Snapshot, crackle & pop

Our brave scribe doffs her duds for candid boudoir photos


“Get into bed now!” Marlen James demands. I do as told. After all, James has managed to accomplish the impossible: For the first time in my life, I am completely at ease, not self-conscious about my après-motherhood figure, feeling as sexy as Megan Fox.

All this while dressed in next to nothing. Yes, here I am, posing during a boudoir portrait shoot, just in time for Valentine’s Day. “This is going to be a butt and high-heeled shot,” James continues.

“Lie on your back, bring your knees up, play with your hair.” I had arrived at the home of James, a Toronto-based photographer and makeup artist, who specializes in boudoir photography, with a bag full of beautiful lingerie from La Nuit Lingerie in Spadina Village.

I’ll admit, I didn’t eat breakfast, was extremely nervous before arriving and wondered why anyone would put themselves through the stress. “Most of the women who want to pose for boudoir portraits say they’re doing it for their boyfriends or husbands,” says James, who has been doing sexy bedroom photography since 2006. “But mostly, I think, they’re doing it for themselves.”

James noticed the demand for this type of photography years ago while assisting a male photographer for wedding shoots.

“The brides always said I could come in the room and take photos of them while they got ready,” James explains. “I was getting these great close-up shots of their cleavages and those were the photos that turned out to be the best shots.”

Because James, who usually will go to your home, also does your makeup before the shoot, it gives you time to get comfortable with being nearly naked in front of a stranger. (It was 11 a.m.; at night, usually women will have a glass of wine.)

James is easy to like. She’s kind, patient and funny.

“Of course most people are nervous,” she says, when I tell her how nervous I am. “You’re exposing yourself. But once I get the makeup on, and people see their smoky eyes and that they look classy, they realize there is not so much pressure.”

James, who moved to Toronto from Mexico 10 years ago, tells clients to have three outfits ready — usually a camisole, a sexy black dress and any other pieces of lingerie. The photo shoots generally take about an hour and a half, and a shoot costs approximately $600, with an extra charge for prints or a book.

Leading up to Valentine’s Day, James sees a spike in business but says she is steady year round. Recently, she was hired to go to the home of a 50-year-old woman celebrating her birthday, to take shots of the birthday girl and five of her friends.

“I was shocked,” she admits. “Some of them had the best legs I had ever seen!”

While her clients range in age from 20 to 50, why she’s hired to do portraits runs the gamut from a girls’ night out to women out for revenge. She also gets many requests for couples that want portraits together. Many men will purchase certificates for anniversary gifts.

“Some couples will make a night out of it. They’ll rent a hotel room, and I’ll take shots of the woman, when the man goes down to the bar for a drink, then he’ll come back and see her all dressed up in makeup.”

Surprisingly, especially to myself, I jump right in, changing into my first outfit — a sexy hot pink and black bra with studded straps and matching boy panties.

“We’ll do a few shots where I tell you how to pose, a few of you looking in the mirror and a few of you lying around in bed,” she says. (Um, OK?) Apparently, one way to look sexy in a boudoir shot is to keep your mouth slightly open, which is more difficult than you’d think. “It’s hard to relax your mouth,” says James. “People feel giggly.”

On cue, I burst out in a fit of giggles — when James tells me to take a finger to put up to my lips. (I feel like I’m posing for Playboy!)

For a couple minutes, I can’t stop laughing, wondering how I got into all this and why I am having so much fun.

“Don’t worry,” says James, laughing along and snapping away. “Sometimes sexy happens by accident.”

I change into my second outfit. A sexy James stands beside me, showing me how to pose in my very high heels. “Move your leg forward, put your hands on your hip, and play with your hair,” she says.


It’s like playing dress-up. Thanks very much to technology, James can cover up any “blemishes,” so your photos are magazine quality. I ask what the usual reaction is when people first see their portraits.

“It’s always, ‘I didn’t think I could look so good!’” says James. Of course, I can’t help but press cynically, “You can really make anyone look good?”

“There’s always some feature I can highlight. Whether it’s a slip of a nipple or them looking over their shoulder or their legs. There’s always something.”

Later that night, the e-mail with the photos arrives. I’m impressed. I do look great in the shots. And, I’ll admit, someone special will be getting a certain photo of me, in a 16-by-24 poster, for Valentine’s Day. Why not?

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