From understanding what it is, how to light your subjects and direct poses to make your work stand out – this is everything you need to get started with boudoir photography…
What is boudoir photography?
Unlike the cheesy glamour photos that once dominated lads’ mags (and AP), boudoir photography is more romantic and is aimed mainly at a female audience – indeed the vast majority of boudoir is commissioned by the subjects, often as part of a bridal photography package, a landmark birthday, or as a gift for a partner. Many women choose a boudoir shoot as a confidence boost after having children, getting divorced or losing weight.
Boudoir photography is generally shot in a bedroom setting – hence the name – and is sensual and sexy without being explicit. The subject’s modesty is generally covered by lingerie or bedding, and artful posing.
Most successful boudoir photographers are women, for obvious reasons, so male photographers hoping to succeed in this genre should consider a female assistant to help out with lighting, hair and make-up, posing and costume changes, but most importantly for the subject’s reassurance.
Boudoir vs Glamour Photography
Boudoir is about photographing women in a natural setting, whilst capturing their natural beauty. Glamour photography is normally associated with magazines and perfectly edited photos, however, whatever you call it, good boudoir photography should bring out the beauty of the subject.
Getting started with Boudoir Photography
We teamed up with Brighton-based photographer Emma Joanne for a boudoir shoot at the Hotel Pelirocco, to learn how to succeed in this challenging genre.
Boudoir Photography – Look for interesting locations
‘When I’m choosing locations I tend to go for themed hotels where the decor is different in each room, and where you can style the client to complement the theme. This offers a much greater variety of pictures and fires my imagination,’ says Emma.
‘One of the things I like about Hotel Pelirocco is that the rooms are like sets. There are lots of props and details to play with, like ornate dressing tables. I find that with anyone, whether they’re a seasoned model or not, if you give them something to do it looks far more natural and takes away the whole idea that they’re being photographed.’
Before you even so much as remove the lens cap, the model will need make-up and hair done, ideally by a professional, so that she looks her best. For this shoot Emma brought along Stacie Smith, who she has worked with before. Our model, Angel, will be familiar to regular readers – she has been on our cover before.
Meanwhile, you first need to clear the set.
‘Go around the room and remove anything incongruous that you will curse about later if you see it in the background,’ says Emma. ‘This includes kettles and cups, luggage stands, and even the TV – if it is on a stand and can be moved safely.’
The model should have brought along a selection of lingerie in different colours and styles. If you haven’t already worked out in advance which colours complement the décor of your room, now is the time.
Boudoir Photography – Lighting the set
Next you need to light the set. Our hotel rooms have large picture windows that fill the rooms with daylight, but in many cases will be behind the model. While this creates a nice rim light you’ll need strong frontal lighting to balance with the light behind. For this shoot Emma used Rotolight AEOS and NEO 2 LED lights, which she prefers over flash heads.
‘You need to work quickly with boudoir,’ explains Emma. ‘You can’t keep the model waiting while you fiddle with the lights or you’ll lose the energy of the shoot. With these continuous lights you can see how the light is falling, and balance it with the ambient light by eye. You can even change the colour balance. They have a flash mode as well if I ever need the extra power.’
During the shoot
When your subject is ready to start the shoot, ease in slowly. You should have a list of at least a few poses you want to try first.
‘Professional models will help suggest poses,’ says Emma. ‘but with ladies who haven’t done this before you’ll need to direct them. You must make them feel comfortable, offer lots of encouragement and help them to enjoy the session.
Watch for reflections of the lights in mirrors and pictures, and if shooting with a wide-angle keep the model in the middle of the frame to avoid distorting them.
Take plenty of breaks and once you feel you have exhausted one part of the room move on to another. ‘If you’re going to be selling images to your clients you want them to have as much variety as possible,’ advises Emma. In our first room alone Emma used the dressing table, the bed, the chaise longue and a screen as props.
Emma has a final piece of advice for anyone interested in trying this genre of photography: ‘One thing about boudoir is that there is a lot of expectation, and depending how good your pictures are you can either boost someone’s confidence entirely, or do the complete opposite and destroy it.’
11 tips for successful Boudoir Photography
1 – Location
Hotels are great locations to shoot boudoir, but look for somewhere that gives you more creative options than just white walls and linen.
2 – De-clutter
The first thing to do before you introduce the model is de-clutter the room. Hide the kettle and cups, and avoid the TV in shot.
3 – Clothing
Make sure the model has a collection of different lingerie in a variety of styles/colours so that you can pick outfits to complement the room décor.
4 – Hair/make-up
Good make-up is vital for successful boudoir photography. If possible hire a professional, or ask a friend who is skilled in this area.
5 – Props
Use props such as a phone, hairbrush or lipstick. Giving them something to do helps provide a distraction for your model and helps them forget they’re being photographed.
6 – Lighting
I prefer constant LED lights, like the Rotolight, because I can adjust the brightness by eye and see exactly where the shadows fall before pressing the shutter. It means I can work more quickly and not keep the model waiting.
For further inspiration read our guide on how the direction of lighting affects your portraits.
7 – Start off slow
If you’re working with someone inexperienced start them off in a dressing gown – something sexy but not too exposed to start with. You can reveal more as their confidence grows.
8 – Communicate
Offer lots of encouragement and praise during the shoot to boost their confidence, as it can be intimidating.
9 – Be open
Although you should come to the shoot with some ideas already, don’t rigidly work to a checklist. Keep your mind open to your environment and let that give you ideas you may not have thought of.
10 – Inspiration
Look at existing boudoir photography online for ideas. Save images that inspire you to a Pinterest board, or make an album on your phone so you can refer to it during the shoot if you get stuck for ideas.
11 – Primes
I always favour prime lenses, such as my 50mm f/1.4 or 85mm f/1.4 as the shallow depth of field they offer gives a much more creative look. Have a look at our guide to the best 50mm prime lenses.
Top Boudoir Photography Posing Tips
Have an assistant
It’s useful to have someone on hand to look out for unflattering creases, hairs out of place and other things you may not spot. They can also help adjust, move or hold the lighting. If you’re a male photographer the assistant should be female – perhaps the make-up artist, so they can also apply touch ups if needed
You always want a bend on the leg nearest the camera as it creates a nice curve and elongates the leg. The weight should be on the back leg, because if you put your weight on the inside leg it will thicken that hip and we want to make it look as slender as possible. Turn the bent knee away from the camera. Shoot from low down with a wide-angle lens to make the legs look longer. If you shoot from head height they’ll look stumpy.
In boudoir the model should overemphasise every pose, so remind her regularly to keep her chin up, shoulders back and tummy in, because it pushes out the bust and creates a more sexy and elegant pose. Basically whatever can bend needs to bend – you don’t want to see any limbs looking lifeless.
With any model, whatever their size, when you’re seating them it’s best to ask them to put just the edge of their bum on the seat, and edge as far forward as possible with their weight on just their rear buttock, rather than having them rest their entire weight on both buttocks, which is going to look very unflattering.
Lying on the bed
When shooting on a bed the model is going to be lying flat – either on her front or her back – which means that her body is going to relax into the bed. You need to watch for any creases going on, which you can iron out with a change of position. With bigger ladies this will take more work to conceal.
If your model has a part of their body that they are self-conscious about (such as their legs or tummy) try getting them to hold a carefully placed cushion, pillow, towel or bed-sheet in front of them to conceal it. Alternatively shoot from an angle that doesn’t show that part of her body.
How to choose the best camera and lens for boudoir photography
As a general rule of thumb what works for portrait photography will be suitable for boudoir too. Most photographers use a full-frame camera but don’t dismiss MFT or crop sensor, as with a good lens they would be more than adequate to capture excellent images.
Emma’s favourite kit for boudoir photography:
- Nikon D700 | 50mm f/1.4 | 85mm f/1.8 | 24-70mm f/2.8 – www.nikon.co.uk
- Rotolight AEOS | Rotolight NEO 2 lights – www.rotolight.com
See our latest Rotolight reviews:
Watch our behind the scenes video on this boudoir shoot:
With thanks to…
Photographer: Emma Joanne – www.shotgunweddings.co
Model: Angel White – www.angelwhite.net
Hair and make-up: Stacie Smith – www.stacie-laura-smith.uk
and the Hotel Pelirocco, Brighton UK – www.hotelpelirocco.co.uk
All photos © Emma Joanne
- Maternity photography – your complete guide
- Lighting tips for maternity photography
- The do’s and don’ts of working with models
- Complete guide to portrait photography
- How to shoot like a fashion photographer