Photo by Veronica Varos.

In 2015, Chelsey Arnold had boudoir photos taken to wow her new husband, but the experience turned out to be more of a gift to herself.

“I was amazed at how confident it made me feel and it made me want to make all women feel that way,” says the professional picture taker, who launched Chelsey Lynn Photography in 2011. “From there, I changed my trajectory and worked to make boudoir/beauty my main subject matter.”

Arnold now operates one studio in Murrysville and one in the East End, and she’s seeing an increase in the number of women who are getting sexy photos taken specifically to boost their self-esteem. Some clients wear lingerie while others rock a favorite T-shirt. A few show off nothing but their pregnant bellies, while many go commando.

Making people feel comfortable is key to making them look fabulous on film.

Before booking each shoot, Arnold chats with customers to define their vision for the images, from wardrobe to backdrops, which can include beds, chairs, rugs and even a clawfoot tub. People can incorporate personal items, too.

A cosmetologist is on hand during each session to do hair and makeup. Armed with her camera, Arnold serves as a professional hype girl, boosting the subject’s confidence with each shutter click.

“It is amazing to watch a woman transform and see her face when you show her the photos and how beautiful she really is,” she says. “As women, we are so hard on ourselves and have this perceived idea of ourselves. When you can literally show someone how beautiful they really are, it is amazing.”

Photo by Courtney Gilliland.

Courtney Gilliland, owner of CTG Photography in the East End, has clients of all shapes, sizes and sexual orientations … and that includes men. Boudoir in the Burgh, the erotic side of her enterprise, is seeing an influx of studs.

“I feel like in the last five years or so, men are stepping out of their comfort zone and getting these done by themselves or with a significant other,” she says. “I’m actually revamping to include more men in my portfolio in 2021.”

Since Covid hit, Gilliland has seen a lot of people push back their risqué sessions due to pandemic weight gain and a loss of self-confidence. It’s difficult for people to feel beautiful when they’ve spent more than a year in a mask and sweatpants.

But Gilliland, who has been on both sides of the camera, says it’s important to celebrate your body, whether it’s with fun, flirty snapshots, romantic portraits or something more artistic. Throughout her sessions, she offers her subjects sneak peeks of the images on her digital camera, which causes them to gasp in cheerful disbelief. Eventually, they relax and make love to the lens.

“I always try to tell people the best time to do anything is right now,” she says. “We’re always waiting for the next thing or to feel/look better. But ultimately what really is best for us is to feel good right now. And jumping into a shoot will boost confidence like no other.”

Veronica Varos fell in love with photography when she was 14 years old. With her parents’ camera, she hit the club circuit, snapping action shots of bands performing live. Eventually, she dipped her toe into wedding photography.

In 2012, she swooned over vintage French boudoir-style images on Pinterest and launched the Dear Boudoir branch of her business shortly after.

Photo by Chelsey Lynn Photography.

Varos doesn’t have a physical studio; she rents space or takes the shoot on the road to private homes, hotel rooms or other locations where the client feels at ease.

Covid has given singles time to focus on themselves, but she’s also seen an increase in the number of inquiries from couples. For all of its hardships, quarantine has helped many people reconnect with their significant others. She captures that rekindled love — the coy smiles, playful interactions and intertwined bodies.

She prefers a minimalist set — just a bed and some blankets — but some sports fans she’s worked with have incorporated hockey sticks and baseball bats into the scene.

The majority of Varos’ clients are between the ages of 28 and 55. The only common thread between them, she says, is that they want their photos to be intriguing and filled with shadows and just the right amount of mystery. They want the images to cause raised eyebrows, increased heart rates and heavy breathing.

Her advice to folks who are interested in baring their souls (among other things) for the camera?

“Search for some fantastic boudoir photographers in your area and look through the portfolios they have available,” she says. “Do you feel empowered and intrigued when you look at them? Do you want to see yourself projected in the same light, with the same mood? If so, take the leap and don’t hold back.”

Kristy Locklin

Kristy Locklin is a North Hills-based writer. When she's not busy reporting, she enjoys watching horror movies and exploring Pittsburgh's craft beer scene.