Hi! Tell us a little bit about yourself. What was your road like to becoming a photographer?
I have been interested in photography for as long as I can remember. As far back as having a Polaroid i-Zone (remember those hot dog shaped polaroid cameras?!), to my film Canon Rebel in high school, and eventually making the leap to digital by college. I went to Temple University for advertising art direction, thinking I'd put my creative skills to use in a "real job." Well, that clearly didn't happen. I quickly realized after graduating, that those "real jobs" weren't really a thing, unless you were a friend of a friend of a friend of someone important, OR you were willing to sacrifice the creative aspect entirely (which, heck, that was the whole point wasn't it?!).
I eventually found myself doing the marketing part-time for a doggie daycare, where I was at least able to *slightly* flex my creative muscles, as well as able to incorporate my love for photography (and occasionally playing with puppies). It also gave me the freedom to spend my free-time pursuing my passions. I did that for a few years while saving up and buying my equipment, and eventually was able to make the leap to be a full time photographer.
What drew you to boudoir photography?
Honestly, at first I wasn't sure. It was never about the sexual aspect of it, so I had a hard time figuring out, and explaining to others, why I was so fascinated with it. I began to realize, that as someone who was never quite confident in myself, I almost saw it as an opportunity to give someone something I didn't have. Even kind of as a challenge. To take this person who feels like they are imperfect, and give them something that makes them see themselves in a new light. It started as skin-deep, but as I get older and my business and purpose grows with me, it is so much deeper now. It's more than just how you feel about the way you look, it's about self worth in general. Feeling like you're enough in all aspects of life. It's not something you can fix in one photoshoot, but it is a step towards getting to that place, where you can appreciate yourself, for all that you have to offer and all that you give on a daily basis.
But you’re not just a boudoir photographer! You also do brand imagery, weddings, and family portraiture… How do you balance it all? What products do you use to ensure that you have a smooth workflow?
At a glance, it may seem like all of it doesn't make sense together, but all of my work has one thing in common: women. Everything I do is solely focused on that understanding I have of women, and more importantly, our constant struggle with self worth. Whether it be women who want to get naked out in the wilderness, mothers who want to run around in fields at sunset with their children, or even women-focused businesses, it all falls under the same umbrella for me.
I will say, despite it all having a common purpose, it is incredibly challenging to balance it all, and I often do envy other photographers whose niche is a little bit more refined and who can focus more energy onto one type of photography. But at the same time, I'm the type of person who gets bored easily. My mind races (can you tell from reading all of this?!). I need a challenge and I need a change of pace pretty frequently, whether I want to admit it or not. I'm learning more and more this year, that I can't do it all alone, and I need to be willing to ask for and accept help, and hand the reigns over from time to time. That will be something I work hard on this year.
As far as actual products for productivity, 17hats has been a game changer for me in terms of keeping my contracts, projects, and book keeping organized. I also am a big fan of MileIQ, because who on earth can remember to log all of their miles manually?! And one of my most favorite things (which was actually a gift from one of my studio-mates, thanks Brittney!) is my Productivity Planner. For starters, I like that it's tangible, and I can physically write things down and cross them off as I do them (something about that is just wonderful and gratifying). Also, it forces you to break your millions of thoughts down into a limited number of specific tasks, organized by importance, and focus on achieving them before working on the less important ones.
Was boudoir photography something you always had in mind to add to your business? How do you think your business has benefitted from incorporating this niche?
Boudoir was my main focus, even at the beginning, because I felt a sense of mission with it. I never specifically "marketed" it; I actually don't do any real marketing outside of my posts on social media, but I do put my heart out there regularly, and I think a lot of women can relate to what I share.
I post frequently on social media, and I share my personal feelings quite often. I have to admit, this is something that I will never be entirely comfortable doing -- I mean, who wants to put out into the universe all of the sad, anxiety-filled garbage that floats through their brain?! But, if I expect people to trust me and be vulnerable enough to be photographed, then I need to be willing to be vulnerable on my end also. I share when I feel good, I share when I feel bad, and I share images of all different kinds of women who relate to me on some level. I'm not sure I would call any of that traditional "marketing," but it is how I reach the people that I vibe with!
Boudoir by nature is very intimate. How do you get your clients to relax and feel comfortable with you?
Well, as I mentioned before, I put myself out there. I speak candidly, I let my freak flag fly, and I don't really hold back when I decide to post honestly. I think starting with that, builds a platform for my clients to trust me a little bit before they even get to meet me.
When the session is actually happening, it is less like a photo shoot and more like friends hanging out. I don't like to make it an intense, sexy, super intimate environment. I like to make it comfortable. When I'm at the studio, I like to put on my late 90's/early 2000's pop radio, and do my awkward dance moves. It's really not a sexy scenario, but who can feel too self conscious when you're standing next to some goober with a camera dancing to the same songs you remember hearing at your junior high dance?
If someone was hoping to pursue boudoir photography, what advice would you give them? On the flip side of that, what are some common mistakes you see made by photographers trying to move into boudoir photography?
I think the most common "mistake" I see in people pursuing boudoir photography, is that they have no drive behind it. They don't have a reason that's motivating them, or a purpose, and a lot of times they just end up with this collection of awkwardly sexy photos that really have no deeper value. It also shows in the way you deal with your clients -- I have heard so many horror stories of photographers being insensitive to their client's insecurities, and even straight up body shaming. So, I guess my advice would be, to only pursue boudoir photography if you feel some sort of higher calling to it. If you don't, and you're just looking to add another option to your menu, then PLEASE, just don't. Being a boudoir photographer puts you in a position of really affecting a woman's self confidence, and if you're not ready to fully take on that responsibility, you shouldn't. End of story.
What would you say to someone who is interested in getting boudoir photographs done but is hesitant to take the leap?
Do your research. Find a photographer who you relate to, and who you think does their subjects justice, and whose art makes you feel something that you wish you felt about yourself. If you can also do that, then what do you really have to lose?
Michele Suits is a photographer based out of Philadelphia, PA, who specializes in natural light photography for women. Michele creates honest, free-spirited imagery, for women, families, and women-focused brands.