Interview: Ben Marcum, Boudoir and Portrait Photographer

Ben Marcum has long been a sought-after portrait and headshot photographer, but began to include intimate photography after an epiphany in front of a tonalist oil painting in Ohio. We sat down to chat about process, beauty, and confidence.

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How long have you been a photographer? A boudoir photographer? What drew you to intimate portraits?

I started working as a photographer in 2013. I added a focus of fine art portraits and fine art boudoir in around 2016.  What drew me to portraits, including intimate portraits, I think is a multi-stepped process.
I’ve been a fan of art and painting for most of my life. As a child, my mother worked at Kentucky Opera when they were still housed in The Brennan House.  I remember being quite taken with the painted portraits of the family all about the house.

Once I picked up a camera, I did what a lot of beginning photographers do: I would photograph anything that I could get in front of my lens. Families, kids, pets, whatever. I ended up focusing on headshot photography. I studied under a master and became Louisville’s go-to headshot photographer (and I have not stopped creating headshots).  With that work, I really learned how to connect with people, how to draw out their true personality so they could have an amazing headshot (not just another fake smiling photo that they hate).

Fast forward a bit and my wife and I are touring an art museum. I am again finding myself taken with the beautiful portraits and thinking, “why aren’t portraits like this anymore?  They end up on social media and are forgotten. Why shouldn’t portraits be art?“  So I decided I wanted to do that. I wanted to make portraits, and more importantly, I wanted to make the the people in them feel special.

As for boudoir/intimate specifically, what really put me on the path was a painting that is hanging in the Cincinnati Museum of Art called “Woman Drying Her Hair” by Joseph DeCamp. It’s a stunning painting. I thought, “Boudoir portraits can be art.  I can create intimate image for people that they could frame and hang in their home if they wanted to.”

Why do most folks choose to do a boudoir session?

I’ve heard several reasons.  Some people do it just for fun. Some as a gift for a significant other. I’ve had people who have gone through a rough patch in their lives and want to do something that will make them feel special. Some people do it to celebrate a milestone. Some people simply because they’ve seen a friend’s portraits and they decide they want to do that as well!

What should I expect when I come to your studio for my shoot? How should I prepare? What should I bring?

You should expect to have an amazing day. Be ready to laugh and not worry about a thing. I work with an amazing team of makeup artists. Between all of us, we will take care of everything for you (and yes, the makeup artist is included in your portrait session fees).

There is no cookie-cutter answer on how to prepare and what to bring. Every portrait session is different.  You and I will have a consultation before your day in the studio (and likely exchange several emails and phone calls). During that consultation, I will be able to guide you on how to prepare and what to bring based on how you dream of being photographed.

When you say "outfits", what does that mean? 

An outfit will be a clothing look.  We can run the gamut in my studio! Some people prefer to do nothing but amazing gowns and dresses. Some choose all lingerie. Some love various fabric draping. Some prefer nude. Some prefer a mix of any combination!

How do you make nervous subjects comfortable? 

There is no one way I make people comfortable.  Everyone is different. I make it a point to get to know everyone and form a connection. I don’t do more than one portrait session a day so there is nothing rushed in my studio. 

I have set my studio up to feel comfortable and inviting. It is an extension of my home, and I am happy to say people feel very at home here.I encourage people to visit the studio before they sit for me. I prefer that we do the consultation here. That gives them an opportunity to see the space and meet me before they step in front of the camera.

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What makes a great boudoir photo? 

It is subjective.  For me, I have to feel something. I have to be drawn into it The best portraits to me, boudoir or fully clothed, are portraits that I want to look at, that stop me in my tracks every time I see them.

What are your clients usually like? 

They are all different. I can honestly say I’ve never had two alike and I love that.

What's the craziest thing that has ever happened on a boudoir shoot? 

I tell people I will never ask them to do a pose that I won’t do. When you go through my portfolio, with the exception of the ballet portraits, it’s a safe bet I did the pose as well. When you see me in person, that’s really funny!

What's the thing you hear the most from your clients? 

Before a sitting, it is often, “ I’m not photogenic.”

After a sitting “You made me look amazing! This was so much fun!”

If I'm insecure about my _____, what should I do? 

We all have things that we don’t love about ourselves.  The good news is, nobody else looks at us the way that we look at ourselves. That insecurity is often self-imposed. I will also be guiding you through the entire process. I will pose and light you in ways that are flattering.

What boudoir trends are you excited about? What boudoir trends do you hope never to see again?

A fellow photographer said to me, “Just make things you want to look at.” That said, I don’t really pay attention to trends. I have my style that I love and some people will love as well. There are certainly those that may not want my style of portrait/boudoir photography, which is also just fine.  It all really comes down to the person in the portraits loving them.

If I can't come to you, what should I be looking for in a boudoir photographer? 

Make sure you are comfortable with the photographer.

Make sure you love their style.

Make sure they have a style.  There are lots of photographers who do a lot of different things and never really take the time to master their look and craft. You should be able to look through their portfolio and see that it is all of a style.

Thanks for your insight, Ben! We can’t wait to see what our clients create with you!

Kirsten Schofield