How To Make Women Feel Empowered and Confident During a Photo Session

March 19th, 2021
beautiful womain on couch in lingerie

After 14 years of working (and loving my job) as a pin-up/boudoir photographer, I learned many valuable lessons along the way. Notably, how to help women feel confident and empowered during their photo sessions…so much so that their first session would become one of many! Here are some tips I’ve gathered from my experience.

Communication and trust.

As photographers, we are in charge of taking care of business while creating the most unforgettable experience for our clients.  Every client is the most important client we’ve ever had. We must establish trust from the moment we exchange words, and we must further solidify this when they have their time to shine in front of our lenses. Ultimately, their experience is an integral part of the formula that breeds successful relationships with our clients. Taking people seriously and being empathic to their needs is barely scratching the surface. Understanding their vision and truly relating with the reason they hired us in the first place, that is what will make the time our clients spend with us truly meaningful.

This rang true in my personal experience as a portrait photographer specializing in a niche business where retro-inspired, vintage-infused imagery and styling reigned queen. I shot my fair share of musicians, artists, actors, and fashion models, and I had a blast! Yet, what organically developed into my niche style was photographing women from all walks of life, skin colors, and body types and helping them simply feel comfortable in their own skin. All while decked out in pin-curls, blaring red lips, thigh-high stockings, swing dresses, cat eye-liner, and sometimes, nothing but smoldering smokey eyes!

I knew that my responsibility to my clients, my studio crew, and myself was not to be taken lightly. Clients can feel especially vulnerable if they’re stepping out of their comfort zone. They are trusting your judgment and talents to help them attain a feeling they simply may never feel or identify with on a daily basis. Careers happen, relationships happen, pregnancies happen, health issues happen, life-altering changes happen…LIFE HAPPENS. Helping clients let go, let their guard down, and establish friendly and open communication is a winning combination for setting the tone early on.

woman with retro inspired style in vintage car
photo by Janette V.

Get to know your clients and help them get to know you.

I learned so much about women and their unique stories. I also learned about why they sought out my services, along with the collective talents of my team of AMAZING hairstylists, make-up artists, studio/booking assistants, and wardrobe stylist. All I had to do was listen. Listen and relate with honesty and the purest enthusiasm to fully understand why they decided that their hard-earned money and valuable time was given to us during our time together. I knew that I needed to earn my clients’ trust and give them my all. That was non-negotiable. Being approachable and friendly was key. Sharing behind the scenes videos and photos from sessions was a great way for clients that hadn’t met me to get to know me in a way via my website or social media. Of course, this is only possible if your clients have given permission to share any behind-the-scenes action, so always ask. 

woman dancing in vintage 60's dress
photo by Janette V.

Engage with your clients and help them relate so that you are more than just a lens staring back at them. Another cool way to help potential clients get to know you and your services better is by sharing client testimonials. When my clients were happy with their shoot results, they were not shy to let everyone know just how amazing they felt on their social media profiles or by reaching out to their friends or families. My clients were not afraid to share tidbits from their experiences shooting with me, or the great time they had with the studio crew, or simply how they’ve never felt more gorgeous in their adult lives! Potential clients can learn so much about you, your shooting process, and what they can expect from the time spent with you simply by sharing other clients’ own past experiences.

Set the tone and create a safe space for your female clients.

What we were doing was fiercely feminist. On the surface, my portrait studio was known for transforming everyday gals into pin-up bombshells. But I soon realized that what we were doing was more profound, and in some way, the transformation took the shape of added confidence and genuine gratitude.

Naturally, I was looking to create the most comfortable and friendly environment. I wanted my clients to immerse into the experience and leave with happy hearts. Creating this atmosphere helped my clients feel like they were hanging out with the best friends they never knew existed! Every day was a party, and every shoot was the coolest slumber party. We laughed, we cried, we hugged, we danced, we were loud, we shared some touching moments…and those moments will live on with us forever.

Unfortunately, many women carry the weight of their insecurities and the damage incurred due to social stigmas, recurring patterns, learned behavior, or simply being in a constant state of comparison. Your clients can very well come to you after a lifetime of self-doubt and have booked you for a much-needed boost of confidence or an escape from their everyday lives.

woman seated in retro library wearing vintage 40's gown
photo by Janette V.

Lights, camera, action…. 5 ways to make your female clients feel confident and comfortable during a session.

  1. Communicate before the session so that you’ve already established a connection and can discuss ideas, comfort zones, and their vision for the session. Devoting the time to respond to emails promptly and thoughtfully shows your clients the respect they deserve. After all, some women may invest hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on their photos!
  2. Discuss wardrobe before the session and always give her options to feel comfortable and beautiful in her wardrobe. Moods can change, and something that seemed like a good idea one day might not feel like the best option the day of the shoot.
  3. Express your excitement about the photoshoot and encourage her with enthusiasm. Help her feel that she’s number one during your time together.
  4. Play music that your client enjoys so that it helps her have fun during her session. Upbeat music is a great way to create an enjoyable atmosphere for your client.
  5. Encourage and compliment your client. Reassurance goes a long way, and it should come from an honest place. Never over-do it.
woman having retro-inspired makeup applied by stylist
image courtesy of Janette V.

I found that keeping posing boards around really helps to go over poses with your client and eliminates the guesswork when your client is ready to go in front of your lens. In a pinch, you can demonstrate positions and expressions for them using your own body. If you’re shooting a boudoir session with your client, encourage poses and facial expressions that relay the right amount of implied sensuality without being too overt or awkward. The goal is to help your client have a super fun experience, especially if this is something new to them.

If you’re working with a team in the studio, make sure your client is comfortable with other people being around. Usually, my hair, makeup, wardrobe team, and assistant were on set the entire session to ensure that every detail was in place, making my clients feel like royalty. We found some women were more comfortable without an audience, so it’s best to ask first!

two women looking at an image preview on the back of a camera
image courtesy of Janette V.

It can also be a huge help to show your client images as you shoot. I noticed that if I showed my clients the camera preview as we went along, it would inspire confidence and get them excited to keep posing and really have a blast with their time in front of the camera.

Most importantly, have fun, engage, tell fun stories, ask questions and keep it light. The more fun you have together, the easier it’ll be for your client to relax and feel comfortable.

Why do women book photo sessions, and what do they gain from the experience?

Women are learning to become more empowered via messages that promote being body-positive and self-confident. Some women are simply bogged down by the everyday pressures of life or circumstances beyond their control that really limit time for self-care routines. Neglecting one’s own needs can lead to low confidence and affect a woman’s ability to feel empowered. Booking a photo session is a powerful way to boost self-worth. Feeling powerful, confident, and comfortable in one’s skin can make a huge difference in a woman’s ability to elevate their body image.

As a photographer whose clientele was exclusively women, I learned women book sessions for extremely varied and fascinating reasons. Every woman has their own story. Some of my clients booked sessions as a boost after a bad break-up or divorce. Another reason women booked was to celebrate big accomplishments like reaching a weight goal and finding no better way to celebrate themselves, and in some cases, show themselves off, than by booking a shoot! Some women were celebrating milestones like birthdays, graduations, engagements, pregnancies, etc.

retro image inspired by Josephine Baker
photo by Janette V.

One of my clients was a regular and booked a session prior to her double-mastectomy. Her reason behind booking was to have a memorable experience where she could relax and feel beautiful before a huge life and body-altering event. The reasons women book are not always easy to confront. But the truth is that this is why our jobs are so important, and helping women find joy and fulfillment in the work we provide brings long-lasting, emotional ties to these experiences we create with them. Alternatively, I’ve photographed women who have overcome cancer and are excited to celebrate the success of surviving and are so very grateful to have a new lease on life. One of my personal favorites was a lovely woman who was a breast cancer survivor. Together we recreated the iconic World War ll era Rosie the Riveter poster where the message is the profound exclamation “We Can Do It!”.

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to make a difference in so many women’s lives. Some differences are subtle, and some are extremely powerful, but all are equally important and meaningful to them (and to me). Helping women find their confidence, voice, and self-worth is a gratifying experience and makes up some of the most profound times of my career and life. It goes without saying, I’m a really lucky gal!

Janette has been capturing memorable moments from behind her lens since 2005. Her work has included founding South Florida’s first vintage pin-up photo studio, as well as working with clients like The Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, TLC, Chewy.com, and has had work featured in publications like Decibel and Rolling Stone magazines. Janette is currently living in North Carolina and explores new creative outlets in analog photography, videography, and music while providing Customer Support for Zenfolio.

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