Updated: Dec 13, 2019
A couple of weeks ago a friend and I got into a conversation about my aspirations of making a business out of my photography, and specifically, corporate headshots. She had a look through my website. I have an Instagram feed plugin on one of the pages there, which happened to have contained this image I posted that day…..
Now, my main target demographics are business people, in the need of Corporate Headshots (and a quick browse through LinkedIn suggests there’s a lot of business to be had!). My friend very quickly, after seeing the above image on my website in the Instagram feed, suggested that if she was a business owner, she would not consider employing me to take her headshot.
This confused me muchly. Well actually no it didn’t! With my ‘business hat’ on, I can understand totally where my friends thinking is coming from. I pushed my friend as to why she thought that way and basically it boiled down to her company being associated with a photographer who took ‘nude photos’ (her words). Now, this wasn’t a first to me. I have had this same conversation with another woman about a year and a half ago or so.
The woman above is not nude. Seems obvious to me, but again, my friend isn’t the first to refer to a woman in lingerie as being ‘nude’. So that raises questions as to society’s perception of a woman in lingerie, or ‘boudoir’ photography.
As someone who has undertaken several boudoir AND nude shoots (both working with models on portfolio building shoots, and paid client work) my thoughts, for whatever they are worth, are as follows.
These woman (and I’ve actually also done a few Mandour shoots!) are highly intelligent (the vast majority), driven, self-confident (sometimes not hence the request for the shoot), strong and professional human beings. Models undertake this sort of photography for various reasons, as do paying clients of the public.
Models: In the most part, models undertake boudoir/lingerie/nude shoots to either update or add something new to their modelling portfolios. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a few models who have since appeared in several Hollywood movies (albeit small roles) and/or internationally published in household name magazines.
If their shoots with me played any part in their success I’d be a very humbled man.
What’s important to get across here is that no model I have personally ever worked with, has taken part in a shoot she hasn't requested herself. The vast majority of models have very clear boundaries and make these very clear in pre-shoot communications. So let’s dispel this idea that models who pose in their underwear and/or nude, are ‘easy’ or ‘tarts’ or doing so against their will.
In my experience of working with over 50 female models in just under 2 years, I can honestly say I’ve never met a ‘tart’. During the shoot, everything was very relaxed but most importantly professional. I’m fortunate to consider some of the models I’ve worked with as friends now. Some I’ve shot with over 8 – 10 times.
Clients: Client interest in boudoir and/or nude shoots can vary. For some, it is about their own self-confidence. Perhaps they have lost some weight and would like to celebrate this with some images that complement their ‘new body’.
For others, it is a very personal gift which they will be presenting to their significant other half. As part of my boudoir shoots, I always have a telephone conversation with my client weeks before the shoot to understand her motivation for the shoot. There is a subtle difference in images between images woman like of themselves and what their significant other half may like.
So for example, woman A may feel that her breasts are her ‘weakest’ feature. So if we were shooting for the clients self-confidence, I would direct the client into positions that accentuated her perceived ‘assets’ and concealed her perceived ‘flaws’.
However, if the shoot is for a gift to the partner, then suddenly the focus shifts to, “What does your partner love about you?”. And it may well transpire that woman A’s partner loves her breasts.
So I will always ensure that whilst I take shots that hide the breasts, we also take some accentuating them. Ultimately the client chooses which images s/he wants. During my client conversation, we also discuss which genres and style of boudoir the client is seeking. I have done pinup, vintage, tradition and goth style boudoir sets! That’s assuming the client does not want ‘implied nude’ (nude but not frontal. Turned to the side, using shadows to conceal, silhouette etc) or ‘nude’.
I also provide access to a ‘pose catalogue’ which I then ask the client to make at least 10 selections from. This gives me an idea of what the client is comfortable with, gives us an initial ‘shot list’ giving the client time to ‘relax into the shoot’ (it can be very daunting for a woman to be in front of a camera in her lingerie / nude, likely multiplied given I am a male photographer!) and also lets the client practise her ‘facial expressions’ before the shoot. it’s hard to ‘look sexy’ on queue if it’s not something you are used to. Hence I’m behind the camera!
I have always been an artistic person. Taking up sketching and drawing at around 6 – 7 years old. That artistic nature also found it’s way into my photography. I photograph EVERYTHING and anything. What I struggle with is that according to my friend, and the other woman I had this discussion with in the past, if I am to have any traction in the Corporate Headshot world, I’d have to stop shooting a woman in lingerie / nude.
That doesn’t sit well with me. I understand it. But I don’t agree with it. And I guess that in this day and age, that someone’s ability as a ‘photographer’ is based on what they choose to shoot surprises me.
I find the human form a work of art. And in my model and personal projects, I tend to do a lot of ‘fine art nude’ work. Where shadows are used to accentuate the lines and curves of the female form. It’s never about ‘nude pics’ or ‘porn’.
My validation comes from the models/clients loving the images we have produced. And if I can make a woman feel good about herself, then that is a job well done. I do not see the difference between making a businesswoman/man feel good about themselves with a good headshot/portrait or making a woman feel good about herself in her lingerie/lack thereof.
As a creative person, there is no greater joy than creating something someone else appreciates. Even if it’s only the model/client. So whether that’s a corporate headshot, a portrait of your pet, family portraits, your wedding day or a boudoir shoot my motivation is always the same, “Make the model/client rave about you and the results.”
Anyone in business understands the power of social media these days, word of mouth has a bigger audience!
So why Corporate Headshots?
Because I need a ‘niche’. Not so much as in ‘that is all I’m going to shoot’ but rather, that is what I’m going to put my marketing efforts into. Give my efforts a focus. If I went out into the world shouting I can shoot anything and everything, I’m going to get nowhere quickly. I’ve chosen corporate headshots/portraits because of my own career in IT. Where I met with a lot of blue-chip companies and people in middle management and higher roles. I understand business. I understand marketing. I understand what makes a good Corporate Headshot because, for some 25 years, I worked in a world where headshots were important. So I strongly believe this is where my strength will lie and where I’ll be, in the short term, putting a lot of effort into creating a portfolio around that I can then present to larger prospects. Baby steps and all that.
As the tried and tested saying goes, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”. Just because I take images of models/clients to help them progress in their careers, or make a woman feel great about herself, doesn’t mean I cannot produce a Corporate headshot that will reassure prospects of your persona.
And if you cannot look past the fact that I occasionally take images of woman in lingerie / nude, then please rest assured that if you’re a paying client, you will not need to be associated to me in any way, I don’t need you to credit me when you use the images on your Online or printed material. No one will ever know, “that dodgy photographer that takes pictures of nude woman took his/her headshot!”.
Similarly, because woman CHOOSE to be photographed in lingerie and/or nude, does not make them ‘tarts’ (or other terms I’ve often heard associated with non-clothed woman photographs).
I can only hope that this thought process is a generational thing, and as the millennials take over the CEO jobs, I won’t encounter this small-mindedness too much.