Boudoir Photographer Yolandi Jacobsz Makes the “Moment of Sexy”

All boudoir photography by Yolandi Jacobsz. Used with permission.

To better understand the psychology between a professional and their client, we spoke to boudoir photographer Yolandi Jacobsz. Boudoir photography is an extremely delicate genre. Most of the clients who walk into a photographer’s studio are women. They may bring with them a mixture of emotions and insecurities. A boudoir shoot is an opportunity for the subject to be born into or reinforce confidence. Because it’s so vulnerable, it takes a skilled pro to help a subject truly become themselves.

Phoblographer: Out of all the genres, what attracted you most to shooting boudoir photography?

Yolandi Jacobsz: It’s an extremely personal and intimate shoot, and you get to hear every woman’s story through her boudoir session with you. Even though I remain professional, the conversation kept throughout makes my client and I find things we in common, helping us build rapport. And this seems to boost some internal muchness for them to showcase their femininity in such a special way, and I get to document that in the most beautiful visual way.

I’ve always liked it because it’s not a one-way shoot. You need them to open up a little, and you also have to show off who you are with each shoot.

Phoblographer: From a gear standpoint, what essentials do you need to work to the best of your ability?

Yolandi Jacobsz: For me, this a unique question to answer, as in recent years, I have gone back to the studio feel for my boudoir shoots. Boudoir can be done anywhere, from hotel rooms to clients’ own homes. Using a minimal background and only studio lighting, I found they make for a moody feel, something I’ve come to love.

Even though I have done dozens of shoots on location in my 12 years as a pro photographer, the studio offers two great advantages for me. It’s superbly flattering, as you can manipulate the light to showcase only certain parts and have the rest fall in shadow.

So I love my semi-dark, grey paper background that I bought a few years ago. It’s easy to darken with lighting, and it’s easy to change its color as well. For lighting, I have an old Bowens kit and usually only work with one light – either a long strip softbox or an octa. One thing I do love is a reflector, which I use on the opposite side of the light, standing on a reflector holder.

I guess specific gear is important, but I have used many different lighting brands and even cameras and lenses in my studio. If you have good studio knowledge on where shadows and highlights will fall, you’ll be able to make good studio boudoir photographs.

“I get to hear a little bit about their insecurities, as each and every woman has them, so you have to work with those, tactfully and sensitively.”

— Yolandi Jacobsz

Phoblographer: You mainly work with private clients. What do you like to know about them prior to a shoot that helps you get best prepared for the shoot?

Yolandi Jacobsz: Most clients, even though not all, are brides-to-be, and their product will be used for their wedding gift to their husbands. But many women just want the experience of something sexy, different, and fierce, as everyday life doesn’t always give us those cool feelings every second of the day. So I like to hear what their expectations are, and if they have any ideas themselves. We talk about hair and makeup options as this comes highly recommended. I get to hear a little bit about their insecurities, as each and every woman has them, so you have to work with those, tactfully and sensitively.

Even though you are the professional, you can’t see only your creative vision; you’ll detach from and alienate your client. On the day, most of the shoot flows organically, as they lay their outfits out and mention to you their favorites. Also, having casual conversations with them strengthens an unspoken bond, which makes for an awesome and unforgettable shoot. It’s not the type of genre for a shy, withdrawn type of photographer who only ever wants to be inconspicuous. You’re expected to take the full lead, help, guide, pose, and keep the atmosphere light and uplifting.

Phoblographer: What tends to be the best ice breakers when a client arrives? How do you calm their nerves?

Yolandi Jacobsz: I’m quite the joke-maker, but I do like to greet them in a friendly way. I’ll help them with their bags and clothes, take them to where they’ll be changing. Then, I’ll offer them something to drink, and go ahead and chat about anything. I usually get them talking as quickly as possible, and I like for them to chat to me about their outfit choices. I always ask them where they found me and my work or what made them want a boudoir shoot.

Friendliness and being neat, tidy, and confident make them feel relaxed super quickly in a situation they still find tentative and not sure yet what to expect.

Phoblographer: Have you had a situation where a client is too nervous or tense to relax into the shoot? What was that experience like? How were you able to overcome it?

Yolandi Jacobsz: I can’t say that I have. How pretentious to mention I’m blessed, but I’m lucky, with my gift to guide these women, and with somehow being able to have already built some rapport even if only over emails or messages. I’m extremely glad my work speaks so loudly for me because of my years of blogging about boudoir. The many clients I’ve had have created an online and physical name that is synonymous with a high-quality product. Money can never buy that, that reputation is worth gold.

I’m grateful every time I make a booking or even receive an inquiry. It’s an opportunity to have a conversation with a woman on her first thoughts of perhaps doing something like this, which to her, is usually something strange, a little weird and completely the polar opposite or her daily life. I’m grateful for a high success rate. I do think it has to do with a strong personality and the love I have for this genre.

Phoblographer: What about a client who lacks body confidence? How do you approach them in the way you shoot?

Yolandi Jacobsz: I think it’s two-fold, I think positive reinforcement on the day of the shoot goes an extremely long way. If you know you’ve nailed a shot, show them the back of the camera. This cements confidence within them, and they begin to trust you. Your personality and smile can make or break their shoot, and it’s vital to keep that trust throughout by being excited with them, helping them with any small detail, such as adjusting tops or helping to secure suspenders for them.

“…if a moment of sexy, or a moment of pure feminine fierceness can be achieved or experienced here with me, then I’ll own that. I’ll keep shooting, making women feel better about themselves with each shoot I do.”

— Yolandi Jacobsz

Phoblographer: Take us through your editing process.

Yolandi Jacobsz: Even though it’s a very polarizing debate, I am a fan of Photoshop. So many wonderful tools are available today to add the most beautiful color to images. It’s a great tool to help with skin, especially the South African skin, which is very much uneven. And it’s never more visible when you only have your underwear on.

I love the looking down images, as this shows off beautiful eye makeup, and gives the shape of noses, the angel-dip above lips, and clavicle bones a chance to be captured. No, I don’t advocate for photoshopping any client until they’re unrecognizable or drastically adjusting their body type to make them look smaller. But I have seen how corsets push a torso uncomfortably, and how underwear tops can also make unflattering bulges. There isn’t a client I’ve met who wants me to keep those raw and showing in their final product. I honor and respect that, and quite honestly, I would’ve wanted to have that photoshopped on myself if it was my shoot. It’s never a drastic change, but being professional has made me sharpen up my editing, and I feel competent to give them that small help as part of their final product.

Phoblographer: Posing isn’t easy. What’s your process of getting the best pose out of people who are not professional models?

Yolandi Jacobsz: Years of practice and studying the female form extensively. What will work on a smaller model with smaller arms, no extra weight carried on stomachs or backs, and sometimes hair that hangs long, will not practically work with normal women, mothers, grandmothers and anyone a bit larger. The shape and silhouette are not the same and won’t make your client feel good about trying it. That has to be deeply understood. I get to do boudoirs throughout the whole year, so it isn’t always in holiday time when people are more relaxed or more tanned, sometimes a client took a day off work to visit me. So it takes putting two and two together very quickly. Look at your client, quickly assess what will work and what won’t for her. And work in a sensitive way.

Many clients bring examples of what they like to a shoot, and it’s always good to see where their heads are at and what they consider as beautiful. So, we do try and go with some of their examples in the studio format, but I try and have each client’s body type, their personality, shyness level, and expectations work for me, and lead me into what type of product I’ll be able to provide for them.

Phoblographer: What’s the most rewarding part of being a boudoir photographer with private clients?

Yolandi Jacobsz: That each woman is different. She has a different reason and story for being there, and she comes from a unique history. Human nature is a huge interest of mine. It’s fascinating to see how the sum of each woman’s experiences, whether it be abuse or not, divorce or not, a certain type of relationship with their partner or husband, or her relationship with her children, determines her self-esteem and how she views herself. It’s not always to do with size and body type.

I have shot women who are proper plus size, and they rock their looks with immense confidence. And likewise, I have shot smaller, practically perfect women as far as I can see, and there are underlying issues on why she perhaps sees a completely different picture of herself. And that combination, of my skill and what I can provide, and the interesting phenomenon that is human nature, makes for wild and awesome rides. Their reaction to their product is gold.

Phoblographer: Traditionally, boudoir clients tend to be women. Being a woman yourself, what impact do you feel that has on the chemistry between photographer and subject?

Yolandi Jacobsz: The chemistry is most definitely a special one, because being a woman myself, I fully understand my client’s insecurities. I can pose her in a more feminine way, I understand my client’s curves, shape, and lines. The language I use, she also seems to understand in both a spoken and unspoken way, and there is safety and almost instant trust because I’m a woman myself. The understanding going into the shoot almost needs very little words, it happens on instinct.

Phoblographer: Some critics find the boudoir genre objectifying – what’s your message to them?

Yolandi Jacobsz: Boudoir isn’t fashion, or in any model genre; working with models for agencies or for magazine editorials. It’s a private, intimate shoot between the client and their photographer. Ninety percent of my clients do not give me permission to showcase their shoot, as it’s a private moment to be shared between them and a partner, or kept for themselves.

I see a tremendous amount of women beating themselves down most moments of every day, and feeling everything but great about their size and other insecurities like bigger arms, or tummies not being flat. And if a moment of sexy, or a moment of pure feminine fierceness can be achieved or experienced here with me, then I’ll own that. I’ll keep shooting, making women feel better about themselves with each shoot I do.

You can see more of Yolandi’s work by visiting her website.

Dan Ginn

Dan Ginn is a content writer and journalist. He brings with him five years' experience writing in the photographic niche. During that time he has worked with a range of leading brands, as well as a host professional photographers within the industry.