My Photography and My Mental Health

Time for some mental health talk.

For starters, I can assure you that, no, I am not a danger to myself or others.

I was diagnosed with bipolar II a few years ago. It’s a combination of hypomania (mania-lite) and major depression (Depression, Xtreme Edition!). What made it very apparent was a combination of two factors. There was noticeable pattern in posts from my old Livejournal account where I would write about how great everything was, have lots of quick posts, and a flurry of activity for a month or so and then, suddenly, posts about how horrible I felt, how down I was, and how much I was withdrawing. There was never any “trigger” for it and no event that I could point to as the direct cause of the swing. It just happened. There’s about ten years of activity that got documented, and the up and down pattern is very distinct.

The second factor that came into play was my growing photo library. At the time I was using Apple’s Aperture to collect and organize photos. I think I was accidentally in a “Vew by Month” setting, where each month had the total number of images listed. Some months were really busy, with hundreds of images (sometimes thousands) and other months were drastically different with maybe a few dozen images at best, and zero images at worst.

What connected it all and made bipolar II an inescapable conclusion and diagnosis was realizing that the same exact pattern existed in my Livejournal account. For giggles, I compared the two side-by-side and the up and down pattern — the floods of activity followed by long periods of very little to no activity — lined up perfectly.

Photography has really been the one thing I could always fall back on through these ups and downs.

About 2-3 weeks ago, I noticed the hypomania was coming back. It’s the part of bipolar II where I suddenly look to any nearby observer as if I am suddenly back to feeling like “my old self” again. Sometimes, it feels like I am REALLY caffeinated. I grow more outgoing, talkative and animated as I talk, restless and wanting to do stuff. It doesn’t matter what, it’s just an intense urge to do something, anything.

It also never lasts long. The depressive swing came back a couple of days ago. There’s never a point where I can say I am at a baseline “normal,” that anything above it is “hypomanic” and anything below it is “depressive.” It’s just feeling highly caffeinated for about a month followed by a sudden and immediate drop to immensely depressed for months on end that gets interrupted a sudden spike in energy for about a month, and the cycle continues.

There is never a specific trigger.

Mix all that with cPTSD and a non-specific dissociative disorder (I am de-realized most of the day), and you get me: at best, a weirdly entertaining combination of Chidi and Jason Mendoza at best or an incredibly misanthropic shut-in who wants nothing to do with the world for months on end because People, at worst.

My brain is fun…

Walking the Arborway in Jamaica Plain, Boston, MA

Photo by Emmanuel Nalli on

I was walking the Arborway in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston, a couple of years ago, and tried my hand at photographing something, anything, other than people. It turns out that sometimes flowers and trees can be more difficult to photograph than people. At least people can occasionally take direction, while plants will do their own damned thing, especially on a surprisingly breezy day.

I don’t typically use Photoshop, a discipline I picked up when I was an local news intern photographer for the Daily Hampshire Gazette, but I wanted to isolate the rhododendron itself and punch it out onto a plain white background and test out my editing prowess because I thought it would make a suitable graphic for a variety different products.

image of rhododendron against plain white background copyright adrian feliciano @
Rhododendron at the Arborway in Jamaica Plain, Boston, MA.
© 2019 Adrian Feliciano /

The heavy lifting was done with the free version of the Topaz Plugin Suite. It’s definitely not my usual image, and the entire process was a little outside my comfort zone, but I am happy with how it turned out.

What do you think?

Boston Boudoir Photography Session with Dani

My friend Dani scheduled a boudoir photography session before Valentine’s Day at her apartment near Boston, MA.

headshot image of a purple haired woman against a white backdrop copyright adrian feliciano massachusetts boudoir photography session
Headshot of Dani. While working our way to more intimate and vulnerable images it was important to establish rapport and comfortability. Headshots are a perfect starting point.

Boudoir photography and Valentine’s Day go hand in hand, in my experience, for three reasons:

  1. Couples like boudoir photography as a way to gift intimate photos to each other that are well above and beyond the typical smartphone centered photos they often engage in as play together.
  2. Boudoir photography is perfect for single people like to indulge in self-empowerment and giving their confidence a little extra pampering.
  3. For other people, a boudoir photography session is a powerful way to push back a little against a trite consumer holiday, for themselves, or as means to help purge emotions tied to a former partner.

I’ve shot boudoir sessions for all three purposes and my personal opinions are irrelevant outside of how we can utilize those feelings to guide the shoot, and what their feelings are coming in to a session, and how they feel when the session is over and photos are delivered.

My clients all have their reasons, and I don’t judge.

image of woman in lingerie posed on bed with red and blue speedlights used to create ambience copyright adrian feliciano massachusetts boudoir photography session
Pull back shot of Dani’s bedroom. The key-light was a snooted speedlight to prevent any spill from ruining the mood created by additional red and blue gelled speedlights. I wanted all of the emphasis on Dani’s face.
image of woman in lingerie wearing glasses and posing with a scarf on her bed with red and blue speedlights used to create ambience
Another pull back shot of Dani to show how effectively a snoot concentrates light to fall only where it is wanted.

BOUDOIR PHOTOGRAPHY TIP: Swap the hot-shoe trigger for an on-camera speedlight flagged with a black-foamie thing and you can easily leave your entire portrait light set up, while still getting flattering directional light in a different room. Swap the on-camera speedlight back to the trigger to change gears in seconds. You have everything is dialed in anyway, right?

As part of the pre-shoot discussion stage, we talked about what boudoir photography is all about and how the word “boudoir” itself comes from the French verb “to sulk or pout,” (bouder), or the adjective for “sulking,” (boudeur). It is literally, a room to sulk in or withdraw to, where one can fully exist and feel safe away from the world. We decided to use her apartment, and her bedroom, surrounded by things that mattered and felt she comfortable with (and that included her kitty, Noah). Backdrops would be created with her own tapestries and her own bedding, music she enjoyed played on her own speakers, and so on. Lighting was quick, portable, and mostly unobtrusive (small, gelled, remote-triggered, manual speedlights on thin lightstands, with minimal modifiers), and no camera tripod. We could easily move from one room to another as needed and everything was dialed in.

It also made sense to start off very slowly. Simple and basic headshots where we could laugh and have some comfortable prattle in order to keep spirits up.

  • woman with purple hair making finger-gun gesture at camera copyright adrian feliciano massachusetts boudoir photography session
    There is always room for Buddy Jesus finger-guns.
  • woman with purple hair and eyeglasses expressing surprise copyright adrian feliciano massachusetts boudoir photography session
    PRO TIP: Fart-jokes are super useful.
  • woman with purple hair and glasses with playfully indignant expression copyright adrian feliciano massachusetts boudoir photography session
    Seriously, though, who farted?
  • man wearing olive green US Army shirt copyright adrian feliciano massachusetts boudoir photography session
    If I am gonna ask someone to pose a certain way and squeeze their boobs together, it is only fair that I attempt to do the same…

Also helpful during a boudoir shoot, or any photoshoot really, is to have the full resources available of the RTMS2000 Photo Assistant. The RTMS2000 is a voice-activated, fully-articulated, remote-controlled, semiautonomous, firmware-upgradable Light-Stand and Model-Wrangler with Audio Bending Technology, Advanced Volume Control Slider (3 Algorithm Selected Presets: 0, 10, and 11), optional Flame Thrower Attachments, and Xtreme Integrated Sass Valve (there is an open support ticket for Sass Valve which is currently stuck wide open). So far, using the RTMS2000 has helped me to keep models well wrangled, light-stands aimed, hair slicked, papers organized, releases signed, music bumping (affiliate link), cattle-stampeded, 4th walls broken, and deserts combed.

I highly recommend one, once the testing phase is completed.

  • woman with red hair assisting woman with purple hair during a photoshoot copyright adrian feliciano massachusetts boudoir photography session
    The RTMS2000’s hair smoothing algorithm at work.
  • close crop of woman with purple hair and fiery background copyright adrian feliciano massachusetts boudoir photography session
    You don’t see it because of cropping, but the RTMS2000 was helping to hold Dani’s arms in place.
  • woman wearing lingerie on her bed getting her hair adjusted by photo assistant copyright adrian feliciano massachusetts boudoir photography session
    RTMS2000s help any photoshoot go smoothly.

These statements have not been evaluated by the food and drug administration (FDA). RTMS2000s are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. *

Finally, and most importantly, boudoir photography images are intended for the personal enjoyment of the model and the people they choose to share or gift them to. It’s very different from, say, producing commercial images for a client with the model serving as one of many props. It’s an opportunity to help someone feel confident and better about themselves through a photography session designed entirely around their comfort. The photographer helps to set the stage as works closely with the model to enables them to indulge in a little bit of fantasy and role-play.

It is in this light that I hope these images from our boudoir session, and the process to take them, fulfill their intended purpose for Dani. I am flattered to have been chosen to take them, happy to produce them, and am looking forward to future photo sessions with a good friend.

Images from Dani’s Boudoir Photography Session

  • woman with purple hair and black lace top standing in front of fiery colored backdrop copyright adrian feliciano massachusetts boudoir photography session
  • back and shoulders of woman in black lingerie showing tattoo by chase hanna copyright adrian feliciano massachusetts boudoir photography session
  • woman with purple hair and white lingerie adjusting hair in her bedroom copyright adrian feliciano massachusetts boudoir photography session
  • woman in white lingerie and purple hair posing in front of a tapestry copyright adrian feliciano massachusetts boudoir photography session
  • 3/4 face shot of woman lounging comfortably in her bedroom copyright adrian feliciano massachusetts boudoir photography session
  • woman in lingerie cuddling her cat on her bed copyright adrian feliciano massachusetts boudoir photography session