Save & earn with MPB; trade-in and buy pre-loved

John Duder In Conversation With Boudoir Photographer Leigh Perkins

John Duder paid a visit to the professional photo studio of boudoir photographer Leigh Perkins to ask him a few questions about his career and portrait studio set-up.

|  Professional Interviewed
 Add Comment

Leigh Perkins outside the studio he built for himself during lockdown.

Leigh Perkins outside the studio he built for himself during lockdown.

 

Leigh Perkins is a professional photographer who has a reputation for his boudoir work, often commissioned by the women in the pictures, and for his photographic tuition. Just before lockdown he moved from the Home Counties to a cottage high on a hillside above Lampeter. It seemed silly not to interview him for ePHOTOzine while I was on holiday in the area.

 

What experience and career choices led you to boudoir photography and training other photographers?

Clients always ask this question, how did you get into this business, and we always reply, somewhat crudely I’m afraid, but basically we followed the money. So we started doing boudoir in 2004, Boudoir photography primarily came over from America to this country – it was quite big business in America. We’d just built our first studio to do a bit of commercial work – portraits, makeovers, this kind of thing, and a client we did a makeover session for asked if she could be photographed in her lingerie. And we said yes, no problem at all, but I didn’t want to just stick her in front of a white background so I built a little studio set and she spent far more money than any of our other clients. Immediately following that, we had another client who did the same thing and asked if she could do some topless pictures because she’d just had her boobs enhanced: same thing, spent a huge amount of money, and we set up Mighty Aphrodite purely on the basis of two clients and the demand and the financial reward that they gave. So that was a fairly simple decision, really.

 

A typical Leigh Perkins boudoir shot.

A typical Leigh Perkins boudoir shot.

And training others?

That came about because we were shooting boudoir five days a week, day in, day out, same studio sets, same everything, and we came up with the idea of doing workshops, basically to give us some variation. It also meant that as Zena wasn’t particularly involved in the workshops, it gave her time to work on the marketing. I was a bit sceptical at first because I thought ‘am I giving away all my secrets?’ – in terms of my lighting, my studio sets. I needn’t have worried, to be fair because it was actually a very positive thing. Once I started doing it, I found I was enjoying it. Less so the group ones – I started off doing group tuition for six photographers in another studio that we hired. So we concentrated on the two-to-ones and the one-to-ones, and it was good for me as a photographer, because I began to examine more what I was doing when I was shooting, and you start to realise the things that you didn’t know you knew. And it helped me improve as a photographer because I had to start thinking out of the box and thinking about new ideas because I was getting repeat customers – you have to think about new lighting, new studio sets, and new points of view. So it made me grow as a photographer. It was one of the best things I did. What is difficult, is that I don’t want to experiment with the client, so every so often I’ll get a model in for a test shoot, just for a day and come up with ideas I can use in a workshop.

 

Quite a large section of society is critical of images of women that portray them as sensual or sexual beings. Clearly, though, you have a different perspective on this, given that you are often commissioned by the women themselves to produce the pictures. Are these usually for their partners, or are there people who simply want images of themselves, as they are now?

So it’s a real mixture: a large proportion of the clients are having the pictures done either as a present for their partner or as a kind of joint exercise that they’ve decided to do to celebrate an anniversary, or they do something every year that’s a bit different or off the wall – it might be skydiving or parachuting or coming for a naked photoshoot. So the pictures are a gift for their partner or to do in conjunction with their partner – their partner will come and watch the shoot. However, we do get people who do it for a number of different reasons: a milestone birthday, or because they’ve lost weight, for instance, if they’ve been on a mission to get healthier and fitter they do the shoot to celebrate achieving their goal. We’ve had women who are breast cancer survivors, or who are going for elective mastectomies, one came just a couple of days before her operation. We’ve had a client who was terminally ill and was doing it as a present for her partner. I’m a great believer in the idea that it’s up to the individual what they choose to do and how they choose to do it. These pictures aren’t for publication.

 

The reception area of the studio – amply illustrating the quality of leigh’s work. The two images on the screen (middle of the shot) show what’s usually called Dutch tilt – or Deutsch tilt, as it should be, Leigh tells me. A mispronunciation which came from the film industry, where a tilt was often used in German films.

The reception area of the studio – amply illustrations of the quality of Leigh's work. The two images on the screen (middle of the shot) show what’s usually called Dutch tilt – or Deutsch tilt, as it should be, Leigh tells me. A mispronunciation which came from the film industry, where a tilt was often used in German films.

 

There’s a saying that every photograph is – in some sense – an image of the photographer. To what extent are your boudoir images a matter of applying your style to the person in front of you, and to what extent do you seek out their character?

I think that in a commercial kind of environment like this, you’re restricted in many ways because you need to come up with a number of lighting and posing scenarios that work for most body types, and that’s less relevant than it would be if I was shooting for myself, or doing individual commercial assignments. The clients have to be led by the hand through the shoot, as they’ve never done anything like this before. You do get clients who have specific requirements and ideas, and you accommodate those, but you have to deliver a reliable product, and we have seven, eight, and nine studio sets that we can use.

 

A comment from a photographic magazine 30 years ago, where there was an interview with a female glamour photographer called Janet Cook who was selling an awful lot of sets to the Paul Raymond publications under the name Fanny. She suggested that with a female photographer working with a female model there was a sort of conspiracy against men going on. Do you see any analogy in boudoir work, that there’s a conspiracy between Zena and you and the client?

I don’t think so. There’s maybe a different agenda going on and it varies from shoot to shoot, as every client’s doing it for a different reason. The majority of our clients come along and we ask whether they want to be photographed nude – they say “I’m not sure, I’ll see how I feel, I’d like to think that I will be able to do that but I’m not sure.” You then have the conversation about the levels of nudity, and they are often doing the pictures as a gift for their partner and they know in their heart of hearts that their partner is going to enjoy the more naked, more erotic pictures. So there’s a collaboration to achieve the type of pictures they really want, but conspiracy is too strong a word.

 

Leigh  in the main studio area – this shows just how much space he has created for his work, and the neat way that props and lighting pack away out of sight. Note, also, that the main lights are on overhead tracks, and the red Chesterfield behind Leigh.

Leigh in the main studio area – this shows just how much space he has created for his work and the neat way that props and lighting pack away out of sight. Note, also, that the main lights are on overhead tracks and the red Chesterfield behind Leigh.

 

You and your partner Zena work together as a team, with her providing makeup. I suspect that she may bring a rather broader range of talents to bear – could you tell me more about this, please?

Zena doesn’t do the makeup anymore, and we employ a freelance who does hair and makeup, so Zena can concentrate on other areas of the business – she does all of the client communication before and after the shoot as well as the marketing and social media. There’s a huge amount of admin and marketing work that went into the business, especially in the earlier stages. We now have a huge database of between eight and ten thousand people which she manages. And more than anything she’s my best and biggest critic because she has an excellent eye for an image. If something’s not working and I’m wavering, she will actually tell me if it’s rubbish, and she’ll tell me why. We’ll have a debate about it and invariably she’s right.

 

The extent of the studio doesn’t necessarily show in every image – this shot could have been taken anywhere with the right lighting and that leather Chesterfield. Leigh’s setup makes it easy…The extent of the studio doesn’t necessarily show in every image – this shot could have been taken anywhere with the right lighting and that leather Chesterfield. Leigh’s setup makes it easy…

 

When I wrote the question, I suppose I was thinking about the dynamics of shooting. Are people happier booking something with a husband and wife team?

Absolutely. That’s been fundamental, especially in the early days of the business back in 2004. Boudoir photography was still quite new, people were very secretive about having a shoot – it’s different these days, and everyone’s more open about it, they’ll show their pictures around. Being a husband and wife team was a really positive thing for us. All our competitors at this point were female photographers and we would see comments online from some of them (obviously directed at us) that you should never go to a male photographer for a boudoir shoot. Whereas in reality, clients who were doing the shoot as a present for their partner liked coming to us because they would get a male perspective from the photographer and a female perspective from Zena. It is also reassuring for them to have a woman in the studio throughout the shoot, and to have someone to confide in – things like it’s my time of the month, or I’ve shaved myself but I’ve got this awful shaving rash. Having that conversation with a man you’ve just met would be difficult. Having Zena there throughout the shoot as company, to adjust lingerie and as moral support has been hugely beneficial to us, without a doubt.

 

The studio has large windows and plenty of daylight available.

The studio has large windows and plenty of daylight available.

 

What would you say are the essentials for someone working in your areas of excellence?

So many! From a photographic point of view, you have to understand lighting. With the probability of photographing so many different body shapes, body types, ages, and lack of experience of the client in terms of modelling, you have to understand lighting and posing. You have to be confident to show your images to the client throughout the shoot without any retouching going on. Communication is vital because you’ve got to put the client at their ease from the very first moment they walk through the door. If there’s awkwardness, and long-stagnant pauses, it makes the shoot very difficult. It’s a big responsibility because if you’re photographing someone who’s never been photographed in this way before and you get it wrong, you can actually psychologically damage that person. Fortunately, I can say hand on heart, I don’t think we’ve ever got it wrong. We’ve never had a client come back and say ‘I don’t like my pictures’ – I cringe when I see people starting out in boudoir on Facebook groups and so on and ask what settings they should be using for their first boudoir shoot. If you’re asking that question now, and you’ve got your first boudoir shoot tomorrow…

 

The décor isn’t consistent from wall to wall in the way domestic surroundings have to be – this allows Leigh to create a vast number of different looks depending on the direction of shooting. This is the same window as in the previous image.The décor isn’t consistent from wall to wall in the way domestic surroundings have to be – this allows Leigh to create a vast number of different looks depending on the direction of shooting. This is the same window as in the previous image.

 

Everyone who doesn’t have a studio of their own envies everyone who DOES have one. But your old studio was rather smaller than I’d have chosen – please tell us just how big it was, and how you worked around this.

There’s an add-on to that: everyone who DOES have a studio envies anyone who’s got a bigger studio! I misquote Terry Pratchett when people ask me why I have six lights: ‘because my wife won’t let me have eight’. The last studio was compact, but I would say that was a really good thing for me in the early days. It made me disciplined because I had to think about how I could squeeze as much as possible into that space and work with the restrictions that it gave me – and it made me more creative. When you have to work with 22, 23 square metres and 2.4-metre ceiling height – you have to be very creative. Moving here when we built the new studio there were two things that I needed. I wanted the ceiling height, that was paramount, and I’ve got 3.1 metres height now. And I wanted daylight because I’d had 20 years in a studio without the ability to shoot daylight. Whilst that was good because it made me create my own daylight, using my window lights studio set, it’s brilliant to have windows facing almost dead west. But I wanted to be able to block that daylight out, so hence those black sliding panels.

 

And your studio is predominantly black…

Yes, that makes it easier for me because of the style of image that I predominantly shoot. I’m not shooting newborn babies and cake smashes which are all predominantly high-key. If my studio was all white, it would be more difficult to do low-key. You’d have light reflecting and bouncing in, filling all the shadows in. I designed the studio to have as much versatility as possible – when I say designed, it was more like the back of a fag packet, but it was in my head for about 18 months. I built the whole thing, literally, myself.

Everything in the old studio had to have more than one use: so if there was a posing box, it also had to be a storage container; the window wasn’t just one fake window, you could actually make three fake windows. Always thinking along those lines to maximise that space. We did a YouTube video to show how it worked.

 

Note how the background suggests opulence and luxury, and warm lighting suggests cosiness.Note how the background suggests opulence and luxury, and warm lighting suggests cosiness.

 

What were the essential features of this project?

The height, and the daylight. In the old studio doing full lengths was problematical, not impossible, but difficult. Here we can easily do full length, and we can even do things like a client wanting to do aerial silks, hanging from the ceiling. Also, it allows us to use both ends of the studio – we designed the end with the door as a shooting area with panels on the wall, a nice door with architrave to give a slightly grander appearance, even to the point that the makeup mirror hangs on a picture rail, so it can be easily removed.

 

I have the impression that you are a keen and competent constructor of sets and photographic aids – please tell me a bit about how this plays into your photography and about one or two of your better projects.

Certainly, the shiny platform was one of them: that came out of a boudoir environment but had to be versatile enough to be able to get it out of the way. This was six and a half foot long by a three-foot wide platform. It’s a sheet of MDF with some support struts on the back and then a sheet of brushed steel stuck down on top of it. But then the brainwave was to make four little dollies for it to sit on so that even when the client was on it you could wheel them round so that you could get the angle that you wanted. So even in a narrow space when the wall was in the way you could spin it round and adjust the lights, and at the end of the shoot you just stood it up and pushed it to the back of the studio and the dollies would stack in the corner.


Ample daylight doesn’t have to mean high key – here, Leigh uses shadows to add to the sensuous feel of the image.

Ample daylight doesn’t have to mean high key – here, Leigh uses shadows to add to the sensuous feel of the image.

 

The fake daylight window was actually one of the first sets that I built for the very first client that wanted to do some lingerie pictures because I didn’t just want to stick her in front of a grey background or a pink background. I wanted to create a room environment, and if you have a window it becomes believable as a living space. It has evolved over the years: the first one involved at least six background stands to hold white background, curtains, voiles, and to set it up took ages. The window light was a real starting point for set design ideas.

Here in my new studio, the window shutters have been a revelation. They’re about three metres high and they’re made of MDF on a timber frame and they hang from an industrial rail dolly system. Googling how much does MDF weigh was crucial. The panelling is MDF strips, cut down and painted – really simple, but effective. It gives that kind of Georgian panel appearance. And then we’ve got the picture rail at the top and can actually hang things from it to give different looks and feels. It works with the lighting, as well – you can create depth with the shadows.

 

Are you ever tempted to wander the countryside with your model and camera (and if not, why not?)

Tempted, yes. Do I actually do it? No. I will, I’ve promised myself. I have four and a half acres of land here, so if I don’t, I’m an idiot. It’s finding the time, the inclination and the weather. And I’m risk-averse when it comes to the weather! I’m totally not risk averse when it comes to anything else: we moved all the way across the country with no guarantee of what was going to happen, and spent £30,000 building a studio that we had no guarantee that our clients would travel to! But in terms of the weather, I’m totally risk-averse. I suppose that stems from a lack of ambition in that area of photography.

 

Leigh provided this shot showing how easy the decking in front of the studio makes relaxation before, in the middle of or after a shoot in the studio.Leigh provided this shot showing how easy the decking in front of the studio makes relaxation before, in the middle of or after a shoot in the studio.

 

There’s always one question that an interviewee wants to be asked, and isn’t. Please tell me what I missed – and the answer…

That’s an interesting one, actually, and probably it would be ‘What would you rather do if you weren’t an erotic photographer?’ The reason I say it is that I really get quite annoyed when I tell people what I do for a living and they say ‘Aren’t you lucky photographing naked women all day?’ and ‘Can I come along and hold your tripod?’ because that implies that I’m getting some kind of kick out of it. You cannot think about camera settings and lights - you can’t do the job professionally if you’re distracted by the fact that your client is nude. I enjoy the work, the creative process, and I enjoy the end result of giving my clients a great experience and quality end product. But I think the thing people don’t understand is that after such a long time photographing private clients in such a personal intimate way, it can become quite taxing. You often become a sort of counsellor to clients when you’re photographing them helping them work through their insecurities and body image issues. Doing that 5 days a week was getting exhausting - one of the reasons we moved to the country was to slow down a little.

So if I wasn’t a photographer - I would rather be outside digging holes. I love physical labour: if I could be a labourer on a building site I’d be quite happy to do that. Hence this studio. Everything you can see – and everything you can’t – I built from scratch. Including 5.4 lengths of 9”x2” timber were all carried up from the parking area by hand, by me. A lot of this summer I’ve spent outside digging, laying pipes. Or grounds-keeping. That’s a good one.

 

Meticulous attention to detail makes for the kind of images that have established and maintained Leigh’s reputation as a boudoir photographer.

Meticulous attention to detail makes for the kind of images that have established and maintained Leigh’s reputation as a boudoir photographer.

 

You have some roll-out black flooring – is that a vinyl background?

No - it’s just a piece of black vinyl flooring from a flooring company. That’s quite an important point. If you’re ever fitting out a studio space, avoid buying through the photographic trade, because it will cost you a lot more money. If you want flooring to photograph people on, go to a flooring company! It’s simpler, and they’ll generally have a wider range of materials.

 

Have you ever photographed men?

Yes. Equally at home photographing men as women. We did have a men’s gallery on Mighty Aphrodite and had a variety of men coming for shoots – men who were into bodybuilding or as a present for their partner. We decided to stop, unfortunately, firstly because we had a really high number of cancellations because guys would chicken out or not have reached their target physique in time for the shoot. But also because we had a few male clients who were obviously getting a kick out of the fact that there was a woman present throughout the shoot and it became difficult to weed out that element. I really enjoy photographing the male body – someone who’s toned, works out, and has got muscle definition. I’m equally happy photographing naked men as I am naked women because I think you can be so creative with your lighting. I’ve photographed men who didn’t know they had a six-pack until I lit them, and that’s very satisfying. And I’ve photographed highly erotic images of men, even male couples, in a highly erotic sense. Once you’ve pushed past that embarrassment factor of actually talking about genitalia, then it’s the same job. Obviously, you do different poses: and my lighting suits male bodies.

 

Props often enhance or create the mood for a photograph. Note how easily a couple of lengths of chain provide a contrast with the model’s smooth curves, and how careful lighting highlights the tones of both.Props often enhance or create the mood for a photograph. Note how easily a couple of lengths of chain provide a contrast with the model’s smooth curves, and how careful lighting highlights the tones of both.

 

Any photographic influences you’d want to mention?

Yeah… I suppose there was a photographer that influenced me when I very first got into boudoir photography, erotic photography. And I used some of his images as inspiration for my very first erotic pictures – trying to replicate his lighting - some would say, I guess, that I plagiarised his style. And I’m not ashamed of it because I was an admirer of his work. I only ever remember seeing a small section of his work because he didn’t produce an enormous amount and wasn’t particularly well-known. His name was John Chilton – he produced only one really impressive set of erotic images, but they stuck with me.

 

Late afternoon light shows the studio in its setting.Late afternoon light shows the studio in its setting.

 

Finally, how should people get in touch with you?

For boudoir shoots, the Mighty Aphrodite website: for workshops, NX Workshops, and for online tutorials to the leighperkins.com website, where you can also see a walkaround tour of the new studio.

 

All pictures © Leigh Perkins, other than pictures with Leigh in them, and the shot of the reception area, which are © John Duder.

 

About Author: John Duder 

John Duder has been taking pictures more or less seriously since he was 14 and shot his first nudes around his 18th birthday. Although he maintains he’s actually a 17-year-old, he’s now retired from his day job, and now writes and does the occasional bit of photographic tuition.

He’s particularly pleased to have restarted lighting workshops in May, after a 26-month layoff due to the pandemic. He’s looking forward to running several series in different locations over the next few months.

MPB Start Shopping

Support this site by making a Donation, purchasing Plus Membership, or shopping with one of our affiliates: Amazon UK, Amazon US, Amazon CA, ebay UK, MPB.

It doesn't cost you anything extra when you use these links, but it does support the site, helping keep ePHOTOzine free to use, thank you.

Other articles you might find interesting...

In Conversation With Celebrity Portrait Photographer Mark Mann
Top Landscape Photography Tips From Professional Photographe...
Creating, Curating & Promoting Compelling Photography
Interview With George Turner, Wildlife Photographer
Top Tips On How To Work With Models From Photoshoot Regular Joceline
ePHOTOzine Talks To Documentary Photographer Jon Nicholson
Ray Demski Interview - What To Prepare And Practice For Extr...
Visual Q&A With Photographer Daniel Ernst

Comments


dudler Plus
19 1.9k 1950 England
10 Aug 2022 2:08PM
And you can find the time-lapse video of Leigh's old studio by searching YouTube for Leigh Perkins Photography. Some brief nudity is involved.
10 Aug 2022 5:09PM
A very interesting article, thank you for the insight into this genre of photography

SteveSmile
10 Aug 2022 7:46PM

I must admit that I haven't heard of Leigh Perkins before, but thank you John for a great interview.
He certainly knows his stuff and his results are wonderful.

Tim

Sign In

You must be a member to leave a comment.

ePHOTOzine, the web's friendliest photography community.

Join For Free

Upload photos, chat with photographers, win prizes and much more.

ADVERTISEMENT