The Boudoir Experience

by Mae Gilliland Wright

An intimate session can make any woman feel beautiful in her own skin.

"Hello Gorgeous.” The opening words on the Red Haute Images website promise a photography experience that is “much more than pretty pictures… This is the chance to celebrate and indulge, be pampered and feel beautiful.”

Kelli Drake, the professional behind the lens, is also the co-owner of DRAKEphoto, a joint venture with her husband, Greg. When the Drakes started the business 10 years ago, they stuck to fairly traditional wedding and portrait photography. As it grew, however, a few clients began to request something more intimate. “I didn’t even know what to call it,” she laughs. “I just knew I had a few clients and friends who wanted a sexy photo for their husband.”

After only a handful of sessions, Drake realized that she really enjoyed the boudoir style of photography. “It was different than doing portraits,” she explains. “They reacted to them in such a different way.” She noticed that the session changed the way women felt about themselves—and how they viewed their bodies.

“All of a sudden, it shifted from doing it as a gift, to doing it for themselves,” she adds. “Women talk about how they feel during and after the shoot, before they even see the images. They talk about how much fun it was—how great it made them feel about themselves.”

Witnessing the positive impact of her boudoir shoots was enough to convince the photographer to concentrate on it more. “I had to give something up, so that's when I quit shooting weddings. I decided to rebrand it under the ‘Red Haute Images’ name, so people understood it was different than DRAKEphoto,” she explains, adding with a laugh, “And understood that my husband was not going to be there!”

A Promise to Empower
With both photography businesses housed in the same studio at 3316 NE Adams in Peoria, Drake goes to great lengths to ensure her boudoir clients feel comfortable during their sessions. Besides ensuring privacy and tastefulness, she sits down with each client before the shoot for a planning appointment. “It helps me understand what someone's comfort level is, and to get to know them a little bit.”

Many of her clients admit they never thought of themselves as the “boudoir type,” she notes. “They don't necessarily see themselves as the sexy, let's-do-a-photoshoot-of-me type. Most of them actually say, ‘My husband would never think I would do this!’”

When women hear the term “boudoir,” she says, they often aren’t sure what to think. “It's not like it's Hustler or Playboy. I know ‘glamour shots’ come to a lot of people’s minds, but those are so cookie-cutter.” While Drake will supply certain props, such as high heels, if desired, she encourages clients to bring something special from their own collection—or even a shirt and tie from their partner’s closet. “How fun is that for him to put on his tie and think about his wife and those sexy photos,” she says, smiling.

And there is no “typical” client for a boudoir shoot, either. They are of all ages and a variety of body shapes, and each prefers different levels of modesty. “It's different for every woman,” Drake explains. “Some women will wear sexy dresses. Most do lingerie. Occasionally I'll do tasteful nudes, but it's always covered in some way.” During the session, the photographer instructs her clients on exactly how to pose, taking off any pressure for those who might feel nervous or self-conscious.

For many women, the reluctance to experience a boudoir photo shoot is tied directly to their own negative body image, Drake notes. More than anything else, she will hear women say they just “need to lose 10 more pounds.” That negativity, she adds, is all from images we’ve created of ourselves in our own minds. When women tell her that they “would never” do a boudoir shoot, she digs a little deeper. “Why do you think you couldn’t do this? Because I promise you can!”

The nerves and butterflies all disappear the moment the client see the first shots on her camera. While she can use Photoshop to manipulate images, Drake stresses that it isn’t necessary—which is often surprising to women who struggle with body image. “They come out of the camera looking good—I'm able to turn the camera around and show them at the shoot.” Those moments of affirmation are “easily, hands-down, why I do this,” she adds.

“I'm all about building up women, empowering women. And if you can do that… one person at a time, that's significant.” Drake’s reluctance to manipulate the images for major body modifications, she adds, makes her style unique. When women see the images, it “is really them.”

Beauty as an Art
As Drake talks about her clients, a flood of tearful emotion reveals the powerful, transformative nature of her boudoir photography. Looking back at her own past, she explains that she struggled with her own self-worth issues in her youth. “It impacted me… in having the kind of sensitivity that I need to have.“

When a client returns to view the photos after they have been prepared, Drake encourages them to bring their significant other. “They typically get him here under false pretenses,’” she laughs. ”And then those men are super-happy when they find out they're here to look at their wife.” She offers couples some privacy, and upon her return, she says the clients are often surprised that their significant other wants to buy all of the images.

Although many of her clients are married women, she also does tasteful couples photography and has photographed men as well, which she describes as “more like a photo from GQ magazine.” Not as many single women book sessions; she believes that’s because women are not used to treating themselves without some kind of excuse. “I think some people think it's even self-centered,” she says, shaking her head. “It's all in the eye of the beholder… I think it's priceless.”

Ultimately, Drake simply wants women to support one another. And when the topic of boudoir photography comes up, she hopes they will encourage each other to consider what she has seen to be an intensively positive experience. Once they come in for a session, she says, they often return… and with even more confidence.

Drake’s biggest piece of advice? “Don’t wait,” she declares. Whether it’s due to your body shape or for a special occasion, it’s something you can always repeat again later. For now, she says, trust her and her camera. “Maybe once in a lifetime, or maybe every handful of years… just pamper yourself.” a&s

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