Updated: Jun 1, 2019
Hi everyone. My name is Michael, and I'm an boudoir photographer who works with women from all over New Jersey, NYC and the Philadelphia metro area.
Every women starts shopping for their boudoir session with the expectation of getting an album of amazing images (like the one above!) The sad reality is it's not an easy and straight road from beginning to end-- and there many potential pitfalls along the way.
I've been photographing women for years, and have completed hundreds of sessions. Along the way, I've talked to many women who were either thinking about having a boudoir session, or who have done so at some point with other photographers.
I've always been curious about people's experiences, and I'm eager to hear the factors in their decision process in selecting their photographer. My very unscientific survey of these accounts has brought to light some very interesting results-- not only with the differences in how the quality of work varies from photographer to photographer, but also with the search process individuals use to shop for their boudoir photographer.
All in all, it is a bit of a mess out there, which can make it a bit difficult for shoppers to find the best fit for their needs. I've taken some of the faux pas I've heard others make and used that information to help make sure my client's experiences are better, and make the process as smooth as possible for them.
There is a lot of good information in this article. Every prospect that contacts me via my own website automatically gets a link to this. That's how important it is to me that women make a safe and smart choice when choosing their boudoir photographer.
First and foremost, boudoir is about having a great time. What I've learned is that in a lot of cases people stumble through the process of finding someone to work with, and they really don't know how to shop properly! This can not only end in low quality results, but can also create and awkward and unpleasant experience for the client-- leaving a bad taste in their mouth about the business.
This article is going to focus on some important expert points on shopping for a boudoir photographer, and to help you from avoiding a major mistake--
Let Google give you a hand.
So you've been doing some searching online for boudoir photographers. The first steps can be done rather quickly and easily. It is simply a matter of separating the wheat from the chaff.
The ultimate goal of your session is the have a great time, and to have superior results that you can look back on for years and enjoy.
Start your search by determining your maximum travel radius, and it's really as simple as entering a Google search such as "boudoir photographers near me," "boudoir photography New Jersey," and substitute your metro area for what's relevant to you. You'll typically get a search map showing the names and locations of the photographers in your area.
At this point I am going to show you how to quickly discard a big chunk of the possibles by eliminating the bad, the "Boudoir Boomers," and the "Cupcake Queens."
Learn how to spot great work.
Start with the website. Is it clean and professional looking? Does it look like someone invested money to get a polished look, or does it look like a bit of a mish-mosh? Appearance is everything. Most importantly, does the photographer specialize in boudoir?
All photographers will have a gallery of their work online, and some may even have several. That's where you want to go first. The simplest way to start weeding through your prospects is right here. What you're are looking for are high quality, polished, professional looking boudoir images. (No! Don't worry about prices, yet!)
The exact specifics of what defines a quality image is a bit beyond the scope of this article, but if you have time and want to do a bit of reading on the subject you can take a peek at an article on the subject by long time photography writer Ken Rockwell. Although his article is not directed at boudoir photography, you can still get an idea of some of the basics. Additionally, I'm in the process of writing that exact article on what makes a great boudoir photo, and I'll link to it as soon as I'm finished!
Image quality is everything. I can look at a photo, and in a split second know whether the photographer is a pro and knows what they're doing, or is a rank amateur with no business taking hard earned money for their services. Although you may not be as adept as me in spotting "boudoir greatness," I'm sure you can certainly tell when something doesn't look quite the way it should.
This skill is vital, and will save you lots of time and future aggravation. It is the first part in steering yourself in the right direction for success. Are the images professionally edited and natural looking? Do they have good composition? Are they telling a story? Are they making the subject look beautiful, alluring, or even sexy?
Keep digging. These days, its easy to get a wide sampling of a photographers work. Most host social media accounts on sites like Facebook or Instagram where there may be hundreds of sample photos for you to look through.
What you are looking for is not one cute photo-- but a deep catalog of well composed and edited boudoir photos that focus on beauty. --And make sure what you are actually looking at is boudoir photography! One of the biggest things I've discovered is that many women do not even know how to spot a real boudoir photo.
Are you actually looking at boudoir photography? Are the photos mostly outside? That's not boudoir. Are the photos on some velvety couch in a dark studio? That's not boudoir. Contrary to what you may think-- the mere fact that a women may be in undies or lingerie has nothing to do with whether a photo is boudoir photography, or not!
As it's name implies, boudoir photography primarily takes place in a woman's "boudoir" or bedroom. The focus of boudoir is beauty, and often has voyeuristic overtones as the viewer is looking at a woman caught in her private moments. Now, there can certainly be a bit of variation on this theme, but make sure all the photos you are viewing generally fit that description. I have an extensive article on the definition of boudoir photography here. Make sure what you're looking at is boudoir!
See something that grabs your eye and appears to be high quality work? Great. Make note of the name and web address and add it to your list for further investigation. Depending on your geographic area, you may come up with a few options for further study. Keep this list handy, we'll use it for reference, and to help with your final selection.
NOTE: If you're stuck at this point, and not sure if you're looking at great boudoir work, I'm here to help! I sincerely want you to have a great experience. Please send me an email with the links of what you're looking at, and I'll help you out as to whether it's good boudoir- bad boudoir, or maybe not even boudoir at all!
Ditch the Cupcake Queens
OK, so know we know we're searching for excellent image quality, and a photographer who is actually taking boudoir photos. What's next? See who has the lowest price, right?!! Hold on there, tiger, that's exactly wrong. That approach will surely yield a poor results. Actually, don't even look at or request any pricing info at this point. You don't need to. Before we get to the budget and cost part there's still more chaff to weed out and refine our selections.
Take your time and do your homework at this step-- it's important. I know it's the opposite of how you are programmed to shop-- but with boudoir focus on shopping by results and quality, not the lowest price you can find. Hunting around hours to find the lowest session price in your area doesn't make you the "winner"... and sadly you will often wind up the "loser" in many such situations. Why? You can read some of my extensive advice on this subject on my article Why choosing the lowest priced photographer will be your biggest mistake here.
Don't EVER shop for photography by lowest price.
Boudoir Photography is in an odd place right now. There are so many low quality photographers out there due to the "Boudoir Boom" which started six or seven years ago. What happened? Who knows exactly, but for some reason people started waking up in the morning and suddenly discovered their life's goal was to "make women beautiful." Boudoir photography became somewhat trendy to do. They bought a DSLR online and some cheap web hosting, and *Boom* now they were a "pro" photographer.
The one hallmark of the Boudoir Boomer is this overbearing message of "empowerment" and "changing lives." It will be everywhere! Webpages... Social Media accounts... you name it. I'm all for changing lives for the better, but the issue with the Boudoir Boomers is no one is changing any lives with crappy photography. See, somewhere along the way the photography part of the equation became an after thought. As I've mentioned, boudoir is really hard. The Boomers seem to have forgone the 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert. A camera and a credo does not necessarily mean great work... and after all, isn't that what it's all about. Many of these Boomers have started to fade away, but some are still out there. --But back to our mission.
While you're browsing for quality images it's the perfect time to ditch all the "Cupake Queens," as well. The wha? Well, you'll see what I mean in a moment. While browsing images on your candidate's websites take a peek over at their "About" or "Meet The Photographer" sections. If there isn't one, that is sort of suspicious.
Boudoir photography skills and results vary wildly from photographer to photographer. It is a branch of photography which is extremely difficult to master, and few do it well. There are a lot of bad boudoir photographers out there...so don't fall victim. Why are there so many bad ones? Because anyone can buy a camera, put up a website, and state they are a boudoir photographer.
I know it's hard to resist that link you received from your bestie because she has a coworker who knows someone who just started a boudoir photography business which is "so totally awesome."
As well meaning as your cheap referral may be, if three months ago her life's goal was to be the "Cupcake Queen" of New Jersey and she was running a failed at-home cupcake business, she may not be your best choice. Despite the cash influx from her recently sold stand mixers to get a fancy new camera on Amazon, and the fact she has now devoted herself to her new life's goal of "making every women see their true beauty".... thank Debbie, but move onward.
Boudoir takes years to master and do well. Like any other skilled art form it takes tons of time, practice and the gift of natural ability to do well. No one, and I mean no one, is going to transition from a "Cupcake Queen" to a boudoir photographer worthy of charging people hard earned money in a few weeks--or months-- despite the passion of their new found life's goal of making every woman "see their beauty," and offers of life changing "empowerment." (You'll see that one all over, it's a big tip off.)
These situations are a hard pass for many reasons, and probably the largest photo mistake women make in general. Look at it this way. Just because I woke up one morning and decided my life's goal is to be a PGA golfer-- and I head out bright and early one morning to buy the same set of golf club Tiger Woods uses doesn't mean I will golf like him, and be able to walk on and join the PGA tour, despite my best intentions. Makes sense, right?
In photography, however, this same line of reasoning isn't processed in the same way. You wouldn't shop for a heart surgeon for your parents in that fashion, likewise, you should never pick your photographer that way, either. It will only go bad.
After carefully reading your candidates bios, cross off all the Cupcake Queens from the list.
Learn how to shop- You've been doing it WRONG all these years.
OK, at this point, you've learned how to get rid of some definite discards from your candidate pool. Now, it's time to shop, and guess what-- you are a bad shopper.
At this point it's time to consider budget, and what you'd like to spend on your session. We'll skip ahead here a bit, and using a bit of the knowledge we gained above, I think you are starting to have a better idea of where I'm leading you. The bottom line with budget is simple: save and do it right. Great photographers are not going to be cheap, and cheap photographers are not going to be great.
As a consumer you've been lied to your whole life. Without getting too much in to detail of the psychology of how people buy, big companies have been taking advantage of your ignorance for years.
Everyone is concerned about money. How many emails do I get that run along the lines of "All I want to know are your prices... can you send me a price list." The hallmark words of the drive-by price shopper. I get it all the time. Sometimes I email back, "How much would you like to spend?" Many of these folks I only ever get to know by the the two or three sentences they send... then they vanish forever into the mist of the internet-- *Poof* --spending hours and hour trying to find the lowest price out there (regardless of the fact it is meaningless.)
We are all programmed from a young age to equate a time and energy spent trying to find a low price as a "winning moment." The concept of "getting the deal," is an American way of life.
Not to get too involved in the subject, but price is only one consideration of overall costs of a purchase.
I know how it works... You're walking down the ice cream aisle in the grocery store, just craving some great chocolate ice cream while vigilantly scanning the prices... "$6.49.... $4.79......$5.99.....$2.79...WINNER!" You reach in to the freezer and grab the $2.79 container, throw it in your cart, and move on in your shopping thinking that you've just won the ice cream aisle.
Have you? The funny thing is how people are so programmed to think that somehow the lowest price is the winner-- so much so that they don't even consider any other factors in their purchase.
As a matter of fact, processed food manufacturers have known this for years, and know it so much so, that they will do anything it takes to put the lowest price on the label. That's why your snack chip bag is getting smaller and smaller. That's why your package of ice cream is no longer a half gallon, your yogurt is no longer a cup, etc,, etc., etc. The list goes on and on.
Your grocery food keeps getting smaller and smaller! Not only that, people pay absolutely no attention to what is actually in the box they are buying. I can pretty much guarantee you that $2.79 container of ice cream, isn't actually even ice cream. You've got a bunch of corn syrup, which is infused with so much air and chemicals to keep it puffed up...that when left on a counter over night....it will be in exactly the same shape the next morning!
Not only that, I can pretty much assure you, you won't even see the term "Ice cream" anywhere on the packaging. You may see "Dairy Treat," or "Dairy Dessert," or something of the kind. That's the sad reality of the American shopping experience, and sly manufacturers use your own ignorance against you to give you, literally, stuff that isn't even really food (and generally the cheapest, most processed food-like version that people, like you, will still buy...) knowing full well you'll buy anything as long as the price looks lower than what's next to it! You know that great super cheap frozen pizza you just got, guess what, there's actually no real cheese on it!! Just loads and loads of "imitation mozzarella cheese" a.k.a hydrogenated oils. ...But I digress.
How does this all apply to boudoir? We'll price should be a consideration in finding your photographer, but price is only one small factor of overall cost. Other cost factors are: Quality of work-- There's little sense in paying a "small" price if you're getting very little in return, such as poor quality results. Why bother? Stress is also a cost. After you have a bad session experience, you'll be living that stress every day. Additionally, other costs are vague pricing, strange photography packages that aren't based on any kind of logic, incompetent photographers, your comfort & privacy-- and that is just to name a few.
What does that mean? Everyone wants great results, right? Let's look at it this way. If you were looking to get entertainment for your birthday party, which do you think you could get for less: a local college kid playing John Mayer songs at a local coffee shop, or the real John Mayer? The college kid, right?
The real John Mayer probably isn't going to show up and play for a few hours for a $50... but a college kid might.
Likewise, boudoir photography is a very tricky and difficult art to master. It takes years and years of practice to get right...and few people can actually do it well. (Trust me, I know...) It seems real tempting to get an amazing Groupon for $50 for a boudoir session, I know, it's a crazy amazing price! But all you're really getting there is the "imitation chemical mozzarella cheese," or the "chemical store-brand dairy desert." A really bad processed food item, that well, (certainly isn't photography,) let alone a product you'd even feed to a stray dog.
No photographer worth their salt is going to work for $2 or $3 per hour. (Would you go to your job for $2 an hour?) I've talked to many people getting caught up in these deals, and although they are not all tragedies. in general, you are not getting quite what you expect. The truth is in this day and age, so many people hang the label of "photographer" on themselves and they are not skilled enough technically (or business-wise) to be charging anyone for what they produce.
So, where does that leave you? Very simple. Save and do it right. It's time to start thinking of photography more like a designer brand (e.g. Louis Vuitton) handbag, and less like store-brand ice cream. Although hiring John Mayer may be a bit out of reach, I hope you can see the other extreme is definitely a hard pass. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. You want stunning results? You're going to have to pay for them. The truth of the matter is, it's well worth it. I hear from clients years after their sessions who still look at their albums and portraits, and are thrilled by the results.
Budget: Like Grandma always said, "You get what you pay for."
What's the better deal? A $150,000 home, or the $240,000 home? I'm hoping by this point you understand that without context you can't answer what question! Where are the homes? How big are they? Is one on the water?
Likewise, If one photographer shows a $150 session price on a website, and another shows a $240-- and not knowing anything else, those numbers mean nothing. You need to ask questions and learn the details.
Reach out and touch someone. At this point you need to start getting an idea on what you are planning to spend on your session, and start making some moves. If the average boudoir session and album from respectable looking photographers in your area that seem to have quality work is going from $500 - $700 -- then that should be your expectation.
Additionally, you need to start contacting people. YES, you may actually have to talk to another human. Which of the photographers on your remaining list seems most attractive to you? Start making some calls, or emails.
Most photographers will not have complete pricing information on their websites. There may be only bits and pieces, or perhaps nothing at all. In this day and age, people want immediate information. For that purpose, I list some basic info on my site, but products can come in so many shapes and price points, and it can be too overwhelming to show every possible option available.
Now it's safe to finally start having the pricing discussion.
Gather your details. This is sometimes more easily said, than done. Photographers use all kinds of wonky "time-based" or "outfit-based" packages, which are often ill thought out, and frankly don't often make sense. This can make it a challenge to actually figure out what you're getting.
A good mantra here may be the more confusing a photographer's pricing seems to be, probably the more you should consider other options. "Oh-La-La" Packages, "Bombshell" Packages, and "Diva" packages may sound cute, but what does that really mean? Well, the Diva package has 3 outfits, and 30 minutes of shooting, while the Bombshell Package has 4 outfits, but has 45 minutes of shooting, and includes the "White sheet set"-- well, all that clutter is really enough to drive you mad.
This is a dumb way to sell photography. Why? Well, photography is not a time or outfit based proposition. In photography, people are buying results. Imagine going to the hair salon and being asked if you'd prefer the 10 minute haircut or the 20 minute haircut. Pretty weird, right?
Well, those strange packages are just as weird in photography, and usually a tip-off the photographer may not quite know what they're doing. Most people are simply looking for their session, makeup, and a cute photo book of some sort as a gift. Period. Its really quite simple. Pricing should be straight forward, transparent, and results based.
Look for photographers that feature simple all-in-one pricing, or perhaps a la carte pricing, where you pay for your session, and pick your product according to budget and needs (that's what I do, and that system can't be beat.)
Avoid paying for things you don't need or want, like extra prints, bundled wall art, etc.
Additionally, boudoir photography sessions can take a bit of time to complete! Photographers may vary in their methods, but in my mind a boudoir session should be a little break from the usual daily grind. I operate with that principle in mind, and let the client enjoy the experience-- No rushes, no time limits. Overall, including makeup and prep time, I may take 3 - 4 hours on average with my clients-- and that seems to go by in a flash.
Now, all photographers may not operate the same way I do, but as I mentioned earlier, make sure there is at least a decent time allotted for a relaxed photo session, and the experience isn't about rushing you through without a chance to enjoy the experience.
Don't play the Audi dealer against Joe's Used Cars
Photo products are another area where you are going to have to suspend your addiction to comparing prices, and where that practice can really get you in trouble.
I've written about this story before, but I'll summarize here again because the point is quite relevant. Years ago I ran across a price shopper who was insistent on comparing me to other places she was shopping, and kept sending me updates on how much cheaper she was finding photographers elsewhere and she wouldn't be able to consider me unless I was going to offer her a similar deal.
She was "insulted" by my product prices and kept insisting she had an offer for a free album from another photographer, and if I wanted her business I'd have to offer her the same. I politely declined her offer.
In short, she wound up traveling over 100 miles to do a photo session in someone's garage on an old couch, and her "free" album was a dollar store photo holder with some 4x6 prints inserted.
Don't start making comparisons on product prices when you have no idea of what you're getting. I keep using the same metaphor, but, you may be walking into the Audi dealer and declaring "If you want my business you're going to have to do something about your prices. Down the street at Joe's Used Cars I can get a car for $6,000. Your prices are ten times higher! If you expect me to buy here you're gonna have to match Joe's..."
That would be a pretty ridiculous thing to expect, wouldn't it? Photo products, in a similar way, have a large range of price points and can vary tremendously in retail pricing. There are high-end hand-made album manufacturers which are quite expensive all the way to low priced consumer targeted mass-produced items -- and everything in between.
This may be the reason why one photographer's 8x8 album is $800, and another's is $199. The only way you can be sure of what you'e getting is to have the conversation about it, and see samples, if possible.
If I am working with a client near me, I always offer them the opportunity to meet up and review products. I don't even get involved in the whole product pricing situation until I can go over and show them the differences and explain why one item is $250, while another similar looking one is $900. Without knowing, it would be like buying a car unseen and not knowing the make or model! If your prospect offers such a meeting, take it! Not only can you see first hand some of the products they offer, its also a great chance to meet the photographer, as well.
Be sure to get as much background information on what you're paying for as possible. This will help you make the smartest product decision. Remember, too, that their cost of the book/album is only part of what the final retail price is going to be. Another whole chunk of that price is their time, energy, and expertise involved in preparing the photos that go in that album. Don't expect a contractor to build you a new home for the cost of the lumber.
Getting to know you...Getting to know all about you.
The final section of the article may be a bit of common sense, but meeting your photographer is fairly important! As I mentioned before, I'll always set aside time to meet up with a potential client who is in my area.
At this point, after going through all of the previous steps in this article you're probably fairly on track to making a smart choice for your boudoir photographer. Got it narrowed down to one or two people? Pay them a visit. It's a smart use of your time.
Your session is a time when you may be feeling fairly vulnerable. You don't want to end up in a situation where things go bad. Sometimes personalities don't mesh, for whatever reason. As great as a photographer may be, if you're feeling uneasy in his/her presence, your results will suffer, and you may not have the positive experience you deserve.
If a personal meetup isn't an option, at least try to have a detailed phone conversation. --And ask questions. You are now armed with some good knowledge, so use it!
Ask questions about what is included. Is makeup and/or hair styling offered. What items are necessary to bring along. How long will you be there, etc.
One thing I always offer my clients is the opportunity to bring along a friend for moral support. Don't want to go alone? See if you can bring along a friend.
And the winner is...
Wow, it's been a long journey, but we're finally here! Choosing a boudoir photographer really can be an involved process, but the extra work you put into your selection will certainly pay off.
If you're feeling good about the person you met, it may be time to commit. As you can see this whole process can take a while. You may need to start your search several months before you require your products in hand. The earlier you start the process, the less stressful it will be.
Remember, it may take several weeks, to a month or more AFTER your session before your products are completed. Some hand made products may take 2-3 weeks in production, alone. Be sure to factor any product delivery times in to your scheduling. Have that discussion with your photographer so you don't miss your event.
Additionally, boudoir can be a seasonal business. Spring and Christmas seasons can get very busy, and you may need to book earlier than you expect. Cover availability and scheduling with your photographer and come up with a plan to ensure delivery well before it's needed.
A boudoir album is valued possession that is treasured for years -- literally. I occasionally run into clients from years ago who still tell me they look at their albums with admiration and recall the great time they had during their session. I love hearing that!! For me, it's certainly the payoff for all of the hours of work that go into each and every client. It is truly an experience you'll treasure for years.
Remember our steps for success:
Discover your local options. Do a comprehensive search of available photographers in your area. Decide your travel radius, and stick with boudoir specialist
Immediately discard photographer with low quality and "shady" work. Stick only with high quality boudoir photography.
Get rid of the "Cupcake Queens" and "Boudoir Boomers." Stick with only the highest quality experienced professionals in your area. Avoid photographers making "life altering" claims.
Understand what high quality work sells for in your area. Plan for and expect that to be your budget.
Shop Smart. Price should never be the sole deciding factor in your decision. As we've seen, a price without any other context is meaningless.
Avoid making baseless comparisons on session packages or products. Photography is not a price comparative industry. There are too many quirky packages, such a huge variety of products, and vast range in skill levels of photographers that this practice is meaningless. Don't try to play the Audi dealer against Joe's Used Cars.
Meet your photographer. This should be the easy part. By now you've cut out most of the bad choices. Be certain you have a good rapport, feel comfortable, and get your session scheduled early.
Finally - best of luck to you on your boudoir photography journey! I hope these tips can help make your selection a bit easier. As you can see, choosing the right photographer is a bit more difficult in most instances than it should be.
If you have any questions about the process, please send me a note on my website Mike Cassidy Photography. I'd be happy to help.
All the best,