Boudoir photography is bringing sexy back
By Janelle Bitker
Published: Monday, Aug. 26, 2013 – 8:48 pm
When Lisa Lemus and her boyfriend broke up, she was stunned he wouldn’t give back the nude photos.
Lemus had taken boudoir photographs — an increasingly trendy gift for romantic partners — and liked them so much that she may order another set for herself.
“I’d see those pictures every day, and I’d think, ‘That’s not bad for 40,’” the 39-year-old Roseville pastry chef said. “I’d remember the vixen on the inside.”
Boudoir — French for “bedroom” — refers to sexy, erotic portraits, and they’re making a comeback from their heyday in the 1980s. After plummeting into near nonexistence, the style re-emerged around 2009, escalating from a wedding-day gift niche to something singles do for fun.
The sessions can be costly — most subjects spend $500 to $800, more if they get professionally styled.
Clients usually strip down to lingerie, depending on their level of comfort. But regardless of potential nudity, Citrus Heights-based photographer Diana Miller is quick to clarify that boudoir images are not pornography.
“Porn doesn’t leave a lot to the imagination,” said Miller, the artist behind Lemus’ photos, with 20 years in the boudoir biz. “Boudoir is subtle, hidden, teasing.”
With light reflecting off her curves and a chain of pearls, Lemus sees her photos as works of art. And that’s why her ex-boyfriend Mike Lopez didn’t return them.
“They’re classy and beautiful, and everyone who sees them agrees,” he said.
Explaining a comeback in popularity of boudoir photography, industry folks point to accessibility. With the ease of personal websites, online portfolios and social media, more people can see what boudoir photography really looks like.
For Sacramento wedding planner Stephanie Teague, it signals a growing appreciation for professional photography in general.
“More and more of my clients are spending more money on high-end photographers,” she said. “And then they don’t hire videographers.”
For the groom
A little black book of naughty photos makes a popular groom’s gift. Brides-to-be are the bulk of Sacramento photographer Carmen Salazar-Burke’s clients at Carmen Salazar Lifestyle Photographer.
In 2011, she offered boudoir settings for the first time. By 2012, her bookings jumped by 450 percent. And she projects she’ll surpass 2012’s numbers this year.
The national research company Wedding Report started keeping track of boudoir photography trends in 2009. About 134,000 brides — 7 percent of the number of brides who hired professional photographers — paid for boudoir services. In 2011, that number jumped to 230,000 brides, or 12 percent. For 2013, 237,000 brides have hired boudoir photographers so far.
While boudoir shoots range by photographer, here’s how it works in Salazar-Burke’s studio: After a phone consultation, clients come in with clothing and choose — with the photographer’s expertise — what to wear with what backgrounds. While Salazar-Burke adjusts the lighting, the clients have their hair and makeup done by the in-house stylist, while enjoying a glass of wine or champagne. Then the action begins.
“If they were nervous, they’re not anymore,” Salazar-Burke said. “They just feel amazing.”
Vanessa Kitley, events coordinator for Il Fornaio in Sacramento, went to Salazar-Burke in April to surprise her husband on their June wedding night.
“Hands down, it was one of the best experiences ever,” she said.
For Kitley, it was empowering. For her husband, it was a huge surprise.
“It was concerning for about a half a second before I realized that they were pretty high-quality photos,” said Bret Kitley, a U.S. Marine, by email from a training camp. “Not your average ‘cellphone selfies,’ so to speak.”
Not just brides
Kate Miller, a Sacramento-based wedding planner, said many of her clients ask about boudoir photography. But what’s more startling is the number of clients asking about it after the wedding.
“They’re doing boudoir for anniversaries and birthdays,” she said. “And singles are doing it just for fun.”
Boudoir is gaining traction with couples and men (“dudeoir”), according to Kate Miller. Though the overwhelming majority of Diana Miller’s (no relation) clients are women, she estimated 8 percent of her boudoir business is composed of men and 2 percent couples.
Casey Armstrong and Brandon Alexander are one of those couples. They went to Diana Miller’s studio last spring just for fun and came away with a photo album and an 11-by-16-inch framed collage for the bedroom.
“One photo looked so perfect, like it was supposed to be in a magazine for a perfume ad,” Armstrong said, and that photo is proudly displayed in the couple’s home office.
Photographers emphasized that the level of magazine-perfection is attainable for people of all shapes and sizes, making boudoir a popular personal gift. For Lemus, the experience was a gift in itself.
“I’m a size 16, so I never thought I’d feel comfortable,” she said. “But I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”
Issues of trust
As for privacy concerns, none of the individuals interviewed for this story seemed to have any.
Photographers cited password-protected albums, and clients all said they trusted their photographers to keep their more risqué photos safe. Wedding planners said they had never heard of a boudoir photography leak.
Clients mentioned keeping the bedroom door closed when guests came over, but what about kids — or disapproving parents — nosing around?
“I’m not too worried,” Vanessa Kitley said, as did many others. “It’s tasteful, nothing raunchy.”
Diana Miller assumed that the spread of consumer digital cameras would bring a halt to boudoir, as people tried taking tasteful, erotic photos by themselves. But now they’re realizing it’s not the same.
As Lemus said: “It’s like trying to take your own family portrait — nothing can touch the professional look.”
Call The Bee’s Janelle Bitker, (916) 321-1027. On Twitter @JanelleBitker.