Baring it All for the Camera

Swallow your fear, hitch up your garter, and step into the boudoir

You’re nervous when you arrive at the West Mountain home studio of Mellissa Kelly, Boudoir Photographer. Maybe you’ve taken an hour out of your workday. Maybe you haven’t told anyone you’re doing this. Maybe you’re having second thoughts about going through with it. But you’ve already booked the time and, besides, if this doesn’t work out, you brought extra clothes, you don’t have to get undressed, right?

Melissa has been photographing Hamilton’s women uncovered for five years. When she started, it was merely a hobby, but it quickly became an obsession that turned into a full-fledged business. After the first shoot, she learned that women were looking for an opportunity to feel sexy and this was one way of doing it.

Although nude photography and sexualized images of women date back to as far as the mid-1800s, the rise of boudoir photography began in the 1980s. The key elements of boudoir are implied nudity and an empowerment of its female subjects, who are the ones in control of the photograph, both in what they show, and who they show it to.

Photo by Melissa Kelly


Melissa’s introduction to the world of boudoir photography came from a different angle – she was asked to model for a photographer’s portfolio. Afterwards she “felt like a million bucks.” When she picked up her own camera, she wanted to share that feeling of empowerment and so she began taking boudoir photos. From the beginning, the phone calls came in and haven’t stopped since. She left her full-time job in 2015 and Melissa Kelly Boudoir Photography began in earnest. In five years, she has photographed over 5,000 women between the ages of 18 and 74 years. All ages, all shapes, all sizes. Many clients are referrals. Some are repeat customers. And what occupations are most interested in being photographed? Nurses and teachers. And she’s had a chance to shoot in some of Hamilton’s best locations, including the Aberdeen Tavern, the former Baltimore House on King William, and The Ice House Winery in Niagara.

She emphasizes affordability in her photography packages as well. She believes, “you don’t need to break the bank to feel beautiful.” Rates range between $170 and $500. Some women want to be photographed for their partners, some want to be photographed for themselves. In both instances, it’s a reclamation of one’s sexuality and appearance. So often a woman loses herself in the process of leading a life. She becomes her occupation or her family role. The process of being photographed in a state of undress becomes a catalyst for celebrating one’s body and self.

Photo by Melissa Kelly

“I make them feel comfortable,” Melissa says. Some clients haven’t purchased lingerie in years. Booking a session means she’ll purchase an outfit that will make her feel good in her own body. When they arrive, Melissa, together with hairstylist Brittani Muir, applies makeup and styles the client’s hair. The client chooses the type of setting she wants from the studio’s styled looks: the bed, the bathtub, or various types of chairs, including a chaise lounge. Melissa draws inspiration from pin-up photography and art, but more and more clients are daring to push the envelope in their own ways.

Photo by Melissa Kelly

When clients choose photo books as part of their package, they are instructed to choose a series of quotes to fill the book alongside images of themselves. Some brides hire Melissa to create a photo book for their husbands on the day of their wedding. Melissa has received several “reveal” photographs from past clients that show their husband’s reactions upon receiving such a gift.

It’s not for everyone. But you’d be surprised how quickly you warm up to the camera when your photographer is as naturally relaxed and empathetic as Melissa Kelly. So swallow your fear, hitch up your garter, and step into the boudoir.

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