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Conversations with Brianna Yung

Today we’d like to introduce you to Brianna Yung.

Hi Brianna, it’s an honor to have you on the platform. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us – to start maybe you can share some of your backstory with our readers?
I never would have guessed that I’d become a boudoir photographer (or any kind of photographer, for that matter). But, when I look back, it’s as if every move I made was a step on the ladder to ending up here—only I didn’t recognize what I was climbing toward. I grew up in a small Central Illinois town, and from ages 18-20, I was locked into a modeling contract with a Chicago agency. I hated almost every moment of it and never renewed my contract once it expired. I was pressured, pitted against other women, and constantly criticized—my confidence had never been lower.

Looking back, I think this is what drove me towards jobs that empowered people (especially women), even if I didn’t realize it at the time. I earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology while working a few part-time jobs, one of them being David’s Bridal. As a stylist, I got to help brides blow themselves away in their dream gown while their girlfriends, moms, sisters, and aunts hyped them up as they watched.

When I got engaged and moved in with my now-husband, I started working at Victoria’s Secret for some extra wedding-planning income. When I interviewed, I was offered the position of Bra Specialist. This allowed me to empower women in a more intimate setting, where they were often shopping after a breast enhancement/reduction or childbirth, celebrating an anniversary or divorce, splurging after a promotion, celebrating fitness goals or even getting their first real bra. It becomes my job to help vulnerable-feeling women fall in love with their bodies, and I loved every minute I spent in the dressing rooms. (This job also helped stoke the flames for my love of lingerie.) In both jobs, getting to help women see themselves in a new light felt so rewarding.

In addition to all of that, I danced, coached, and choreographed at a competitive level until I was 24, after taking my first class on my 3rd birthday. I coached dancers aging from 3 to 27, studying and instructing body placement, getting creative with the human body, and fighting to strengthen the self-esteem of my female dancers.

After struggling to find a job that could pay me a living wage even with a degree, my boyfriend (now husband) asked if I’d be interested in joining forces with his one-man advertising business (he is a video production genius and in my opinion, the best luxury car photographer in the world). We rebranded the business, and he patiently taught me everything I know about cameras. I started to photograph weddings with him, and that’s when I realized I was getting closer to what I was searching for. I started doing boudoir sessions for $40 to see what it was like and if I could be any good at it. I fell completely in love and just never stopped.

However, I immediately noticed that boudoir photography seemed exclusive to brides and thought that was such a waste. An engagement is the perfect reason to do a boudoir session, but so is a divorce, birthday, promotion, mastectomy, fitness or health goal, a birth, lost pregnancy, because you bought lingerie you love, or any regular Tuesday. Doing a boudoir session as a romantic gesture is so special, but I also heavily encourage people to do boudoir sessions for themselves. They really can be one of the most empowering experiences we’ll ever have. You should celebrate yourself, your body and all that it does for you. (Self-love counts as a gift, too, after all.) Our entire lives, we give, and we give, and we give. We pour ourselves out to our partners, our families, our jobs, our homes, and our communities, and we’re expected to do it all with a smile. Boudoir sessions serve as a unique way to pause and reconnect with ourselves. For what might be the first time in a while, my clients find themselves feeling pampered, sensual, and empowered.

I think this is especially important now that every time we turn, scroll, or click, impeccable-looking women are shoved in our faces and we are told we need to look like them if we want to be deserving of love or merit. (Of course, what we don’t see in these photos are the professional glam squads, plastic surgeons, veneers and fillers, professional photographers and editors, stylists, flattering lights, photoshop, the nannies and maids that let them get a full night of sleep, the nutritionists, personal chefs and estheticians, the wrinkles, blemishes, arm hairs and cellulite that were all edited out, the best health care, personal trainers, etc.) I love showing a client that these celebrities and influencers aren’t any better than they are. We are all just weird bags of organs trying to be happy.

My husband and I moved to Saint Louis at the end of 2018, and it was the best decision we could have made for our two businesses (Unfortunately, we lost our advertising business at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic). Saint Louis is one of my favorite cities in the world, and I am so lucky to collaborate with such talented hair and makeup artists, build relationships with such kind and open-minded clients, and have so many cool places to explore for shoots outside of my studio. I always say I manage to snag the brightest, kindest, and loveliest people as my clients.

I have learned something new from every session I’ve done in the last four years, have met so many incredible and inspiring people, have experienced so much personal growth, feel so supported, and realize every day how lucky I am that this is my job.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
It certainly hasn’t been a smooth road, but I’m sure that’s the same story for almost anyone working towards something important to them. I try to adapt as much as I can, learn from mistakes, and laugh through it all. It really helps to have a spouse who lets you pout to them as long as you need and then takes you to Taco Bell and laughs through it with you.

Like most other small business owners, this pandemic was definitely the biggest obstacle. I wasn’t able to shoot for over a year because I’m at high risk, and that left me with no income and a complete halt in growth. Since I couldn’t make money doing shoots, I started a feminist-forward online clothing boutique. There has been a lot of adapting like that. Any hopes of having enough income to rent a studio loft were gone, so with help from family, I built my own studio in my basement. But every single client who found out they would have to have their 2020 session rescheduled indefinitely chose to deny the refunds I offered and wait for me instead, and that meant the world to me. For every bad thing that has happened along the way, there have been five wonderful things. I’m really grateful just to be here at all.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
Boudoir photography traditionally features a woman wearing lingerie and sitting on a bed, intended solely for the private enjoyment of her new spouse. That’s great, and I mean no disrespect to photographers who run their business on this model! (It clearly works for them!) But personally, I prefer to stretch that to fit a lot more. While I definitely do use a sexy bedroom setup in my studio, I also love shooting on rooftops, in pools, gardens, airbnbs, fields, forests, city streets, and other creative backdrops and props that really suit the client’s tastes and hobbies. My posing and editing styles are both a little more editorial, as well. The “pose flow charts” that boudoir photographers use make me cringe a bit. Every client has a different shape, different parts of their bodies they love, different styles and personalities, different insecurities, and shouldn’t be given the exact same poses. I always joke that these clients are treated like rotisserie chickens being asked to flip from their stomach to their side, to their back, to their other side, and then asked to leave.

I don’t ever really know how I’m going to pose a client (which I do from head to toe, they are never expected to know what to do) until we start. I take their lead, match their energy, and get inspired as I learn more about them. The playlist I have on is crafted around their situation, too. An empowering playlist for post-breakup sessions, sexy love songs if they’re doing their session as a romantic gift, and so on. I also tell every client they are welcome to create their own playlist with songs that make them feel their sexiest, and we’ll throw it on the bluetooth speaker as soon as they arrive. And of course, I really, really push against the idea that you can only do a boudoir session if you have someone to gift the photos to.

I also love doing boudoir sessions with couples based on things they love doing together, like hiking, baking, or playing video games. And boudoir parties, where a group of friends all have a session on the same day, are some of the biggest girl-power experiences I’ve ever had. Those are so much fun! I think getting personal with it is the best part of it all.

I think I’m the most proud of the way I make my clients feel about themselves. I don’t believe that my job is to just make you LOOK sexy and desirable, I think my job is to make you feel beautiful and empowered. I see a lot of photos that are just a woman in a low-cut bikini, on a plain white backdrop, in an open and inviting pose, as if they are only something to look at rather than something that feels. I love playing with garter belts, stockings, giant angel wings, cozy sweaters and socks, gowns, all things that might technically cover up more, but make us feel sexy. I love having a client interact with her surroundings, too. I don’t work to hear my client say, “Bill is going to love these,” although that’s nice, too!!! I work to hear them say, “I love these and I love myself.” Hearing a client tell me about how they didn’t know they even could look like that or didn’t realize how beautiful their own body really is, is what it’s all about.

As for what sets me apart from others, pricing definitely jumps to mind. When I first started, I did as much research as I could and even booked a higher-end session for myself to learn about the client’s perspective. I discovered several reoccurring issues through this process and strived to do better. I knew I wanted to be available to all budgets, so my packages start at $199 and continue on to $2125. Only 50% is due to book. I also noticed that all boudoir photographers charge for individual photos, on TOP of the session fee their client already paid. While every photographer should do their business as they see fit (and more power to them!), I can’t get on board with this. If a client has invested money in their session, their outfits, their hair, makeup, nails and whatever else, aren’t they disappointed to pay an additional $150 to keep three small prints? If a photographer has invested their time and skill in creating and editing gorgeous images where their client looks like a rock star, aren’t they disappointed to see them go to waste? I want my clients to have their photos! I don’t want to hoard them.

All but my smallest package include full access to my boudoir client closet, as well. This lets my clients mix and match with their own items or feel at ease knowing they can show up with nothing and still have their wardrobe covered!

Can you talk to us a bit about the role of luck?
I think a lot of people feel like if they attribute any of their success to luck, it will undermine all the hard work they’ve put in or make them seem not as deserving. I work nonstop, way late into the night, almost every night but I still feel like I am one of the luckiest women in the world. I was lucky enough to be born into a family that believes in helping each other and lucky enough to marry into another family that believes the same. I’m lucky to have had friends and clients who share my name with their own friends and encourage them to book with me. I couldn’t have gotten any luckier when it comes to spouses, let alone a spouse who doubles as a camera mentor—I could write a full essay on that alone. I’ve been lucky enough to make helpful connections with people around Saint Louis that boosted my career. Clients say they stumbled onto my Instagram on accident when they first booked me, and that’s lucky. I’m lucky to have people wear items from my boutique and tell other people where they got them. I absolutely have had good luck, and all the bad luck is just stuff to laugh at down the road (like the nine times our basement studio flooded, or when I got snapped in the eye by a client’s garter or fell off a dresser trying to get the right angle).

As the saying goes, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” I think very, very few people can claim they’ve found great success without a morsel of luck, no matter how hard they work. My hard work has been so fortunate to meet with opportunities.

Pricing:

  • $199 Tease Package – Arriving with hair and makeup completed, 1 outfit, 30-min session, 10 edited digitals
  • $550 Angel Package – Arriving with hair and makeup completed, 3 outfits, access to luxury closet, mini paperback album, all edited digitals, print release form
  • $975 Bombshell Package – Hair and makeup done on site, 5 outfits, access to luxury closet, medium hardback album or glass keepsake box with prints, all edited digital images, print release form
  • $2125 Fantasy Package – Hair and makeup done on site, 5-6 outfits, access to luxury closet, large hardback book or glass keepsake box with prints, 1 XL metal wall print, all edited digitals, print release form, boudoir video set to music of choice
  • $275-$1125 Couples Session Packaging

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