While boudoir photography isn’t mutually exclusive to women, the French term, boudoir, was originally a space where a woman could let her guard down and be by herself.
As an indulgently rich art form, boudoir photography sensuously interweaves fashion, fine art, erotica, and glamour into a nuanced style of portrait photography. Not only does a boudoir session offer your model or client a chance to get in touch with a different side of themselves, but it’s a perfect gift for the special person in their life-giving partners the opportunity to connect on a different level.
As a boudoir photographer, you aren’t producing shots to be hung up proudly on a mantle. Instead, you’re applying your artistic vision to help clients affirm their sensual identity. Your aim is to capture the model’s mood and body landscape.
Although nudity is implicitly suggested in boudoir photography, it is rarely ever displayed.
There are various components you’ll need to master in order to carve your own niche as a boudoir photographer. Below is a guide for the various need-to-knowns and little nuances that will allow you to flourish as an artist.
Your gear is a reflection of you and, most importantly, your work. Similar to how you need specific drills for different kinds of screws, you need the right tools for the best possible finished product.
While the specifics for each photographer varies, a DSLR, prime lens, and zoom lens will take jaw-dropping shots, particularly when coupled with the right lighting and compositional methods.
DLSR or Mirrorless camera?
There’s no one specific camera that we can tell you to use. It’s going to come down to your own formula for great photos what you prefer aesthetically.
Since a DSLR fits a mirror and prism, it’s larger and more cumbersome than the more bare-bones mirrorless camera body which is perfect for fitting more gear in your bag. (rework)
However, DSLRs provide superior autofocus and low-light shooting. Although there are low-light mirrorless cameras such as the Sony a7R III, DSLR cameras are generally much better for autofocus on moving objects. They add a little more movement diversity to your boudoir shots.
Overall, while a mirrorless camera body can take pictures at a quicker rate and is the more compact option, it affords you fewer lens options and inferior effectiveness in lower lighting than the more versatile DSLR option.
Still, choose whichever camera makes you most comfortable. Even the most advanced DSLR won’t eclipse a mirrorless model you’ve spent years getting used to.
Your camera body is only as good as your lenses.
Your lens controls the light with the exposure triangle and coordinate movement and depth of field. Lenses responsible for blurry, incomprehensible portraits can’t be saved by the most advanced camera body.
Keep it Simple with 50mm
For the purposes of efficiency and ease, you can’t go wrong with a 50mm lens. It takes distortion out of the equation, is incredibly quick, and captures crystal clear photographs most ideal for environmental portraits. It’s particularly ideal for clients who are hesitant or uneasy during the shoot. Furthermore, nervous clients will be able to generate more candid poses given the lack of obtrusiveness of the 50mm lens.
Being less obvious will ensure you’re more capable of capturing the perfect moments without hindering authenticity or mood.
50mm lenses are also great at shooting in low light settings. Armed with the most basic 1.8 50mm prime lenses, you can still take starkly beautiful shots indoors—even without a flash.
Most importantly, if you’re on a budget the Nikon 50mm 1.8G is handy while remaining affordable, however, the Nikon 50mm 1.8D offers a more frugal yet effective alternative.
Aim for More with a 35mm lens
While the 35mm prime lens requires a bit more of a seasoned touch, it can do most of what a 50mm can do and then some.
Its wider angle of view means the 35mm can capture much more of the background—telling an enriched, in-depth story in every shot. This particular lens is valuable in more confined spaces and can get closer than most 50mm lenses, offering superior versatility with movements.
Although it’s wider than your stand 50mm, the 35mm is still not overly wide or long, nipping many distortion issues in the bud. It can still produce high-quality shots while operating with shallow depth.
The Sony FE 35mm f/2.8 and Nikon AF NIKKOR 35mm f/2D match are fantastic cameras that match the compactness of any 50mm. The Fujinon 35mm f/2 prime lens with the Fujifilm X-Pro 2 will also snap inspiring shots.
Perspective Control Lenses
Artists rarely color within the lines. In order to truly realize your vision to the fullest extent, you need to experiment with less standard methods.
Perspective control (PC) lenses are linked directly with the interior, architectural, and still-life photography. Instead of a focus line, PC lenses give you a focus spot because of their horizontal and vertical versatility. Therefore, you’re able to hone into and emphasize singular areas of your model, while the rest of the photo falls back into an ethereally soft focus.
Unfortunately, PC lenses are costly and require plenty of patience as adjustments occur with regularity during a shoot. However, it’s certainly an exciting take on boudoir photography.
Shoot RAW or JPEG Images?
It’s an age-old question; whether to shoot RAW or JPEG.
Most purists choose RAW because it offers more control over the appearance of the final image. It captures all camera sensor data, leaving 100% of the image processing to the photographer—not the camera firmware.
Getting to Know Your Model Before the Shoot
You’re looking to get a lot out of your clients. Sure, some models will feel perfectly comfortable tapping into their daring and naughty side—but others might need a nudge in the right direction.
When your client feels sexy, your shots will be brimming with life and vivaciousness. If not, you’ll be stuck with an expressionless model unable to display personality.
By assessing and gauging your subject’s personality, you’ll obtain a better grasp of who they are and how to extract the most intimate portraits.
You can also provide a questionnaire before the shoot, so your model can effectively envision the desired final product. Your model should consider the features they want to be highlighted and those they wish to be downplayed.
A phone-call the day before a shoot is ideal. Discuss any last-minute questions and encourage your client through any cold feet. Also, confirm the location of the shoot.
Prior to the day of the shoot, ensure some form of contact that goes beyond e-mail. Text-based communications don’t provide a feel for somebody’s essence as a person. If you can’t meet up, a video conference on Skype or FaceTime will do.
The Ideal Wardrobe
The number one rule for your subject’s outfit is their need to wear something that makes them feel comfortable and confident. It doesn’t matter if the lingerie is utterly trance-inducing, if your model feels out of sorts, it’ll show in the shots.
Your client needs a well-fitting wardrobe that’s preferably new (or at least clean) and speaks to who they are as a person. Lingerie often sacrifices function for its beautiful and flattering form, therefore it’s ideal to be equipped with an emergency kit in the instance of a wardrobe malfunction.
On the subject of wardrobe malfunctions, you’ll benefit tremendously from keeping scissors, a mini sewing kit, and double-sided fashion tape on hand.
Hair and Makeup
From a glam look to a more organic approach, professional hair and makeup play a big role in boudoir photography. Hair and makeup artists will ensure your client’s look will radiate through the lens.
It will give your client some added confidence so they’ll feel more comfortable to emote during the shoot. It’s ideal for you to have a network of hair and makeup artists that you work with and trust, so you can make recommendations.
A great example of a tried and tested boudoir look is the pinup. It’s a vintage vibe that blends classic with glam that relies on a certain amount of subtlety. Your client’s brows should be well-shaped and filled with a brow pencil, a couple of shades darker than their natural hair color along with neutral eyelids highlighted by beige or taupe color variations.
The Day of the Shoot
Once it’s time for the shoot, it’s really time for you to shine as an artist.
More often than not, your client won’t have much experience as a model and you’ll have to steer the proverbial ship throughout the shoot. Sometimes it’s useful to enact various poses yourself which is a two-pronged approach; it will provide a visual cue while showing your model you aren’t asking them to do anything you wouldn’t do.
On the day of the shoot, be aware of various behaviors. Are they comfortable gallivanting while scantily clad or a little more hesitant and modest? Sexual or shy? Physical touch can elicit emotions, such as brushing the hair out of the model’s eyes—just use your discretion so your client won’t be off-put.
Don’t be afraid to be rousingly vocal, providing positive feedback that makes your client aware of a stunning shot. This gives them more confidence throughout the duration of the shoot. Show a particularly stand-out image to really encourage your client.
Breathing exercises are a useful tool for clients and models struggling to loosen up and find themselves in front of the camera. Simply get your client to close their eyes and breath in for three seconds, then out for three seconds. Repeat until your client feels ready!
Lastly, ensure your speed settings on your DSLR camera are set correctly to ensure you won’t end up with a blurred image as your client moves.
One of the best poses to start with a simple hands-on-waist look. It comes a little more naturally since many of your models won’t be overly experienced.
Remember that strange hand placement or clenched fists can ruin a portrait. Your model can play with their hair and the portrait will look much more natural. Keeping both hands visible presents a more balanced pose. Additionally, make sure your client’s hair isn’t erratic or covering their face.
Here’s a list of some standard poses:
- Starting Poses: Shoulders need to be slightly up, allowing a tiny gap beneath the chin with the chin perched forward and outwards, tilted upward.
- Lengthy Sitting Poses: Perfect for displaying a relaxed nature, indoors or outdoors. A tranquil look for your model.
- Wall Poses: The model gingerly touches the wall, adding a sense of intimacy and openness.
- Hair Flick Poses: Ideal for models with long hair, who’ll quickly spin their head to the desired position. You need a fast shutter speed. This is a playful, powerful pose.
Do your research on places such as Pinterest and other Boudoir photographer’s websites for inspiration. You should practice these poses yourself in order to get comfortable with them.
Stand your model in front of a window, so you can take advantage of the undeniable flattery of natural light and shoot from a perspective slightly higher than the subject’s eye level.
Be aware that light harshness dictates distance and that you should be positioned adjacent to the window in front of your model.
Use a colorama, which is one studio light and a backdrop. Provided the light is ever so slightly off of the camera, it will produce a perfect shadow.
In placing the light slightly above your model, it will drop off, creating a beautiful transition on their body parts that fall off frame.
Keep in mind, light sources might not always be natural. You might be faced with multiple light sources that conflict with one another. Here’s an article detailing how you can handle two different lighting systems during your shoot.
A Minimalist Approach with Props
Don’t fret on a laundry list of props, backdrops, and dress changes.
With a black backdrop, by simply dressing a white chair with another prop that adds texture, such as a white blanket, you can produce a diverse array of images just with the one setup by changing angles and pose. And it only takes two or three outfit changes to photograph 15-20 images.
A few other props you can use are flowers and petals, Champagne bottles or glasses, or a silk ribbon.
Regardless of the props, your primary focus should be on your model’s form and too many props can distract from what’s most important.
Choosing the Right Colors
An expert manipulation of colors adds a lot to boudoir photos. A great start is coordinating and complimenting the colors of your setting and the clothing worn by your model.
If you’re taking black and white photos with a plain, white background, placing gels over the light could add color and isolate the subject from the background.
White on white is hard to distinguish whereas black lingerie on a white sheet background is incredibly poignant.
Use this color wheel to assess the best and worst colors for a shoot.
The are many different styles and backdrops in boudoir photography—here are a few of the more popular and timeless settings:
Bohemian: A free-spirited look preferred by artists and musicians, the Bohemian boudoir style is personified by vintage clothing. The setting is usually complimented via floral and earthy accessories.
Bridal: Since its beginnings, boudoir has been tied to pre-nuptial traditions. The white or off-white lingerie typical in most bridal boudoir represents purity. Models commonly incorporate veils, garters, bouquets, or other synonymous wedding items into the shoot.
Maternity: As a commemoration of pregnancy and impending motherhood, maternity shoots reaffirm a pregnant woman’s sexuality and regularly involve their partners.
Nature: This organic form of boudoir connects its subjects to nature. Wilderness backgrounds contribute to breathtaking shots. You can shoot your model in the backwoods or on a private beach.
The more work you do during the shoot and the better you execute, the less work you’ll have to do when editing. Unfortunately, time isn’t always on your side so editing software can be very useful.
The age-old question is whether you should use Lightroom or Photoshop. Here’s a brief breakdown of what each program offers:
- Good for changing white balance
- Easy storage
- Keyword system makes finding thing convenient and easy
- A simple, effective collection tool
- Contains presets that can be copied and pasted for better workflow, such as our very popular D&S Sensuous Boudoir preset pack
- Forces you to focus on one image at a time
- Better for more dramatic changes
- More in-depth
If you have the budget, utilize both. Start with Lightroom to enhance the lighting, then move onto Photoshop and take a deeper dive into blending, layering, and very specific changes.
The Business Side of Things
In the case that you’re looking to build a boudoir photography business, there are a few steps you’ll need to take:
Here’s a list of what you’ll need to get started:
- Designated shooting space
- A physical portfolio
- Online portfolio
- Business plan
- Social media presence
Contracts and release forms will be an every-day part of your business. A photography contract and model release ensure both the model and photographer retain their rights and that nothing can be done with the shots without being pre-discussed.
Have a qualified legal representative at your disposal to further protect both of your legal rights.