Boudoir Photography: Tips, Ideas, and Techniques
When I captured this image, I was working with a model for an advertising campaign. Which means, strictly speaking, it wasn’t boudoir photography. Why not?
To find out, let’s take a closer look at boudoir photography – exactly what it is (and is not), and how to get it right.
© Karl Taylor
If you're looking to start a photography business, or have an existing one, and you're interested in becoming a boudoir photographer, read on!
What is boudoir photography?
The French word boudoir translates as a woman’s bedroom or private room or space. The word itself derives from bouder, which means to pout or sulk.
Boudoir photography emerged out of 18th-century erotic photography and the ‘pin-up’ girls of World War II propaganda posters (“She’s worth fighting for!”). But it was the arrival of digital cameras at the beginning of the 21st century that really ushered in the boom in intimate boudoir images we see today.
The subject of a boudoir photoshoot is typically a direct client of the photographer, rather than a model brought in specially. These subjects are commonly, but not exclusively, women. Some are brides who want to present the photos to their new husband as a wedding gift.
© Karl Taylor
Sometimes, the boudoir photoshoot itself is the gift, presented by one partner or friend to another. Some clients makes their favourite images into wall art, while others are less comfortable sharing and keep them private, or share them only with close friends. Many hope to look back on the pictures fondly in later life.
Though female subjects represent the majority in boudoir sessions, boudoir photography for men (sometimes called 'dudeoir'!) and couples is also on the rise.
The purpose of boudoir photography is to celebrate the subject’s physical form without objectifying them. Whether the boudoir photos are intended to be presented as a gift to a partner, or are simply commissioned for the subject’s own enjoyment, the goal for boudoir photographers is always empowerment.
The difference between boudoir photos and glamour photos
Though it can be easy to confuse them, boudoir is distinct from glamour or commercial lingerie photography.
The key difference is the subject. Boudoir subjects (women, usually) are often much less experienced, and much less comfortable, in front of the camera than professional models are – especially in a state of undress.
A boudoir shoot is often a unique and potentially daunting experience for the subject – one that takes them way out of their comfort zone. A glamour or lingerie shoot, in contrast, is probably just another job for a professional model.
© Karl Taylor
Boudoir photography tips:
Get to know your subject ahead of the shoot
Well before you’re due to shoot, chat with your subject (face to face, if possible) about their goals for these photographs. Find out what styles they like. Make it your business to get to know them, and let them get to know you. Take their ideas on board.
Putting clients at ease and making them comfortable in your company is essential to giving them an amazing experience and capturing gorgeous photos that both of you will be happy with.
It’s also crucial that you both have the same kinds of images in mind. Reviewing existing boudoir shots (either your own or another photographer’s) is a great way to find ideas and inspiration.
It also helps you establish what your client is looking for – and to confirm that you can create beautiful images of the kind they want.
Help them prepare for their boudoir photography session
The more preparation your subject can do, the more smoothly the shoot is likely to go. Spend time educating them about what to expect. Encourage them to have numerous outfits ready, and to treat themselves to whatever grooming and pampering will boost their confidence on set.
They may also like to trial-run their makeup and hair to avoid having to decide how they want their hair and makeup to look on the day of their boudoir photoshoot.
Practising poses is also a good idea, and something you can help them to do. Figuring out which poses work best in advance will save time and effort on set, and make them less nervous.
Basic as it sounds, it’s even your job as the photographer to remind your client, ahead of the shoot, to get a good night’s sleep and drink plenty of water!
After all, it’s in your interest as the boudoir photographer, as well as theirs, that they look their best when you’re shooting.
Pick a suitable location for your boudoir session
Clients sometimes feel most comfortable in their own home. Or they may decide they want the photoshoot to take place somewhere grander, such as a suite in a luxury hotel.
Perhaps you can rent a purpose-built boudoir photography studio. Alternatively, you may need to create a fake boudoir in your studio, as we did for the shoot in the video below.
Wherever the shoot takes place, try to make the 'boudoir' as spacious and uncluttered as possible. Props like vintage furniture, mirrors, pillows and so on can add a lot of character to your images, but try to squeeze too many into the frame and you risk overpowering the true subject.
As with other forms of photography, depending on what kind of images you’re after, availability of natural light could be a big factor in your choice of location.
Use (and control) natural light for your boudoir shoot
The best way to create amazing, flattering boudoir images is often to use diffused natural light, such as sunlight passing through thin white drapes.
When there is an abundance of natural light, your job as the photographer is to control it. This may mean partially blocking it with curtains, shutters, polyboards or similar.
Alternatively, you may want to use a reflector to direct the natural light where you need it to go. Or you might choose to modify it with gels or scrims. Whatever you can do to create the most flattering light for your subject – that’s your priority.
When the natural light is insufficient, you may opt to supplement it with studio lighting. Given the nature of the shoot, continuous lighting is probably preferable, though experimenting with studio flash/strobes is not out of the question if both you and your subject agree it’s worth a try.
Whatever lighting setups you decide to try, never forget that your objective is to produce gorgeous, fun, intimate photos that highlight the beauty of your subject's body and empower them as women (or men).
Make your subject feel at home
If you want to create images that capture your subject's true character, you need to make them feel comfortable in their own skin – literally!
One crucial thing is to make sure they’re warm enough! Keep the room toasty and make sure they’ve got a dressing gown or robe to throw on during breaks.
Playing music is another way to put your clients at ease, since some people find on-set silence to be awkward. Ask them what kind of music they like, or choose something low key with a chilled-out vibe.
The most important thing of all is to communicate with them as you work. Simply being in a studio will probably push them a long way out of their comfort zone, so always explain what you’re doing and why.
Remember that you're the professional photographer and it's in your best interests to boost their confidence. Give them clear instructions and lots of positive feedback. Make the experience fun. And of course, tell them how gorgeous they look!
Keep in mind, though, that some subjects will find constant praise and encouragement uncomfortable. Try to get a sense of what they prefer, or just ask them – a quiet shoot with minimal feedback might suit them best.
Pick poses that express your subject’s personality
Boudoir photography is supposed to be playful and provocative. Though primarily about celebrating the subject’s physical form in photos, you also want to capture their personality. As such, to ensure they have an amazing boudoir experience, it’s important to give them plenty of control over their own poses.
That said, and given the fact that your subject is unlikely to be a professional model, guiding them through various time-tested and proven poses is usually a good idea. If they've practised posing during the planning stage, so much the better.
Some popular poses you can try include standing in front of a mirror, lying on the bed with back arched, looking back over the shoulder at the camera, perching on the edge of a chair, and covering a bare chest with the arms.
Some good posing tips to pass on to your subject include keeping their mouth slightly open and keeping their toes pointed. Little gestures can make a big difference to an image that’s designed to be seductive.
Go with the flow poses
Encourage your clients to express themselves as they pose. If they're nervous, having them ‘flow’ from one pose into another can be a great way to relax them, help them feel sexy and forget they're being photographed, and generally make the shoot more fun.
As all good portrait photographers know, when clients are more relaxed, their personality, confidence and natural beauty emerges.
If you encourage your clients to ‘flow pose’ for ten minutes or more, they'll begin to lose some of their self-consciousness, connect with their inspiration, and let their true colours shine through.
Remember: the eyes have it
As much as boudoir photography is about the body, if your subject’s eyes are in a shot, make sure they’re in focus.
Focusing on your subject’s eyes highlights their status as a beautiful and unique individual with life experience and personality all of their own.
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