The Best Camera Settings for Boudoir Photography

One of the most popular questions is: "what are your camera settings?" If you are a boudoir photographer looking for the optimal settings for taking photos, you will find a few recommended settings in this video.

In this video, photographer Michael Sasser shares three different camera settings that he prefers and goes into detail covering the different scenarios in which he would use them. He does go through each scenario during this video while showing why he chooses the different settings. Depending on your camera setup, you might not feel comfortable matching his settings exactly, more specifically his ISO settings. In this video, Sasser is using the Sony a9 mirrorless camera and the Sony Planar T*FE 50mm f/1.4 lens

Most newer cameras excel when shooting in higher ISO settings, but if you are using an older camera system, you might want to differ your settings just a bit. If you trust yourself to still be able to nail the shots and not get too much camera shake or blurring, you can drop the shutter speed down a bit without having to bump the ISO as much. 

In either case, these are Sasser's preferred camera settings, which can be a great starting point for you. What settings do you typically use for shooting boudoir photography? 

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22 Comments

Sean Sauer's picture

Not trying to knock you but try using a speedlite or amping up the natural light... upping your ISO. You even talk about raising your ISO but all your shots appear to be very dark. It's hard to see how your camera settings are effecting the image.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

I have to disagree. His images in the vid have proper exposure. If they appear dark, it's supposed to. He's going that moody look. Not all images need to be all bright all the time. Shadows are our friend. :)

Sean Sauer's picture

I agree that not all images need to be bright BUT if you are trying to demonstrate what the camera settings are doing from a tutorial perspective (in a video) raising the light source so that the viewer can actually see what the camera is doing would be a good thing. For example in a brighter image it's easier to see how depth of field is effected by what your aperture is set at etc.

user-156929's picture

Following your advice would negate the point of the article. It would no longer represent the best settings for *boudoir* photography. Now, if the point was "how depth of field is effected by what your aperture is set at etc"...

Daniel Medley's picture

"His images in the vid have proper exposure." At the risk of opening up a rabbit hole, anything in which you have to increase ISO over base to get it light enough can't have "proper exposure." ISO has nothing really to do with exposure, it's simply adding lightness to an image. If you need to add lightness by bumping up ISO to get it to look bright enough, then it's underexposed by definition; the sensor needs more light.

Again, I'm not trying to open up a whole new rabbit hole, here. I'm just pointing out that "proper" exposure can only be attained by exposing the sensor to the light for the needed length of time to get a desired result. Not by increasing the ISO. That's why learning just a little bit of off camera flash can be so beneficial in controlling the light as needed; ie actually controlling the exposure.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

You're over complicating things with your own theories/philosophies. Proper exposure is proper exposure. Which can be subjective. At the end of day, given the light you're working with, you achieve it by shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. No need to try to redefine anything.

Daniel Medley's picture

But that's the thing. You don't achieve proper exposure by raising the ISO. It's not theory or philosophical. It's fact. Increasing ISO to lighten an image does not increase exposure. It simply lightens an image that is under exposed.

And, no, it's not complicated. For a better understanding, you may want to read this: https://www.dpreview.com/articles/8924544559/you-probably-don-t-know-wha... .

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

And, therein lies the problem. You're only looking at one aspect that affects proper exposure. Try looking up "exposure triangle". I know it may seem elementary, but, I think you're missing the whole point.

By your own argument, same would go for shutter speed and aperture. Opening them up also ligthens an image that is under exposed. Correct? Yes? This is the problem when people try to overcomplciate things. You have 3 adjustments to affect the end result, the final proper exposure.

Daniel Medley's picture

Trust me, I'm familiar with the Exposure Triangle. I used to believe as you do, but after spending some time doing some research and educating myself, I realized that exposure is not comprised of three things, ie a triangle; it's much simpler than that. Exposure is the amount of light hitting the sensor, period. The variables that impact that are the brightness of the light and the length of time the light is allowed to strike the sensor. Period. ISO has NOTHING to do with exposure.

So, in reality, the Exposure Triangle is more complicated.

"By your own argument, same would go for shutter speed and aperture. Opening them up also ligthens an image that is under exposed. Correct?"

No, that is not correct.

Increasing exposure by increasing the amount of light hitting the sensor "brightens" an image. Raising ISO to compensate for under exposure simply artificially "lightens" the image.

Exxxxxxactly Daniel!!! Increasing your ISO should be a "last resort", it's the part of the triangle that should be reserved for when your aperture is intentionally set for your desired depth of field and your shutter speed has no room to be lowered for the necessary stabilization of the shot (subject or camera movement or other creative choice). ISO is artificially and digitally raising the overall "exposure" of the image but also increasing the noise. So yes Black Z Eddie . , Daniel Medley is correct that "...anything in which you have to increase ISO over base to get it light enough can't have "proper exposure." #FACTS

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

I think a lot of these are just common sense settings and will depend on the light. But, yeah, too many noobs on Youtube and social media are always asking photographers their settings like they're going to replicate the shot using the same settings.

John Dawson's picture

Jason "Cool Hand Luke" Lanier is going to be insanely jealous of the hot shoe HD monitor rediculosity. Is that like a pseudo-tether?

The monitor is to record what you would see from the viewfinder so we can see what the camera is doing(settings). I think it’s better than those that use a GoPro

David Velez's picture

the photos are very cool!!

i just think we should stop calling this videos "the best .." "the way to go " "how to" , because photography is about tastes and styles, everyone have they're own style, and everytime i see this videos of someone saying "this is the way to do it.." i mean.. is the way you do it to become your style..
as if my way of doing it is wrong that's why you do a video called THE BEST WAY , cause your way is the best of all...

apart from that.. its the basics if you use natural light inside and use those types of lenses..

i hope i dont get misunderstood.

happy holidays

Mr Hogwallop's picture

My ex-bro in law would always say "Here, this is what you gotta do..." it drove me crazy... :)

Daniel Medley's picture

Best? Maybe for some. Generally speaking, even with today's great sensors, anything over, say, 800 ISO simply means that there isn't enough light for a good exposure at the current settings. Technically, anything over base ISO indicates there isn't enough light. Increasing ISO is simply taking an underexposed photo and artificially lightening it up. Personally, I don't understand why anyone would do that if they didn't have to.

If you're shooting professionally, like this guy does, you'd be better served learning how to use a little off camera flash than pumping your ISO up to 1600 or 3200. Unless you're wanting to for artistic reasons, I suppose. Or, in the case of the person in the video, it's good enough.

Really, just a couple of speed lights and reflective umbrellas could make all the difference (yet subtle) in the world. It could also save a lot of work in post, too, since it looks like he brought up the subject a bit in post.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

But not everyone wants to shoot with speedlights, reflectors and umbrellas as you suggest. Your work is different than his, yours is brighter, lit with additional sources even outside. He seems to have a style of using big window light, shallow focus and maybe more "casual". Both create a nice look, but different.
IMO you are both right

Daniel Medley's picture

Using artificial light, though, isn't necessarily about making it look brighter. It's about controlling the light to have it do what is needed. The fact that he apparently shoots up to 1600 or even 3200 ISO is a clear indication that he's underexposing and then simply bumping up ISO to artificially lighten the image. Keep in mind that there is definitely a use for high ISO; event photography, journalistic photography, etc., but boudoir, fashion, or most any kind of portraiture isn't one of them.

You're right, people find what works for them in different ways, but in my opinion--just my opinion--is that professionals should be able to do whatever it takes to do what needs to be done in the best way available. Shooting fashion or boudoir in an controlled setting at ISO 1600 or higher because there is not enough light is sub-optimal. Especially when it would be so easy to shoot it at base ISO with flash and it would look almost indistinguishable from using high ISO and natural light. The only noticeable difference would be a much cleaner and malleable image.

One of the reasons I even bring it up is from reading through the comments on the video itself in which others suggest using flash and Sasser eludes that he's a natural light photographer only. Why is it we don't hear photographers bill themselves as "artificial light photographers only"? I think it's because most any photographer able to effectively use flash can handle themselves in natural light, whereas a "natural light" photographer is limited.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

It goes back to style, not if a pro should do this or that. His goals are different than yours

I know a guy who has said he is a "studio photographer exclusively". So that seems like the opposite of a "natural light photographer". He sets up a whole studio on location. He is pretty lost without additional lighting gear.

I had another friend who shot a 90% natural/available light portraits (Fortune, NYT and others) she was very low key and would carry on a quiet conversation with her subject. The soft "snik" of her Leica didn't break the mood like a "fwop" of a few strobes would. Window light a fill card and hi ASA/ ISO was her forte. She did it all over the world...

In this example, I might put some strobes behind the sheer curtains but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I do a little bit of both, coming from the film age I appreciate that I can get a clean image at a much higher ISO than I ever could with film, even when pushing. But not afraid to use some strobe. 15-20 years ago the "Annie Leibovitz" look of strobe outside with the BG underexposed was hot, now it's more airy with open shadows and no one is afraid of white skies anymore.

Implying that other people are not professionals cuz they do things differently...that's just an opinion.

Robbie Keene's picture

I felt compelled to comment but I realized it was not going to be positive or constructive so I didn't.

I actually thought this was a satirical post ...

Now that we know what settings to use on boudoir photography, can't we have a video on portrait settings? and street photography? Because I can't think for myself

ISO is about grain of a photo so I would disagree with just bumping it up for proper exposure. The lower the ISO similar to film is less grain and better crisp clarity. Higher ISO won’t allow as crisp clear photo and does add grain to an image. Post work sure you can make it less grainy feel, however, not proper exposure. Technology helps this but if you were still using film you can’t just bump up the ISO to add more light, that is the speed of the film.