Boudoir photography is a niche within portrait photography. It consists of a mash-up of portraiture, fashion, fine art, glamour and erotic photography.
The word boudoir comes from French. A boudoir was an area where the woman could have time to herself. This area, depending on the budget could be a whole room or separated by a room divider.
Boudoir photography is a new trend that has grown to be quite popular in recent years. But the style itself has been around since the 1940s.
There are typically a few reasons why people have photographs of themselves made. Either it is to give people the prints as presents, such as family or baby photography sessions.
Or it could be to document a time in someone’s life, such as a graduation or a wedding.
When it comes to boudoir photography, it is a more sensual, intimate look at a person. Focusing on their mood, their clothing and the landscape of their body.
The clients are most commonly women, but male boudoir photography also exists. People are looking for these kinds of photos of themselves to keep and look upon as time goes by.
They might even give them to a partner to reaffirm their connection and sensuality. They could be a precursor to a wedding, which is typically one photographic theme that boudoir concentrates on.
The photographs aim to appear candid and unposed. The style is playful and provocative. It enables those photographed to give off a strong presence where nudity is implied yet rarely shown.
Yet they still require (varying degrees of) posing, composition and lighting patterns.
Our Complete Guide to Boudoir Photography will take you through everything you need to know to get started with this photographic genre or to refresh your existing knowledge.
Boudoir Camera Equipment
How to go about photographing boudoir starts with your camera gear. What camera equipment do I need? How many lenses? Do I need a different camera or new lenses?
Well, this all depends on what you have and what you want to get from your photography. Having a DSLR, a prime and a zoom lens will get you great shots.
Especially if you can use a few lighting and compositional techniques. Also, posing ideas from research is also a must.
When it comes to boudoir or portrait photography, there is no standard of what you should use. You can use a DSLR with a full or cropped frame, or even a mirrorless system. They all have their benefits and drawbacks. It only matters what you want to use the camera for, and what you want to achieve.
The next thing you need to consider is your budget. Having a better lens for your medium level DSLR might get you much more content. Buying an expensive camera body and having to buy a cheaper lens might not be the way to go.
If you are comfortable with a mirrorless system like the FujiFilm Series, and you know it inside out – keep it. That’s already half the battle won.
Lenses are almost if not more important than the camera body. If your lenses are producing low quality, blurred photographs, there is nothing your camera body can do about it.
The lens is where you can control the light, by using the exposure triangle. They also help you work with movement and more importantly depth of field.
The Fujinon 35mm f/2 prime lens with the Fujifilm X-Pro 2 is a great piece of glass. It comes in wider than the 50mm standard prime lens, which gives you more of the scene. The f/2 is great for low light conditions but doesn’t create hyper-sharpness in your image.
This is typically something you do not want in portraits, as a slightly softer look helps to tone down the mood.
It works very quietly, which is perfect for this intimate form of portraiture. It is less distracting for the model and helps keep the mood.
This lens also has distance on its side; it’s not too close and not too far away. It creates a gap that isn’t in your face, but close enough to keep that relationship with the subject.
A 50mm lens or ‘nifty fifty’ is a go-to standard prime lens. The reason for this is that it’s very easy to work with. There is little to no distortion, it’s very fast and produces sharp photographs.
This lens is more of an environmental portrait lens. Capturing the subject in their environment and setting, rather than a tight portrait.
This allows you to photograph at a distance outside of the subject’s bubble. This means you can avoid getting so close that the subject feels intimidated.
They might already be very nervous about their boudoir shoot, so this is a good choice.
This lens is a great choice for most types of photography. As a zoom lens, it has a range of 24-70mm. It allows you to get close to the subject, from photographing close to photographing from afar.
The keyword here is versatility. This lens is a workhorse and offers you a huge scale of portraits, from full body to headshots.
The article here suggests that this lens is the only one that you will need for boudoir photography. This is for many reasons. Changing lenses takes time which can add to the models’ agitation.
This also means less time needed photographing a subject who is becoming less and less comfortable.
PC lenses were developed for use with architecture, interior and still-life photography. What is to say you can’t use them in other areas?
As photographers, we often need to break rules to create something new and interesting. These lenses allow you to not only focus horizontally but vertically too. This means that instead of a focus line, you get a focus spot.
This can really help you highlight a specific area of the model, and push everything else out into a dreamy soft focus. Viewers are really shown where to look, and what not to be distracted by.
These lenses are expensive and they will need more tinkering with on the shoot, so both the subject and photographer need some patience.
But this can be an interesting and uncommon way to shoot boudoir photography.
Ok, so you have your subject arriving, how do you make sure you are well prepared? You might have all the camera and studio equipment sorted. All your batteries charged and the props ready.
But what else can your photo shoot benefit from?
Look outside the scope of just your work tools. These men and women will be using makeup, such as foundation and nail polish. Having something to clean nails or faces for after is a great idea.
Have you thought about snacks and water?
Music is a great way to help people feel comfortable, so have something available that the client can use. Both WiFi and external cable ensures you have all of your bases covered.
These are just a few ways you can make the experience more comfortable for both you and your model.
As the photographer, it is your job to make the model feel at ease. Not just with your speech and body language, but with the environment. This is where other objects, other than clothing, are not just important, but necessary.
A fan or hair dryer is a great addition. Not only to add depth and interest to hair or material but to keep the model warm. You will find that scantily-clad women (or men) will enjoy the shoot a lot more.
To add interest and that sexy elegance to the images, use jewellery. Necklaces, for example, bring attention to the neckline and earrings elongate the neck.
This article goes through a few other things your photographs will benefit from.
Boudoir Posing and Composition
Boudoir photography is not a genre, it is an approach. An approach to intimate portraiture that can be sensual and racy. It involves lots of research and a fair amount of customer service. On top of this, marketing, communication and post-processing are also necessary.
It is a multi-faceted area of photography that is very easy to get wrong. When it goes well, you can create stunning images, when it goes wrong, the images can look cheap and cheesy.
There is a thin line between boudoir and glamour photography. They both involve men or women wearing the least amount of clothing. intensive lighting set-ups and stylish settings. Yet, glamour photography captures models, who are usually in their 20’s. They also work on their physique and have been photographed thousands of times.
Boudoir photography is very different. Here we are capturing what a man or woman like about themselves. The models here are real people, where the images, in all likeliness, won’t end up in a magazine. They may have never posed in front of a camera before, let alone in intimate appeal and may be very nervous.
This article looks at this thin line, which will give you a deeper insight to boudoir photography.
The camera settings should be similar if not the same for any portrait shoot. You won’t be doing any time-lapses or long exposures, so do not lower your shutter speed below 1/200. This will cut out any possible mirror shake or slight movement.
It is also a great speed to sync with your lighting equipment. Here, you need to focus on aperture and ISO.
Depending on if you are using natural light or studio lights, you will have a range that will allow a correct exposure. With studio lights, you can increase and decrease the power, giving you as much light as you need.
This will help keep your ISO low for better quality and detail. Natural light is what it is. Overcast weather will push up your ISO and sunshine will bring it down.
The aperture should be around f/8-16 to keep the model in focus but separate them from the background. Read more about camera settings in our article.
Making her (or him) comfortable at the photo shoot is paramount. Their body language and expressions scream their mood. If they feel out-of-place or nervous you will see it in the photographs.
Communication is very important, but so is your professionality.
Creating images that show the subject in beautiful, sensual ways will help their confidence. This, in turn, will allow you to get the most out of your subject and your photographs.
Start with the things that they like about their body. Ask them questions and work with the answers. Slowly, as the confidence and trust become stronger, work with the other areas.
Evoke emotion. A person smiling can be a very sexy photograph as they feel pleasure or enjoyment. Other times, more of a serious look can bring a sensual tone. Assess their character and work from it.
Posing women across all types of photography is very similar. Unless you feel like breaking rules and want to try something very outrageous and specific. When it comes to portraits of any kind, communication is key.
You need to build up the trust between you and the subject to make them feel comfortable. This is how you photograph great moods, expressions and the tone of the image.
One of the most important tools here is research. Use places such as Pinterest and other Boudoir photographer’s websites for inspiration. Practice these poses yourself to see how it affects your body.
What stands out and what disappears? Start with the easier photographs, and move towards the more risque photographs as the shoot progresses.
Visual instructions are very important. The model might not understand photographic terms and might get agitated if she feels confused. Be clear, kind and understanding
What holds true when posing women does not follow when posing men. The keywords for how women want to look could be cute and pretty. This is what photographers look for when focusing on the female body’s curves. With men, they want to be seen as strong, tough, cool and tall. So how do we show these things?
Well, the lenses and the perspective of the photograph play a part. Big noses can be made smaller by using a larger focal length lens. Balding heads benefit from a lower angle. The two things that should be focused on when photographing a man is the ‘V’ frame and jawline.
The ‘V’ frame comes down to broad shoulders and a small waist. The jawline should be angular and defined for ultimate manliness. These can be extenuated with clever uses of positioning and camera angles.
This article looks at these in great depth.
Boudoir photography can be challenging. Photographing someone who might be nervous or uncomfortable is 50% of the battle, if not more.
Another huge trial comes down to posing the model. Capturing that natural, spontaneous look takes practice, technique and know-how.
One great asset is ‘flow posing’. This system keeps your model in motion, which helps to keep that natural look to the photographs. The idea is that you start by photographing the subject on their front.
They then move to their side, then on to their back. This gives you the potential to photograph a wide variety of shots and poses.
This works so well because you can take many photographers without excessive moving to and from different settings.
This system keeps a good flow and demands little from your subject, allowing her to focus on that smoky, sultry look.
Boudoir photography is a more risque version of portraiture, but the same rules apply. Apertures are best used at f/8-16 as this will give you the sharpest images. It will also give you a slight blur to the background.
The eye direction of your model is important. Either they look straight into the camera, or they follow the model’s nose. Every other option doesn’t work.
Off-camera lighting is necessary. This plays a big part in showing the form of the model in the best possible light (pun intended). It gives you images depth, and the shadows can be used to extenuate parts of the body.
Directing your models correctly gives you the best from them, which adds to your image. Have them turn into the camera, rather than a full on perspective.
This makes their back shoulder appear lower and smaller. Making them seem smaller and thinner.
Read the rest of the rules in our article here.
Having boudoir photographs taken by a professional photographer can be daunting. You may find yourself excited by the idea of someone giving you direction and good, positive energy.
For others, this could be a nightmare, but it shouldn’t stop you from being photographed.
You could enjoy photographing yourself. This saves you money and allowing you to take your time.
This article is written by a photographer who photographed herself in a boudoir style. Through the whole project, she overcame challenges. Having to deal with focusing on an object that she would then replace with herself is one. Having a mirror behind the camera helped with positions.
She had a good flow of setting up an image, photographing, checking and evaluating the image and adjusting the light and focus as necessary.
Chances are, you don’t have a studio at home. You will need to make the most out of what you do have. Most of the setting can be cropped out in post-processing or by using a closer, tighter framing. Boudoir is all about showing off what the model likes about her body, and downplaying what she doesn’t.
This can be done without a huge budget and renting a professional studio or setting.
This article gives you ideas and costs for setting up a boudoir shoot in your own home.
Hands are a very important part of any boudoir photography session. But a lot of people just don’t know what to do with them. Within portraiture, they can sit gently in the lap. Or even used to prop up the face, like ‘The Thinker’ by Rodin.
Here we have a few great tips on using hands effectively within your photo shoots.
They can be used to give a subtle story, such as a wedding ring. Other pieces of jewellery can bring attention to the hands and further evoke emotion.
The cardinal rule is ‘if it bends, bend it’. Use the hands to give off that sultry, sexy feeling. Caressing their own skin, a touch of their lips or having them play with their hair.
These can all be very powerful in boudoir photography.
Boudoir photography doesn’t have to be about props and many dress changes. It is focused on the form of the model, fully clothed or scantily-clad.
Believing that you need more equipment, either for your camera or for building a studio can be a setback. You can create stunning, classic images with the minimal amount of kit.
This could be simply dressing a chair with a blanket or something that has a little texture. You can take quite a few different images from one set-up by changing your position, your perspective and the placing of the model.
Even by using two or three changes of outfit, you photograph a whole portfolio of 15-20 images.
You just have to move around and use your creativity.
Improving your boudoir photography knowledge takes time and practice. One important thing photographers have found from this area of photography is less is more. Do not try and go overboard with lighting, the setting or even costume changes.
Boudoir photography becomes successful when the model feels at ease and gives her best. This comes from simple set-ups, as they require less time and tinkering.
It also comes from you, the photographer, giving directions with confidence. You know what is best, you have all the research and information, so put it in your work.
Set limits for yourself and for your model. Make it enjoyable for the model, and they will give you the images you want.
Getting frustrated and pushing for longer shoots will produce weak images.
This helpful article goes through 5 of the best lighting patterns to use for a boudoir shoot. Either by usingnatural light, applying studio lights or a mixture of both.
Natural light is one of the most flattering forms of light. It is also easy to use. Have the model stand in front of a window. The distance depends on the harshness of the light.
Stand adjacent to the window in front of the model, and photograph from a perspective a little higher than her eye level.
Using one studio light and a backdrop, also known as a colourama, is also a very simple choice. The light should be just off of the camera, as it will give you complimentary shadows.
If you place the light slightly above the model, then the light will drop off. This is great for a transition on parts of the body that leave the frame.
When it comes to research and looking at other photographer’s for inspiration, they might use specific terminologies.
Here is a list of the lighting terms that you might come across, and what they all mean.
Chances are, you don’t have a studio at home. You will need to make the most out of what you do have. Most of the setting can be cropped out in post-processing or by using a closer, tighter framing.
Boudoir is all about showing off what the model likes about her body, and downplaying what she doesn’t.
This can be done without a huge budget and renting a professional studio or setting.
This article gives you ideas and costs for setting up a boudoir shoot in your own home.
Natural light is a free and effective way to light your subject. Obviously, it can be used outside, but also using it in the home cancreate powerful natural images.
With a little help from reflectors and flags, you can easily manipulate the light into something that you can use.
This is very cheap when it comes to all of the different types of lights. It can also be the easiest to use, once you get the hang of how the light works.
Where it falls, what it bounces off and how it can be stopped are important things to look for.
Using natural light is just one form of lighting. What if the light is falling behind, but falls short at the front of the subject? This is just one situation where you can benefit from an additional light.
This could be a beauty dish, a professional soft-box studio light or even aSpeedlitee and an umbrella.
In this article, you can see the challenges faced with using two different lighting systems. Daylight is coming through the window and the photographer is using incandescent lighting from the front or side.
These two lights have different colour temperatures, daylight being much bluer than the warmer incandescent lighting.
Do not be intimidated by boudoir photographers who own and use humongous studios. They might have a slew of eager assistants and lighting set-ups.
But what I find is that more lights equal more problems. You can take stunning and powerful images with one light source.
The benefit of using one light system is that you only need to move one. Having one means it is very easy to see where the light falls an how to adjust it.
No need to over-complicate something that should be simple, right? The focus should be on your subject. They don’t want to work on a 3-hour shoot where 80% of the time is you moving and adjusting the lights.
This article/video gives you great advice for using only one light.
One area that your boudoir photography could really benefit from is thinking about colours. This could be complimenting the colours of the setting and the clothing worn by the model. They could of the same colour range, by using different shades and tones of green.
If you are photographing in black and white, you need to think about this too. If the background is plain and white, you could use gels over the lights to add colour. This will help isolate the subject from the background,
A model wearing black lingerie on a white sheet background is very powerful. White and white is difficult to separate. Black on black could work very well if the lighting is highlighting the curves of the model’s body.
Use this colour wheel for colours that work, and ones that don’t.
If you are a little stuck on inspiration, here is a huge list that will whet your appetite and fill your photographs with lots of creativity.
Post-Processing Boudoir Photographs
Finding a workflow is paramount to the way you shoot and edit. This will depend on what you will do with the images. If you are planning to build a business out of the boudoir style, then you will at some point show the clients the images.
Will this happen face to face? If so, this article is great for helpful tips on how to manage yourself and your images.
If they are to be posted on social media, then your work might benefit from a little more editing.
Editing boudoir photographs is very similar to other forms of portraiture. There are things you need to think about before photographing the subject, and then before editing.
No software can replace missing information, so make sure you capture what you need to in the first place.
The more work you do in the moment of the photo the less work you have to do in post-editing. But, if time is a luxury, you can definitely use Lightroom to change the white balance, for example.
Lightroom is a great place to store and work on your images, as and when you wish. Their keyword system lets you find things very easy. Also, their collection tool is very useful. If you are unsure how they operate, read our article here.
Presets for Lightroom that you can copy and paste also help make your workflow faster and easier. For more information about presets, look at our article here.
You might find yourself asking “Lightroom or Photoshop?” Both are very good post-processing and editing software packages. Some might even use both. Using the library and simple interface of LR, then using PS for more dramatic changes.
Photoshop forces you to work on one image at a time, which lets you focus entirely on that image.
The workflow is a little different and Photoshop can become a little confusing. You can do almost the same things in PS as you can in LR, but PS is a lot more in-depth, and not just for photographers.
This article goes from colour management to how to remove bags from under eyes.
If after reading this article you are even more interested in boudoir photography, maybe building it into a business is a good idea. You will need to have a designated space or a few of them that you can use as setting.
Also, a portfolio is a great place to start. Create a physical portfolio and one online, such as a website or blog.
Contracts and release forms will need to be a regular part of your business. These allow you to use the images on social media or for commercial use.
Create a strong business plan, research your competition and make sure your web presence is strong.
In this article you will find all the tips you need to help your business flourish and become successful.
A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:
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