Boudoir is an intimate photo experience, and it's vital that boudoir photographers respect their clients bodily autonomy through the entire progress. Boudoir can heal, but if used incorrectly, it can harm, too. Boudoir photographers - you better be asking for consent and outlining expectations throughout your shoots with your clients. If you aren't, you might be hurting your clients.
When folks come to us, they're nervous. They are trying to reclaim a positive relationship with their body. They want to believe they can look at their bodies without judgement, and it's scary to trust another person to document that. Our clients are vulnerable, exposed, and looking for reassurance. They need our guidance and help, and we need to give them that with 100% respect. That respect starts by honoring their autonomy, which means you aren't pressuring your client to do something they don't want to. You're not entering their personal space without consent. You're not making them feel uncomfortable in their skin. You're providing a safe zone for them. Here's how I do that:
1. Always Ask if You Can Touch Them
When I'm shooting a client, sometimes I notice that their hair is out of place or their bra strap is twisted. If it's something I think they can fix quickly, I ask them to do so. If it's something I know I can fix quickly, I ask "hey, x, y or z is out of place? Is it ok if I touch you to fix it?" This lets them know they are in charge of their body during this shoot. Some people won't want you to touch them, and it's not your place to ask why. No one owes you an explanation. Bring them a mirror or tell them what to fix, and you'll be all set before snapping the photo. You should also let them know what your about to touch before doing so. Someone might be ok with you fixing their hair but don't want you touching their body. Respect their boundaries.
2. Give Them the Power to Say "No"
Before I start a shoot, I explain how posing is going to work. I assure my clients that I'll walk them through everything, and I'll show them what to do. I also let them know they can break from the pose anytime, but I end my posing explanation with this: "If I suggest a pose, and you don't want to do it, we are not going to do it. You have control over the poses we do." I want my clients to know that they decide how their body looks during their session. I'm here to guide, explain and support. I'm not here to dictate. Our boudoir clients need to know they have the power to say no. Some folks feel uncomfortable saying "no," so watch their body language. If you're paying attention, you'll know if their uncomfortable with a pose idea and you should move past it. We are looking for enthusiasm! An enthusiastic yes is consent. A scared yes isn't. We want our clients to step outside of their comfort zone, but not if it harms them.
3. Ask How to Say Goodbye to Your Client
When I'm getting ready to say goodbye, I like to ask my clients "hug or handshake?" (This was all pre-Covid of course.) I live in the Midwest, and hugging is pretty common, but not everyone wants to be hugged. I like to give my clients the option of how we say farewell, and if my client didn't want me to touch them at all during the shoot, I don't give them this option at all. They get a wave. We need to respect our clients' bodies from the start of the session up until the very end.
Our clients trust us to photograph a very intimate part of their life. They're trusting us to document their body in a respectful way, and it should be our primary goal to do so as boudoir photographers.