Barnsley photographer Helen Booth focuses on making women look sexy in skin-baring, boudoir-style photo shoots.
But she says it’s the women themselves who get a boost from posing in their next-to-nothing. Never mind their man’s libido, it’s their confidence and self-esteem that rockets, says the boss of Masque Photography.
Q. How long have you been a photographer and what sort of work did you specialise in before focussing on boudoir shots?
A. I have always loved photography since I was a child and have been a professional photographer for 10 years. I worked for Maplin Electronics and specialised in product photography, ad campaigns and corporate photos.
Q. Why did you make the change - and what made you think there was a living to be made doing boudoir shots?
A. After I had my daughter in 2007 I wanted to work around her and set up my own business. Boudoir photography was an unknown concept near enough in the UK, but I knew it was extremely popular in America and everything over there always makes its way over here eventually. I was keen to be at the forefront of the emerging genre. And I thought it was a great idea for a really personal gift for a loved one too, especially brides-to-be.
Q. Which is the easiest and most enjoyable? Photographing objects, or people?
A. There is an art to both, but I definitely find photographing people most enjoyable. I used to spend hours in a dark room by myself, opening boxes of products, photographing them and trying to get them to fit back in their boxes again. Now I get to meet so many lovely women and have made some amazing friends. Seeing how fabulous they look and how they have flourished makes me feel a million dollars too!
Q. Isn’t it all a bit sexist? Aren’t you portraying women as objects - by transforming them into the sexy stereotype men want them to be?
A, No, not at all. The experience I offer isn’t just about taking photos of ladies in their lingerie, it is an empowering experience which is based on celebrating each woman for who they are.
The photos aren’t overtly sexual, they are subtle and suggestive and only to the level clients are comfortable with. Some come for a shoot to give their partners photos as a private gift, but just as many come for themselves. Perhaps they have recently had a baby, hit a birthday milestone, want to have a bit of pampering or to tick the experience off their bucket list.
One of my clients had just become a grandma and wanted to do something to feel sexy for herself. It is all about looking and feeling great in your own skin.
Q. Are most of the women who book boudoir shoots confident and extrovert types who love having their picture taken?
A. Quite the opposite. Most are nervous. I don’t shoot models who know what they are doing, I shoot real women who need guidance and re-assurance. Some of my clients even say they hate having their photo taken, which is why this experience is such a great journey for them. I love seeing them change. So many women can’t believe how great their bum can look after I have taken a shot of it!
Q. Why do you think so many women do not feel comfortable about having their photo taken?
A. Most of us have parts of our bodies we’re not so keen on, so its natural to be nervous about having them on show. Before the shoot I make sure I know exactly which parts a woman likes the most and focus on them.
One client called Sam hadn’t even had any photographs taken on her wedding day because she hated the camera so much.
But she picked up the courage because her Forces husband was serving in Afghanistan and she wanted to send some lovely photographs to him. It meant so much to him that she had done the shoot especially for him. He has a tattoo of one of her photographs on his leg now!
Q. You obviously meet a lot of women who feel uncomfortable about “looking sexy”. How does that change when they are in front of the camera, and why?
A. I make sure we have fun. I start with the outfit they feel most comfortable with and try to make it so it’s not like posing at all. I ask them to repeat an action, whether that’s twiddling with their hair or sliding off one of their heels. It takes the emphasis off trying to ‘look sexy’ and captures them in the moment. Once I show them a few shots of how hot they look, it gives them the confidence to go for it. By the end they have forgotten they are in a state of undress and are asking me if they can try this or that. It’s great!
Q. Talk us through what happens at a shoot...
A. I start by looking through the clothes and props clients have brought and any images which inspire them. We talk styling and spend roughly an hour or so in hair and make-up. Then the stylist leaves and the shoot begins. We spend as much time as is needed - usually 1-2 hours depending on how much chatting we do! I only do one shoot a day.
We experiment with different wardrobe changes and lighting set-ups. I did a lovely shot for a bride-to-be with scrabble letters on her naked back, spelling out the name of the first dance song she and her groom had chosen. She gave her album to her husband on their wedding day, which brought him to tears.
Q. Do you use photo-shot to get rid of wrinkles and chubby bits?
A. I am not a fan of heavily re-touched images. I believe in celebrating who you are and try to keep images as true to how the woman looks as possible. I do retouch anything which might embarrass her, so there is never any cellulite, bruises or bulges visible. And if a client wants no wrinkles, I can wave my magic wand!
Q. Have you ever had a client who didn’t like the way she looked in the photos?
A. I can quite honestly say no. The feedback I get is incredible.
Q. You say it is a “must do” experience. Why?
A. It’s easy to forget just how great we can look and feel. To have a shoot and re-visit that feeling every-time you look at the photographs is something you just can’t beat. It is an unbelievable confidence-booster.
Q. Have you ever posed for boudoir pictures yourself?
A. Yes, last year - and it was a really liberating experience. I thought it would be a great for me to experience what my clients do; to walk the walk, so to speak. From a personal level, I had been so totally wrapped in running my business and bringing up my two kids, it was great to take time out to focus on me and be the confident, sexy woman I knew I was inside.