Believe it or not, not everyone who sends suggestive photos to their valentine is doing so via cellphone. At Boudoir Louisville, Ryan Armbrust and Britt Murphy combine old-fashioned style with current techniques to devise portfolios that range from sticky-sweet pinups to dark and rich boudoir shots.
“Pinup is fun and poppy, and boudoir is more seductive,” says studio manager Murphy, who books appointments, does clients’ hair and makeup, and even accompanies the occasional would-be model on a lingerie shopping trip. A wedding photographer by trade, she met commercial photographer Armbrust – who has his own enterprise, Sniper Photo – through the Louisville Photo Collective. The two hit it off and opened Boudoir Louisville in early 2009, first in the Mellwood Arts Center, and now in a 4,500-square-foot studio in the Highlands. Since then, they’ve helped over 500 “girls,” as Murphy calls them, find their inner bombshell – in poses ranging from pinup style (think the subtly sexy, goofy and accident-prone cheesecake girl or old Hollywood glamour gal; in other words, think Katy Perry) to the more overt boudoir (literally, “bedroom”) style. “We also do the hybrid, with more of a pinup style to the hair and makeup and a retro feel to the outfits, but we shoot it in the boudoir style,” Murphy explains.
“Commercial photography can get rather mundane,” Armbrust adds. “I started shooting classic pinup girls with hot rods as a fun project. When I started posting them, pinup magazines wanted them. Girls wanted to be in them. Boudoir Louisville was born!”
And, yes, girls do want to be in them – girls of all shapes and sizes. Murphy acknowledges that nobody has a model’s body, and that’s part of what makes the experience so special. “More people are nervous before they get to the studio than once they’re here,” she says. “Once they’re sitting in hair and makeup for an hour and then do their first outfit, they feel like old pros.”
Doing hair and makeup, ultimately, is the icebreaker. “They don’t walk in and get in their underwear right off the bat,” Murphy says. “When a client comes in, we lay out the outfits and see what ideas they have – and most don’t. Then we can make a game plan of what is going to photograph best where. Ryan can be looking at that when we work on hair and makeup.”
While the studio has some setups for people who really aren’t sure where to start, most clients bring in their own clothing – or lack thereof – and shoes. Although Murphy provides the hair and makeup supplies, clients are encouraged to bring in their own if they have sensitive skin. “Otherwise,” she says, “I have everything in the studio.”
And Armbrust, while appreciating the craft, is all business. “He’s focused on so many other things, like technical stuff and making sure you have good images,” Murphy says. “Ryan and I joke that he doesn’t notice if a boob falls out.” Still, while wardrobe malfunctions happen, they aren’t destined for the final print. “We have a very strict no-nude policy,” Murphy says. “We’ll shoot implied nudity, but not actual nudity. We’ll shoot some stuff that’s topless, but it has to be really tasteful. Nothing trashy or porny.”
Armbrust agrees. “We get all kinds of weird requests, and we turn them all down. I don’t want to be the creepy guy with a camera. It’s also a respect thing for my wife.”
The better part of valor is discretion – to quote Shakespeare – and while some clients are eager to share the fruits of their glamorous day with friends (in real life and on Facebook), many are not. “We have a very strict policy about the images, and will not display them unless we have written permission,” Murphy says. “We get nurses, news people, judges – people who may not want their picture out there.” However, all packages include a hardcover book of photos to present to that special someone or leave on the coffee table for visitors. (Okay, maybe that last idea isn’t for everyone.)
Armbrust has worked hard to build Boudoir Louisville’s reputation, and is taking more creative risks now that the studio is established. “Since Ryan is a male boudoir photographer, there are a lot of lines we weren’t willing to cross early on,” Murphy says. Such new services include couples’ and maternity shoots. “Normally we don’t let guys hang out because it takes away some of the magic,” she says.
Even though hanging around scantily clad women sounds like some guys’ idea of a dream job, Armbrust and Murphy aren’t hiring. Between their shared vision and creative history, they’ve mastered the process – and pass that comfort level to the girls. Murphy says everything is outlined on their website. “People get a sense of who we are before they walk in, and then that puts people at ease.” Adds Armbrust: “It’s a well-publicized fact that a man shoots the photos ... With us you get both male and female perspective.”
This spring, fans of Armbrust’s style will be able to take some of that perspective home with them. He recently completed work on a book on how to shoot pinup photography. The book, which is being produced by a publisher in London, will feature 500 photos across 300 pages. But for those who prefer to leave the work to the pros, Murphy is most welcoming. “We’re just a bunch of goofballs and like to have fun,” she says. “That sets the tone for the shoot.”
Boudoir Louisville is located at 414 Baxter Ave., on the corner of Lexington Road. To book an appointment or for more information, call (502) 529-9062. Pricing information and sample portfolios can be found online at boudoirlouisville.com.