Updated: Feb 11, 2019
Few subjects spark a spirited debate among boudoir photographers quite like the concept of shooting (and showing) "before and after" photos of our clients. As you may have guessed from this blog's title, I am all for it.
My primary reasoning for shooting and showing before and after photos is that most "regular" women see the photos on my website and think "I could never look like that. Those women must be models. What the heck is she going to do with me?" But of course there's more to it than that. There always is. Read on...
I swear to you, I've never had a single client express anything but positivity about the before and afters - citing them as what gave them the courage to finally take the plunge and book a boudoir shoot. In fact, the only people from whom I've ever heard negativity surrounding before and after photos is some other photographers. Their objections usually go something like this: "Before and afters are like saying your client is ugly without your help." Really??? Well, I guess the difference between those photographers and me is that I don't think the before photos are ugly AT ALL. No, actually, the before photos are ME. I spend 85% of my life in no makeup, yoga pants, and depending on the weather, either a hoodie and sneaker, or a tank top and flip flops. And I certainly don't think of myself as "ugly" 85% of the time. I simply believe that before photos represent the (quite lovely) everyday woman - the woman I see at the bank, at the grocery store, at the gym, at the playground with her kids. As for the after photos, well, they are simply representing another facet of that woman -- a facet of herself that maybe she has never seen or explored... perhaps a facet that she forgot or neglected when she became a mom, a wife, a lawyer, a business owner, a caregiver... When we put on any of the myriad hats we as women wear, that sensual, gorgeous creature does not go away... She merely goes into hibernation. Even the most dedicated tomboy often has a bombshell inside her who wants to come out and play once in a while.
The truth is that every woman is multi-faceted: mother/vixen/wife/strong single woman/businesswoman/daughter/friend/photographer. Every woman is the physical being, the spiritual being, the emotional being, the sexual being. Every woman has her day-to-day reality, and her moments in fantasy. Every woman has her good days and bad, her ponytail and sweats days, and her glammed-to-the-gills days. All of our facets are beautiful. But most of us get bogged down in the day-to-day and don't spend enough time celebrating the rest because our guilt and shame and societal pressures tell us it's selfish and frivolous to do so. The "after" is the woman who lets go of that baggage for a day and revels in all her feminine glory.
Someone said to me, "I guess it's all in how you spin it." That may be oversimplified, but really, this debate is all about that place where intention meets perception. It is a guiding principle of human psychology that how people react to something is less about what it is than about what they are....or what they fear they are, whether or not that's based in reality.
From a Woman's Perspective
Interestingly enough, when my clients do sign model releases, I make the before and after an option they can check off or not. Most express explicitly and pointedly that they want me to show their before and afters, to give other women courage to do this for themselves. I get this reaction the most from more mature clients or plus-sized women. They tell me they think it's very important to show that you don't have to be a glamour-puss all the time to do this. Nor do you need to be 19 and a size 2. You just need to be a woman willing to do something nice for yourself and explore your sexual, sensual, glamorous side. Perhaps this sentiment has something to do with the fact that my demographic tends to skew a little older, and these women are a bit more comfortable in their skin (and therefore, more comfortable with how they look without makeup). I'm not sure, but I suspect this is the case, as I myself am much more comfortable without makeup at 45 than I was in my twenties.
I have shown my own before and afters as well. I would never ask something of my clients that I wouldn't ask of myself. I have no shame in my game. There are photos of me all over the internet -- in lingerie and in sweats, makeup and no makeup, pro pics and blurry mirror selfies. I have even used myself in a pair of selfies as a guinea pig to demonstrate the amazing difference made by one simple element of portrait photography - finding flattering camera angles. (The side-by-side below and to the right were bathroom selfies taken 5 seconds apart - same light, same hair, same makeup, same smirky half-smile, same iphone camera. Just a a different angle.)
From a Photographer's Perspective
When I shoot a before photo of a client, I use the auto setting on my DSLR, put them in natural light, and take it like any snapshot... though I do tell my subjects that "It's ok to smile, this is not a mug shot," which almost always gets a laugh and a nice, natural smile. Doing it this way is not in any way intended to make them look bad. However, one benefit of this approach is that it clearly demonstrates the difference between pro photography and snapshots (even if it is still a $5000 camera taking that photo). In this world where everybody has a digital SLR and nifty editing apps, and professional photography is constantly being devalued, demonstrating this difference is a good thing. People need to be shown, not just told, to understand the impact that professional lighting, posing, expression coaching, hair and makeup, and an understanding of flattering angles can make. Prospective clients need to see the difference to see the value in what we can offer them as professionals. Otherwise, many people simply can't understand why they would pay thousands (or even hundreds) of dollars for a pro session as opposed to asking a friend to snap a couple of cell phone shots... Or "hey, I'll just do a sexy selfie." When I show before and afters, I don't have to convince anyone of that difference, or "sell" to them. The work speaks for itself.
Sure, I would like to think that the images speak for themselves without the before photo... but you know as well as I do how most people will give credit to the camera before they will recognize the photographer's time, talent, and skill. They will likewise assume that it is the "model" who makes the shot beautiful... And while it is true that the subject is the focus of and reason for the image, only we as professionals know the work and expertise and fastidious attention to detail that it takes to make photographic magic. The before and after basically removes the "model and camera" from the equation, and demonstrates what exactly YOU, the pro, have to offer...and exactly why they should hire you.
From a Business Person's Perspective
There are two things every business person needs to do in order to effectively sell his or her product or service and brand:
1 - Present your offerings in a way that your target client can relate to. If your prospect is intimidated or doesn't understand what you offer, he or she will not buy into your brand or your service. Yes, you know that she will look beautiful, that she has more in common with your existing clients than not... but she doesn't know that. The before and after shows her that, "hey, these ladies as just like me. If they can do it, so can I!"
2 - Solve a problem for your prospect. The before and after shows that you can solve her problem. What is the problem you are solving? Here it is: She has forgotten about herself, put herself last on her list. She misses the bombshell she once was (or the one she still hasn't quite found the courage to be... or perhaps never even believed she could be, because she didn't necessarily fit the media definition of beautiful or desirable.) She has spent such a long time wearing her other hats and doing for others that she feels she has maybe "let herself go." She wants to feel glamorous and pretty, but she is afraid that only certain kinds of women are allowed to do that. She's afraid that moms and wives and busy working women don't get to enjoy that kind of thing - only rich celebrities. She wants to explore and celebrate her sexuality, but she is afraid of being shamed for it. But your before and after solved all of those problems for her, because it showed her that women just like her have gone for it... By the mere fact that these women have been brave enough to take and post these photos, they've shown they they don't feel guilty or ashamed of it either. No, they are proud. They look happy. They look beautiful. They radiate the feelings that she wants to feel for herself.
In closing, I am not going to tell you that shooting and showing before and after photos is the only way to be successful as a boudoir photographer. However, I will tell you that probably half of my clients tell me that my before and afters are the main reason they chose me over other photographers. And many of those also tell me that those photos were the reason they found the courage to do a boudoir shoot at all.
In the end, you have to decide for yourself whether before and afters are right for your business and in line with your personal values.
What do you think? (Please leave a comment below.)
Do you do before and after photos? If so, why? Do you feel they significantly impact your business? If not, why not? After reading this article, is your opinion on before and afters at all affected? Might you begin doing before and afters in the future? I look forward to reading your thoughts, and welcome all respectful comments. :)