Hi, Cheyenne! Tell us a little bit about yourself. What was your road like to becoming a photographer?
I’m Cheyenne, and I’m a body positive, self love boudoir photographer based in Philadelphia. I love my mama, my puppy girl Penny, my babe, and cheesesteaks. When I was 13, I picked up my first camera. Two years later I started a little business photographing families, babies, and a very tiny wedding! I continued to shoot through my time in art school and eventually decided to fully dive into creating a well rounded business for myself. I left college after my junior year and worked my butt off to build up my business.
What drew you to boudoir photography? What do you love most about it?
This is a super long story.
Photographing women is the most amazing thing I could have asked for in life and I am so lucky to have found what I love at the young age of 21. Ever since I was a little girl, my parents called me an artist. I always had a pencil and a sketch book, and I was always drawing women - mermaids, gypsies, witches, fairies - always women. As I got older and continued to draw, I began doing self portraits as well. As a little girl, I watched my mom struggle with her body image - that confused me because to me, she was - is - the most incredible, strong, beautiful, intelligent woman I have ever seen. I didn’t understand how she could think she was ugly or fat and I couldn’t understand why she hated those stretch marks so much. I watched her hate her body and I learned to hate my own body.
My parents never told me I was overweight or ugly or anything - I got nothing but love and support from my parents always, but I still spiraled out of control with my body image issues. I grew to hate everything about myself. I didn’t want to walk my dog because I thought people would stare at my jiggling belly. I would sit on the couch and cover myself with pillows so no one could look at my rolls. I was holding myself back in every aspect of my life because I was scared what others would think when the looked at me.
When I was in college, my drawings were focused on the female figure and the relationship between mothers and daughters as it pertains to body image, specifically me and my own mom. I was drawing larger than life portraits of my mom and I in the same pose. Through this work, I started working on myself - my perception of myself and how I treated my body and my mind. Jumping forward to my junior year in college, my mom and I were hanging out one day and I came across (for the millionth time) boudoir photography. The images were full of sexualized female figures with pearls and garter belts and high heels and g-strings. I told my mom that I wish I could do something like that, but much more simple and more for the woman than for their partner. She was nervous at first, but wanted to pose for me anyway. My mom put on a bra and panty set and posed as my first boudoir client. I had no idea what I was doing at the time, but I just kept posing her and asking her to move this way or that way, and what happened in front of my eyes changed my life forever. I watched my beautiful mom - a woman who has hated her own body for so long - transform into a giggling, smiling, beautiful goddess. I watched her play with her hair and crack up and stand tall and I watched all her worry and negative view of herself melt away.
After we were finished shooting, I left the room for a quick second, and on my way back I caught her checking herself in the mirror fluffing up her hair and still giggling. That was the moment I knew that was what I wanted to do for every woman I could. From that point, I made it my mission to create an incredible boudoir experience for all woman. When people ask me who my ideal client is, I tell them that it’s anyone who identifies as a woman. I love everything about boudoir - I love getting to work with so many different women from all walks of life. Getting to know them, getting to know the journey they’re on - I love it. The photo shoot itself is just freaking FUN. We have a blast and every single time, I watch my client transform and I get that same feeling I got when I photographed my mom that first time.
Tell us about your other offerings and how you find balance.
I love working with women. Maternity sessions are so incredible to me because becoming a mother and creating and carrying a life inside of you is such an amazing thing that we can do. We are magic. I love celebrating that and empowering the women I photograph. I have three different collections that apply to boudoir, maternity, and mama and me sessions, so my workflow is very streamlined! I love simplicity and knowing I have the same workflow for everyone is such a relief! I use 17Hats for administration and it is great for me and my business!
Tell us some more about your ‘Body Love Tribe’! What was your vision behind creating this group?
The Body Love Tribe was an idea I had one day while I was laying in my parents’ backyard in the grass. I realized that I was creating a community via Instagram, and I had all these people telling me, “Wow it’s so amazing that you’re building this tribe”. ‘Body Love Tribe’ just came out of nowhere when I was laying in the grass that day. I ran with it. I honestly didn’t have much of a plan at first - I just knew that when I was a younger woman, I would have wanted to be part of something bigger and know that I wasn’t alone in how I was feeling about myself. I wanted to create a community that could support and empower one another. That was a few years ago, and I am so so so proud to look back and see how far we’ve come. We just started holding Body Love Tribe Gatherings once a month to bring the community together in person. It’s been amazing!
How do you empower women with your photography?
Photography is an incredible way to empower people. I think that in my case, I am creating a trusting space for women to come feel safe and supported. I am totally there for my clients when it comes to what to wear, hair and makeup, and the overall feel of their session. I’m here as a guide to help them have a photo shoot that is true to who they are. I have a makeup artist who works with me on most shoots and she creates looks for our clients that are natural, subtle, but still beautiful and striking on camera. Right before we begin shooting, I give my clients a little spiel about posing so that they aren’t going in blind. Throughout the entire shoot, I’m showing them every single pose and walking them through everything - all those nerves they may have been feeling go away in about two seconds! We keep it fun and upbeat and make some magic together. I truly think that the entire experience is what empowers my girls. All of that build up and support ensures that they feel comfortable enough to let loose during the shoot itself. Also, I don’t allow any negative self talk in my studio - you’re only allowed to say nice things about your body. I think that’s empowering in itself!
Boudoir by nature is very intimate. How do you get your clients to relax and feel comfortable with you?
Comfort is probably the most important thing when it comes to boudoir. I am there to guide my clients through everything whenever they have questions. From that first email, they know who I am - I am totally myself even via email. They know that I’m laid back and that I love what I do. When they arrive for their shoot, I already know a little bit about them and we just hang out and chat. It’s so important to me that my clients feel relaxed and comfortable.
What is the most rewarding part of a boudoir session?
Before my clients even see their images (although I do show them the back of the camera a few times), they already are flowing and walking taller. If nothing else, I know they’re going to have an amazing rest of their day after their shoot. Honestly, for me, the entire process is rewarding. I just love it all.
If someone was hoping to pursue boudoir photography, what advice would you give them?
Take the time to LEARN. Learn how to work with women, learn how to pose, and how to photograph them - all body types. And I don’t mean posing to make them look as skinny as possible. Posing them to make them look like themselves is way more important. Be sure to always make sure your clients are comfortable with the poses (sexiness levels are important). Take the time to learn from someone who knows what they’re doing. Boudoir is a very intimate and delicate thing. I have clients who had terrible boudoir experiences ten years ago who still are affected by how badly their shoot went when the photographer told them to suck in their stomachs and that they didn’t look skinny in this pose or that pose - no no no no.
A big part of boudoir photography are the keepsakes. How do you get clients excited about receiving those physical products?
It’s pretty easy to get clients excited for printed images, in my opinion! These are images they want to enjoy at every so often. Or they want to blow one up and put it in their walk in closet as a reminder of how bad ass they are. It’s an empowering experience that really carries through into print!
What would you say to someone who is interested in getting boudoir photographs done but is hesitant to take the leap?
Just do it. And hire a professional who knows what they’re doing. Trying to lose that extra ten pounds doesn’t do anything - have your boudoir session now and if you ever get rid of that ten pounds you think you need to lose, then have another boudoir shoot. Or if you gain another ten pounds or 30 pounds or whatever - have ANOTHER shoot. Self love is a journey, and it is mind, body, and soul. We’re all on it together. Boudoir is an amazing way to celebrate ALL OF YOU.
Cheyenne Gil is a body positive boudoir photographer based in Philadelphia. She loves her mama, her pup, her man, and cheesesteaks. She also loves being in her underwear and floating around the ocean on a surfboard pretending to surf. Cheyenne lives for empowering and uplifting the women around her through boudoir photography and spreading the love.
When you are finished with your photo session or wedding, do you feel a bit like that guy that was recently dragged off the airplane, semi-conscious and bleeding? Because that is basically what it feels like when you’ve lost control of your clients.
The good news is it doesn’t have to be that way. You just need to reclaim the power.