enjoyment, or are hobbyists, or simply love music and like playing along with some friends.
Boudoir photography isn't any different.
The puzzling part is that somehow there is this collective internet belief to the contrary.
Buy Fancy Camera On Amazon + Build Website = Boudoir Success!
Is that the formula for success? Nothing could be further from the truth. It wasn't that you didn't mean well. It's just that you declared yourself a pro guitarist, without ever really knowing how to play, and you were waiting for the band offers to come rolling in. They didn't. And they're not. And what's worse, the universe doesn't really care about your good intentions. (Not to sound mean about it...)
So what happens at that point? You look around and panic. It seems so simple. Everyone is apparently doing it... so why isn't it happening for you? Maybe your missing something? What comes next? Panic buying.
Panic buying? Yes. You must have missed something. You don't quite understand why people aren't lining up at your door. You posted ever meme possible. You posted every shot you had to your new Instagram account. You even ran specials. This all drives you to dig a bit deeper for the answer. After a few quick searches you may have found the answer. You've discovered the vast world of internet photography "experts."
There they are! Its like a sudden bright light showing you the way. They're all there: "Expert" Posing guides. Ebooks containing "secrets" to booking more clients than you can handle. Guides touting "mistakes" you've made and how to move your business (suddenly) upmarket. Online courses from self proclaimed "educators" who are magically willing to show you the steps that brought them hundreds of clients (and presumably thousands of dollars.) The list go on and on. What is this fabulous place!
Take a look around. The "Secrets To Success" is a mini industry within photography all to itself. It's hard to swipe down five photos on Instagram without seeing ads from self-proclaimed "photography educators" who are ready to extol secrets of earning great fortunes. It's all so simple!
Apparently, there's a simple fix for every situation! Ready to move "upmarket" to the luxury photography business and earn thousands per client... there's a fix for that! Ready to make big dollars with "IPS?" (yeah, that lingo makes it sound much more important!) [Wait, isn't IPS some kind of bowel disease? 🤣 ] Well, there's a handy web-tool to help you crank out thousands from each and every client...for a monthly fee, or course. It's so simple! The list of cures goes on and on... indefinitely....and forever.
All of these things promises riches, and an easssyyy super simple path to success! Right? Maybe? After all, the ad says so?! Well, err, no.
Remember our example of you having no guitar skills? Do you think buying a fancy guitar amplifier is a fix for that situation? Do you think an Ebook of guitar chord "secrets" is going to turn you into a monster guitarist overnight? Well, no, and no. But yet, because people lack the simple connection to the real reason why their business isn't growing, they turn to these quick fix ideas for a magical solution (that doesn't really exists.)
After all, in the 2020's why go to the gym and do squats and deadlifts to get a great booty, when you can go to a doctor and get weird silicone butt implants? We live in an age of shortcuts. Photography is not exempt from that trend. Everyone is looking for the path of least resistance. There are plenty of people looking to separate you from your cash knowing just that.
Use A Bit Of Smarts
So, the Big Lie is starting to become a bit more clear. Boudoir photography is not easy. Internet courses/Ebooks are not a panacea for experience and hard work. The truth is there isn't a single eBook in this universe that is going to help you in that situation. The only option that will help, is one that most give up on, once they realize what is involved.
The reality of boudoir photography is sort of along the lines of jiu jitsu. In jiu jitsu it is often cited that 90% of students drop out before they even finish their white belt training. Jiu Jitsu looks appealing, but the harsh reality is that it is incredibly complex, and physically demanding, and many students give up. They enter the gym with this idea that they will be a star without understand the long, complex and often grueling work ahead of them. When the road gets tough, and things magically don't happen overnight-- there is no shortcut. There is no "how to skip to black belt in 3 easy steps" Ebook that bypasses all the hard work. It's pure grunt work.
Boudoir photography is very similar. There is a low barrier to entry, but a very high barrier to success. Simply stated, most don't posses the self discipline and self-awareness to see what it takes to grow in photography. No perky online "success" course is going to replace hours and hours of practicing poses, analyzing your results and repeating till you start to get it right. Hundreds and hundreds of times.
Not only that, business and marketing skills are super necessary which take a long time to master. And there is even more... in the 2020's you need to be everybody's friend online. Your social media skills are important, because people feel a certain level of comfort when they seemingly get to know you from social media. THAT takes a long time to master, too. It's complex. Just like jiu jitsu.
Most folks wind up underestimating all the time and grunt work involved in growing your photography business.
The interesting thing about the "empowerment" message is that you need to take that to heart, and start from within. So, if you're a budding boudoir photographer, don't feel bad. Don't feel bad if your sole clients so far have been your friends Debbie and Kristen. Don't feel bad that your good "empowerment" intentions have gone unheeded.
Fancy lingo like "IPS" sales means nothing, and you are not missing out on some super fast track to success by not subscribing to someone else's "get rich quick" scheme. There are certainly those who mean well, and put together comprehensive information, but its a complex situation. Forgo the panic buying and invest in yourself. Sales skills are hard learned via practical experience. You want to learn in-person sales? For real? Get a sales job selling high-ticket items for a living... on commission. Whether you are selling cars, fancy jewelry, or expensive hardwood flooring, the product is incidental. There you go-- IPS in real-life. Is it magic? Or does it really take a lot of learned skill to be successful in those professions? Why would selling anyone a photo package be any different?
The important thing to realize as a young photographer in the 2020s is that there is no shortcut to success. It may be harder than ever. It takes lots of time to build your business and brand, and to rise above the noise of the thousands of photographers splashing around in the shallow end of the pool.
Think of it this way... if you were walking around in the forest and suddenly came across a money tree, would you race home and go tell everyone where it is? ...Probably not. So, if some "expert" photographer is waving their arms around telling everyone they have cracked the secret to earning thousands of dollars per client why would they be telling you? Wouldn't you think they would keep these very secrets to themselves? Wouldn't these secrets cause them to be so busy and be making so much money-- why would they even bother? Why would they be interested in telling you, a potential competitor, how to take money away from their very own business?
...Well most likely they aren't, and they're not. What they are good at is separating you from your money. Maybe, it's all about just selling you...
Knowledge and education have their place, and it's an important part of running a smart business, but don't fall for tricks. If you are struggling and looking for aide in running your business do with with vigilance. Despite what a website offers, if it's all just super salesy- and just screaming with promises of riches, I'd be a bit skeptical about what that person is offering. Did you ever wonder why there are seemingly endless amount of "expert" photographers trying to sell their "secrets to success?" Could that knowledge really be that valuable, or is it just the age-old scheme of using the irresistible lure of a "secret" to a promise of riches?
There indeed may be some good operators out there, and the internet is also rich with knowledge (that you can probably find for free) but you have to pick your photography "mentors" wisely.
In Conclusion...Come Back To Reality
You will struggle. As I mentioned earlier, boudoir photography is hard. It will take years for you to build your brand and your business. You will get out of it what you put into it-- just like any other business or art form. Success in photography is combination of several things: hard work, location, and a bit of being in the right place at the right time.
Along the path to seemingly simple boudoir "riches" many will fall by the wayside. Many dreams will die young. For those that persist the reward is much greater. Even if you don't find riches in boudoir photography, you will learn something. You'll learn a bit about hard work and effort. Perhaps the most important lesson, though, is that there is no Ebook quick path to success in photography, or life in general.