Shortly before they got married, Angie Whitten’s husband asked her, “If you could do anything in the world for work, what would you do?”
Her answer was instantaneous: “I’d be a photographer.”
“I worked at a car dealership and body shop for 15 years, but when I got laid off and started applying for similar jobs, he said, ‘Why are you doing that? You don’t even like the auto industry!’”
Instead of sticking with what she knew, Whitten listened to her husband when he said he would support her while she pursued her passion. She upgraded to professional level photography equipment, started taking classes and shooting any event she could, joined a number of networking groups, and researched what it would take to open her own small business. Less than a year later, she has a growing business, and, in her words, is living out her dream.
Harmony Photography opened in February of 2015, and Whitten is beyond pleased that it’s proving to be profitable. While, weddings, real estate, family shots, senior portraits and events are the bread and butter of most photographers, Whitten has a specialty that is starting to fill up her schedule more than the standard gigs. “If I could shoot one thing all day it would be boudoir.”
A boudoir is a woman’s private dressing area or bedroom, and boudoir photography captures images that are suggestive of a woman’s most private moments. According to Whitten, boudoir is not always bedroom related. As the photographer, she is “there to draw out the feminine side, and that’s different for every person.” The images are only as revealing as the client wants them to be, and as the photographer, Whitten has her own line in the sand. “I don’t do nudes,” she says. “The level of dress is basically anything you would see on the beach,” but in lingerie form. Sometimes her clients don’t even use standard lingerie. “One client had no makeup on and just wore a flannel shirt and black bra.”
It’s all about feeling good in your own skin.
Whitten says that getting sexy or suggestive pictures taken often turns out to be more for the woman than for her partner. “I had boudoir pictures taken for my husband as a wedding gift — I got married last January — and the way that it made me feel, I wanted to make other women feel that way,” she says.
“I’m a plus size,” Whitten adds. “Sometimes it’s easy to be really hard on yourself because of that, and sometimes you don’t feel super sexy.” Whitten says getting the pictures taken made her feel fierce, sexy and desirable. “And the look on [my husband’s] face when he received them, well — !” Having had such a positive experience herself, she knew she wanted to explore the potential.
Whitten started doing boudoir photography immediately and she operates this part of her business under the name You Are That Hot. She came up with the name with marketing specialist Patrick Williams at one of his Brand Jam events. Because her goal is to make each client recognize how beautiful she is, Whitten has worked carefully, learning the nuances between boudoir and typical photography. Those differences apply not only to how she shoots the photos but also in how she markets her business.
“The typical client wants to meet ahead of time,” says Whitten. Usually, Whitten meets with the client for coffee and discusses pricing and the type of shots the client wants. More often than not, Whitten says she can sense insecurity during that initial conversation. “There is usually a lot of, ‘I need to lose 10 pounds before our session,’ or, ‘Can you fix my acne or my cellulite?’” It’s almost a given that she’ll be questioned about her expertise in Photoshop and asked, “How good can you make me look?”
“I just sort of nod and smile,” Whitten says. “Some of the initial meetings are almost like a therapy session.” One client who was concerned that her husband might be cheating on her said, “I want him to look at me again.” Whitten has to walk a thin line in situations like this. She likens it to thinking that if you lose a lot of weight or win the lottery all your problems will go away. She sometimes has to tell clients that having sexy photos taken is not a magic fix for a bad marriage, but it can make a woman see herself in a new light, realizing that her partner thinks she’s sexy just as she is.
The photo shoot itself ends up being empowering. “[Clients have] come in very insecure and they show up for the session very nervous and start talking about Photoshop again,” Whitten says. “But after about 10 shots or so, they start having ideas for poses and start blossoming — coming out of their shells.” This transition is powerful for both Whitten and her clients. “A lady I shot last week ran into me the other day and said she went home and felt like she was on fire, as sexy as ever.”
Whitten’s favorite part of shooting boudoir is when she reveals the photos to her clients. “They comment on how well I’ve Photoshopped them, and I tell them, ‘Actually, I didn’t.’ I don’t Photoshop people because they’re already that hot.” While Whitten will occasionally get rid of a blemish or two, most of the time she uses strategic posing, lighting and soft focus to get the best results. Whitten, like most good boudoir photographers, doesn’t believe in altering body lines or fundamentally changing the way a person looks.
“I try to show women how their partners see them,” says Whitten. “Their partners don’t see them Photoshopped, and they want them.” Often there are tears when a woman realizes that and sees herself as desirable, maybe for the first time.
So far Whitten says her clients have ranged in age from 22 to 65. Sizes have ranged from a 2 to a 5X. The reasons women come in are just as varied. “I had one client who, due to being on some heavy duty medication, had gained 100 pounds and said she didn’t feel beautiful anymore,” Whitten shares. “Another recently lost 100 pounds and wanted to document that with some photos.” A fiftieth birthday, a husband being deployed, a woman pregnant with her fifth and final child, a fortieth wedding anniversary — the list goes on.
Valentine’s Day is a perfect time for women to give shots to their partners, and gift certificates can also be given to the woman. Whitten also includes boudoir as part of her wedding photography packages. “Brides love giving them to their new husbands, and they are usually a blast to shoot,” she says.
Whitten encourages anyone thinking about having boudoir shots done to meet with the photographer first. It shouldn’t cost you anything to meet for coffee. See if you think personality wise it’s a good fit. If you’re uncomfortable with the photographer, trust your instincts and look for someone else.
“You don’t have to be a certain shape or size or height or weight or anything,” Whitten says. “Here’s the thing, every woman is beautiful — every single one. I feel like I am really good at bringing that out.”
Whitten is a member of the Professional Photographers of America and the Pierce County Professional Photographers Association. She is working toward certification through the New York Institute of Photography and has taken classes and workshops with industry leader Jen Rozenbaum.