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Growth in Boudoir Photography

For 2021, I choose three words that I want to guide my focus for this year…. INCLUSION, CREATION, & INNOVATION. I am working through updating the website, social media, and throughout the business to be more accessible, more inclusive, address any other concerns, and update the imagery too. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes, and I wanted to share some growth and history with you.

I was brought up in a family with a verbally and emotionally abusive mother. My father died when I was thirteen. They had brought me up in a cultish religion where only they (the religion) had the answers,  and everyone else was wrong. Changing your views was considered sinful and wrong… even when new information from many verified sources disproved that view/value. Hating yourself and putting your needs/boundaries last was considered the highest good. Many lies were fed to me through this religion, and any negative things about the religion or respected leader were hidden. Guilt, shame, and fear were the motivations to do “the right thing” as they defined it… and most of the religion’s values were either racist, misogynistic, homophobic, ableist, etc… and a lot of times a deadly cocktail of some of or all them. Add to this my struggles with undiagnosed ADHD (until summer 2020) and never feeling like enough or feeling like too much.

Fast forward to high school where I started questioning a lot of the misogynistic practices in my high school. Then to college and after,  getting married, and having kids. Throughout my life, I never thought of myself as hot, sexy, or even beautiful. I thought of myself as cute, silly, quirky, and very awkward. When I started photography in the family business through weddings, I kept seeing again and again how only women who looked a certain way were in the movies, tv, magazines, models, advertising, etc. And that the view of a women’s beauty and her worth was only if she met this impossible criteria. I photographed my first boudoir shoots in 2010 and connected the dots… that all women are beautiful and should feel that way.

So when the mellBella Photography  brand started in January 2011, our mission was to “remind women they are more beautiful than they think they are. Specializing in women’s photography to honor these Bella Beauties and the men they love.” WOW! Thankfully, we’ve done A LOT of growing since then. That mission was problematic… exclusive in several ways. We had a very narrow view of boudoir photography and what it was back then.  Coming into boudoir photography as wedding photographers, we narrowed our focus to only brides either getting married or as gifts for wives to get their husbands.  BUT that excluded  LGBTQIA+ persons… it excluded any other gender… it excluded people who weren’t married… it excluded people who didn’t have a partner… and it made it only about a gift for someone else.  And on top of all that, we had very little diversity in our clients.

Me circa 2011 early on in the mellBella Photography life

 

How did/do I change it? It came/comes through putting in the hard work personally and through the business…. education and communication. Being open to changes to learning… not being afraid of being wrong… apologizing and taking the steps to correct the problems…and changing the goal to not only became a better photographer but also a better human. To create a welcoming, safe place, and fabulous experience for our clients.  And to always be learning, admit wrong doing, when you mess up–make up for it as best as you can, and to put love and kindness above all else.  I have invested in education through The Boudoir University  I’m  over halfway through their foundational program called The 7 Pillar Program: The Course for Photographers Who Give A Damn. “The pillars are designed to confront blind spots, outdated belief systems, and biases that we all have when it comes to the human experience. In order for us to become more empathetic and thus, more empowering, we need to open ourselves up to understanding experiences from different intersections.” Boudoir Photography is truly so much more than “pretty pictures” or just a “photo or tw0.”

Image of Mell Bell by Christine Hamrick Photography

So, what is the mellBella Photography mission/goals now?!? I don’t have a formal mission statement right now that is wrapped up nicely in one sentence… but here’s what I value:

  • EVERY BODY is beautiful. EVERY SINGLE BODY is freaking gorgeous simply because it exists.
  • Boudoir Photography isn’t just for females… it’s for ALL genders.
  • For my clients to see themselves with loving eyes instead of hypercritical ones.
  • Celebrating YOUR version of beautiful, sexy, happy, strong, silly, sensual, etc.
  • Confirmation, Detoxification, Communication, Exhilaration, Declaration, and Affirmation of YOU
  • Creating a Safe Space of respect, trust, peace, vulnerability, emotions, and comfort combined with fun and laughter.
  • An experience that puts back into someone…reminding them to value themselves… appreciate their bodies… AND yes, even CELEBRATE.

Here’s just a small sample of the portraits I’ve been doing. I dedicate to my unforgettable clients, my friends, and family who support me and my work:

 

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One Image Wednesday

One Image Wednesday- Inferno Wings

Here’s a little something new we added to our studio… the Inferno Wings! These gorgeous gray wings can be added on to your session as an additional set. We can set the scene for a moody dark angel or maybe you want something a little more heavenly. What will you be?

mellBella Inferno Wings
Introducing Mell Bell

Meet Mell Bell

It’s been a while since I introduced myself. I’m Mell Bell… yes THE Mell Bell of mellBella Photography. I’m the photographer, artist, creative, designer, ride or die, never gonna give you up, cheerleader, etc. kind of person. My pronouns are she/her.

I’ve been a photographer with Richard Bell Photography since 2005. So I got my start in wedding and family portrait photography with my husband, Nathan, son of Richard Bell. I’m so thankful to be a part of the family business, but something was missing. In 2010, I photographed my first boudoir session, and after that, I knew THIS was the missing piece. So, with a lot of planning, long hours, and hard work, I founded the mellBella Brand with my dear friend. (Naming the company, Richard Bell Boudoir wasn’t going work. Totally not sexy at all!) Over the years, we’ve added pinup, styled, sets, a client closet, and so many things. Every year, I introduce a few new things that help make the mellBella Experience even better. Always thinking and growing!

many faces of mell bell

Because I feel it’s important to have a great relationship with my clients, we should get to know each other a little bit. So here goes…

  • One of my favorite local organizations is the YWCA Greater Charleston. Their mission of eliminating racism and empowering women is very important to me.
  • I have 2 daughters that are 8 years apart in age. What a BIG surprise indeed!
  • I’m awkward and empathetic, but my super power is embracing the awkward and making people feel comfortable.
  • I love my freckles, and I call them angel kisses.
  • Flip flops are my shoe of choice, but  I’ll rock a pair of heels for the right occasion.
  • I wish I could do hair and makeup, but I leave that to the professionals.
  • I pay homage to Lucille Ball with all my facial expressions.
  • My favorite drinks are Coke Zero, Jack Daniels, Espolòn Tequila, Diet Dr Pepper, and of course water.
  • I can eat ALL the pasta, pizza, and ice cream any time.
  • I celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and other special occasions with an impromptu dance party.
  • Some of my favorite TV Shows are:  POSE, Grey’s Anatomy, Schitt’s Creek, Supernatural, Queen Sugar, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,  Ru Paul’s Drag Race, Steven Universe, and more!
  • I have too many movies to narrow down, but we’ll start with Crazy Rich Asians, Black Panther, Spider Man: Into the Spider-verse, and COCO are my more recent favs.
  • My musical preference depends on the day or mood.

And finally I’ll end with a non Photoshopped boudoir photo of me, taken by me, and quote that is a mantra of mine.

“You are a very special person. There is only one like you in the whole world. There’s never been anyone exactly like you before, and there will never be again. Only you. And people can like you exactly as you are.”  — Fred Rogers

professional boudoir selfie by mell bell

 

One Image Wednesday

One Image Wednesday- Over the Bed

For this One Image Wednesday, I wanted to share one portrait from our Over-the-Bed camera. We love dressing up the bed with complimentary colors to really set the mood. We love a messy bed! Whether you want go bold or more natural, we customize the look on the bed for you. For the Bella, we used black, gold, pink, and just for fun a rose gold necklace from our mellBella Closet. Her black lace shoes are also available from our mellBella Closet. What are your favorite colors?

mellbella over the bed camera
In Her Own Words mellBella

In Her Own Words- Ms Lilly

I love the tousled hair look, and Ms Lilly worked some model wind at her session in our studio. Here’s what she had to say about her mellBella Boudoir Experience.

mellbella messy hair boudoir

BEFORE Her mellBella Boudoir Session— “How I felt before- I’m excited and nervous. I have always wanted to do this, but never had the nerve. I can’t wait to do this, to feel strong and confident, but also show my fiance how much I love him!”

booty shot over the bed at mellBella Photography

AFTER Her Photoshoot—  “IT WAS AMAZING!!! They act like you’ve been BFFs forever. They make you laugh, feel comfortable, beautiful, confident, and overal AMAZING! They really made me feel strong and confident. I would do this again in a heartbeat. They truly make you love yourself.”

black and red teddy boudoir

AFTER Her Photo Reveal“The experience gave me confidence in my image and my self-confidence is where it should have been all along.  I am proud of myself and my beauty.”

natural light skimming across the body boudoir

 

christopher robin quote

Transitions and Changes

2020…what a year!!! I don’t think any of us could have imagined what this year would look like.  I think we’ve all become familiar with having to figure out new ways of working, schooling, living, and dealing with everything in our daily lives.

Today, I want to share with you a big transition in mellBella Photography. About 10 years ago, Wanda and I dreamed, planned, and officially founded the mellBella Brand. We were two best friends with big ideas and tenacious attitudes to create a one-of-a-kind, empowering photography experience.

mell bell and wanda are up to something
Each year we would imagine and create new ways to elevate the mellBella Experience. Our families have grown together and even at times vacationed together. Wanda was at the births of both my children, and I (Mell) helped photograph two of Wanda’s daughter’s weddings. Also all of Wanda’s daughters have helped out at mellBella through the years too, especially Cecilee (Wanda’s eldest daughter).

Since 2012, Cecilee has worn many different hats as a part of the mellBella team. She started helping us with our boudoir marathons, and her assignments grew from there. You may have met her as the Welcome Committee when you arrived at our studio. Or maybe it was at one of the many wedding shows/Rockabillaque. Or in your actual photo shoot when she helped out with posing and photography.

Mell Bell, Cecilee, and Wanda

But things at mellBella are changing and adapting like we do every year. This year, we have the biggest change yet. The pandemic has hit our industry hard causing a difficult yet necessary shift among our mellBella team. Therefore, with lots of love, friendship, and support, we want to announce that Wanda and Cecilee are now small business owners. They have launched a new business, like none other, in the Charleston area. Introducing Mamasita’s Cloth Diaper Service.

mamasita's cloth diaper service
It is their goal to make cloth diapering an easy eco-friendly experience.  They even offer cloth wipes, diaper balm, wipe solution, and more. Let me just say that as one of their first clients,  I LOVE my products and so does my little one. Seriously, the diaper balm and wipes solution smell soooooo good. Be sure to check them out at: mamasitasclothdiaperservice.com

Please show your love and support to Wanda and Cecilee and their business. And if you or someone you know is having a baby/thinking about cloth diapering, please share their website, Facebook, or Instagram. They even offer classes on cloth diapering or you can check them out at the  Sea Island Farmer’s Market.

Wanda and Cecilee-I love you both so much, and I look forward to seeing your business grow. Thank you for all the time, the hard work, the behind the scenes, your friendship, support, and everything inbetween!  Our friendship is not something that comes along every day, and it’s not something that’s going away.

mellBella Photography isn’t going anywhere either. Things may be changing, but we’re adaptable. You can still expect  a one-of-a-kind, empowering photography experience. That’s one thing that will never change. And in true mellBella fashion, I want to share some of my favorite mellBella moments with Wanda over the years.

In Her Own Words mellBella

In Her Own Words- Ms Allison

boudoir through the archway

Ms Allison wanted to celebrate her birthday, and why not? She wanted to come out of her shell and feel confident. She chose something glamorous and something comfy to wear for her shoot. Here’s how her session went in her own words…

boudoir lounging on our antique sofa

BEFORE Her mellBella Boudoir Session— “Super Excited for my photoshoot. What a way to bring in my 25th. I am looking forward to the pictures. Surprisingly I am not worried. 🙂 Let the fun begin.”

black and blue color scheme for our boudoir bed

AFTER Her Photoshoot—  “Best photoshoot ever! These ladies surely know how to make you feel comfortable. I was so relaxed, and the previews phenomenal. I will be back :)”

Comfy tank top boudoir

 

 

In Her Own Words mellBella

In Her Own Words- Ms Kim

It’s time for another real story from our Bellas. Ms Kim was SOoooo ready for this shoot and here’s what she had to say about it.

statement necklace in black and white

Before Her mellBella Boudoir Session– “I wanted to give my husband a different kind of birthday present this year. I know he will absolutely LOVE this! I am a little nervous yet excited at the same time. I can’t wait to see the photos! It’s going to be so fun!”

red and black color scheme over the bed boudoir

After Her Photoshoot– “It was an amazing experience! The girls showed me exactly how to pose to make me feel sexy! Even from the few pictures they showed me during the shoot were amazing and made me feel so confident. I am almost positive I will be doing another shoot in the future. Thank you!”

moody boudoir lighting

After Her Photo Reveal– “I feel that this experience positively transformed me. I genuinely enjoyed every moment during the shoot, which I did not expect. I was anxious and excited all at the same time for this experience. I’m so glad that I choose to do this because it made me feel empowered and proud of the woman that I am. So thank you both for that!”

boudoir headshot with messy hair
What To Wear Favorite Color

One Image Wednesday- Wear Your Favorite Color

don't be afraid to wear color at your boudoir session

For boudoir, most people think you have to limit your color options to black, white, or red. But who doesn’t love wearing their favorite color? Don’t be afraid to wear something in yours–whether it be lingerie, a dress, shoes, or maybe even a flower. We love playing with colors to enhance your look. What’s your favorite color?

In Her Own Words mellBella

In Her Own Words- Ms Rachel

Ms Rachel brought a gorgeous cozy sweater,  lacey teal bodysuit, and this WOW bra for her session. But we’ll let her tell you a little more about her mellBella Boudoir Experience.

all those lovely curves on the boudoir bed

Before Her mellBella Boudoir Session– “It is hard to put my feelings into words with how I’m feeling/thinking. I’m a mix of anxious, excited, a little nervous because this is out of my comfort zone. Despite the fact that I feel like I’m shaking like a leaf. I’m excited for this experience and can’t wait for what unfolds.”

relaxing and cozy boudoir

After Her Photoshoot– “Nervous at first, but felt so comfortable by the second pose. The amount of confidence I felt was surreal. Any insecurities I had, didn’t exist. I’m walking out of the studio a stronger woman that has gained self-love. I’ll forever cherish this experience.”

pink couch and that boudoir look

After Her Photo Reveal– “My self confidence has improved tremendously. I can be beautiful without being a pre-pregnancy size 4. I’ve learned how to embrace what other “gifts” motherhood has given me in addition to my daughter.”

boudoir power pose in a teal bodysuit