Manjoo by Aleksandra Walker
Nathalie by Aleksandra Walker

In 2021, Aleksandra Walker had just moved to Australia and was in the process of building her brand-new portrait photography studio. As it happens, was about to turn 44. During this time, she had the idea of offering sensual portraits specifically for women over the age of 45. She’d make it more than just a photoshoot: the all-day experience would include the portrait session, a pampering session, and a podcast interview. 

The concept struck a chord almost immediately: women 45 and up wanted to be seen and heard. In the first year alone, Walker received over 400 applications. Women traveled from other states to be part of the project. 

During that year, the project accounted for 100% of her business. In time, the 45over45 project grew to become a part of My Body My Story, a larger collection of sensual portrait packages for women of all ages, available through Walker’s studio. We asked her about what it took to launch such a successful project, and she shared all the details, from pricing the package to marketing the opportunity on social media. 

Lisa T by Aleksandra Walker

How and when did the idea for this project emerge?

“When I moved to Australia five years ago, I had to start all over again in mostly every aspect of my life. I was approaching my 44th birthday and was feeling low. All my friends, my business, and my social life stayed back in Dubai where I lived for thirteen years.

“By then, I’d been in the photography business for ten years. Some of my clients were women of all ages who wanted sensual shoots. I did not call it ‘boudoir photography,’ as it was more about bringing out a woman’s sensuality whether she was wearing lingerie or fully dressed. I noticed that the older the woman, the more confident she was. Even though she didn’t have a body of a 20-year-old, she was more in touch with herself with age. 

“Now, I was going through body changes myself, feeling low, and wanted a sensual photoshoot for myself. I looked at other photographers’ work and did not find anyone who would specialize in sensual shoots for over 40-year-old women. 

“I ended up doing a shoot for myself and felt so good after that. I discovered that I am more confident than I thought I was. I just reconnected with myself. Having a makeover, changing outfits and accessories was also fun. It was like a mini-therapy session for me.

“So I thought it was a good idea to create a photography project—a perfect way to combine in it everything I wanted. Being new to Australia, I wanted to meet Australian women and get to know them, build my photography business here, find a way to socialize and meet new friends around my age, and do it all in the comfort of my studio. Being an introvert, I prefer one-on-one connections and interesting conversations in quiet places. 

“The idea of photographing women in their 40s or 50s is not new by itself. Those shoots are quite popular all over the world. But I wanted to create something bigger than that. I wanted to connect it with our body aging and hear what other women who go through these changes think of that. I wanted to know their stories and inspire them to tell those stories to the world.

“I loved the idea of combining photography with psychology and making it a healing transformational experience—not just a photoshoot. I called the project My Body My Story. I work with all ages, but the 45Over45 chapter focuses on women in their 40s, 50s, and 60s.” 

Jade by Aleksandra Walker

Why did you choose to make the session a full-day experience, rather than a quick shoot? How did you decide on the podcast interview and pampering session? 

“All these decisions came together because of two things. Number one, having my first Master’s in psychology, I’ve always been interested in people and their personalities, and all I wanted to photograph (as my hobby) since I was fourteen was only people. Nothing else.

“Number two is my general view of photography. I strongly believe that photography is a great and very underestimated therapeutical and healing tool. For a person in front of the camera, for a photographer, and for viewers of final images. I also believe that the camera never lies and brings out a personality better than anything else. 

“But it is important to trust the photographer in this process. I feel that building this trust in a quick shoot is impossible. It takes time to get there. My role is to guide/assist their inner processes during the photoshoot and create a comfortable and safe environment for that. I also need time to discover the unique points of each woman and highlight them.

“The pampering session is a great start to relaxing, looking good, and feeling good about yourself. The idea to add a podcast interview to the project came up logically from a desire to learn about Australian women, their stories, and their views on aging and body image. I wanted the interview to be deep and meaningful but not feel like a heavy therapy session. I wanted it to be just a light, casual conversation any woman has sitting in her hairdresser chair or at a beauty salon. 

“The interview during the makeup session lasts roughly thirty to forty minutes and serves as an icebreaker. It also gives me a chance to get to know the person and understand the best way to photograph her and bring up her individuality and style. I keep learning about every woman in front of my camera during the shoot as well. We progress through the shoot together.

“All of these factors are important to me and are not done right when rushed. Therefore, I dedicate the whole day to each woman who joins the project and make sure they get the most out of it.”

Why did you price these full-day experiences at just $350? And in what ways has that decision paid off?    

“We wanted to create an opportunity for many. $350 is a price that just covers our expenses for the makeup artist, the cost of bringing one person to the studio (the amount we spent on advertising per person), and some other expenses we pay, like podcast production. This price does not include my time and expertise, which I give as a credit to everyone who wants to try this experience and be heard via our podcast. 

“So anyone can have this experience just by investing this fair amount.  This creates availability for many women who want to try it risk-free. Most of the women who joined our project have never been professionally photographed or never had sensual photoshoot before.  It pays off if ladies want to purchase images we created during the photoshoot, though it is not obligatory and we have options for every budget.”

Zinnia by Aleksandra Walker

How did you first connect with the women who starred in these sensual portrait? And how did you promote the project in the beginning? 

“My second marketing degree helps me a lot to market my business. First of all, I teamed up with a model, makeup artist, and videographer on a TFP (time for prints) basis, and we created a showcase. After that, we made a project’s landing page with a backstage video, final images, and our offer. And we launched a social media advertising campaign.

“Women would fill out a contact form on the landing page, and we called them to answer their questions and book them in if they decided to go through. I will be always grateful to all the ladies and especially the first ones who trusted in me and were brave enough to say ‘yes’ just based on our initial offer.

“The more women joined the project, the easier it was for us to build a trustworthy reputation.  We started adding video testimonials right from the beginning and podcast interviews to our web page. It allowed others to hear from our participants and learn what they truly have to say about the project.

“As a recognition of their achievements, I also like promoting our participants. A lot of women who join the project have private practices, businesses, and interesting hobbies, and they worked hard to get where they are now. I happily share their business contacts if someone wants to connect with them.

“We also had a Gala night Exhibition in October 2022. It was a black-tie, red-carpet event where all the participants finally met together and had a chance to connect personally. We had a reception, a surprise show, and a photo exhibition showcasing each woman’s portrait she had chosen for the display. 

“Also at the event, I realized my long-time dream. I took a group photo of all of our lovely participants who came to the event (not all participants could make it). That grand group image won a silver photography award. One of the judges commented: ‘I am impressed by the engagement each and every one of these women has with the photographer.’

“I believe that this connection was built during the day I spent with each of them. I kept in touch after. I feel like I know every woman I photographed for the project.

“Our way of connecting with women still has not changed. We give every woman the same attention and are genuinely interested to know them and their stories.”

Benadette by Aleksandra Walker

How and when did you know that you’d tapped into something that resonated with so many women? What did growing and expanding this project look like, from a logistical perspective?

“We always have a lot of comments under our ads on social media and a lot of shares.  Women share our ads in different groups, so we started having women traveling from other states and remote areas participate in the 45over45 project.    

“Many women were saying that they would not go just for a photoshoot, but it was the opportunity to be a part of a greater and more meaningful project and a chance to be heard that made them sign up.  For some, that day at our studio became a one-day getaway from their everyday routines. Others come together with a friend to have a girl’s day out.     

“We are planning on expanding the project nationwide first and maybe even internationally later. We see a lot of comments asking if we are coming to other states. I am definitely planning to give it a go next season.”

Tina by Aleksandra Walker

You mentioned that the sensual portraits in the 45over45 project account for about 60% of your business these days. 

“Yes, and in the first year (2021), 45Over45 was 100% of our business. My main focus is building a project-based photography business. That may include a portfolio of different photography projects connected to one idea of our brand: Everyone has a Story (every person has a story, every business has a story, every family has a story, etc.). 

“That is why my business name is STORYTREND Photography. Every project is different but is a part of our whole brand. That is why the names of our projects are My (theme) My Story. At the moment, the My Body My Story theme is developed the most. Also, we have the My Business My Story project which is still in the growing stage (approx 20% of our business), and 20% are non-project-based photoshoots (family, business, personal shoots, etc).” 

Can you tell me about the makeup, clothes, and jewelry you used for these sensual portraits? Did you team up with other artists and vendors for this? 

“We team up with makeup artists. It is a paid partnership. We have a basic wardrobe in various sizes, which I purchased myself. It is for those who need more outfits or want to try something new. I also invested in a large collection of costume jewelry, so women have a choice and fun choosing their accessories for each outfit. It’s like playing dress-up. I believe that jewelry and other accessories are a great way to create a variety of styles even with very basic clothing.

“I would like to collaborate with lingerie companies, as I feel women are always keen to try different styles of beautiful lingerie. Women after 45 use beautiful lingerie more often nowadays, and some ladies bring amazing pieces of lingerie with them, and they look and feel stunning in it.

“Also, I would love to collaborate with wineries, as a glass of quality wine at the end of the day is in the Aussie culture. I heard it many times after the shoot: ‘Now I need a glass of wine!’”

I’d like to offer them a glass of nice wine, as my clients love quality. Maybe one day a customized sparkling with our project’s name can be created.”

Rayghaan by Aleksandra Walker

What did you learn from the women you met and photographed? What did you take with you from these sensual portraits and interviews?

“I learn from each woman. I think I’ve met women from all walks of life and upbringing. So many different characters and stories I’ve heard. I have learned that everyone has their own story, and at a glance, you would never be able to tell. 

“Everyday women of 40+ often feel forgotten or written off, and they want to be heard. They have their wisdom to share; they want to be role models for their daughters and young women, and they want to inspire others with themselves as an example. They look for platforms/projects where they can share their knowledge.

“There’s been a lot of inspiring stories. Hearing about the challenges women have gone through and how they came out of them keeps me thinking. It tells me how strong we are when we need to be.

“I have also learned how much of an impact I’ve had on some woman’s lives after doing this project. I’ve had numerous ladies say it’s either helped them up or changed them and that it’s been a turning point in how they feel and see themselves after participating in the project. Knowing that is the biggest reward for me. 

“I’ve also made friends. As I’ve mentioned before, I keep in contact with a few of our participants. We meet and chat and keep our friendship going.”

Any on-set anecdotes you can share?

“One time we had a harpist who brought her harp with her. It was a huge golden, heavy harp. After finishing the shoot, we offered a hand to help her take the harp and all her evening gowns to where she parked. Some shoots can get longer than expected, and that was the case this time. 

“Being right in the heart of Sydney city, our clients usually park at the Queen Victoria Building. That day, it closed early. It was quite a show where three of us and the giant harp were circling around the Queen Victoria building trying to find access to the parking. We ended up rolling the harp on the car park entry ramp several levels down trying not to kill the harp and ourselves.”

In what ways has creating these sensual portraits helped to build or grow your photography business overall? 

“I feel that here in Australia, project-based or cause-based photography businesses have all the chances to grow and thrive. This project started in my studio, and now it is a huge part of our business. I am about to launch another project, which is also connected to the My Body My Story theme, but it’s in another area taking the attention of many people nowadays. Follow us to stay updated.”

TJ by Aleksandra Walker

What tips do you have for emerging portrait photographers who are running their own studios? 

“I know that every photographer is first of all a creative soul, but if we are talking about business, here are my giveaways:

Any invaluable business lessons you’ve learned along the way?

“Marketing is everything. Know your clients (research). Make sure they know about you (promote). Build relationships (communicate). Do your best in providing value (serve).

“Business is not the same as a paid hobby. It is much more than just getting paid for what you love. Business is a complex system. If you build a good one in the beginning, it will work for you later. There will be things you don’t like doing—outsource if you can, or take it as a temporary necessity until you can outsource it. There is no easy business, so doing what you love keeps you going when you feel like giving up.

“People who want you to serve them for free will never appreciate it as much as those who pay you. They simply don’t understand the value of what you do. There should be a good reason to do a free shoot, so ask yourself ‘What’s in it for me? Does it serve my goals? Does it make my business grow?’

“At the same time, I also think that it’s important to not only get lost in day-to-day work but make time and space for your personal growth and creative projects. These projects force you to learn and explore new ideas and techniques. At the end of the day, you’re doing them because you want to.” 

These days, Walker estimates that the sensual portraits in the 45over45 make up about 60% of her business. She also does other types of portraits for families, individuals, and brands, with more on the horizon. Looking back now, she credits the project with helping to establish her studio in a new city and kickstarting her career in the process. Last year, several of the women who participated thus far came together for a black-tie gala and exhibition. Walker has plans to go nationwide, and perhaps later, she’ll make the project international. 

Further reading:

40 Subversive Female Photographers Who Capture Women in a New Way

The Unit Stills Photographer Who Captured Everyone’s Favorite Episode of Black Mirror

100 Portraits of Women Artists by Barbara Yoshida

A Stunning New Exhibition of Powerful Photos of Women

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