In Rangefinder’s Summer Issue, three male photographers—Brian Callaway, Nick Murray and Ewan Phelan—discussed the nuts and bolts of boudoir, including style and approach, posing, locations, contracts and albums sales. Here, we focus on wedding photographer Jessica Pereira, of Jess Petrie Photography [jesspetrie.com], who, like Murray, is based in the UK. Jessica says she started shooting boudoir almost immediately after setting up her wedding photography business in 2012 after being asked by a couple of her brides-to-be if she would be willing to create some images of them in their lingerie as a special gift for their husbands-to-be. As she accepted she got asked more and more, until she started offering the service as a bridal package, which is how she later helped clients get past the bad connotations often attached to the word boudoir.
Had you ever shot any boudoir before you started offering it as an option for your brides?
Jessica Periera: Boudoir photography kind of fell into my lap, but that’s not to say it was easy (and I did and still do work extremely hard). I had previously done some “lingerie styled shoots” when working for other portrait studios, and I had done some shoots for friends as well. I once modeled for a fellow photographer on her boudoir-training workshop (so I had that insight of being on the other side of the camera, too). But it all organically developed to where I now have a healthy boudoir photography business, and my clientele range is very diverse—not just brides-to-be, but also pregnant women, couples and other photographers (at boudoir workshops). And the best part is that I really enjoy it.
What is your approach to shooting boudoir?
JP: My approach to boudoir photography is that of an artist. I studied fine-art painting and drawing back when I was at art college and regularly attended life-drawing classes. I learned how to see the human body as an art form; how the light falls onto the body and how shapes are formed by light and shade. I now use the same principles in my boudoir work, but this time using my camera. My color tones are muted and the images are delicate and luminous. As a woman I can recognize the vulnerability in my subjects and I approach these types of shoots with great understanding, respect and sensitivity. Vulnerability in these types of shoots is a wonderful thing; it’s real and it’s authentic, it helps to tell a story, a story of intimacy and desire. My clients also tell me that they feel more comfortable and confident about me taking their pictures knowing I have been drawing and painting naked strangers since my college days; they say it makes them also see their shoot as art, and it really puts them at ease.
Jess Petrie Photography includes your husband Rodrigo. Does he also shoot boudoir, or just you?
JP: When photographing bridal boudoir, I insist that my studio is a male-free zone. I’m sure many women are perfectly happy with a male photographer taking their boudoir session but there are also some who are not. A boudoir shoot is extremely intimate, and many of my ladies are not professional models and have really plucked up the courage to trust in me to photograph them so that they can give their photos as a gift to their husband/husband-to-be/partner. They trust that I will make them feel as comfortable as I possibly can while still producing the images that they desire, and I do not take this lightly.
As a photographer it is imperative that you yourself also feel comfortable with photographing boudoir, and I know that my husband would not, which is totally fine, plus I feel having two photographers on a boudoir shoot would feel quite intimidating. Regardless of being a male or female photographer, the foundations of your shoot are based on your approach to these types of sessions, and when I’m photographing boudoir I see the body as an art form, a shape, and I look for the light and the shade, just as I do when life-drawing butt-naked strangers. I don’t feel embarrassed, I don’t see the flaws, and it’s all perfectly normal practice for me; this is probably one of the most important assets I have as a boudoir photographer.
Are most of your clients from the UK?
JP: Yes they are, and many are quite local to my studio base, although I do shoot destination boudoir, too, as I have done many times when traveling for a destination wedding. I have also photographed boudoir for women who have chosen specific locations for their shoot, be it the Spanish coast or the beach on Capri.
What does boudoir mean in your part of the world? In other words, is UK boudoir different than what you see in the U.S. or in other countries?
JP: I feel that boudoir is a bit of a tainted word here in the UK, and that many generalize what boudoir photography can mean and entail. Harsh artificial light, bold bright color schemes and quite a Playboy-ish theme is what generally comes to the minds of many, and more often than not that type of image is geared more for the viewer than the woman who is in the photograph. It’s used as a sales tool and nothing more, whereas boudoir in the U.S. is more about the woman feeling empowered and looking beautiful, like in a fine-art painting—delicate and romantic with muted tones and colors, plus lots of natural light, emotion and feeling (as opposed to the woman being viewed as just being a sex object). I think we still have a long way to go in the UK.
Do you ask subjects to bring their own outfits? Do you suggest outfits? Use any props?
JP: Professional planning and coaching is given to each of my lovely ladies before their session. As a woman, I can recognize the vulnerability in my subjects and I approach these types of shoots with great understanding, respect and sensitivity. I've had a boudoir photography session myself, so I know exactly what it is like to be on the other side of the camera. I can totally relate and understand how my clients feel about it, and I can help them to feel at ease.
I have a comfortable boudoir studio that is completely private and male-free. There is also the option of having hair and makeup done professionally by my lovely trusted hair and makeup artist prior to the session, and a complimentary glass of Prosecco never goes to waste! A bit of pampering before the session can help to boost confidence and help to combat any of those last-minute nerves. My boudoir sessions are also inclusive to all types of women, capturing them at a variety of times in their lives.
I see each boudoir session as a beautiful untold love story. I work in depth with each of my clients, getting to know them and what they want to achieve. We plan the shoot and create mood boards together beforehand, and I help with advice on what to wear and any props that they may want to include. It gets them geared up and inspired for their shoot, makes them part of the process, creates trust, and it helps knit everything together.
Do you use mostly available light? What camera do you typically shoot with?
JP: I am a natural light photographer, and I feel that for the style of boudoir I shoot, it complements the ethereal softness of the female form. Ambient light is softer and more flattering than artificial light, and I love soft shadows that fall on the body where they are supposed to be—it's what helps to make a sensual photograph, and this is my signature style of boudoir photography. I shoot a mixture of digital (Canon 5D Mark III) and film (35mm) on each session. It’s a creative and artistic shoot, and there are different processes to each medium that I love, so I give my clients the best of both.
Is the boudoir you do shot mostly in clients’ homes or in your studio? Ever go outside or to a private spot?
JP: When I first started shooting boudoir, many were shot in the morning or night before the wedding in the bridal suite. When I started professionally offering my boudoir sessions, they would take place either in the client’s home or at a boutique hotel (which could get awkward when trying to explain why I wanted to book the room… Remember the stigma attached in the UK?). Now I have my studio, which is flooded with natural light and decorated in neutral colors, and this way I have full control over the space I shoot in. I’ve also photographed boudoir sessions out on location, but this is very weather permitting, as it is the UK, and I still shoot in clients’ homes and bridal suites if this suits them better.
Anything else you want to add in terms of your brand of boudoir and how you market it?
JP: I now have my own boudoir website, www.beautifullyundressedboudoir.com, so I don’t really market it as I find it difficult with all the stigma attached. Social media also monitors any adverts with the words boudoir, lingerie shoot, bedroom, and I’ve never been able to promote it that way—only through my own blog and sharing with my own followers. Most of my boudoir clients are either brides-to-be, have been my brides, and/or are friends of them. I’ve had features with a few blogs, but mostly over in the U.S., so reaching out to women here in the UK (that are unaware of what I do) has never been an easy task. But I am working on it!
Boudoir Digest: The Latest Trends in a Burgeoning Genre