Sensuality is her business. Sammy Khoo is a professional boudoir photographer who has taken some of the most intimate and beautiful photos of everyday women for the past 10 years. She’s both a very private person and a wild child at heart, and she is devotedly passionate about her craft. We went behind the lens.
1. It’s a pleasure to have you with us Sammy. Let’s start with an introduction.
I am Sammy Khoo (Samantha). I am of mixed heritage, Chinese, Japanese, Russian and English to be precise. My mother is of UK & Russia descent (my great grandparents came here in early 1900s) while my father is a mix of Malaysian (Penang) and Japan.
I was born in Kuala Lumpur and I grew up in Penang and the UK. Have 3 older brothers, 2 of which live in the UK and 1 here in KL. I have a ton of mixed nieces and nephews which really makes my entire family look like the ensemble of United Colors of Benetton.
I love growing up in Malaysia and had spent many weekends out on family camping trips in my father’s VW Combi. My father loved cameras and had a collection of them – from the latest 8mm video camera to Nikon SLR. I guess somehow I was heavily influenced by his hobbies.
When I was 14 years old I was sent to boarding school in London as my entire family had migrated to live in the UK; and on my 17th Birthday I asked my parents for 1 wish and that was to return to Malaysia to find my own path here as I knew I did not want to further my education in Uni there – I was too impatient and didn’t want to spend another 3 years studying. I didn’t know yet what I wanted out of life but I knew it wasn’t University life. I made a promise to my parents in exchange for me to return to my homeland and that was in whatever I decided as with my career I would equal that to a Uni degree they wanted me to get. Perhaps I was too head strong, rebellious and impatient.
So upon returning to Malaysia I found myself loving film production for the TV Commercial industry and immersed myself into this field for 15 years, exploring all forms of creative art. I learned Art Direction, Wardrobe Styling, Set Designing and Film Directing. I met a lot of inspiring individuals who taught me so much. The film industry itself taught me commitment, perseverance and self-discipline. I chose to freelance because it kept me on my toes. If you slacked off on one job, you wouldn’t get hired for the next. This pushed me to always work hard.
2. How did you get into Boudoir and maternity photography as a professional career?
When digital cameras came about I decided to get one and that was that. From a Fuji to a Nikon and finally to a Canon. I learned my technique through trial and error. Flickr was the community where photographers all lurked and it was there that I managed to hone my craft. When I first started, I would shoot anything and everything from landscape to portraits. Fortunately I had friends in the advertising industry who would often give me first breaks and I jumped for it with a sink or swim attitude. I took on various freelance jobs for a lot of big brands and local businesses.
As I shot everything eventually I realized I preferred Portraits. Girlfriends began asking for maternity and boudoir and as I did it for them I began crafting my style. One fine day, Jezamine Lim (wife of Malaysian entertainer Harith Iskander and celebrity in her own right) contacted me and asked if I would photograph her maternity shots, which I did, and I believe my work began garnering more attention because of their status. I chose to specialise in photographing women because of the connection between my subject and me.
3. So tell us more about Boudoir and maternity photography.
Boudoir Photography (Pronounced as Bu-dwa) is a relatively new service that I provide for the women of Asia, but across America & Europe it has become extremely popular. I notice there are generally just two kinds of reactions by women who view my Boudoir photos – “So beautiful but who would do that??!!” and “Wow, I really wish I had the courage to do that.”
The truth is if you knew more about Boudoir Photography and the experience you would do it straight away but we all fear the unknown, so yes Boudoir can seem like a frightening experience.
Speaking about fear, perhaps when women view my photo gallery, they feel intimidated by all the beautiful women and perhaps some women compare themselves to what they see and decide that Boudoir is something that is out of their comfort zone? I guess this is a natural reaction I feel the same way because I hate being in front of the camera.
The thing is, I photograph everyday women – not top models so these everyday women are exactly like me, with fears and insecurities. Actually, the women with the big fears and insecurities are really the ones who will benefit most from a Boudoir Photography experience. The outcome is Empowerment.
“Boudoir definitely needs to be
on the bucket list of all women”
4. What are the common motivations for a woman to want to experience Boudoir?
All women have a personal reason for wanting to experience Boudoir. For some, they may overcome a challenging part of their life and capturing it as a memento through a professional portrait of themselves as a reminder of their inner strength.
As a Boudoir photographer, a client’s motivation for wanting a session is why I do what I do. I am extremely sensitive to their individual needs. I enjoy photographing women and as I help them conquer certain fears, they help me with mine. We empower each other. I love meeting so many different women who are so special in their own individual way. I love connecting with them even if it is just for that one day. We share life stories, laughter and tears and in that shared moment of our shoot together the outside world fades away.
5. Care to share some stories with us?
I have many client life stories to share that are heartfelt and meaningful and something that we women can all relate to in life. Life is not easy and the daily obstacles I face sound so tiny when I compare my struggles to the challenges that resides in other women’s lives. I have met so many women who are beautiful inside and out, one thing is certain, my clients and I have felt empowered by the experience of Boudoir. Boudoir definitely needs to be on the bucket list of all women, mine included because I am worth it.
One of my very first clients was a Malaysian lady who wanted a Boudoir session because she feared breast cancer as her mother had it. So it was her way of taking “ownership” of her own body and to ‘face her fears’ so to speak. In contrast, I even had this one client from Singapore who was a stay-at-home mom, and she took on a Boudoir session to pamper herself, to do something for herself for once.
I’ve had a South American client who was getting married, and wanted it as a gift for herself as well as her husband-to-be. There was also this high powered woman in her mid 40’s, living in Hong Kong, and wanted to celebrate her life’s career successes by capturing what she considers as her in her prime.
There’s a lot more stories I could share but even the ones I’ve mentioned feels like an over simplification. I remember this Australian client who noted that Boudoir was like bungee jumping for her, something you need to do at least once in your life.
6. You’ve been doing this for quite a while now. How would you say you’ve changed through the years? Both as a professional and as a person.
I’d say I’ve learned to tell (almost immediately) who would benefit from my session and who wouldn’t. I’ve also mastered my lighting skills so that I can manipulate the ambiance to photograph my clients intimately, no matter the environment – be it in my studio, a hotel room, or a client’s home. I love photographing ALL women, whatever skin tone, height, shape and size. It doesn’t matter… all are beautiful.
As a person, I have become more patient, understanding, empathetic and open. I love people in general and the stories they tell me about them. During a session, it’s not about me, it’s about the person I am photographing. It’s such that if I don’t get to know them enough, I can’t produce my best work. I am very emotional in that sense and I tap into that emotion to really home in on my subject and what they want out of their photos.
7. What do you like to do in your spare time?
Me and my husband adopted a black Labrador we call Bo, a Golden retriever named Roxy and 2 orange tabby cats named Leo and Skye. Aside from work, we keep busy with seaside holidays with the pets.
We’re actually moving on to a new stage in our lives. We’re planning to hit the road and travel full-time. We have a YouTube Channel to document our journey and share the ups and downs we go through. Our new website was just created this March so this is really all happening now at the same time as this interview! At the moment we’re meeting with the man who will build us our camper. More news to come!
“Right now we are building a camper truck
and are planning to drive from Malaysia to UK”
8. Oh wow! That sounds like a pretty life changing move. Talk to us about that!
My husband and I have decided to free our time by downsizing and live a more liberated life. We reached a point in our life where we have decided to no longer be held in place by bills, overheads, leads and other everyday stresses.
We talked about what was it that we really wanted to do and I asked him if he didn’t have me in his life, what would he need? He said just his guitar and some clothes and he would travel, well that’s actually what he had when we first met. Then, I asked myself the same question and my answer was my camera, my laptop and some clothes. Keeping it simple.
So then why were we then stuck in a huge house with so much stuff, two studios, a ton of stress, rooms full of furniture, always chasing bills, chasing time, arguing about finances, chasing money and postponing our precious dreams of travel! Big AHA moment!
The things that came afterwards seemed very natural to us. We loved the idea of a self sustaining tiny home on wheels. We needed to let go of the material stuff we don’t use. We need to be completely debt free in order to live out our dream of full time travel. And that’s where we are at now. We are in the midst of selling, donating and planning for our tiny home on wheels. It’s going to take some time but we have managed to sort out most of the things on our list. At this point, we’re looking at making the drive from Malaysia, and working our way to UK.
For the first time in 20 years, my husband and I are able to take it slow.
Sammy is taking her Boudoir out of the studio.
You can read all about it on 24htravellers.com.
Also catch her at sammykhoo.com & Instagram too (sammykhoos)