Boudoir photography has been around for years, many place it’s origins with erotic art from the 1920s and Pinup art from World War II. Recently it has gained prominence thanks to the power of social media and relaxing of society's prudish norms. Granted, we still have a ways to go on that front. I’m looking at you Instagram!
Boudoir has specific elements that help set it apart from other genres of photography. The main one being the intention behind the photo. Simply put boudoir photography is about everyday women getting classy, yet sexy, photos of themselves. Another key difference is the audience the photos are intended for. While glamour and portrait images are published on websites and in magazines for the world to see, boudoir photos have a more intimate audience. Typically this is a romantic partner or the woman herself.
In the following sections I will take you through the basics of boudoir photography.
Boudoir is pretty light on the gear front. All you need to get started is a camera, a good lens, and some natural light. Most professionals use a full-frame camera and a fast prime lens, usually a 50mm, to get the shallowest depth of field possible while avoiding the distortion you get with wider lenses. The other reason the 50mm lens is the go to choice for boudoir is due to space constraints while shooting in smaller rooms.
The typical setting for a boudoir shoot looks like it could be someone's home, adding to the intimate nature of the photos. While some photographers operate out of a more traditional studio using sets and props to achieve this look, many utilize their own home as a studio. Some even go to great lengths to turn it into a space they can create amazing images in. Other common places boudoir shoots happen are hotel rooms and vacation rentals.
Lastly we have mother nature. Some say you can’t take boudoir images outdoors because they should be indoors only. I say you can, if you do it right. Remember, the goal of boudoir is to create classy, yet sexy photos of everyday women. You can absolutely do this outdoors. If you decide to do so, stay away from public places. Due to the intimate nature of the photography involved, the more privacy you can achieve the better. Not to mention most women would be extremely uncomfortable in a setting where anyone might wander by.
Natural light is the go to for many boudoir photographers. It is both free and, if used properly, can be quite flattering. Another unspoken aspect of natural light is that it isn’t as intimidating to a client in the way a studio full of lighting equipment can be.
If you prefer to have more control over your shooting space and lighting I have seen photographers use softboxes to simulate natural light to great effect. I also know of photographers who have built a fake window for their studios using a giant softbox.
When it comes to outfits, lingerie is the go to for boudoir. Simple, sexy, casual clothing paired with underwear is also used to add some variety and a more relaxed look. Implied nude photos are a staple in boudoir as well. The classic examples of this are shots with a bed sheet or towel. Additionally, some women will go all the way and choose to bare it all. Whatever outfits are used they need to flatter the subject and help her feel her best. A good photographer can help the client choose outfits that are both flattering and match her personality.
Makeup can go from natural to ultra glamorous or anywhere in between. It really depends on what look she is after or your own personal style. If you do high class boudoir then natural makeup wouldn't work well for keeping your style consistent.
When it comes to accessories and props, while the sky's the limit most boudoir photographers avoid them or use only simple ones. If you do use props, remember to keep the focus on the subject or use them to help tell a story. Here are some examples:
Wine glass or Coffee Mug
Newspaper, Magazine, or Book
Bondage Gear (Handcuffs, Blindfold, etc)
With posing your goal is to highlight her favorite areas while downplaying the ones she might be self conscious about. In addition, you want to use poses that are both sensual and flattering yet not over the top like you see in fashion and glamour photography.
The main challenge with boudoir photography is most women don’t have experience posing for a sexy, flattering look. As such, the best way to help them is to demonstrate the pose yourself. Another common technique is to have her perform an action to help take her mind off the fact that she is posing.
One of the reasons women choose to get boudoir photos taken is they want good photos of themselves and part of achieving that is having an interesting composition. To that end, taking a bunch of images with no regard to composition isn’t going to cut it. Some of my favorite compositional techniques for boudoir are:
Rule of Thirds
Framing the Subject
One good use of composition is to highlight something the subject is proud of, examples would be a tattoo or that engagement ring she is so happy to be wearing.
The number one rule when editing boudoir photos is this: Don’t erase what makes her unique. She needs to be able to look at the photo and see herself, not an overly airbrushed or Photoshopped version of herself. Some good do’s and don’ts to remember while editing are as follows.
Keep the Edits Simple
Remove Clothing Marks, Pimples, and Bruises
Remove Clothing Tags and Flyaway Hairs
Photoshop her Body
Remove Moles, Birthmarks, or Stretch marks
Change her Hair Color
When it comes to basic editing less is more when talking about boudoir photos. This is not the time to be doing highly stylized edits.
As a photographer, boudoir can be difficult yet extremely rewarding to shoot. When a client sees her photos for the first time and lights up, you get a deep sense of pride and satisfaction in a job well done.