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Defining Authenticity: A Birth and Boudoir Photographer's Thoughts on Being Real

Updated: Jun 20, 2023

Elegant pregnant woman in bathtub and a mother and father holding their newborn

In an age where Photoshop and filters reign supreme, it’s hard to define what’s real.

As a Delaware photographer who covers so many different genres of photography, I’ve done a lot of reflection on where I stand as an artist. How much retouching will I do on portraits? Do boudoir sessions and family sessions get access to different levels of retouching? Why would they? Should they have the same? How far am I willing to go if a client’s preferences don’t match my own?

After covering both a maternity boudoir session and the birth of the same client’s baby, I really began to unpack my thoughts and feelings on authenticity.

Understanding Photoshop and Using It as a Tool

Defining Authenticity: Pregnant woman laying in bed, hand on belly

“Photoshopping” has become a verb synonymous with any level of retouching. Most people use the term to describe any sort of modifications to any photo, whether or not the actual program has been used.

Photoshop is an Adobe program within the company’s Creative Suite. As I’ve grown as a photographer, I’ve moved away from using Lightroom CC and instead use a combination of the original Lightroom and Photoshop. I also use Portraiture and Topaz Denoise and Sharpening.

Many of the features of Photoshop can be used in the original Lightroom, but to a lesser degree. Spot removal can be done in Lightroom (which is great for removing blemishes), but liquify is exclusive to Photoshop.

Liquify is the tool that most people are referring to when they say something has been “photoshopped.” This tool is frequently used by photographers when they’re changing someone’s size and body shape.

There are different levels of retouching that photographers are willing (or in some cases, able) to do. Someone using the program Photoshop does not automatically mean they’re making those body modifications that most people equate with the verb “photoshopping.”

Still Poetry Photography’s Ethos of Photoshop

New mother and father looking at their new baby

Just like most photographers, I have developed my own philosophy and moral compass on how far I am willing to go as an editor.

If you are looking for a photographer who is willing to Photoshop your size 10 body into a size 2, you’re going to have to look for a different Delaware photographer. Even if you’re a size 10 and want to go to a size 8, I won’t help you.

If you’re looking for a photographer who is going to reshape your arms, move your eyebrows into a different place, shrink the size of your nose, you’re going to have to look somewhere else.

I use the “two week rule” as a basis for when I’m editing. If what you want me to edit won’t be there in two weeks, I will remove it. So that covers acne, bruising, cuts, excess flyaways, smudged makeup, and so on. If there’s a specific scar that you request I remove, I’m happy to do that as well. For portraits, like senior photography or boudoir, I will also do skin smoothing to remove patches of redness or rough texture.

We’re a body-positive, fat-positive studio that doesn’t believe that your size dictates your beauty. Beauty comes at every single size. I won’t make you look thinner, because that’s not something that should be “fixed.”

Of course, I will choose posing that flatters your body type and preferences best. For my boudoir clients, I always ask about what they love most about their body and what insecurities they have that they want me to shoot around. If someone isn’t in love with their deviated septum, I won’t liquify it to a shape that isn’t authentic to their face, but I will definitely choose poses that don’t accentuate their profile. If someone isn’t confident in their tummy, I’ll choose poses that focus on different parts of their body, and we’ll choose clothes that feel flattering to their shape.

You don’t have to love every single inch of yourself to still feel confident in photos that don’t reshape your body completely.

I understand the philosophy of photographers that do offer a deeper level or retouching. Models and Hollywood actors get to have their bodies completely changed in magazines, so every-day people should have access to those tools as well in a stylized portrait. I completely understand where they’re coming from.

But I don’t want my clients to look back at these photos and think, “well, I look amazing, but I don’t actually look like that in real life.”

I want my clients to look at their photos and say, “damn! With a hair and makeup artist and perfect lighting, I really do look like that!”

Our Take on Retouching Across Genres

3 pregnant women in royal flowing dresses surrounding a potted urn

Now that you know how far we’re willing to go when it comes to retouching, I’ll let you in on a little secret: not every session has access to that level of retouching.

There are so many different types of photography that I wouldn’t even be able to begin to count. With just the few genres we cover, there’s already such a wide array of emotion and coverage type.

The two most different sessions I offer actually have a lot of intersection in clientele: boudoir and birth photography.

Our latest birth client received both session types. And watching her in those two very different contexts was absolutely incredible.

I worked with Josephine for a maternity boudoir session, and it was absolutely incredible to see her so radiant as an expecting mom! She got the full glamor experience from our hair and make-up artist and had access to our client closet which not only features hundreds of pieces of lingerie but thousands of dollars worth of couture dresses. She even donned a crochet top that she made herself!

For the birth of her son, Josephine didn’t have any of that. She gave birth in a birthing center with nothing but a tub, her birth support team of a nurse, midwife, doula, and husband, and her own courage and strength. The emotions were high, the energy was raw, and it was a space where people were fully themselves.

But does that mean that her boudoir photos were less authentic? Are they less “her” than her birth portraits were?

To me, the answer is no.

Women and people with uteruses are expected to be so many things: caregiver, mother, support person, employee, entrepreneur, therapist, chef, cleaner, and the list seemingly goes on forever.

We need to give ourselves permission to both be just one person, and to accept roles that we want for ourselves.

Accepting the role of motherhood comes with so many moments that are not beautiful. Diaper changing and scrubbing markers off the walls and wiping vomit off the floor isn’t beautiful.

But we do not have to give up the beautiful parts of ourselves that make us who we are in exchange for motherhood. We are allowed to be a mother who is also sexy.

We can still be gorgeous, strong, funny, unique, creative, and yes, sexy, while still being a mom.

When I look at these two photos of Josephine, I see two sides of the same person.

And both of them are equally real.

Seeing Yourself Through This Delaware Photographer’s Lens

lewes delaware maternity photography

What parts of yourself would you like captured in art? Genuine moments with your family on the beach? Your seductive side in boudoir portraits? The moment you welcome your next child into the world?

Still Poetry Photography is a Delaware-based photography company that is women, neurodivergent, disabled, and queer owned. We’re excited to give you a gender-affirming and empowering photography experience, whether you’re looking for an elopement, birth photography, family photos, boudoir sessions, or more.

Send us a message today and let’s make some art!


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