Most photography genres are fairly well known or easy to distinguish by name. Wedding, fashion, documentary, newborn have easily defined subjects. Boudoir photography is less clear.
The term boudoir is French from around the 18th century meaning a sulking place. It was to describe a woman’s bedroom or private room. Since this origin the term has become not only more popular among photographers but clients as well. It is rare these days that I receive a call asking what boudoir means.
My last article gave posing tips for your next boudoir session. However, maybe we need to take a step back in order to appreciate not only the origins of boudoir, but also where it is going today.
Stepping Back in Time
Painters have been capturing the female form for centuries. One of my favorites is from Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres “The Odalisque” created in 1814. It shows the very nature of what boudoir photography has come to mean. It captures not only the strength in her physical form, but also the empowerment she creates with her emotional glance over her shoulder.
These paintings generally were done in ornate backgrounds focusing on implied nudes.
The history of boudoir might have changed drastically in how it is presented but it still maintains the same roots. Artists have clearly understood the importance of emotion over expression. The expression in boudoir can be found in the physical attributes of the client’s face. However, the emotional side of boudoir is more important in how the viewer interprets these expressions.
Posing a woman or man in a boudoir setting can become fairly static unless the emotional side is represented as Ingres has clearly accomplished here in the painting.
Boudoir Over the Years
A French artist in the 1920s, Albert Arthur Allen, merged the boudoir industry with photography by creating masterpieces of nude women. This type of photography at the time was illegal. Moving through the decades, pinup photography became the focus until the mid 70s where boudoir photography took its place in major magazines.
This became more concrete in the new professional art world. Photographs were seen in these publications as replacing drawings. While many viewed these as artistic pieces, there were still many who deemed it pornographic in nature.
Fast forward to today where boudoir is highly accepted among women and men for its artistic representation rather than the sexually implied ideas it may have carried from the previous decades. Many clients come in with the idea that it is a gift for a fiancé, or anniversary.
However, they leave with the understanding the gift is secondary to the new confidence they have secured in their own body acceptance.
Boudoir photography has generally focused on the female. But in more recent years it has become a broader term incorporating men and couples sessions.
Just Starting With Boudoir Photography?
A few key ideas to help get started in boudoir photography revolve around the focus. While originally boudoir was solely focused on the location, it is now moving towards the emotion it shares. Setting the scene can be as easy as a bed, or as elaborate as a romantic castle on the shores of Ireland.
Spend time setting the mood rather than the location. The subject, your client, needs to be the primary focus.
Understand that this is extremely intimidating for many clients. Most have never been in this setting before, and understanding their expectations and hesitations will go far. Jumping into it assuming your client is as comfortable as you is asking for trouble. I routinely will send out questionnaires for their session so I can better understand their preferences.
Setting Up the Space
Your best bet will be to keep it simple. Attempting to overdo the background, lighting set ups and posing shot list will be overwhelming for your first time. Stick to simple window shots at first if you are a natural light photographer.
Introducing strobes to your first boudoir session will make your client uneasy when you are not familiar with your own lighting. If strobes are your strong point, again keep it simple. Many boudoir clients prefer the softer non fashion feel of an image. Hire a model for the first session if you prefer the fashion looks. This helps to attract the right clientele for your company.
If you are looking to experiment with new looks, wardrobe or scenes put out a model call so you can work out any kinks prior to having a paying client in the studio. No client wants to pay for you to be figuring out your space.
If you are new to paid photography in general this is a good starting part for any genre. Always use models or friends prior to charging. Just because you understand your camera does not mean you should jump into charging without a solid portfolio.
If you do not have a studio many airbnbs will allow this type of photography if you are upfront from the start. Clients’ homes have also been very helpful when I was just in the beginning stages of my sessions. If you can, try to visit the location ahead of time to scout out the area to see what equipment you will need and if it would fit the space.
Many times clients prefer their home to make their session more intimate and personal.
Getting Clients in the Door
How do I get clients in the door? This is the question I receive the most from photographers who want to get into boudoir. Getting boudoir clients is not unlike other genres. With this said, it should be taken with a little more understanding that you will be a part of the emotional support.
Many of these clients will be coming to you to either recover from losing their confidence, to document their journey such as weight loss, or even to regain that feeling of being empowered. If you are not sympathetic to these issues, you will lose out on referrals from them.
The clients coming to you may be very modest but looking to break free from these ideas. Encouraging them with an understanding for their hesitations will lead to word of mouth that will be more beneficial than any SEO check out there.
Creating a model call can be a great way to start your portfolio and get others talking about your boudoir. Generally I will do a model call at least once a year even after the decade I have been shooting boudoir. I do these calls in order to work a new setup, show off all the new lingerie I have in the studio, or even for model releases.
Getting a model release can be rare when you work with certain professions such as teachers, lawyers or anyone else in the public eye. So having a model who will sign your release is very beneficial to consistent marketing online.
Creating a Safe Place to Talk
One of the best decisions I made was to create my VIP forum group for past, current and future clients. It is through Facebook and I only allow in those interested in a session and referred by clients in the group. This helps the group to grow by word of mouth and keeps it a safe place for them to ask questions from fellow clients.
I add lingerie sales posts, new upcoming events, and generally anything that will keep the conversation flowing within the group.
At least once a month I will do a video showing off the new items, such as albums, wall art or fun client gifts. These videos get the most responses and keep the group engaged. Being real in your groups will prove to be a great way to connect with your potential clients. They will already understand a bit about you and feel like they know you prior to a consult.
This also allows them to see inside your shooting space, becoming more conformable already. If you do not have a studio, a simple video from behind the scenes prepping for a shoot will work just as well.
Clients can talk about their experience directly in the group and help to reassure anyone else about their hesitations on doing a session. Often clients will sign a release for this group only, knowing its purpose is to encourage others to do a session.
What Does a Boudoir Shoot Consist Of ?
This is mainly up to your type of style. If you are a dark and moody shooter then most of your images should reflect this look. Do you prefer shots that are bright and airy? The majority of your portfolio should be geared towards this.
This is not to say to steer away from one or the other. It is to say that if the majority of images on your site are bright and you show your client her session all in dark sultry looks, I guarantee she will be confused. She will be coming to you after viewing your portfolio. If you like to mix them up, just make sure you show that on your site.
From start to finish, I tend to show all sides of the client. That is to say emotionally rather than physically. We work from soft and feminine moods into more empowered bold looks. Towards the end, if she is feeling up for it, we capture the implied nudes.
I prefer to have an idea of the posing I will be taking her through. However, if the lighting catches her just right, I have no problem stopping my flow to catch a new look.
If you are a potential client, or a photographer who has been looking into a boudoir session, communicate your choices. Do not be afraid to let your potential photographer know the reasons you are there. In order for the emotion to shine through your images, the connection between photographer and client needs to be genuine.
I tell my clients to bring certain items with them but to also feel free to bring extra in case I see something that sparks my creative eye. I have had many clients bring in suitcases full of looks.
Treating Your Clients the Right Way
A boudoir shoot should be fun and exciting for you and your client. A room filled with tension will only create the same effect in the image. I love to go above and beyond for my clients. A boudoir photography session is the time to pamper your guests. Whether it is a working corporate mom, a single dad of three, or a couple who truly wants to reconnect, pamper your clients.
In my questionnaires I ask about their preferred music, snacks and drinks. Clients love the idea of being in the makeup chair, eating strawberries and sipping on a mimosa before their big session. In a world of chaos, this is the one time they get to truly unwind.
The little things such as their favourite music playing when they arrive will already have them relaxed. It will also set the mood, especially if they’re coming in from a hectic week.
Is Boudoir all About the Sexuality?
This question could not be further from the truth. Boudoir photography is meant to capture the sensuality of each client. In a world full of selfies, boudoir photography is meant to capture the true emotion behind each client. Getting into boudoir as a photographer means you truly want to help people accept their bodies and to help them value themselves.
After any boudoir experience, the client sees themselves differently right from the moment they leave, even before they see the final images.
Boudoir photography is truly life changing for the client and the photographer. Watching my clients walk out the door more confident than when they walked in, is the most rewarding part of my job.
We have a great post on boudoir photography business tips to check out next!