The big misconception and the birth of a new concept.

“I’d love to do a session with you but I’m not as pretty as the models on your site.”

I’ve heard that comment more than a few times and it has been on my mind a lot of late. It has gotten to the point of radically shifting the way I work and given birth to a new campaign. Lets talk.

First of all let me just state that 85% of the woman on this site are not professional models. They are regular women, with jobs, and a lot have families of their own. They have never been in front of a professional photographer’s camera. They don’t know what to expect when they initially reach out to me.

Can you go through the images on this site and point out the occasional professional model? Can you find the moms of one, two or more children? Do the grandmas on this page leap out to you?

Even better. Can you point out the ones that have concerns about their current body style/shape? The ones that wish they were 10, 15, 20+ pounds lighter? The ones that are worried about their stretch marks showing? That wished these were bigger and that was smaller? The ones that lament the fact that they were 5’1 and not 5’10? Too many freckles? Scars? Wrinkles around their eyes and mouth? A Romanesque nose that stood out when they were in profile? A crooked, lopsided smile? Ears that stick out? The ones who were decades past their 18th birthday?

No? Well, that was a bit of a trick question because they all had one or more of those concerns. Every single person that I’ve worked with in my 25-plus years as a photographer have had concerns about their appearance. Every. Single. One. Let that sink in for a moment.

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Let’s be honest here. We are our own worst critics when it comes to our appearance. We see ourselves in that bathroom mirror, with the harsh light, at 7 am, and think “ugh.” We see the “flaws.”

Take me, for example. 25 years ago I used to think I was fat at 240. Fast forward to two years ago when I tipped the scale at 385. Today, I’m at 310 which is better than 385 but nowhere near the old weight. Today, I look back at 240 with fondness and as a goal that I may never reach.

The point is, it’s all about perspective. Don’t waste time dreaming about what used to be or what could be. Embrace who you are today.

Now, let’s shift things a bit. With today’s technology I can literally change anyone to look like anyone else. I can knock off any amount of weight, I can reshape the entire body, I can remove every wrinkle, every mole, every “flaw.”

But then, what are we left with? An image of someone that never existed. Someone that their significant other and/or mother wouldn’t recognize. A plastic doll homogenized to match society’s unobtainable ideals. A stylized fantasy that, when you really get down to it, will eventually, deep down, make the person in the image feel even worse than they did before having it done. They will see “what could be” which they really can never be or were.

So, all this is the genesis of my concept. Right now the working name for the project is “Perfectly, uniquely, wonderfully, you.” Embrace yourself. Those “flaws?” They make you uniquely, wonderfully you. Why remove them? Use them. Those stretch marks? We can hide them with posing and such but I say you earned them, show them. Those laugh lines? I love them to death. That nose? How magical. That lopsided, big, quirky, lovely, smile? Please let it out for the world to see.

Now, I realize this might scare some. I realize it wont be for everyone. I’m just putting it out there as an option. I will continue the old way along with the new way. But I believe, I really, truly believe, that if I start putting those images out there it will encourage others to take the leap. Get the ball rolling, as it were. If we can start to fill the internet  with these type of images then advertisers will start to swing that way, too. Be the inspiration for others to let themselves be free with their appearance.

Take Sarah, here, as an example. When we met for our first session, I asked her the same two questions that I ask everyone that I work with. What do you like about yourself and what are you not so fond of? The answers help me form a game plan as to how I would work the session.

Well, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the later question had more responses than the former. I listened to her. I wrote down her answers but I also formed my own opinion about her strengths and concerns. Because, again, we are our own worst critic when it comes to our appearance. I couldn’t completely trust her, or anyone’s, responses.

We did our thing. It was amazing to see her responses. What she initially feared she became addicted to. These images here are from our fourth session together. Each time she comes to one she’s more confident and open than the last time.

We joked before this one that this time there wouldn’t be much need for outfits as it would be mostly nude. Well, guess what happened? Yep. This 26 year old mom, with all the hallmarks of being one, not a size 0, spent the majority of the time au natural and totally at ease with it.

Over time we have built up such a strong bond of trust and confidence which allows her to be free of worry and concern. She knows I won’t portray her in a bad way. She has faith in me.

She was amazing. It was one of the best sessions I’ve ever done and we got images that are, in all honesty, some of the most sensual I’ve ever gotten.

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Now, I must make it totally clear right here, right now. It is not my goal to get everyone I work with to do nudes. Not even close. As I’ve said countless times, I shoot it all but always work within the limits defined by the client so what we shoot is really up to them. If a client states they only want to do this and that, then that’s what we do. I don’t push.

This was totally her decision. The ironic part is that, even though she is nude, nothing is shown that you can’t see on any public beach. Less, in fact. It is a true honor to have that level of trust bestowed upon me and I’m humbled by it.

Yes, you are just as pretty as those “models” on this site. You absolutely deserve to be here and will fit right in. No one will know that you were initially concerned about doing it. Own what makes you perfectly, wonderfully, uniquely you. You will rock your session. You deserve to feel good about yourself. All you need is a little faith in me at the beginning.

This is the start of a new journey for myself and my work. From now on I will do my level best to bring out the uniqueness that makes every person wonderfully, perfectly, them. I hope you will join me. I’m going to end this entry with some words from Sarah herself.

I’m a 26 year old single mom. The average female is size 12-14 but advertisers and designers want size 0-4 women for their ads in magazines, on tv, and on the runway. I believe this is the reason girls have self confidence issues – because size 0 isn’t the normal size of a female. Seeing all these size 0 girls is not realistic. 

Do not let your size keep you from thinking you can do this kind of session. You are beautiful and unique in your own way. You have a personality and features that only you can offer to an image that makes them as beautiful and unique as you are. Embrace your differences.

Mark Knopp is a Virginia Beach-based boudoir and portrait photographer covering the Hampton Roads community. Contact him today at for you photographic needs – both for images and lessons.


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