CONCEPTUAL MAGAZINE: Melissa Mullins! Boudoir and Milk Bath Photography Extraordinaire! Fine artist, marvelous soul! We are so excited to have you and we already know you are incredible! Thank you for being here and forming part of Conceptual Magazine!
MELISSA MULLINS: Thanks so much for talking with me and sharing some of my work with your readers!
CM: Let’s begin with the basics. Tell us about you, in a nutshell.
MM: I’m a portrait photographer in Denver, Colorado. I’m 33, married, and have a furry cat child who runs the house. I went to school for graphic design and media studies and took some photography classes there, back in the days when we still used the darkroom. In addition to photography, I also dance and teach fitness classes.
CM: Did you do any type of art while growing up? Were you already a creative? Or at what point did you discover that you were attracted to creativity?
MM: I’ve always been pretty creative. Growing up, I typically had a project going on. I would be making movies, choreographing dance routines, or doing some type of arts and crafts.
CM: When did you first pick up a camera? Why?
MM: When I was in middle school, I was always the one in my group of friends who would bring my camera to document every silly thing we did. I moved around a lot growing up so, whenever I’d visit friends, I felt it was really important to capture our time together. I once even left a full roll of film in a tree, accidentally, while on a hike, and I went back to get it later because I was so upset at the thought of losing the pictures!
CM: You specialize in boudoir photography. Why did you choose to concentrate in this genre of photography? Tell us what boudoir means to you and why you photograph women?
MM: Boudoir, to me, means feeling comfortable in your own skin and empowered being yourself. It’s about feeling vulnerable but also brave, calm yet strong, gentle at the same time as rebellious. It’s the combination and juxtaposition of all of those aspects that attracts me to the genre.
CM: You also do maternity, cosplay and underwater photography. Tell us about this. What attracted you to these genres?
MM: Maternity is a natural fit for me because I photograph women – at any age or time in their lives. Pregnancy is a beautiful thing and I love showing women they are rock stars at this time. Cosplay is a ton of fun to photograph, too. I love collaborating with people on their creative ideas and costume creations, and figuring out how to adapt things to the milk bath. Underwater is somewhat related to the milk bath in that my subjects are in the water, but it’s really a whole separate beast. I swim in the water, as well, to create these images, and although I wish I had a pool, I don’t do these sessions at my studio like I do with the milk baths.
CM: Tell us what the experience of photographing each of those genres is like? In other words, what goes through your mind when photographing maternity, or cosplay, or underwater, or boudoir?
MM: Photographing maternity is not too different from my normal portraits. I like to emphasize the baby bump and, sometimes, will incorporate fun things into the session like children’s books or rubber ducks floating in the bath. For cosplay, I like to get into the world of the character a bit to draw inspiration from for the theme, colors, and feel of the session. When photographing underwater, I’m mostly focused on my breathing and making sure my subjects are doing ok because it can be really exhausting. I like to look for interesting reflections in the water and body movements to capture.
CM: How is each experience different from each other and how is each experience alike?
MM: My milk bath sessions take place in my studio, in a tub set up with lighting and includes a professional makeup artist. There is no swimming involved – all you have to do is lay in a tub! Underwater sessions are more intensive and involve swimming skills. They can be much longer in length since it can take a lot of time to get the right shots. The similarities are in the water aspect and the ethereal and fantasy feeling in the final images.
CM: So, you photograph clients. Do you photograph models as well? And, have you or do you do self-portraiture?
MM: Yes, most of the women you see on my website are clients. I do have model sessions sometimes, but I usually work with everyday women and not just professional models. I haven’t quite figured out yet how to do self-portraiture in the milk bath, but it is on my to-do list for the future. I have gotten into the tub to see what my clients experience though!
CM: If any, talk to us about your collaborations with models and other creatives like makeup artists, hair artists, and vendors, etc.
MM: I love my team. I have fabulous makeup artists that I work with that do beautiful work and have even mastered doing the super waterproof makeup for underwater sessions. I’ve also collaborated on sessions with amazing clothing designers, jewelry makers, and florists.
CM: Tell us about your workflow. How do you plan for a shoot? What are your shoots like? Tell us about your post-production workflow, too.
MM: I find inspiration for my photo shoots everywhere. Art history, pop culture, my client’s interests or hobbies, and really from almost anywhere. I will plan out colors, props, and outfits and source anything I need to ahead of time. The sessions are messy, hilarious, and fun. The final images look pretty different when comparing to the "behind the scenes"! I have been known to change my mind on the fly to adjust the themes or styling when the feeling hits. After my sessions, I edit the images and have an in-person reveal with clients in my studio, where they can choose their favorites.
CM: Can you describe your photographic and post-production/editing style for us?
MM: My photographic style is very bright and colorful. With post-production, I am detailed and a bit of a perfectionist. I do edit all of my client’s images, but not in a way that actually alters their appearance. I use Photoshop lightly, and only to enhance a woman’s natural beauty.
CM: You say that you are a milk bath expert! Love that! Tell us about this. We want to know everything! How did you fall in love with milk baths, so much, that you decided to focus on it and become an expert?
MM: I just decided, one day, to try out a milk bath session, and after that, I was hooked. It was so fun and unique. I kept adding to it, trying new colors, and expanding on the idea. I went from a kiddie pool on my patio to my indoor milk bath studio setup. It became my number one most requested type of session, so I now almost exclusively photograph them. I also have a strange knowledge now of what things will float in the bath!
CM: What is your favorite milk bath setup?
MM: There is no way I could ever choose a favorite. I love so many and my favorites change daily depending on my mood!
CM: In your blog, you post about the different colors and themes that you use for your milk bath shoots? That’s very clever. Can you tell us about it?
MM: Using different colors and props in the milk bath was a natural progression for me. I tried the white milk bath first and added some flowers, but soon decided I should expand it even further. I am constantly experimenting with new ideas – I sometimes like to think of it as a science project to see what will work in the bath! I’ve done almost every color of the rainbow, and love coming up with new themes.
CM: What else do you post and talk about on your blog?
MM: My blog is my home base, where I share client sessions, updates from my studio, peeks behind the scenes, tips for the photo sessions, and my own writing so people can get to know me a little better.
CM: Let’s talk about “Cosplay”. First of all, we saw that you were published in Cosplay Culture Magazine. What was that experience like?
MM: It was great! I had a 3 spread feature with some of my images from my Sailor Moon series, plus some other cosplay portraits like Harry Potter, Doctor Who, and the Little Mermaid. It was awesome to go see the magazine and my work featured on the shelves in retail stores.
CM: Besides Cosplay Culture, you’ve also been featured on other platforms. What are they and how did you accomplish being featured in so many?
MM: I love to collaborate with other creatives and have been featured or contributed to blogs such as Offbeat Bride, Boudoir Collective, Rock N Roll Bride, Lace in Light, and Peachie Moms. The best way to get featured, I think, is to just reach out and talk to people, and see what type of content they are interested in.
CM: Your Instagram feed is fabulous. It’s so colorful and inspiring. It’s full of beautiful and confident women, whom most, we assume, are your clients. We also stumbled across the marvelous piece you submitted to our Halloween Challenge! What can you tell us about your Instagram account and your hashtag #gentlerebel? How does your IG attract more clients or followers and how do you use it in your business? Is it a good complimentary platform for Pinterest, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter?
MM: Thank you! Yes, most of the women you see are my clients. I try to keep my feed colorful and interesting by mixing things up. Of course, there are also pictures of my cat. My hashtag #gentlerebel comes from my tagline of “Independent Minds. Gentle Hearts. Rebellious Souls.” It embodies the women I work with as well as myself. I like to think of my clients as Gentle Rebels. Out of all social media platforms, Instagram is my favorite. I think mainly because of the layout of images making it look like a miniature portfolio, and also the way you can connect and find new people. Instagram and Facebook have definitely worked the best for me in attracting new clients and followers.
CM: Do you use Twitter the same way you use Fb or IG?
MM: I’m sort of ashamed to say I don’t really know how to use twitter! I have an account, but I think because it’s not an image focused platform, like IG or FB, it doesn’t interest me as much.
CM: Moving on to YouTube! We watched a few of your videos. We are OBSESSED!! It’s fantastic watching your "behind the scenes", especially the underwater ones! Can you talk to us about these videos and how you use your channel?
MM: I love watching behind the scenes video clips, so that is mostly what I like to share on my channel! I get a lot of questions from clients about how my sessions work because they are so different, so it’s great to be able to send them a link so they can watch for themselves and get an idea of what they can expect during their session.
CM: What is a day in the life of Melissa Mullins like?
MM: It’s busy – but only because I want it that way! I like to have a full schedule, so I am usually in the middle of a few projects and brainstorming the next one at the same time. If I’m not photographing a session, my days are pretty quiet though. I am editing, blogging, or working on marketing. I also might be shopping for props or designing an album for a client. It’s different every day, which I love!
CM: You have many little quotes that you share, sporadically, throughout some of your videos, posts, and website. LOVE your "About" page on your website. One of your quotes is, “I believe in building your own community of misfits.” SO DO WE!!! That’s why we even exist... we built a tiny community of misfits and rebels! HAHA. Your “about” page is actually quite inspiring. Talk to us about these quotes and how you use them to brand your business and yourself. What message do you want to convey?
MM: My about page is my introduction to the world. I want people to read these few short statements and feel like they really get who I am and what I’m about before they even meet me in person. Yes, some of them are funny or a little embarrassing, but I don’t want to put out a perfect persona because in reality, of course, I’m not perfect. I want other people who may be shy, or awkward, or just feel they don’t fit in, to know they can be themselves when they are in my studio.
CM: Do you consider what you do art? And why or why not?
MM: I do consider what I do art. I, actually, consider a lot of things to be art - music, dance, performance, or writing. Anything creative and interesting with thought and intention behind it can be art.
CM: You have a print shop on your website. Who are the subjects in the photos? Have you found success in selling prints to the general public? Otherwise, who buys these?
MM: My print shop is brand new! I added some of my underwater dance images and my Sailor Moon milk bath series. I’d love to hear from people what other types of images they’d be interested in.
CM: Ok, so… tell us about your business in general. When did you first begin getting clients and how did you build your business?
MM: I started my business in 2013, and I’ve been doing the milk baths since 2015. I’m still new and am working, every day, on building my business. Most of my clients have found me online, via social media or online search. I’m also working on displaying my images in local stores or businesses that have clients that could be interested in my work.
CM: Is this your dream business? Is it what you want to do, looking forward? Where do you see yourself in the future and doing what?
MM: I am such a planner, so I think I will always have a new goal to be working towards. I’m happy with what I am doing right now and would love to continue to grow it more. One day I’d love to have a bigger custom studio space and I’d also love to teach others.
CM: What is the overall message you want to send to women out there who have thought about doing boudoir but are scared to?
MM: Deciding to do a boudoir session can be a scary thing. I want women to know that every single person who has done one was nervous (myself included). It’s important to pick someone to photograph you that you feel you can connect with and feel comfortable around. In my studio, I try to make the atmosphere fun, relaxed, and as low pressure as possible. We play music, eat snacks, and make a giant mess everywhere. You should feel like yourself during your boudoir session, and you should see yourself in the final images – not a person you don’t recognize because you are wearing an outfit that you’d never choose or way more makeup than you like. The images are for you. You should look at them and feel empowered and confident. I would say some of the best things worth trying are a little scary!
CM: Say that you were going to promote your fine art photography to our audience. How would you do so? How would you convince them? What is your most special package and at what price point do your commissions start?
MM: I love working with fellow artists and creative people! I find some of my most interesting and unique image concepts have come out when I’m collaborating with an artist. I love a new challenge and figuring out how to showcase people’s interests and passions within their portraits. My sessions start at $400, which include a planning consultation, makeup artist, and reveal meeting. I have a huge variety of packages, but my favorite includes a fine art album and metal wall prints.
CM: Is there anything else that you would like us and our audience to know about you?
MM: I have worked with people who live out of town, and things, like the consultation, can be done by phone or online. So, please get in touch if you’d like to plan a session, even if you are not in Colorado. I love connecting with other creatives; let me know if you add me on social media, so I can follow you back!
CM: Melissa, thank you, SO MUCH… for sitting down with us and taking the time to answer all of these questions! We are so excited and so grateful to have you as part of our community, our tribe, our supporters. We love what you do, and we love the passion that you have for photographing women. We need more people like you! People who raise up and empower other women!
MM: I love what you do and being a part of the Conceptual community. Thank you so much for supporting and sharing my and other’s work!
You can find more information about Melissa, her work, & her portfolio here: