Playing with Shadows Using Natural Light in Boudoir Photography

Playing with Shadows Using Natural Light in Boudoir Photography

Playing with shadows is not a new concept however in the boudoir community is has become a beautiful new trend. A recent group competition brought many boudoir photographers into the sight of this staff writer. One photographer in particular stopped the show with some moody light that won us over.

A few weeks ago a group contest was posted  for the chance to be featured on Fstoppers for boudoir photography. Judge and group moderator Courtney Bell of The Adore Girls and I reviewed all images in the boudoir group forum. The winner, Martin Strauss, showed a range of poses, color toning and moods that sent us both into a unanimous vote for his work.

Strauss started photography roughly six years ago shooting weddings, fashion, and boudoir. He feels boudoir still remains featured on the intimate, romantic side of photography rather than the more erotic images of a subject. While shooting on set, he routinely will show the model the shots on the display to create a bond between the model and the images.

He wrote that there are certain elements decisive for boudoir photography: a combination of the model's pose along with the photographers point of view and focus. These two elements play the main role while the lighting delivers the mood needed to create the final image.

The Technical Side

His work consists of warmer tones where he sets his white balance to 7500K. He feels this gives the desired color he is looking for on his subjects skin enhancing a warm, soft, and dreamy look. The choice of colors contrasts and his skin retouching is a element that can clearly show how he is set apart. Lighting his subjects ranges depending on mood as he wrote that "boudoir photography is not about showing what she has to offer, but to suggest what may be hidden. Playing with the shadows, lines and curves are more important than getting the perfect soft spot of light."

Utilizing the window light in this image enhances the models collarbone, profile of the face as well as the elements surrounding her such as the table and bed. During the session itself, the lighting helped the model for the facial expression that would match the final resulting image.

Here the mood is set to a film noir look enhancing the curves and shadows that fall across her body. Using the natural light from the window gives the dreamy look without losing the contrast needed to create the image. Darkening the areas with shadows that are not necessary such as the larger back portion of the room will help focus the viewers eyes to the model.

Strauss explains that diffused high key images flatters the skin and gives a dreamy mood, while another may be characterized by soft focal distances and a shallow depth of field which imparts an intimate mood. 

Normally I use natural soft light. Any big or small window is chosen over softboxes and beauty-dishes. I tend to say the smaller the light source, the better. This may sound contrary (as smaller light sources produce harsher light), but with less light, the soft intimate mood gets stronger.

He feels this applies not only to the final images but also to the mood created on the set itself. Using the soft natural light offers Strauss two distinct ways of shooting with the light as well as against it. Filling in with shadows the texture of the couch as well as part of her body line give a distinct moody look to Strauss's work.

Shooting with the light

Shooting against the light

Posing and the Connection

Strauss feels strongly that models should be natural and never overly erotic or sexually suggestive in posing. In this regard, he wrote that the facial expression is more important than the style of clothing or wearing nothing at all.

I try to go for a subtle eye contact between the model and the camera or even a dreamy far away gaze. Posing of the model follows more an esthetic approach. I often chose 35mm on a full frame for stretching the legs and the body itself while paying attention that her back, hands, and feet are elongated.

Example of using eye contact for setting the connection between model and viewer

As in every other art, there are no rules Strauss writes, "I will not claim that all these assumption are downright 100% accurate, hell, there is at least one image of mine which breaks one or all of these 'rules,' but keeping that in mind, may help you along the way."  

Congratulations to Strauss and his boudoir work. Keep up with the group forum for a future chance to be featured! You can follow Strauss on his Instagram, and be sure to check out his website

All images courtesy of Martin Strauss.

Jennifer Tallerico's picture

JT is known throughout the International Boudoir Photography Industry and the region for her unique approach to Fine Art Photography. Her underwater work as JT Aqua is ethereal based and conceptual. She is an educator, writer and currently teaching workshops for underwater and boudoir.

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Good article...and great ideas.

Too bad though that all the subjects of these images are so and women come in all sizes.

Too bad? Seriously? So they should eat twinkies and lay on the couch until they represent some theoretical cross-section of society? That is asinine.

sheesh...bad day?

No. I'm serious. What would be the benefit to using less fit models? I'm not saying they shouldn't use such models but what difference does it make?

Edit: I just came back from looking at your photos. Too bad all your subjects are so fit...

Boom! :)


Boudoir photography is not supposed to be about the pro model. It's supposed to be for the more common woman who wants photos that will make them feel better about themselves. Real boudoir photographers can make any sized woman attractive, beautiful and sexy.

How do you know these models aren't "common" and due to the photographer's skills, look attractive, beautiful and sexy? ;-)

Seriously, though, who are these particular photos for? I can't imagine the common women you speak of are browsing through Fstoppers. I understand your point but I don't know how relevant it is in this venue.

As an aside, your comment makes me wonder what a cross section of the women, looking for these kinds of photos, look like, not that you can quantify the qualities we're talking about.

"How do you know these models aren't "common" and due to the photographer's skills, look attractive, beautiful and sexy? ;-)"

Oh c'mon! I'm not an idiot.

I was under the impression ";-)" meant something like, "just kidding." No?

This whole thread heated up when you came in swinging at Leigh about his post. You think happy faces will make you look any less of an ass?

You're right. It turns out my comment was the asinine one. How ironic.

"This whole thread heated up when you came in swinging at Leigh about his post."

Patrick's comment to Leigh is obviously fair.

Since when is it an F stoppers requirement that all photos be of beautiful models?

Where did I imply it was?

"It's supposed to be for the more common woman who wants photos that will make them feel better about themselves."

That's fine to try and help people feel better about themselves, but trying to make it seem like being fat is ok is not doing that in the long term.

"Real boudoir photographers can make any sized woman attractive, beautiful and sexy."

Photography can hide a lot of things, but not what such people are going to be feeling long term.

This politically correct nonsense you see today that people being fat people is somehow ok is madness and lie.

Are you going to go and creep my work now Patrick, and come back with criticisms?

'Creep your work'? :-/
What does that even mean?

I did, in fact, look at your photos as I do everyone who gets my attention. It's just my way of putting some context to an individual and their comments regardless of content.

I found your comments to be thoughtful and they added a dimension to the topic I hadn't considered.
I didn't really get anything from your photos. They seemed very nice but not particularly instructive into your POV.

I wish you hadn't ruined my opinion of you with this follow-up comment but I understand the mindset. It's very easy to divide everyone into allies and enemies...until you get to know them. Now THAT is an inconvenient truth! :-)

"Edit: I just came back from looking at your photos. Too bad all your subjects are so fit..."

This is "what it means". Pretty rich from a guy who doesn't even have one image posted, and frankly I couldn't give a rats ass what your opinion of me is. I also didn't say I was a boudoir photographer so I wasn't expecting my work to be instructive to my POV.

Again, not doing that kind of photography, it hadn't occurred to me what the goal was. To be honest, I don't understand the genre and have no interest in it. The only reason I read the article was a shared interest in photographing people, boudoir photography being a rather difficult subset therein.

I agree that nobody should be overly concerned with anyone else's opinion of them but it can be instructive.

And finally, I'm sorry I upset you so much.

I'm sorry for my original and follow up comments. Being ignorant of the purpose of boudoir photography (thanks Mihael), I didn't understand yours. I still don't understand the need to use less fit models in this venue but I was rude.
I'm sorry.

Patrick, your original comment was fair. The attitude that promotes the idea that being overweight is a good thing, is not a good thing.

The idea behind my comment was there's no reason to lament the absence of overweight models and that was, in fact fair. What I apologized for was 1. thinking his comment was based on PC thinking and 2. being rude about it.

Well, I think his comment does come from political correctness, and I don't think you were rude.

What the fudge just happened in this entire comment tree lol.

you are right in some way. since these are just 4-5 examples of over 500 pictures i choose the "best" ones.
and photos with fitter models are regarded as more appealling.

@Leigh Miller. There's one in every group. Do you feel better now? Feeling morally superior and all inclusive-like? I don't model, because I do not consider myself handsome. I'm OK with that. Didn't win the gene pool in the looks category. So. I bring other things to the table. When I see a model. I wish to see someone fit and beautiful. Do you want a handyman working on the blown engine of your car, or a master mechanic? Sheesh.

Their fitness levels are unknown. What is known is that they are simply not fat. Who in their right mind would want to promote being fat?! Nothing healthy or attractive about it!

"Who in their right mind would want to promote being fat?" Boudoir photography is not about promoting health and fitness. It was originally meant for more common women as something to do for themselves to help make themselves feel better about themselves. Something like a day at the spa, but with more longevity. Do you have an issue with large women Pete?

Yes, I have "an issue" with fat women, and men. It's unhealthy and unattractive, as I already said.

The more obvious way for someone to "feel better about themselves" in little to no clothes would be to not be fat.

Such photos are not "like a day at the spa." It's a way for women to try and convince themselves that's it's ok for them to be fat.

Great article and some great examples. Your articles make me wish I could do that kind of photography...almost. ;-)

thx patrick :)

Congrats for Martin :)

thx Tomash

good read and great photos, wish i could shoot stuff one day.

Anyone have an idea of how to expose for the shadows like in the 2nd and 3rd photos in this article? Where would you want to meter from?

i have an idea^^
forget the meter and go with your camera display. sriously.
and aim for minus 2 or 3 on your "used to be - level"
these images are DARK

Daaayuum! Great images! I'm about to do a boudoir shoot next week and this just gave me some ideas.

Love the one with Zhanna (B/W one). I wonder what the second light source is... another window?

lamp on the ceiling