January 2021 // The Beauty Edition

Boudoir Photography and the Art of Storytelling | Shannon K Dougherty

When I first started to learn and get into photography, I thought I wanted to go into photojournalism. I loved the idea that a story was being told on the other side of the camera. Soon I found my way into photographing portraits and eventually boudoir and editorials. It was important to me to never lose the idea of telling a story with the photographs I was taking. I always wanted to go beyond just taking the photo—what does the image make the viewer feel? I wanted the images to tell a story and to have the flow of video or cinema. One rule in filmmaking is “show, don’t tell”—and that is the beauty of adding storytelling to photography.

I’m going to talk about a few ways that I achieve storytelling with every session I do.


First, you will need a plan. This will make your photoshoot flow and feel less chaotic. I like to make notes on how I visualize telling the story (there have been many cocktail napkins with notes and diagrams on them!). When I’m planning I like to think of the location first. I often find that location can make the most impact on how your story will be told. If you don’t have that option right away, that’s OK! Try to make as many notes and details about what you would like the location to look like. Have a backup plan, as sometimes locations aren’t available or have been taken. Scouting a location beforehand can spark new ideas that may not have been thought of previously as well. Next, when I have a location chosen, I like to think of what my set design will be. That might seem a bit much to start so I suggest working your way up to this. When I am telling a story with my photography, it’s important to add the emotion I want (I will bring up emotions again a bit later). If you want to keep it simple and not design the area then that works too. Often I think of what variations I can get with the benefit of having designed a space or if I need to keep it minimalistic. That is the beauty of making a plan! Planning the look of the model comes next for me. Before I even know who I’m photographing, I like to have the wardrobe, hair and makeup, and what look I am trying to portray with my storytelling. If I know what I want to photograph and what look I am going for, this helps to find a model who will fit the part. Now, I search for a model (or even photograph a friend!). I keep all my notes in mind when I’m thinking of the look and the location. I’ve had models do an amazing job but they weren’t the right fit for the story. Take your time with this part as well! When planning your photoshoot and storytelling, it’s important to know what the intention and narrative for the shoot will be. We will be getting more into that in a bit.

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