What I learned being in front of the lens for a boudoir session | Washington DC wedding photographer
I'm a big believer in boudoir as an incredibly powerful and empowering experience. I've both photographed boudoir for friends and clients, and gotten in front of the lens myself. Months ago, I decided to schedule a boudoir photo session. It was a deeply liberating, and empowering, and also heartbreaking experience. I am so incredibly glad to have given myself this experience. I learned so much. And let me tell you right now, I adore my photos.
I'd been thinking about doing this for a long time, and did my homework on photographers using the same criteria I tell all of my friends and my clients to use in picking their photographer:
- Did I love their style and could I imagine myself in their photos?
- Did I feel like I'd have a good personal rapport with the photographer to get genuine, joyful images that I wanted?
- Did my chosen photographer communicate outside of the session itself in a professional and responsive way?
This wasn't an inexpensive experience, and I'd narrowed it down to two photographers whose photos were stunning based on #1. Between those two photographers, it was no question when it came to #2 and #3. With Laura Quintero Photography, I got all of that in spades. And let me tell you, the fact that I did was critical to my whole experience.
I'd been following Laura for about a year before I reached out to her. Ultimately, had I worked with the other photographer, no matter how gorgeous her work is, I know that I could not have gotten as vulnerable, comfortable, and trusting as I did with Laura. And without that trust and rapport, I knew I just wouldn't have loved the photos. Laura is sweet, super-empowering, self-possessed, conveys a sense of vulnerability and strength herself, and even just following her Instagram, I knew she had the personality I needed in a photographer. (Know thyself, friends.)
The weekend, and the experience of the session itself were so, so great. From prep (which may or may not have included in indulging in every kind of self-care known to womankind) to my actual time in front of the lens, to having a weekend to focus on myself, I was riding high for a solid week after the shoot.
Then began the nail-biting wait for my photos (clients, this is the part where you should definitely keep reading)...
I didn't set out for this to be a learning experience for me as a photographer, but as it turns out, it was.
If you've read my blogging, followed my social for any amount of time, or know me at all, it's probably pretty clear that one of the things that's most important to me in life and in my photography is making people comfortable and happy. Technically-perfect photos are lovely, but if the people in the photos aren't relaxed, happy, and comfortable, the photos don't do much for me. I'd much rather have a real connection in a technically-imperfect photo than the other way around. Being warm, and welcoming, and accepting, and empowering, is at the core of my wedding photography ethos.
It breaks my heart (and is all-too-common) when clients or friends of mine love their wedding photos (a win!) as a whole but hate the portraits of themselves (failure on my part).
I work really, really hard as a photographer to workshop with my clients and put them at ease, and explain to them that being uncomfortable in front of the camera is normal and okay. That we are all our own worst critics. And that we will put only their best face forward, and that those "flaws" that we see in photos of ourselves are unnoticed or even beautiful to everyone around us. Still and yet, it seems that most of us (women and men alike, I'll flag) have internalized some C R A Z Y societal messaging about how we should look, what image we need to project about ourselves and our bodies, and however we look, that it's not good enough. And that is heartbreaking and illogical and awful.
So, last week, I received the best-email-ever from my photographer, Laura -- the email that I normally send! "Aimee, your photo gallery is ready." I received the email about 20 minutes after getting to my office for the day, and that email burned a hole in inbox for a busy 12-hour day before I could get home to click the link with baited breath.
The gallery loaded, and, riding high from my session experience with Laura, I was giddy and optimistic.
As I started scrolling through the gallery... a knot grew in the pit of my stomach. I saw only flaws, and flaws that got bigger the more I scrolled. I had trouble making it all the way to the end of the gallery. I closed my laptop, closed my eyes, and tried not to cry.
Let me tell you right now, the photos in that moment were every bit as gorgeous as they are right now. Laura had delivered above and beyond what I could've possibly imagined, and I'll remind you, I am the happiest I've ever been with my body.
And yet... in that first scroll through the gallery, I was completely irrationally my own worst critic. I was everything that breaks my heart when I see other people look at photos of themselves. Societal expectations, oh-how-we-have-internalized-you. And it breaks my heart.
Thank god, 6 years as a photographer meant a tiny photographer voice in the back of my head insisted that I look again. I opened my computer, and looked again. I saw photos that I'd missed before, and absolutely loved. And the knot in my stomach loosened as societal programming started losing out to reality.
My photos are stunning. I looked a third time, and shared with my amazing friend Sarah, and then a few more friends. They loved the photos I loved, and they loved the photos I didn't love. The photos are beautiful. I am beautiful, and I am grateful to have that beauty captured on camera.
Friends, reason and truth prevailed in my head and my heart. But it took hours. People, we have toxic, unrealistic, not-even-appealing beauty standards, and they break my heart. Even those of us who try not to subscribe to them sometimes get tangled. So, be gentle with yourselves, friends. Be kind, and full of second chances, and ask yourself if what you see is societal conditioning talking, or your own honest head and heart.
There is much societal programming I still have to weed out of my psyche. And I think I'm a lot farther ahead on that than many of my clients. What society tells us we should look like, and how we should feel about our bodies is toxic.
Boudoir is an incredibly powerful, empowering way to fight back against that. I'm so incredibly grateful to have chosen Laura as my photographer. In was both subtle and overt, we both worked to make sure I had the most positive, incredible experience possible. Even if I hadn't loved the photos (which I do!), I would cherish them for the happy, empowered memories I have of feeling incredible for the hours I was in front of Laura's lens.
Laura Quintero, my photographer, finds truth far better than "perfection". She doesn't retouch or Photoshop extensively. I'm so grateful for that. And 10 days out from receiving my photos, I'm proud, and grateful for, and accepting of my body. In many of the photos I'm sharing here I'm not "perfect." And with time and reflection, I'm okay with that. I want you to be okay with that, too. We should be proud. We should be comfortable. We should be sexy. We should reflect and love our true selves. Easier said than done, but worth constantly working on.
So if you're nervous in front of my camera, know that I've been there. Without clothes on. I am absolutely beautiful, and so are you.
And if you've ever even kind-of considered the idea of a boudoir session, and it's even been something that you didn't hate the idea of, do it. Be prepared for it to be some mental and emotional work. It's a great lesson and homework in self-love. Much-needed homework for most of us, frankly. Stop waiting until you're "perfect," because you already are. Just get in front of a lens.
I'm in love with these photos. I'm in love with the experience they've documented. I'm in love with where I am in my life. Believe in yourself, and do whatever you need to do to know that you're beautiful. And however I can help, I will.