How a female boudoir photographer in Fort Wayne is empowering women with portraits and lingerie

Boudoir photography is something lovers might consider gifting one another for special occasions, like Valentine’s Day, but Kirsten Ordway has found that intimate portraiture can also be a significant act of self-love.

As an innovative photographer in Fort Wayne who’s rising to prominence on social media and opening her own inclusive lingerie shop in 2021, Ordway has witnessed multiple ways in which boudoir shoots can empower their subjects, instead of objectifying them.

And she’s created her own brands, Radical Babe Studios and Radical Babe Intimates, to do just that.

After graduating from Garrett High School in Auburn, marrying her high school sweetheart, and moving to Kentucky and California for a few years, Ordway is building her businesses in Fort Wayne, where she has lived for the past seven years—and where she sees a need for more inspiring intimate portraiture and lingerie.

In lieu of Valentine’s Day, we sat down with Ordway to talk about her background, her work, and her plans for 2021.
 

IFW: How did you get into the boudoir photography and lingerie businesses?

KO: I was an early education teacher for seven years, working with toddlers in a Montessori environment, and I was going to school for early education (preschool through third grade), so I could teach in a school. At the time, I thought that was the direction I wanted my life to go. Then, probably about four years ago, I picked up photography as a hobby.

I started by documenting people and just having fun with it. I got into boudoir after having my own session done, back when it wasn’t as popular. It was a little cheesy, but I still loved the way it made me feel, and I wanted to help other women feel that way.

As I got better, I started charging people for sessions, and I created an in-home studio. My husband and I moved our master bedroom to our spare room and converted the master to a studio.

A photoshoot by Radical Babe Studios.

In 2019, I was working out of my home studio on the side on the weekends, but I started feeling burnt out from my early education job. I talked to my director who suggested that I take the summer off, and I did, which was really nice because I got to focus on my photography. And once I left the education environment, I found that I didn’t want to go back.

That fall, I flew to Connecticut to work with another boudoir photographer and do a workshop with her, and she inspired me. I got to see her studio, and there were a bunch of boudoir photographers there. I got to connect with people who did the same thing as me, and everybody did it full-time. They all said it was scary, but once you quit your day job, you kind of had to make it work.

I went home with that passion, and I talked to my husband. He was totally supportive and told me if I thought I could make it work, then to do it so long as we could pay our bills. So, in November 2019, I sat down with my boss and put in my notice. By the beginning of 2020, I was a full-time boudoir photographer, working from home.

I now share a 2,000-square-foot studio space in Fort Wayne with another photographer in a loft above Summit City Brewerks, and I’m expanding into my own space there soon. I also run an online lingerie boutique, called Radical Babe Intimates, and I’m opening a physical shop at my new studio.

Radical Babe Studios's current space in a loft above Summit City Brewerks.

IFW: You’ve grown your business during the pandemic. How has COVID-19 impacted your work?

KO: It was a scary time having a new space at the start of the pandemic. Luckily, I had saved up some money. I also did a studio sale mid-pandemic, and I was actually shooting people virtually using FaceTime—believe it or not. It gave people a fun experience during quarantine. I would pose them via FaceTime, and then edit their FaceTime photos.

It wasn't the same on my end, but it gave people a taste of boudoir. Most of the women I booked had never done it before, so that kind of showed them something fun. And I got to shoot people from New York and other cities because they didn't have to be from this area, so that was cool.

Overall, I actually did way better this year than I did last year.

IFW: For what occasions do people typically book boudoir shoots?

KO: For literally anything. I would say most people think of boudoir as “only something you would do for your significant other,” but with most of my clients, they don't just do it for their significant other. I do get those clients, but I really like when women come to me, knowing that they're doing it for themselves. I find that even the people who say they're doing it for their significant others end up getting more out of it than their significant others do.

My client base right now is a lot of moms—young moms and older moms who just want to rediscover themselves. They work hard for their children, and then they kind of lose track of themselves, and they're doing it as a way to rediscover themselves.

Of course, I also get brides and birthdays, like if it's a celebration for your 30s and 21. Sometimes, it’s just for fun, too. I’ve had a lot of people inquire for Valentine’s Day recently. I’ve even done maternity boudoir shoots.

A photoshoot by Radical Babe Studios.

IFW: How have you seen boudoir empower your clients?

KO: I had a client today who is 23 and had gotten diagnosed with cancer in 2019. She thought it was just a thorough inspection, and it ended up turning into this really rare lymphoma. She had to go through chemotherapy, and she lost her hair. It’s growing back now, but it’s still really short.

We’re doing a session in March to get her out of her comfort zone and document this point in her life, so I think that’s really cool. It’s crazy what life can throw at you.

I like boudoir sessions that document life in different stages. A lot of people's biggest reason for not doing these shoots is because they need to lose weight, or they don't think they're at their ideal body type, but I really think all body types—and all points of life—deserve to be documented. Even if you do want to lose weight, or grow your hair out, or get to a point where you feel “perfect,” do the shoot now.

I don't think anybody is ever "perfect" in their own eyes, so I think we always should document ourselves in the stage we are in at the moment. Then, if we do lose weight, or we do grow our hair, we can document it again. In that way, you’re documenting the journey.

IFW: Do you exclusively shoot women?

KO: I don’t usually shoot men just because I’m not really comfortable. As a boudoir photographer, I have gotten a lot of creepy DMs. That’s another reason I do consultations before booking people.

Luckily, I’ve never had to deal with a client coming in and being inappropriate because, with the consultations, I can feel people out, and I can decide if I want to work with them. That said, I do shoot couples, and I am LGBTQ+ friendly. I’m totally cool with the gay and trans community and empowering them. If I do a couples shoot, I do ask if they want it just to be a couples shoot, or if they are doing individuals, too, because I do like to shoot the man, as well.

A couples shoot by Radical Babe Studios.

IFW: What does booking a session with you look like?

KO: The customer will inquire online, and the email that gets sent out will talk them through the basics of what to expect in a session. Then they will set up a consultation as the first step in booking with me. Even if they don’t book, I offer free consultation just to talk about the session, my pricing, and to answer any questions or concerns they may have, which I think is super important because this is a vulnerable style of photography, and I really like to get to know my clients ahead of time.

It's nice that they see my face, even virtually, to know that I'm not a creeper, and I'm just, you know, awkward, but fun and kind of a goofball. So, they can feel my personality out a little bit, which a lot of women have told me has made them way more comfortable, just walking in the day of the session, knowing the face and a little bit about me before the time.

With COVID, I have moved consultations to virtual meetings for the time being, but I would like to get into in-person meetings again because it’s nice for people to see the studio and try on anything in the client closet. After the consultation, we pick a date, and I will send them a prep guide that walks them through the checklist because that’s a big concern for women. It’s just another way to make them feel comfortable and give them a way to feel prepared.

On the day of the shoot, I make sure everything in the studio is clean and sanitized before the clients come in. I send out a questionnaire after they book a session with me to get their favorite type of music. That will be playing when they come in, and while they get their hair and make up done. I also try to select hair and makeup artists who are more sociable because everyone is nervous—even if they were super confident booking their session. They’re vulnerable, and that can be scary. After hair and makeup, I have them show me the outfits they brought, and we choose the order we want to shoot in. When they come out, I start posing them. I pose my clients from head to toe, so there isn’t any vague “lay on the bed and look sexy for me” kind of instructions. I’m very specific.

I also always ask for consent before touching them or anything like that. Some clients will ask me to show them the pose, so I’ll get down and explain it as I am doing it. I like to make them laugh, too, so I’ll just say random things they don’t expect to get them out of their shell.

Overall, we’re listening to music the whole time, so we’re just dancing and having fun! After the shoot, we plan a time for the client to come back to the studio and see all their images in-person.

A photoshoot by Radical Babe Studios.

IFW: Tell us about your studio space.

KO: I had been looking for a studio like the one that I have now forever because it's kind of like a boudoir photographer’s dream with the high ceilings, big windows, the brick, and the hardwood floors. It was so hard to find a space like that in Fort Wayne that also wasn't like a bajillion dollars.

I ended up finding the loft space above Summit City Brewerks, and I knew I couldn't afford it by myself at the time, so long story short, I found another photographer who was not a boudoir photographer and wanted to go into it with me. We got the space on February 28, 2020, so of course, right before the pandemic began and the shutdown.

But it’s been going really well so far, and I’m now able to afford a bigger studio space by myself, so in March I'm upgrading. I will still be in the same building, but the space itself will be 60-square-feet bigger than my current space, and I won't be sharing it anymore. Having my own space means that I can have multiple bedroom sets, and do more themed shoots. I already have a vision of what I want to do with this new space, so I'm excited, and I believe that I'll be able to bring even more versatility to my clients.

My new space has its own entrance from downstairs, as well, so my eventual goal, hopefully, late spring or early summer of 2021, is to open up my in-person lingerie boutique there.

Radical Babe Studios's current space in a loft above Summit City Brewerks.

IFW: Tell us more about your lingerie boutique.

KO: I've known for a while, before I even got my studio, that I not only wanted to do be a boudoir photographer, but also to have a lingerie boutique because I feel like they go hand-in-hand.

About 90 percent of my clients come in, and they have no clue about which lingerie to wear. I'm always helping them pick outfits, and I'm suggesting websites based off of their body type. So we have all these long conversations about it, and I knew it would be super helpful to have a boutique where I could just have them try on stuff here.

A lot of people will buy stuff online, and it doesn't fit them right. In the Fort Wayne area, in general, we're kind of lacking in boutiques that are size-inclusive, or places that are specifically for lingerie, and aren't a sex shop, too. So, my goal is to make my shop a really size-inclusive place. I'm mid-sized myself, and I've discovered the struggle of finding things that fit me. I think that's another facet in which I can help women be really empowered and embrace that side of themselves.

My hope is that the studio and the boutique will play into each other, as well. People coming in to shop might discover boudoir for the first time, or just be really intrigued by it. In turn, my boudoir clients can shop with me and feel comfortable because it's not going be like shopping with a total stranger.

More than anything, I want my shop to make people comfortable when they walk in. I want it to feel homey, and I want it to feel like you're shopping with a friend and not someone who is trying to sell you stuff.

I never want to pressure clients to buy from me, but it’s another option available to them. Clients will also have the opportunity to bring their own items or borrow pieces for shoots from my costume closet if they don’t want to buy something. Overall, I want to be able to serve every type of woman—shape, size, comfort level, or conservativeness.

Learn more

To book a consultation with Radical Babe Studios or shop Radical Babe Intimates, visit radicalbabestudios.com.

Follow @radicalbabestudios and @radicalbabeintimates on Instagram and TikTok for more client stories and behind the scenes updates.

Read more articles by Desaray Bradley.

Desaray is expecting to graduate from Purdue University Fort Wayne in the spring of 2021 with a bachelor's degree in Communication: Media and Culture and a minor in Public Relations. She enjoys traveling, photography, and short story writing in her free time. 
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