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The day's soundtrack revolved around "Dirty Picture." Jennifer Rozenbaum's slightly nervous client, posing in nothing more than lace lingerie, had told the photographer that the song by Taio Cruz and Ke$ha was the tipping point that pushed her to take action on her lifelong desire to participate in a risqué photo session. The client planned to give the photos to her fiancé as a gift.
But the song title wasn't a perfect fit for the photo session--after all, Rozenbaum doesn't take dirty pictures. Her Queens, N.Y.-based company, Jenerations Photography, specializes in "boudoir," a photography genre that's more sensual than outright sexy. Rozenbaum photographs women--some in lingerie, others nude--with the goal of producing images that are tasteful and glamorous.
Since launching in 2008, Jenerations has become one of the largest boudoir shops in the New York area. And the firm appears to be at the crest of a trend. Angela Wijesinghe, marketing specialist with the Professional Photographers of America, an industry group based in Atlanta, says "interest in boudoir, like many other photography specialties, has grown over the last few years," and notes that in recent months the organization has "considered making boudoir one of the specialty options" members can check on their online profiles.
But not all photographers should add boudoir to their mix. No matter why their clients sign on--a gift for a significant other, to celebrate a personal milestone, simple curiosity--the skills of a boudoir photographer have to go way beyond technique. "It's more than just having pictures taken," says Marissa Boucher, co-owner of The Boudoir Divas, a studio in San Diego. "It's showing a woman how to feel comfortable in her own skin."
Rozenbaum agrees. She meets personally with every client before a shoot. During the session, she makes sure to focus on both taking compelling photos and making her client comfortable. She tells them about her kids, makes fun of herself and makes it clear that her studio is a "no judgment" zone.
The shoots last from two to five hours and include makeup, refreshments, a custom photo album and a bag of take-home swag. "We try to make it fun," says Rozenbaum, whose business has always centered on boudoir shots. The former stay-at-home mom taught herself photography in 2008 after her daughter started preschool. Later that year, she tagged along with a photographer friend to a boudoir shoot. She was hooked.
Rozenbaum launched her business a few weeks later, building a website with photos she shot of a friend. She nabbed her first paying customers by placing an ad on a popular wedding website. And, thanks to customer raves about her work on other wedding sites, more new customers started calling.
Until moving into her current studio space in 2011, Rozenbaum minimized overhead by running the business out of her home office--and did most of the shoots in a bedroom at the house, too. She also keeps costs low by hiring photography assistants who are versed in makeup and styling. "When you're in a small business, you have to find people who can do a bunch of different jobs," she says. "Do more with less. That's the secret."
Rozenbaum declines to reveal specifics, but says she expects her 2011 revenue to come in at eight times what she earned in her first year of business. With a push to sell customers on higher-end packages, she believes the numbers will climb even higher in 2012.
In response to customer demand, she's also planning a new offering: couples shoots. Rozenbaum admits shooting twosomes could take her art in an entirely different direction, but she's looking forward to trying something new. "We'll just have to set up boundaries and make clear what people can and cannot do together during the shoots," she says. "At the end of the day, boudoir needs to be about beauty and sexuality, nothing else."
Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor in Healdsburg, Calif. He is a regular contributor to Entrepreneur, and has covered startups and entrepreneurship for The New York Times, TIME and CIO. He also covers a variety of other topics, including travel, parenting, education and -- seriously -- gambling. He can be found on his personal website, Whalehead.com.