Boudoir photography can be one of the most powerful ways to bring confidence back to an individual. Challenging their negative thoughts about themselves while repairing their body image is more rewarding to a boudoir photographer than the money itself (OK yes, the money is great but be honest — you love it when they cry those happy tears of joy seeing their images).
In a conversation with one of my most talented boudoir colleagues, Cate Scaglione, we came across the same thought process when we were speaking about how we shoot: In story mode.
We both immerse ourselves into this untold tale of the client as she transforms before the camera. The story itself can be told with mood, emotions, and background. But without the right lighting, the story can become lost. It can take on a new direction, perhaps not in line with the photographer's initial intentions.
I decided to do an interview of sorts to really get to the bottom of Scagilione's personal thought process.
My natural transition to boudoir women actually began because I was creating images that told stories … I wanted them to look like characters from literature, mythology or epic heroines. I would ask a woman, 'How do you feel most beautiful… Most powerful?' And for many, it had something to do with their sensual side. In that sense, the wardrobe (or lack thereof) was actually the smallest piece of the equation. The real elements were more about her expression, her pose and most of all, the environment’s role in the portrait to tell that story.
With boudoir, I work hard to create very natural environments — and that illusion of 'laid back' control helps breed confidence in an otherwise vulnerable situation. My studio looks more like a lived-in residential loft than a photographer’s studio. There’s elements of comfort and plush décor surrounding them — less so with equipment.
In my previous article where we explored how lighting can dramatically sculpt black and white photography, it can also help mold the storytelling aspect of boudoir. Creating the connection between the environment and the client, it unfolds a story only understood by each individual viewer.
The story I am trying to convey dictates how I will control and modify the natural light in my studio by flagging, reflectors, intentional posing for light and shadow.
Scaglione is no stranger to sculpting her imagery with light. She studied under fashion photographer Dallas Logan, who is well known for his lighting seminars "Light is Light." One of the lessons she said she has carried for years from him is that although light is light (referring to natural or studios light) the lighting choices must be aligned with the photographer's intentions.
In the image below, her story sets in either dusk or dawn. The lighting sets a mood of dark and magical. Highlighting the body, yet not the backdrop you still know where the location is meant to take place. She brings a voyeuristic approach with her light intensity, creating a feeling of stumbling upon a scene such as below.
The majority of my clients love the intimate, almost voyeuristic, storytelling approach I take. The majority come in with the goal of creating a storybook album, as if the intimate story is unfolding. But the aspiration some of my best clients is that epic fine art portrait for the wall, and I think this is what people are most familiar with in my work.
Lighting will help support the story you are trying to tell. It can show light and airy, dark and moody, or dramatically influenced. Scaglione's concept and techniques show us that you can play out a still part of a romance novel with being filled wanting to know more. Three key elements I notice with her imagery is her placement, and the quality and the intensity of the light source she interacts with on a image-per-image basis. Typically she shoots with her Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens and Sigma Art 50mm f/1.4. The focal depth and range enables for more intimate storytelling as well as leading to a sense of deep voyeurism.
Scaglione's use of light placement in the image above brings the viewer to another moment not only in time, but also seasonality. Accenting the cold highlights, yet the warmth that surrounds the woman inside.
In the image below, she uses the same room, same window light, but yet a different angle of light in which to tell her story. Highlighting the face now can help the client to set the mood. Is she smiling? Is she sad? No. She seems to be looking down past a window, perhaps patiently waiting for her significant other to arrive. (That is my take on it. The best part of this image, anyone can decipher their own storyline from the mood.)
It’s my perpetual goal to normalize boudoir for a woman, allowing her to see herself as art. I want every client to wake up, see herself on the wall and start the day with a sense of fierce, feminine bravado. That’s when I know I am successful.