Setting Out to Shoot Boudoir as a Male Photographer

Setting Out to Shoot Boudoir as a Male Photographer

There are countless photographers out in the world who are producing truly exceptional work in the field of boudoir. Local to me in Utah, the field is one where most of the boudoir photographers are women. The ratio of boudoir photographers from female to male is really irrelevant, so I didn't even bother trying to figure it out. Starting to offer boudoir services as a male photographer was a fairly daunting idea to me, particularly because the community in which I live is fairly conservative and the boudoir genre itself is not as widely accepted as it might be in other communities around the globe. If you find yourself in a similar situation then here are a few ideas to hopefully help you get up and running.

There are plenty of male boudoir photographers out there who will have their own stories of how they started out in this genre of the industry, chances are they will also have some great advice concerning how to get started. If you are one of these photographers that I am describing, I would urge you to make sure to comment below and add any additional advice that you might have for people just getting started. When I first started shooting boudoir, I had talked with several other boudoir photographers around the world and asked for their input on how to get started. Most of them simply shared their experience and what worked for them. To this day, the advice that I received from these individuals is advice that I put into practice on every shoot.

For some clients or models, the idea of a boudoir shoot alone might be daunting, and some will only be comfortable working with a female photographer. Now, before anyone jumps off the rails with sexism arguments, let's just talk realities. Boudoir photography is a style to feature someone in an intimate, romantic, and possibly an erotic fashion. From my personal experience, the images are usually just for the enjoyment of the individual and possibly their romantic partner. Sure, there will be people who are just as excited to post and share them with friends and social media followers, which is awesome because that's a great way to acquire referrals. The nature of boudoir photography is usually fairly revealing and when you come right down to it, someone is going to be taking off a decent amount of clothing and then let you photograph them in that state. That person is placing a lot of trust in you as a photographer and as a human being.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III | Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM | 85mm • ƒ/3.5 • 1/160s • ISO 400

Canon EOS 5D Mark III | Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM | 85mm • ƒ/3.5 • 1/250s • ISO 400

I think it's fairly reasonable for someone to be apprehensive about posing for a boudoir shoot. I also think it stands within reason for having the gender of the photographer factor into that. There are enough stories out there of male photographers taking advantage of female clients or models, just look it up and you'll find plenty to read about. Perhaps it's the way that society has conditioned us to perceive reality, or perhaps it's the way human nature has taken turns for the worse, but there are seems to be a lot more stories of male photographers behaving poorly on shoots like these than there are about female photographers creating such problems. Again, this is hardly worth debating, but what needs to be understood is that as a male starting out shooting boudoir there are likely some perceptions out there that you will have to overcome.

It really comes down to trust, which is true with any form of photography, and this is true for both male and female photographers. Your client or model needs to trust you. They need to trust that you will treat them respectfully. They need to trust that you will produce quality images that show them as their best selves. I think most people have some sort of insecurity about their body, so this one is pretty important. One of the best ways to gain that trust with people who have never met you will be the referrals that your former clients or models share. Even if the other people who have worked with you didn't do so in a boudoir setting, they can still be very valuable in terms of vouching for your character and quality as a photographer.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III | Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM | 85mm • ƒ/3.5 • 1/200s • ISO 400

Canon EOS 5D Mark III | Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM | 85mm • ƒ/3.5 • 1/200s • ISO 400

If you have never shot a boudoir session before, there are a couple different ways to get those shoots under your belt so you can start building that portfolio. A very simple way would be to pay a model to work with you. I have seen enough online portfolios and social media accounts of models, that I think it's safe to say that you should be able to locate a few models close to you who are interested in modeling boudoir. One of the biggest perks of working with an experienced model is that they will likely have a good idea how to carry and pose themselves. They know their best sides, they know their form, and they'll have experience working with the camera. Especially if you've never shot boudoir before, this can be an invaluable experience because you are paying someone for their time to help you. You have the opportunity to study posing, lighting, and composition with someone who already knows how to interact well with the camera. You may not have to help them pose at all and you might just be able to learn from how they pose themselves. Plus there's always the added benefit that if your model shares images from your shoot together then all of her followers now get to see your work. It's a great way to open that door for yourself.

Another option to play with would be conducting shoots with people on a trade basis. The obvious benefit is that you save a little money because you're not paying someone to model for you. This can be a double-edged sword, however, because there is the chance that the people willing to model on a trade basis might not be as experienced as someone who charges a modeling fee. If you're working with someone who has little or no modeling experience, this too can be a great learning opportunity because it will force you to start seeing how body shapes work with the light and how poses can optimize all the best features of someone. Learning how to help pose someone is one of those things that is usually a pretty rewarding experience, especially when the final images are done and they get to see how beautiful of a person they really are.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III | Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM | 85mm • ƒ/2.0 • 1/400s • ISO 400

Canon EOS 5D Mark III | Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM | 85mm • ƒ/2.0 • 1/320s • ISO 400

One thing that I have adopted as a standard business practice for myself is that I am never on a shoot by myself alone with my subject. It's not that anyone is worried anything could possibly happen, it's to ensure that there will never be any question that it could. It removes any remote possible doubt and ensures a safe environment for everyone involved in the shoot. Yes, I get it, other photographers will have different policies and might think this is overkill. I really don't care. Do what works for you and your business, this is just one thing that I have found to work quite well for my own shoot style. Usually my model or client will bring their significant other, family member, or close friend along for the shoot. This provides an additional benefit because you can put them to work. Have your third person help pay attention to the smaller details, making sure straps on clothing aren't twisted, keeping an eye on hair, helping hold light modifiers, etc.

The last thing that I learned as I began my venture into shooting boudoir was making sure communication was clear and that expectations of the shoot were understood all around. If you are in a relationship, this will mean that you include your romantic partner in the understanding of what the expectations are for the shoot. You could invite them to come along on your shoots, have them be your third-party person, or even help out on the shoot. Even if it's just in conversations about your plans for the shoot, make sure you involve your relationship partner. In my mind that's just a simple courtesy because you want them to be OK with what you're doing in your career.

Again, our experienced boudoir photographers, please make sure to comment below if you have any other additional advice that you think would benefit someone just starting out as a boudoir photographer.

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12 Comments

frank nazario's picture

I do fitness, bikini and boudoir it is IMPERATIVE to me to make sure my female client feels not only at ease but confident that it's her photographer and NOT "A MAN WITH A CAMERA" taking the photos... that said i create depending on the type of session an environment that suits.

If she walks in with her friend or significant other i explain to them both what i am expecting from them and where I would like to take the shoot... that way "improv" is targeted. Sexiness and sensuality will happen once everybody understand where this will take us.

Supportive comments during the shoot help the clients not only to do better but to feel that we are all striving for the best they can deliver... and it works.

This is not a 1person event ... it takes teamwork and trust, that happens during the shoot.

Rex Jones's picture

I love your approach to your shoots! I think it’s a very smart business practice, plus my guess is that you’re able to get much better shots when everyone is comfortable with what is being shot. Thank you for sharing!

Luiz Vasques's picture

Well heres my little boudoir by acident history: I was shooting some pictures with this woman in this antique store and light was good, with lots of mirrors and cool scenery stuff and sudenly she was runing around with pearls and a bra and pictures went to this direction.

So, and by no way I am a professional, I´d say:

1) My guess is that beyond confortable she felt confident in the "image" that was being projected of her as a picture.

2) people have repressed wishes to see themselves as beautiful and sexualy appealing creatures but their social-sexual-family-background sometimes may tend to make them feel "embarassed or lame" to do so, so I understand that this boudoir thing demand may happen more than rarely.

3) My personal challenge was to control moves and poses. Girls, perhaps, tend to be more intoxicated with sturdy fashion concepts of "what poses make them look great" and for my taste, specially in this type of photograpy , it can look unnatural and passé.

Dan Howell's picture

Boudoir/Glamour, even more than fashion, is a genre where the supply vs. demand ratio is grossly out of balance. Unlike fashion, there are few truly lucrative clients/projects and little chance of sustaining or regular work. Yet there are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of photographers (mostly male) wanting to do it. The few higher paying editorial, advertising or commercial projects in the genre are more frequently shot by established fashion photographers. I would advise not treating the boudoir genre as a realistic business target. Shoot it if you are interested, but applying any sort of grounded business logic to it is an error.

Rex Jones's picture

I think you’re absolutely correct. For me, I only ever shoot boudoir when asked about it. Like you said, I don’t see much of a point in driving to make it a big part of my business. It’s fun, I’ll shoot it, and that’s about how I leave it. :)

Kevan Wilkie's picture

Spoken theoretically I presume? I, and many others, make a decent living doing this type of photography.

Dan Howell's picture

No. I think I stand on pretty firm ground. What specific boudoir project do you shoot other than private commissions? What specific private commissions provide regular repeat and sustaining business? IF you get regular glamour editorial or catalog like lingerie projects why do you not think that fashion photographers are not competing for those same projects. I don't want to negate or doubt your statement about your individual experience, but I would be happy to debate and absolutely contrast any statement that implies that glamour/boudoir is a vibrant business path for high and regular fees. Or maybe we just have a different standard of what a decent living is. Or you might want to explain how much of your 'decent living' comes from wedding and engagement work (as shown on your website) vs. boudoir. If boudoir is less than 50% of your yearly fees, you've proven my argument for me.

Nara O'Neil's picture

Great article and images, I take a similar approach, ensuring there is always a third (or more) person around, it's a good policy to keep.

Samuel Flores Sanchez's picture

Take away importance and mysticism in the first place. Approach it like any other shooting, with professionality.

If you have the occasion, attend some erotic fare like "El Salón Erótico de Barcelona" and make some photographs there. After that, Boudoir is not going to make you nervous anymore.

Don't stay alone with the model unless you and the model know and trust each other very well

Step 1.) Don't be a creepy douche.

Step 2.) Don't objectify women, even subconsciously.

Step 3.) If you ever find yourself breaking one of the the above two rules, QUIT.

The sole purpose of boudoir photography should be for the building of a person's own self-confidence behind closed doors, or of course let's be honest in Utah, for your significant other's enjoyment if you're ultra-conservative.

Other than that, putting half-naked photos of models (and/or clients) on blast is, for the most part, only serving to perpetuate / worsen the objectification of women. Or at least, that's how you'll be perceived, as a make photographer of female boudoir photos.

Greg Hitchcock's picture

Interesting article. Although I have one comment about hiring a model. I started doing boudoir as a side service to my wedding photography business. I found that having a diverse portfolio was very advantageous as my first few paid session were of the same style, I quickly became stuck when future prospective clients did not care of this style. Thus I tired hiring a few models for a couple shoots. This did generate amazing images. However, I later learned that when you hire a model who knows how to pose and quickly generate new poses and variations on their own, you can quickly lapse into a false sense of confidence in terms your own posing skills. In other words, you hire a model for a shoot and it yields amazing images, you think you can well setup to start booking clients. Then you book a client who has never poses for a shoot before, as is the case with 90% of boudoir shoots, and all of the sudden you don't know what to do because this subject is not a model.

Pretty good article. It's definitely CRITICAL to build good rapport and strong trust, *especially* for potential clients who are new to the whole "boudoir modeling" experience.

I would add that if you're trying to do this professionally, you can offer discounts for signed model release for your personal portfolio. This way, more timid clients can be assured that their intimate boudoir photos remain private, but they also have the *option* to pay less if they sign a release allowing you to use images for marketing/promotions.

www.justingillphoto.com/boudoir.html