What is Boudoir Photography?
I am a boudoir photographer in Los Angeles with years of experience with boudoir photo sessions, and I can tell you what a boudoir photography session is not. It’s not for the photographer, and it’s not for the money. It’s for the clients foremost and if you are lucky, a shot for your boudoir portfolio.
We all know the French word boudoir itself refers to a woman’s private dressing room, and that’s exactly the kind of atmosphere we aim to create during a boudoir photo shoot. As a boudoir photographer, I prefer to shoot in luxury estates, resorts, or boutique hotels.
Every woman has her unique reason for wanting to have boudoir photos taken, and it’s my job to make sure that I understand their motivation and help them achieve it.
For some women, a boudoir shoot is a way to celebrate a milestone in their life, such as a birthday, wedding, or anniversary. They want to capture this special moment and have beautiful images of it that they can look back on for years to come. A boudoir shoot is also a perfect gift for significant others, especially for valentine’s day or as a wedding gift.
Styles of Boudoir
One popular style of a boudoir shoot is a fine art boudoir, which can be black and white. This style involves capturing the subject in a more artistic and creative way, often incorporating elements such as shadows, shapes, and textures. Fine art boudoir often has a more abstract and moody feel to them.
Classic style boudoir features the subject in lingerie or other types of sensual clothing in a tasteful and elegant way. The images are often taken in a bedroom or other intimate setting, with soft lighting to create a romantic atmosphere.
Nude boudoir photography is a nude photography style that can be incredibly beautiful with the right client. A nude boudoir shoot can be incredibly artistic and tasteful if you know what not to show. Remember, you shadow her, you don’t light her!
There’s erotic boudoir photography, and it’s more daring and risqué. Erotic photography is done by successful boudoir photographers, and you often do these boudoir shoots with a paid model for gallery sales.
Don’t forget avant-garde boudoir experience, another French word for daring to experiment and be different. In my opinion, it’s the best boudoir because you can have it fit the circumstance rather than trying to force the circumstance into something predetermined.
I have learned that a client consultation is an essential part of the boudoir photography experience because you can get to know each other, discuss the details of the boudoir session, and answer any questions the client may have. Next, we will discuss the details of the session, including location, outfit choices, and any specific poses or shots she would like to capture. If she is unsure about any of these things, guide her with your best.
Discuss makeup and hair styling options. While it’s not necessary to have a professional makeup artist, some clients find it helpful to have someone else do their makeup for the boudoir photo shoot. You can recommend makeup artists that you have worked with in the past.
Also, discuss the logistics of the session, including the length of the boudoir photo shoot, the number of looks and outfits she plans to wear, and the delivery of the final images, then go over any necessary paperwork, such as a contract and client release form.
Setup and Preparation
If you’re getting ready for a boudoir photo shoot, there are a few things you should know to make sure the setup and preparation go smoothly. Have an initial consultation either before the day of or before the session, don’t just put the camera on a tripod and say pose!
You’ll need to prepare for the actual shoot location. If you’re photographing in the client’s own home, make sure the room is clean and free of clutter, as you want the focus to be on her own skin and nothing else unless the room is uber exotic or super luxury; keep the focus on her body and lines.
Do prepare the lighting and equipment as soon as possible, and during the same time she is getting ready, what you don’t want is a semi-nude or lingerie-clad client waiting on you to finish setting up. It helps to have a stack of boudoir poses (yours or others) on your phone and swipe through them with the clients.
Hair and Makeup
Hair and makeup play a significant role in creating beautiful and sensual boudoir images. If she can afford it, do encourage pro female hair and make up even from the inexpensive app services now available on phones, for several reasons:
1. They have the skills and experience to create and change the looks she wants without stress.
2. You as the photographer will do less in post and have better shots to pitch to your next clients.
3. It buys you additional time to change setups between hair and makeup changes.
4. Removes the need for a chaperone and reduces anxiety on the client’s part. More on this later.
5. These women can often assist with wardrobes and fix areas that a male photographer can’t get to.
Wardrobe and Outfits
Boudoir is like going to the beach in a bikini, and the amount of coverage is proportional to the degree of her confidence. On the beach, she is doing it for the public, and in the bedroom, she is doing it for the boudoir photo, which is more difficult.
The key is to choose pieces that make her shine and feel confident and comfortable. This can include lingerie, corsets, robes, dresses, or even nothing, just the bed sheet. The goal is to choose pieces that make a difference.
Look for pieces that have intricate lacework, delicate embroidery, or interesting textures. These details will add depth and interest to the look; a favorite is Honey Birdette.
Consider a different wardrobe of just an oversized hat or hiding behind a luxury bag. Go for the gusto and dare to be different. Worst case scenario, she will delete it, but do try the unusual to get away from the boudoir factory studio looks out there.
For lingerie and other revealing pieces, it’s important to consider the fit. Make sure that the pieces fit snugly, error on tight, and don’t shoot if it’s loose, as that will be a turnoff. Go for statement jewelry, heels, or even a chair; these details can really elevate your images and make them unique, therefore bringing you more clients.
Posing can be one of the most nerve-wracking or fun aspects of a boudoir photo shoot, but don’t worry! I’m here to give you some tips on how to pose in a way that will make her feel confident and sexy.
A. Let the music play, have an mp3 speaker, and offer her to play her tracks or ask what she prefers from your selection, but don’t shoot in a quiet room! Keep it energized, creative, and fun.
B. Share your camera screen often so she understands what’s going on, be her mirror.
It’s a tough spot for her to be in. Just imagine yourself doing the same things with a stranger!
Crack a joke before asking her to do sexy contortions! The general idea is to make her reminded that she is beautiful just the way she is.
You never know what the client looks like half nude until the shoot, so be prepared for plan-b.
Some clients are not meant to reveal too much, plus that will kill you in retouching.
Try to elongate her body when posing by keeping her legs straight or slightly bending one leg. This will create a more flattering and slimming effect, so be mindful of body language and ask her to keep a light hand, avoid clenching or squeezing any part of her body too tightly, and don’t clam up.
The way the elements in the image are arranged can make or break a photo and its mood. It’s important to pay attention to details when composing your shot. What you don’t show and what you keep in the shadows is more important than what shows and is lit up.
I often prefer to use natural light if shooting with daylight windows to take advantage of it. Regardless of the lighting situation, I always keep in mind the rule of thirds, which is a classic composition technique used in many forms of photography.
When composing a boudoir shot, I also pay close attention to the client’s body language and facial expressions. The way a subject holds themselves can convey a sense of confidence or vulnerability, which can greatly affect the mood of the image.
Ultimately, the composition of a boudoir photo is a collaborative effort between the photographer and the client.
Natural Light: it’s the opposite of artificial. Why try to achieve a natural light look artificially? When possible, I always prefer to use natural light for boudoir photography. Soft, diffused light can be incredibly flattering and make skin look beautiful.
Artificial Light: If we’re shooting in a studio or other location without natural light, we’ll need to light up the place. I prefer to use a combination of continuous and strobe lighting to create a natural-looking effect. Continuous lighting can come from visible light sources in the set, such as a bedside lamp.
Light Placement: Where we place the lights will depend on the look we’re going for. For example, if we want to create a more dramatic, moody image, we might place the lights low and off to the side. If we want a softer, more natural look, we’ll position the lights higher and more centrally.
Lighting Accessories: I’ll also use a variety of lighting accessories to shape and control the mood. These might include reflectors to bounce light back onto your face, diffusers to soften the light, barn doors to control the direction of the light, and one of my favorites, oversized umbrellas.
Retouched Lighting: Even with the best lighting, some post-processing may be necessary to create the final lighting. I’ll use post-processing techniques like dodging and burning to adjust the brightness and contrast of different areas of the image and color grading to create a specific look or mood for lighting. It takes years of experience for most photographers to achieve this level of lighting.
At the end of the day, the best lighting for boudoir photography is the one that makes the scene work with all the elements, especially her.
Camera and Equipment
The best camera for a boudoir is the one hanging from your neck. Every day millions drive to work and back and make a comfortable living in their Toyota Prius without ever thinking about a Chiron.
If you are in the market shopping for gear, consider the following:
Camera: A full-frame DSLR camera or mirrorless system camera, which is preferred by most boudoir photographers for their larger sensors and better low-light performance. A crop-sensor DSLR or smaller mirrorless camera can still produce great results if you know what you are doing. Never have I had a client ask me: what is that camera, especially in the middle of a boudoir session.
Lenses: I recommend having a prime lens, such as 50mm or 85mm, for capturing boudoir portraits and a zoom lens, such as 24-70mm, for more flexibility in shooting. My favorite is the Canon 100 Macro f2.8.
Lighting: While natural light can create a beautiful, soft look, it’s not always available or reliable. That’s why having a lighting setup is essential, and a simple three-light setup with softboxes or umbrellas can produce great results. Go for speedlights and have backup units since these overheat easily, and you have to rotate them. Same for batteries, I use Eneloop, which I keep in the fridge.
Overall, having the right camera equipment is important, but remember that personality, preparedness, experience, skills, creativity, and the ability to connect with the client are much more important factors in creating beautiful boudoir photographs, so don’t be afraid to try new things, experiment with posing and lighting.
Retouching and Post Production
After the session, you want to rush the gallery to her so she can give feedback and select the favorites. The dilemma is, do we retouch now and send it as is or do something? And that something is color grading in lightroom. I prefer to do a “one light” scene-by-scene color grading of all the tools in lightroom, which can be applied in a batch.
Don’t fix it in post. First of all, it’s important to remember that while Photoshop can certainly enhance your images, it’s not a substitute for good photography skills. Make sure that you’re using proper lighting, posing techniques, and camera settings to capture the best possible images.
That being said, there are definitely some common retouching techniques that most boudoir photographers prefer to use. For example, many photographers will use the “liquify” tool in Photoshop for beauty.
Another commonly used tool is the “clone stamp” or “healing brush” tool, which can be used to remove any imperfections in the skin or clothing.
When it comes to retouching faces for beauty, it’s important to be very careful and subtle. You don’t want your subject to look overly airbrushed or plastic.
Prioritize creating images that make your client proud to show your photos to her circle without raising eyebrows.
Privacy and Boudoir Photography
As a boudoir photographer, privacy is always a top concern for my clients. Boudoir photography is a deeply personal experience, one that requires a high level of trust between the photographer and clients.
Discuss the location with the client so she knows exactly what to expect in front of your camera. She needs a private changing area during the shoot, which you should stay away from.
One of the ways to ensure that my clients feel secure during their boudoir session is by having a chaperone, so say yes and encourage a “chaperone” (another French word).
Once the shoot is over, I make sure to handle the images with care. I only share them with the client’s permission, and when a client requests that I don’t share their photos at all on social media or my website or even asks to delete them, I respect their request.