confessions of an intimate portraits photographer.

February 19, 2012

On Valentines Day I indulged myself in a browse through some of my favourite images of couples in love… the timing of the post is a testament to how awful our internet connection has been! I guess that’s the price of living among palm trees 🙂 I hope you enjoy these!


One of the most memorable ones. Rob & I came over to their Vancouver apartment and shot the session in their bed & bathtub. We were so nervous. I mean, were we really going to come over to this couple’s apartment in broad daylight and ask them to get intimate while we photographed them from different angles?! Yes. And it was effortless. It was one of our very first ones EVER and we offered the session for free in exchange for rights to show some of the images in our portfolio. They happily received the images and changed their minds. This is the only image we’re able to show. I’m still sad about it, but an amazing experience nonetheless and one of my most favourite images ever. MOMENT: ‘You are a blanket that envelopes your lover to protect them from harm. Move slowly.’ (50 1.2L lens @1.6, window light, reflector fill.)

Tiny boutique hotel in New York, Gansevoort Park Ave. I checked in a couple of hours early and simultaneously found out that a)the room is so small my 50 1.2L simply won’t do, even if I stand overtop of them, on the bed itself; b) the autofocus on this favourite prime lens of mine is, for some reason, BROKEN and won’t focus, if my life depended on it… I hop into a cab in quest of a replacement, only to find out it’s a holiday and Manhattan’s biggest B&H is CLOSED. The nice cab driver takes me to a small camera shop, where my only alternative is a 35 1.4L. Reluctantly, I put it on my visa and rushed back. I photographed the whole session with that one lens and fell in loooooooooove with it.

At the hotel, I took the covers off bedside lamps and added a video light beside them on the bed. I played a romantic soundtrack for them and poured champagne. It was the most emotionally charged session, one of those where you don’t have to say a thing.

We flew to Mayan Riviera, Mexico for a series of sessions with these two. Talk about brave – they were to spend a whole week with us and the first time we had met was waiting to board the plane… It was a riot! In the shot below, it’s about 10 am -not quite crazy midday sun. Rob is behind me with our big Sunbounce reflector, which did the trick. (35 1.4L lens @2.0)

We hiked for HOURS to get to this place. ‘It better be worth it,’ the thought looped over and over. What awaited was beyond my expectations. As the session unfolded, I wondered if Adam & Eve would’ve been just like this… Honest and fragile, sincere and uninhibited, ripe and full of life. Something happens when bare skin becomes alert to a lover’s faintest of breaths, to the changing breeze, sun’s heat and body’s rising temperature. The camera does a great job of slowing down the lovers’ game, freezing frames and giving the couple permission to savor each other. I love this shot, it’s voyeuristic quality. (50 1.2L @1.8)

High school sweethearts on their first Caribbean vacation together. Deserted beach near our new home & studio in Punta Cana, DR. This is my favourite way to photograph beach portraits – when the sun is low enough to hide behind them, Rob stands beside me, filling with golden light. We’re some 20 minutes away from sunset. Elated and translucent, they seem to stumble between palm tree shapes. These two promised they’ll have us shoot their wedding in Europe one day… (50 1.2L @2.0, close reflector bounce)

We trespassed. Hurricane Whilma had destroyed a nearby resort and it’s been left in ruins since 2005. It’s guarded by Mexican security guards with machetes, but we managed to stay long enough to catch the golden sunset. Almost direct setting sun, a bit of golden reflector fill from the left. Notice the pearls… Speaking from experience – it’s much easier to bear all when you’re rocking a beautiful necklace. I love pearls and wear them to most of my sessions (so that I can offer them in the photoshoots). (35 1.4L @2.2) 

This shot was a lucky accident. As I was closing the ‘barndoors’ of my video light, I noticed the pattern that fell on the couple. To me, it looks like shadows from blinds. I feel the effect adds intimacy and drama. Recognize the pearls? (35 1.4L @2.0)

Dana Point, California. The girl – a photographer’s dream. The guy – toughest cookie I’ve ever worked with. Seriously. I brought them a bottle of wine and couldn’t help pouring myself a glass… None of the tricks up my sleeve would loosen him up and I was getting discouraged, I know this gorgeous wife of his was too. My last resource…  was to stuff him into bed and ask him to pretend to be fast asleep. BINGO! From that point on, the shoot was a breeze and we got amazing images. This session taught me to check my expectations at the door and stop resisting if things don’t go according to my ‘plan.’ Most of the time Intimate Portraits sessions are booked by women (okay ALL of the time – we’ve had one exception!). This means, they are likely using their charms and artful persuasion to convince their boyfriends & husbands to do this. I’ve learned that the best way to get men to comply is to tell them they will be nothing but ‘props’ in the session and it’s all about celebrating their woman. Who can say ‘no’ to that?! That’s right, trick them into being chivalrous and give them permission to be totally passive.

I loved this image so much that our awesome website designers turned it into the cover for our Intimate Portraits page. NOT for long. My dear mother-in-law notified me there’s something completely inappropriate on our shiny new site… Apparently, there were lady bits, unclothed, right out there for everyone to see! I knew there’s no way this could be true and quickly logged on to check… Yikes. Since the image opacity was changed, then darkened to blend as the page background, one’s imagination could come to that conclusion. Those who saw the original image and knew there indeed was a super sexy lingerie set on our girl, would never have noticed. We all had a good laugh and changed the image – but don’t overlook the lesson. You may think an image is fine to share on your blog or website – but could your clients see it differently? I’ve made this mistake before and have had to apologize profusely, when trouble could have been avoided in the first place.

I’m lying belly down covered in sand, quietly doing the ‘catterpillar’ to get them into a perfect frame and try to preserve their privacy. After a few frames, I whispered for her to shake her head, concealing her face. I think the image is even stronger with their faces hidden. If I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have been able to show this image at all. When photographing Couples Boudoir / Intimate Portraits, many clients will tell you they are okay with having the images shared as long as their faces are unintelligible. So do yourself a favor and shoot some stuff for yourself while you’re at it! I’ll also argue that the raw emotion touches deeper when you’re not distracted by their faces. (50 1.2L @1.6)

Sometimes it’s right there in front of you, you don’t have to direct a thing. Just keep moving, keep watching and seeing. Shooting with a prime lens forces you to do that too. Don’t be lazy with the ‘shoot now, crop later’ attitude.

Also, sand is sexy. Unless it gets into your camera. I thought I was careful changing lenses, but soon after the shoot my Mark II camera body died. The Canon people confirmed the verdict. Tragically, it was cheaper to buy a whole new body than to fix this one. (50 1.2L @ 1.4)

We shot at an abandoned spa. They wanted portraits of love and friendship, as lived and felt behind closed doors. I wanted to keep it simple and natural, starting with a blanket picnic on the dark hardwood floor. This shot is cozy and warm to me. The harsh window light is intentional; I’m also hand-holding a video light over them. The whole session was shot with 50 1.2L and 35 1.4L lenses. 

I feel deep deep gratitude when couples allow us into their ‘bubble.’ You can’t expect it to happen every time, but when it does, magic happens. Don’t be afraid to ask to go places people may not initially think of going… Ask for trust and stay, comfortably, with your hand held out. We always ask couples to share unique things about themselves… quirky likes, hobbies, guilty pleasures, etc. For these two, we found out that their guilty pleasure is Hawaiian Blue cupcakes from a boutique bakery in town. I said I was willing to bet they’d never eaten these in bed – how cool would that be. After some good fun with the cupcakes, we easily transitioned into an even more intimate bubble. (24 1.4L @1.8)

They came into our Edmonton home studio almost a year ago and stole our hearts… Since then they’ve become so precious and completely irreplaceable. They’ve also gone to Burning Man with us AND attended our secret Vegas elopement (hehe, I’ll soon know how many of our friends & readers see this)!

Last February, Rob surprised me by turning our front office into a gorgeous boudoir studio. I must confess, it was pretty awesome to live in a house where the first thing guests saw when they walked through the door was a big fancy BED! (50 1.2L @ 1.4)

This is Vancouver’s Jericho Park in the spring. She’s still wearing her ‘little black dress’ underneath the blanket, which I gently tucked away. I asked her to wear something stretchy and ‘easily accessible’ – you never know the comfort level of your clients! We were, after all, in a public place… but little by little, in the right environment, our couples seem to forget where they are, hehe! This session started out as a picnic with their favourite cinnamon buns and scotch. We positioned the blanket underneath a blossom tree and at one point Rob climbed the tree to ‘rain down’ petals. It was beautiful. That’s what the wine glasses are filled with! (35 1.4L @ 1.6)

These high school sweethearts from Switzerland were on their first Caribbean vacation together. We met them on the first excursion Rob & I did since living in Punta Cana, a trip to Saona Island. We were eyeing these two all day, and by the end of the trip finally got the courage to ask them if they wanted a session. Two days later we picked them up, took them to one of our favourite beaches in Cap Cana, fed them rum & passionfruit juice and had our way with them! 🙂 It wasn’t a paid a session, but we’ve gotten a number of bookings because of it. Whatever you want your clients to ask for, show it first! (50 1.2L @2.0)

We go to this beautiful beach often. We’ve photographed here a couple of times and never had problems, but we recently heard of a photographer getting their car tires SLASHED by an anonymous rival (there’s only one photography company that has exclusive rights to shoot weddings here, but apparently someone decided to make their own rules). It’s a public beach, but everyone wants their penny… We prefer the ‘ask for forgiveness rather than permission’ principle – but being careful (and discreet) is never a bad idea. Just a few days ago, our Rock the Dress session was interrupted (on a different beach) for the same reason – we were just a few minutes away from finishing, so it wasn’t a big deal, but was still unpleasant. We’re now in the process of obtaining authorization to shoot there – pain in the butt and not cheap, but worth the trouble. 

A sunset Rock the Dress on the beach quickly turned saucy and hot after the bride shed her soaked and heavy wedding gown. Instead of wrapping up the session, I kept shooting and ended up with unique sexy images they love. The light in the shot is from a huge beach light. (50 1.2L @ 1.4)

Last but not least, flowers are sexy.

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  1. carla

    February 20th, 2012 at 11:20

    *sigh* i could look at these over and over. so so so amazing. one day i would love to convince my husband we need these done. love everything about them. thank you and your clients for sharing!

  2. carla

    February 20th, 2012 at 11:22

    *sigh* i could look at these images over and over. amazing. once day i would love to convince my husband that we need those done. love everything about them. thank you and your clients for sharing!

  3. Tracie

    February 20th, 2012 at 14:42

    SOOOOOO beautiful! I adore the sand one. I really really hope to get there!

  4. Tracie

    February 20th, 2012 at 14:43

    LOVE! Adore the sand one. I really really hope I get to come out your way!

  5. kim

    February 24th, 2012 at 13:52

    Hi there! love your work! we met a few months back when i was shooting a wedding there and just thought to check you out. We just got back from WPPI and Becker was there…that reminded me of the conversation we had. Hope all is well with the two of you !!! cheers KimRuff

  6. Jocelyon Wiebe

    February 25th, 2012 at 10:44

    They are all so amazing and beautiful!!!! “Secret Vegas elopemement?” Needless to say I am even MORE excited to have you photograph our wedding now. I can’t wait!!!!

  7. Sara

    February 27th, 2012 at 21:57

    secret vegas elopement? 🙂 was I the only person who read that? congrats!!

  8. Katya Nova

    February 28th, 2012 at 13:38

    you heard right! 🙂 we’ll reveal the delails soon 🙂 xoxo

  9. Katya Nova

    February 28th, 2012 at 13:39

    hi kim! yay! thank you thank you :))

  10. Kristen

    March 19th, 2012 at 21:28

    Absolutely stunning – and congratulations on your elopement!!!

  11. Katya Nova

    March 20th, 2012 at 07:35

    Thank you so much Kristen!

  12. Tisha

    March 16th, 2013 at 12:58

    These are SPECTACULAR!!!! thank you sooo much for sharing!

  13. Susie

    July 13th, 2013 at 11:26

    I absolutely love your work, and it would be fantastic to have pictures produced of me and my boyfriend making love someplace!!
    Thank you for sharing, wonderful work!!!

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