Love is in the air and hopeless romantics around the globe are looking forward to Valentine’s Day, but sometimes finding the perfect way to celebrate this special occasion can be a little nerve-racking. When the usual suspects, chocolates, and flowers just won’t seem to do the trick, in walks Ashlee Russ. Ashlee is a photographer specializing in boudoir photography.
For some, the very thought of a boudoir photoshoot can be intimidating, but Ashlee has a way of making her clients feel nothing short of fabulous and empowered. Luckily, I had the opportunity to be one of them! From the moment I entered her amazing studio situated in a historic flour mill, there was an energy of excitement and ease. Those two words, perfectly describe Ashlee when she is caught up in her craft. She possesses such a genuine love for what she does that her client instantly feels it.
Just in time for Valentine’s Day, I managed to switch the tables on Ashlee as we sat down for an intimate conversation about her love affair with photography and her inspiration behind boudoir.
To book your session with Ashlee go to https://ashleeruss.com
Interview with Ashlee Russ
Where are you from and what is your background?
I was born and raised in Texas, so this is home. As a child, I was a model so I was constantly around photo shoots and sets. After college, I worked several different roles and never felt like they were my calling, though I did meet my husband, so that was a win! My husband’s job has since moved us around, allowing us to experience different parts of the US, but Texas is always home.
When did you realize that you wanted to be a photographer?
Living in Pittsburgh, PA I picked up a camera to document that part of the country, knowing we wouldn’t be there forever and started to fall in love with “the little black box”. Once our first child was born, then it was documenting her little milestones and sharing with family/friends. From there, I was asked to do the same for friends and it began growing to a small business.
What made you go into the genre of boudoir photography?
A High School friend asked me to take boudoir pics of her as a gift for her husband. Watching this transformation within her and the change it inspired hit me like a thunderbolt and I realized empowering women to feel beautiful and share with them the way the world sees them is what I was meant to do. No more weddings, families, or Christmas cards. Empowering other women is my calling in life!
What’s your favorite part of conceptualizing a shoot for a client? I love to sit down with my storyboard artist and build out the shared vision the clients and I put together. It creates that ‘aha’ moment for my clients and they can begin to see the artwork we will be creating.
How would you define your photography style?
I self-define as timeless, classy, Hollywood glam with a bit of sexy and sass sprinkled in. The wonderful part of this experience is I get to form a relationship and can cater to the shoot to the client ensuring we achieve their vision.
Where to begin!? I have been blessed to work with so many talented and inspiring mentors over the years. Starting with Jennifer Rozenbaum, who pioneered mainstream Boudoir photography, to Humberto Garcia who has served as both my marketing guru and business coach. There’s also Kevin Michael Schmitz who has helped me realize and foster my love for fashion, teaching me more than I could’ve imagined about how to break into fashion, and how to use it to empower our clients. What woman doesn’t want to be the star of her own fashion shoot? I’m incredibly excited about the most recent addition to my list of mentors with Tiffany Hendra. Mentors come in all aspects of my life and continue to keep me humbled and hungry, always focusing on the most important aspects of my business and personal life.
Who would be your dream client to shoot?
Deve was the bucket list shoot for quite some time, and that goal has FINALLY been achieved. Next on the list would have to be someone like Charlize Theron, who possesses natural and symmetrical beauty. The challenge of finding new ways to highlight that beauty, that hasn’t already been done, would be an exceptional challenge. However, I love meeting clients that NEED a shoot to bring the best out of themselves. As women we tend to fall into the routine of being everything to everyone and need the experience to reflect on who we are and where we’ve come from, getting back in touch with our natural beauty.
What matters to you most about the outcome of your shoot?
The client experience! I’m not your typical photographer that shows up to the studio, takes a few pictures, and provides a USB full of images. The experience is structured to ensure the client has an amazing and enjoyable process from the initial call to 3+ hours of pampering they receive before, during, and after the shoot. I want each client to walk away excited to tell her three closest girlfriends.
Since you are not always working with professional models, how do you get your clients to feel comfortable and confident when you shoot them?
It all starts with the experience, from the initial call to shoot day, each step in the process is built upon building the relationship needed to ensure they are comfortable. We have an all-female staff that focuses on the client for the duration of our time and ensures they are ready to show their best self. With so many years of experience, I have all sorts of tips, tricks, phrases, etc. to help the clients relax and engage with the camera leading to some epic photos.
If you could sit in on a famous photographer’s photoshoot, who would it be and why?
I have been blessed to work with some great mentors, teachers, and photographers throughout the years. If I had to pick one, Nigel Barker. He is one of the photographers from “America’s Next Top Model” and I find myself waiting for the few seconds of his shooting. I believe there is soo much I could learn from him that would translate into my business.
Can you share some of your memories from a favorite shoot?
Each shoot is special and has wonderful memories. Some of my favorite memories come from pin-up shoots. Starting with costume rental at the Backstage Closet, we get to take the clients and staff back to that era and really live in the moment while playing dress-up. Another moment that sticks with me is the time we painted a client in glitter… which I’m still finding to this day.
What is your biggest challenge?
Not to sound cliché, but work/life balance. I’m a working mother/wife that has two small kids under the age of 7. I experience tremendous “mom guilt” being away from my family, despite loving what I do. Finding that time to disconnect and focus on my family is something we should all dedicate more time to doing.
From where do you get your inspiration?
Fashion magazines and travel. I’ve been blessed to be able to shoot in New York, Miami, Chicago, LA, and several other hotspots. Seeing the new trends and staying up to date on the hottest fashion keeps me inspired to continually challenge myself and reach the next level for my clients.
Describe your perfect Valentine’s Day………
Despite living in Texas, my perfect Valentine’s Day would involve a day of Colorado snow skiing, and my husband recreating the first meal he made for me. Followed by roasting marshmallows next to a fire in a romantic mountain cabin… hopefully, my hubby sees this in time to make this happen.