Stephanie Gagliano arrived to her first boudoir photo shoot nervous but prepared. She had met with Denise Wiles of Nova Photography, so she knew what to expect. When she walked into the photographer’s Royal Oak studio she found her favorite soda on ice, her R&B requests on Bluetooth and Wiles welcoming her into the client wardrobe closet.
“It’s a magical closet,” Gagliano says. “Choosing wardrobe is so much fun and puts you in the mood.”
Gagliano found a leather bustier, sequined bottom and black bodysuit, then settled in to have her hair and makeup done.
“I went with a red-carpet look – curly hair and red lips,” she says. “I wanted something that was completely different than my everyday look. I wanted to be transformed.”
Gagliano admits she’s not the type of girl you’d peg to commission sexy photos of herself. The Waterford mom of 6-year-old twin girls says it was way out of her comfort zone.
“I’m not really an exhibitionist at all,” says the 34-year-old, who owns and operates a pizzeria with her husband. “I’m a private person. The way I dress and act, you would never think I would be someone who would do a boudoir shoot. I’m not a glamorous person in real life.”
Gagliano got the idea after seeing some boudoir shots friends had shared and decided to book a shoot as a gift for her husband.
“My interest was piqued.”
When Gagliano first stepped in front of the lens, she over-analyzed her expression and wondered if her hair looked OK. After a few shots, she just let go.
“Denise told me, ‘Arch your back, breathe out, close your eyes.’ I wasn’t having to think about how I looked. I just followed the instructions,” she says. “I put a picture of my husband in my head. Instead of looking at the camera, I pretended I was looking at him. What we got in the end was really, really cool.”
Gagliano was so pleased with her photos, she booked a second shoot for the holidays. This time she brought her own red and purple lingerie.
“Initially this is something I did for my husband, but I got the pictures back and I loved them. It ended up being more for me,” she says.
By Gagliano’s own account, she struggled with low self-confidence as a teenager and 20-something. It wasn’t until she had children that she started to honor her shape.
“I’m so proud of my body now, more so than I felt when I was younger. Because I’m a mom, I know I’m capable of bringing life into this world. It’s a beautiful thing. Boudoir is a really great way to celebrate that. It changes the way you look at yourself and your body, and makes you appreciate yourself a little bit more.”
What is boudoir?
The word “boudoir’ is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a woman’s dressing room, bedroom or private sitting room.” When applied to photography, the French term refers to sensual, romantic, often erotic photos of women in intimate settings, usually in lingerie or partially nude.
Photos are suggestive rather than explicit, use few props and feature subjects who do not regularly model. The pictures are not meant to be shared with a wide audience, but kept private and under the subject’s control. Styles range from moody and romantic to retro and playful.
Boudoir has roots in popular pinup photos of World War II, Rita Hayworth kneeling on a bed in her negligee and Betty Grable glancing over her shoulder in a one-piece bathing suit that accentuates her million-dollar legs. Today, you don’t have to be a Hollywood star to become a pinup icon – or at least feel like one.
Boudoir is becoming increasingly popular and accessible to everyday women as more photographers add the style to their portfolios. Women book boudoir shoots for a variety of reasons. Whether they’re seeking unique wedding or anniversary gifts for partners, a pinup party with best friends or a unique personal experience, they often walk away seeing themselves in a different light.
Denise Wiles was a wedding photographer, but when a bride approached her to do a boudoir groom’s gift, she quickly gravitated toward the style.
“I fell in love with it, to be quite honest,” the Royal Oak resident says. “The way she reacted to seeing herself in the photos, it was a powerful, amazing thing to see. I started exploring it from there.”
Wiles has since transitioned almost exclusively to boudoir, and business has grown by word of mouth.
Wiles has photographed women of all shapes, sizes and ages. “The photos don’t necessarily need to be super scantily clad. They can be implied nude – knee socks, a sweater and a cup of coffee. Anything that makes a woman feel powerful and a little sexy,” she says. “I really want to be able to show women that no matter what stage they are in life, or how they look physically, that they are beautiful.”
Wiles, who is raising an 18-month-old, says some of her best shoots have been with fellow moms.
“I prefer to shoot women who are over 30 and have maybe lived a little bit more, have had children, gone through some shit – let’s be real. That’s when you need to regain your self-confidence and sense of self. Boudoir is just one of the many ways you can help do that.”
Before the lens
Katrina “Kat” Giska, 39, booked a shoot with Wiles after losing 100 pounds. The Birmingham mother of two boys, ages 7 and 11, posed in a ruffled bodysuit and high heels, then in a thong, black lace bralette and leather moto jacket. Photos of her in a lace one-piece posing on a blue velvet chaise have a Vegas, rock star vibe. Finally, she wore a sheer fishnet crop top and high-waisted bottoms.
“Those are my favorite shots. I feel like you kind of loosen up as you go,” she says.
Giska says her husband thinks the pics are great, but she insists they weren’t meant for him.
“If I had attached my experience to his reaction, that would have been a mistake. If your partner is into it, great. If not, it doesn’t matter. It’s about you, being in your body, celebrating yourself as you are.”
She says her experience with boudoir has inspired her, in part, to enroll in a six-month Erotic Blueprint Breakthrough Coach Certification course so she can help other women get in touch with their sexuality.
“We’re comfortable saying we’re gonna be a boss babe, make money, nurture people and kick ass at being a mom, but the sexuality piece gets left out. Owning that piece is essential to feeling whole.”
Photographer Olivia Stouffer, who counts boudoir as one of her specialties, says her favorite part of the process is the photo reveal. Women are always shocked to see a version of themselves they haven’t in a long time – or maybe never before.
“It’s an empowering thing to see yourself looking sexy and powerful and beautiful,” says Stouffer, owner of Liv in the Moment Photography in metro Detroit. Stouffer understands more than anyone that booking a boudoir shoot can be intimidating, awkward and downright terrifying – but also deeply rewarding.
“I had a client I was shooting in her lingerie and she said, ‘Have you ever done this before?’ A little voice inside my head said, ‘Heck no, I would never do this,'” Stouffer recalled. “That’s when I realized, ‘Oh my gosh – I need to book my own. I need to see firsthand what this is like.’ So I did, and a few months later I was sitting in my undies on some other photographer’s couch.”
Having been on both sides of the lens, Stouffer highly recommends the experience.
“At the end of the day, that woman in the photograph is you,” she says. “Helping my clients see the best version of themselves is something I’m addicted to.”
How to pick a boudoir photographer
So you’ve decided to go for it. Congrats! Now, how do you choose a photographer? Here are a few things to consider.
Style: Browse portfolios to find the right fit. What kind of mood do they create? What kind of backdrops and props do they use? How much retouching do they do?
Experience: Boudoir is a specialty of its own that requires intimacy, knowledge and respect. Look for a photographer with experience posing a wide variety of body types, who makes you feel comfortable from your first contact.
Ratings: Do some digging into testimonials and reviews. Experienced photographers should have happy clients willing to share their positive experience online.
Pricing: Most boudoir photographers will charge a session fee, plus added costs for the final photos. How long is the session? Does it include hair and makeup? Is there access to a wardrobe closet? How many outfit changes? Also ask how the photos are delivered and how many shots are retouched and included.
Privacy: When it comes to boudoir, privacy is of utmost importance. Make sure your chosen photographer gives YOU complete control of where your photos end up.
Myth #1: My body needs to be perfect
Boudoir photography is for all shapes and sizes. Unfortunately, many women get stuck on what society has deemed to be their flaws: stretch marks, scars and rolls. The truth is, those things are part of your beauty. A boudoir shoot is about the body you have, not just the body you dream of.
Myth #2: My photos will end up on the Internet
Client privacy is the topmost priority for any professional boudoir photographer with a good reputation. Should the photographer get some exceptionally gorgeous shots from your session, they may want to display them in their portfolio, in their studio, at trade shows, on Instagram, etc. – in which case they will need your permission – which you don’t have to give.
Myth #3: You need someone to give your photos to
This is a chance for you to appreciate your femininity – with or without a partner. If you want to explore and glamorously document yourself as a strong, powerful, beautiful, fierce woman, then boudoir photography is an empowering way to do just that.
Myth #4: Boudoir isn’t for shy girls
Everyone feels awkward, maybe a little shy, and definitely self-conscious at the start of a shoot. A good photographer completely takes over styling, posing and direction, letting you relax and reveal your inner bombshell.
Myth #5: Boudoir shoots are expensive
Generally speaking, boudoir photography sessions are priced higher than your average family photoshoot, but it’s also something you’re going to do way less often. This is an investment in yourself. Many photographers offer a variety of packages to fit your budget. Most established photographer offer payment plans.