When pandemic restrictions were lifted, new clients overwhelmed boudoir photographers.
Some clients are booking the tasteful nude or semi-nude photos to feel better about the pandemic weight gain.
Many say they undress for photos as a form of empowerment or self-care.
When COVID-19 forced Americans into their homes, it catapulted an unlikely array of products and industries to success, from exercise bikes to sweatpants to video conferencing software. With pandemic restrictions being lifted and people flocking to activities like travel and live shows, another industry is getting an unexpected boost: boudoir photography.
Photographers specializing in tasteful nude and semi-naked shoots say Americans are rushing to book them in record numbers. Questions flood into photographers’ inboxes; for the first time in their careers, many have booked a number of months.
Sarah Witherington started her Atlanta-based company, Own Boudoir, in 2012. In 2014 she was shooting 150 women a year and in 2019 she booked shoots one to two months in advance. This year she booked eight months in advance and her sales have increased by 30%.
“I have to tell potential customers that we won’t be available until October,” said Witherington.
After a slow 2020, boudoir photographers made a huge recovery
Based in Denver, Colorado, Tamara Murphy .’s company All Things Boudoir is a large-scale operation, with photographers in more than 50 US cities. Before the pandemic, the company had an average of 400 appointments per month, but work came to a halt in March 2020. Clients canceled hundreds of scheduled shoots.
For months, the boudoir business came to a standstill because virtual sessions proved technologically unfeasible. But as face-to-face meetings became safer and vaccines became available, interest grew. By the end of 2021, All Things Boudoir was booking nearly 1,900 appointments per month — nearly four times the pre-pandemic average of Murphy. She had to hire more photographers to meet the demand.
“People sat at home for months, glued to their computers during the lockdown,” Murphy said. “They spent a lot of time dreaming about what they could do.”
Women are using boudoir sessions to cope with pandemic stress and weight gain
Photographers describe boudoir shoots as relaxing, empowering experiences that leave many clients feeling confident, sexy and more in touch with their bodies. Typically, clients spend several hours getting their hair and makeup professionally done for a photo shoot that lasts an hour or more, including a change of clothes. Some photographers play music to help clients relax and intimately guide them through various poses.
Photographers say they see a few obvious reasons why clients book boudoir shoots. Some seek a boost to their self-esteem after a year of stress and inactivity that led to weight gain. Others just want to feel alive again after years of living in sweatpants.
“I had a client who was put on quarantine weight,” said Ashley Benham, owner of the Memphis-based Ashley Benham Photography† “She gave herself a pep talk and told herself to celebrate her body because this is the only one we get. I love making women feel powerful, sexy and confident even when weight gain is happening.”
Photographers say that women, very thinly spread due to the pandemicjust want a day to spoil themselves.
“Most of my clients haven’t been able to do anything for themselves for a while,” Witherington said. “They’re busy working, being partners and mothers. That’s why the one-on-one photo shoot is special.”
The “carpe diem” attitude of surviving a pandemic also plays a role. Benham says the clients who come to her studio see their lives in a different light than they did before the pandemic. “My clients are working on their bucket list. The uncertainty of COVID-19 makes people want to take risks. They know they only live once.”
Finally, there are bigger cultural trends at play. Sexiness has a moment when cutouts, miniskirts and low-rise jeans fill the catwalks and shelves. Steamy scenes in shows like “bridgerton” and “Euphoria” captured the viewers’ imaginations.
“Quarantine made us feel like we couldn’t be sexy,” Benham said. “Customers told me that during the lockdown they bought sexy clothes online and couldn’t wear them anywhere. Now everyone wants to go out and dress our best.”
“People are depressed, have been alone and secluded for a long time,” Murphy said. “They’ve been in their pajamas for a year. A lot of people want to get out and do something to build confidence that’s also safe.”
The 2022 wedding boom extends to bridal boudoir photos — but it’s not just about gifts for partners
Historically, boudoir has been closely associated with marriage. Brides often booked a shoot as a wedding gift for their partners, and some photographers even offered discount packages to clients who booked them for a pre-wedding boudoir shoot and to shoot their actual wedding.
With 2022 as the busiest year for the wedding industry since 1984boudoir shoots are on the rise accordingly.
“Many of my clients come to me for boudoir sessions because they are getting married and want a gift for their partner on their wedding day,” said Benham.
However, some photographers say that their female clients are less and less interested in booking a shoot as a gift for a partner, and are instead looking for the experience for themselves.
“When I started the company, I advertised it as a great gift for your partner,” Murphy said. “Now it’s almost always about a woman coming in to build her confidence, to see herself in a different way, with her hair and makeup all on. It’s nice to have the album to look back on when you’re not feeling your best It makes such a difference in the lives of so many women.”
Men and older women flock to do boudoir shoots
While brides in their twenties and thirties remain a mainstay of the industry, photographers are seeing more than ever the interest of women over 45. Benham recently did a “marathon shoot” with eight female colleagues in their late 40s and 50s, who decided that a boudoir session a bucket list item†
Witherington has seen similar interest. “Instead of coming in for a milestone like a wedding, most come in for reasons like a 40th or 50th birthday, or because they lost a lot of weight, or got divorced, or just because. That’s a big difference since pre- covid.”
Men are another group new to the boudoir scene. In the past two years, Witherington said she’s photographed about 15 men, compared to two or three a year before that.
“They come in for the same reason — they want to look sexy,” she said. “A guy found me because he saw a girl’s pictures on Tinder and sent her a message: ‘Your pictures are so good, who took them?’ “He just got out of the army and was proud of his body. It captured a certain time in his life. He ended up putting the photos I took on his own Tinder!”
Interest in boudoir reflects a changing culture
Boudoir photographers say they have witnessed a massive cultural shift over the past decade. American society is accepting more spicy – even kinky – pictures, thanks to ’50 Shades of Grey’, the accessibility of online porn and the growing popularity of OnlyFans.
“My clients don’t all post to OnlyFans, but I do think they feel more permission to value their own sexuality than in the past,” Witherington said.
Boudoir can also be political. Photographers say clients have cited the #MeToo movement and the Women’s March as catalysts pushing them to book powerful boudoir shoots. Meanwhile, the body positivity movement has made more people than ever feel like boudoir is for them.
“The images and stories we’ve been given in recent years have changed, and they’re also changing people’s view of what’s available to them,” Witherington said, pointing to the recent shift, even in Victoria’s Secret Ads† “Photos aren’t just for a certain body type or person or life purpose or age. They’re for everyone.”
“The pandemic and quarantine have been tough,” Benham said. “But for me there was a silver lining: people want to celebrate themselves and treat themselves like never before. People use this as self-care. You have to celebrate yourself.”
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