The art of boudoir photography can get lost in translation and become something other than what it was intended to be. Don't the photographer that fails to hit the mark and misses out on an amazing opportunity.
Boudoir photography has less to do with the amount of skin shown and more to do with creating an environment and subsequent series of images that help your subject look, feel, and be their best selves in their own skin. Sure, there are inherent elements of intimacy, sensuality, romance, and eroticism, but your goal should be to help your client or model see themselves in a way that is unique to them and anyone that sees your final edits. The boudoir style of photography came about as a way for the subject and their romantic partners to enjoy the more sensual side of the individual.
Glamour, art nude, and even the various versions of erotic photography are very distinct from boudoir because the intended audience is dramatically different. Rather than being overly suggestive, the idea of boudoir is to approach sexuality, intimacy, and even nudity in a way that is more designed for a private audience rather than a broadcast viewership. Your subject might be a client or a model, but your approach should be one that focuses on the story of the individual. Boudoir is primarily for your subject and those close to them with whom they share the images.
Some of the more notable forms of early boudoir photography include pinup posters from the World War II era, which began to normalize the female form in advertising, but it has evolved over time to circle back to creating a medium that is meant for the intimate setting. The word itself comes from the French language, where it is primarily attributed to a woman's dressing room or bedroom. The style as a whole was never meant for the masses; that's where glamour and erotic styles come into play.
So, why do boudoir photographers overthink their shoots? It's easy to get lost in trying to create that perfect shot, with the perfect light, of the perfect body. But it's much more important to remember that your mission is to build up your subject no matter what they choose for outfits or how they present themselves physically. Your job is simple: it's to create an image that evokes a positive emotion. Ideally, the emotion that your images evoke will be of a somewhat sensual nature, but not all boudoir clients will want images of themselves that are that overt.
Obviously, since they are coming to you, they want a session that shows their more vulnerable, even sexual side, but clear communication with your client will help you figure out how to truly capture them in a way that shows them as their best, sensual selves. Here are a few suggestions for designing a session that allows your boudoir client to both feel comfortable and excited for their session:
- Discuss wardrobe well in advance. Outfits can be confusing, and rarely will your boudoir clients have a perfectly clear idea of what they want to wear. You are the one crafting the image; give helpful suggestions that work in their comfort zones and budgets to pick outfits that help them look their best.
- Pick the right location. Some will want to work with you in a studio; the space and quietness will help them feel at ease. Other clients might feel more comfortable if you shoot with them in their own homes. Don't limit yourself to a single location for your boudoir shoots. Being flexible will allow you to corner a larger target market.
- Boudoir is a vulnerable session. Some of your clients will want to bring a friend or family member along so they feel safe. Do not discourage this. If your client feels uncomfortable, it will absolutely show in their face and in the images you capture.
- Stick to your style. They came to you for a reason, so be confident in your approach. Boudoir is very widely open to interpretation, and your clients picked you because of how you interpret the style.
- Boudoir has always been about the empowerment of the subject. Try asking your client to describe what they think some of their best qualities are and use that to adapt your compositions to complement what they already see in themselves.
Boudoir photography really is simple. Perhaps some sessions are more challenging than others, but the end goal is and has always been the exact same. The goal, to create a series of images unique to one individual in a way that allows them to see themselves as attractive, sensual, and physically desirable, is always a fun opportunity. The more widespread the genre has become, the greater range of styles we have begun to see, and it's only growing in popularity and variety.
I always recommend the same advice to other boudoir photographers that come to me for input. For those newer to shooting such styles, I strongly encourage you to look up and follow three to five other boudoir photographers whose styles are ones you want to emulate. Study those styles and even try to recreate some of the looks you see. Reverse-engineering another's photo will teach you so much about mastering your own style with the craft.
For the more seasoned boudoir photographers, I always love it when one branches out and creates something completely original to their preexisting styles. Try something new, even if you already have a formula that works. You never know what might come of it. Trying new things in the realm of boudoir can be just as much fun for you as it is for those you photograph.
Boudoir photography isn't limited to gender, either as a photographer or subject, but has become a much more flexible form of artistic expression. What this means to you as a photographer is that you should think through how you are going to make each of your subjects comfortable in front of your camera. Since this is a photographic realm that is inherently more vulnerable, there are certain considerations that male photographers should think through when their subject is female; the same can be said if photographer and subject gender roles are reversed.
Unfortunately, we live in a world where photographers have been known to use a photoshoot as a means to come on to someone in an inappropriate fashion. Just be smart, think through what you would want as the subject of a boudoir session to feel comfortable, and create a positive environment that allows those in front of your camera to truly be themselves.
At the end of the day, keep it simple; as long as your client feels comfortable, happy, and confident throughout their session, then you absolutely nailed it.