Here’s What Really Happens at a Boudoir Photo Shoot

Photo by Dollface Studio

Photo by Dollface Studio

From where I sit as a bridal editor, I usually know instantly what I think of a “trend” in the industry when I see one.

Long-sleeved wedding dresses, for instance—the kind that have been truly having a moment since Ms. Middleton walked down the royal aisle in one over a year ago? I think they are lovely, chic, sexy and elegant in the most perfectly bridal way, and I looove that girls are wearing them right now. Morning-after photography, for instance—where your photog shows back up the morning after your wedding to ostensibly photograph you and your groom in the throes of brushed-teeth and posed (read: fake) morning-after passion? Gross. And weird. And also gross.

But there’s one that’s been consistently on the rise for quite some time, now, and I couldn’t ever really pinpoint how I felt about it. It’s boudoir photography, the kind in which you—the bride, in this context—partake in a professional photo shoot in which you are in your pretty underthings, and then give the resulting pictures to your groom as a wedding present.

But I think I’ve figured out now why I couldn’t decide how I felt about it before—and how I feel about it now. And that’s because I tried it.

There are a good many photographers in the Philadelphia area who are doing or who will do boudoir photography, but there’s one studio for whom it’s really their thing, and after recently relocating their studio, rebranding, and relaunching their website, they invited me and a few of my lovely female colleagues to come in and try it out ourselves, with a complimentary mini boudoir session each. They’re Dollface Studio—they also do wedding photography, actually—and yes, they’ve got boudoir galleries up. Go ahead and click the link, I’ll hang out right here.

And so we went. And since it is our journalistic duty as magazine editors to sometimes guinea-pig ourselves in strangely intimate ways and report back to you, our dear readers, on the grisly details, that is what I’m going to do. Especially because after this, I honestly think every bride out there ought to at least consider trying this out.

(Oh, and perhaps a quick word on prep: No, this is not something you should, like, starve yourself for, or anything. Seriously! This is not some front-on, in-broad-daylight Maxim shoot, and you shouldn’t think of it that way. Now, if you want to frequent some lovely Philly businesses such as, oh, I don’t know, say, Lithe Method, Pangaea Earth Foods, and Skin Palette before your shoot—though try not to have any tan lines; Photoshop isn’t a miracle-worker, you know—however, you might find it’ll give you a little boost.)

The first thing I will tell you is that the studio is warm. 76 degrees! I looked at the thermostat while I was sitting in the makeup chair. Not the first thing you were wondering, perhaps? Well, I tell you what—as a constantly freezing person, it is one of the main things I was wondering. There’s not enough La Perla in the world to fix a face that says I’m naked and so freezing I could just about die, so it was on my mind. Taken care of.

The second thing I will tell you is that yes, there is champagne.

The third thing I will tell you is that it is beyond important that you are completely at ease with whatever photographer is shooting this thing, or it’s just not going to work, and that the ladies at Dollface, Darah and Siobhan—they do both their wedding photography and boudoir photography together—feel like insta-girlfriends as soon as you sit down on their plush, pretty couch, pop the bubbly, and start gabbing. In no time, you will feel totally comfortable trying on both the nightie and bra-and-bikini set you brought and discussing the merits of each, and having Siobhan help you with those tricky back straps of a garter belt. Somehow, although they were strangers just minutes ago, this quickly all seems totally normal.

And yes, an on-site professional makeup artist and lash application (because false eyelashes are non-negotiable in this situation, please) comes built into the price of the session, and hair is also available for an add-on if you aren’t confident in your ability to tousle your own bedroom curls. Miss B Wilson from Just B Beautiful was there to do all of the above for us, and she was completely awesome.

You’ll narrow down what you’re wearing—Darah and Siobhan are a great help with that, as they have experience knowing what sorts of things shoot well and look flattering and which ones you’ll wish you had maybe just skipped—you’ll strap on the most fabulous pair of shoes you own, you’ll flip your hair over once or twice, toss back the last of the champagne, and step onto set.

And here is perhaps where the biggest Oh, thank God crosses your mind, because here is where, before every single pose you do, whichever lady is shooting you at that moment literally shows you your pose by physically getting into it themselves, God bless them. Like: lean on your arm here, move up your legs here, arch your back here, cock your head this way, look over that way. Because if not for that, what in the heck would you do, do you think? Something girly and mischievous kicks in for sure once you’re in your lace and on set, but whatever that something is, it can’t really be labeled a lingerie-posing instinct. This takes so much of the uncertainty out of it.

You’ll do a variety of poses—there’s a bed, some pretty chaises and a (gulp) window sill that serve as the basics, but there are some more options, depending on what package you choose (more on that in a sec)—in a minimum of two outfits (the package thing, again), and before you know it, the ladies will have their camera cards full of images of you that you won’t actually recognize as you.

And here is the bottom line: Doing this is fun—like, stupid fun—and you will undoubtedly, at the very least, have a small handful of photos you love. Personally, I recommend doing it with a few girlfriends, if that’s feasible, and your thing—if this strikes you as the type of thing you’d rather go alone, you’ll still have a blast—as it turns the whole thing into this really great day with your girlfriends, in addition to being a pretty kick-ass gift for your groom. It’s just fun to do this thing that you would never normally do, feel like you would never normally feel, and, it’s probably safe to say, look a way that you’ve never looked before. It kinda ends up being a gift for you, too.

Just make sure you take a good hard look into the boudoir work of any photographer you’re considering doing this with, because I think that’s why I was so unsure of this trend before: There’s some bad stuff out there. I’ve seen it, and it has scared me. Deeply. But if you’re with a photographer who really knows what they’re doing—specifically with this type of thing—then you really can’t lose.

As for the packages at Dollface, they pretty much range like this (and yes, everything you’ll ever see in print is retouched):

Mini: Two outfits, two sets, professional makeup and lashes, password-protected proofing gallery with a minimum of 25 images. $375; prints and albums are a la carte.

Classic: Three outfits, three sets, professional makeup and lashes, password-protected proofing gallery with a minimum of 50 images. $550; includes a 5×5 leather album with 20 images.

Glam: Four outfits, four sets, professional makeup and lashes, password-protected proofing gallery with a minimum of 75 images. $775; includes 8×8 Deluxe album with up to 30 images and a custom cover.

Lux: Six outfits, unlimited sets, professional makeup and lashes, password-protected proofing gallery with a minimum of 100 images. $1,100; includes 8×8 Couture album with up to 40 images and a custom cover, plus your own 5×5 leather album (the ladies call it a “brag book”) with 20 of your favorite images.

There’s also a whole a la carte list of prices for prints and albums. Simply give Darah and Siobhan a call to chat if you’re wondering about more.

So does it still sound scary? As a gesture of solidarity—or for those of you who I’ve heard say, “Picture or it didn’t happen”—I am including the face-only corner of one of my shots. And if you’re wondering what the reaction might have been from the few who have seen them? Well, three of my girlfriends—all of whom were drop-jawed at just the idea that I was doing this—all separately had the exact same, immediate thing to say: “Ohmygod. I’m totally doing this.”

Like PW on Facebook | Follow PW on Twitter | Sign up for the PW newsletter

Getting married? Start and end your wedding planning journey with Philadelphia Weddings' guide to the best wedding vendors in the city.