Shooting Boudoir in Airbnb Rentals

Shooting Boudoir in Airbnb Rentals

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Boudoir shoots are inherently more quiet and less flamboyant by their very nature, but that doesn't mean that they have to be any less creative and unique than any other style of shoot. One of the ways that I have found to change things up with my boudoir work is to set up the shoots in random Airbnb properties instead of in studios.

Don't get me wrong, I love the freedom of space and flexibility of shooting in a studio. However, I got to the point where I would learn the tricks to any given studio, understand how light worked within the space, and would end up using the same types of setups over and over again simply because I knew they would work for anyone. Again, this isn't a bad thing, perhaps that's all you look for when setting up your boudoir shoots. But for me, I got slightly bored with it, so I began looking for ways to challenge myself further.

What started out as a random suggestion from a model I was planning a shoot with earlier this year ended up being something I wanted to pursue. She had messaged me about setting up a boudoir shoot together and that she was traveling to the city where I live. But instead of wanting to spend anymore money to rent a studio space, she suggested that we just use the Airbnb that she was staying in while down here. I was instantly on board with the idea. The thought of being challenged to make good use of the space on the spot struck me as a fascinating opportunity. Turns out, I was right, it really was an incredibly unique challenge in more ways than I had considered. Not a bad challenge, but more like a good game of Tetris, where every single shot took some thinking to figure out how to make the most of what was in front of me.

Use of Space

Space is probably the first big challenge. Most homes, bedrooms, and bathrooms will be smaller in space than what you might be used to in a studio space. So having enough space between you and your model to frame up the shot can be tricky sometimes. On that note, the lenses you have available to you will make a huge impact. Prime lenses can be great, but quite often I found myself needing the varying focal lengths of zoom lenses. My ideal setup for these shoots would probably be a 24-70mm lens and the 70-200mm lens. Personally, I prefer the look of the longer focal lengths, so even though a 24-70mm would allow me to work with more confined areas within the space, I would likely opt to cram myself into a corner in order to shoot with the 70-200 instead.

When it comes to picking your Airbnb, with the object of shooting in it, take the time to pay close attention to the information listed on the rental itself. Try to get an idea of what the space will look like so you can better prepare your lens lineup for the shoot. Most places are useable, but may require different gear depending on what place you actually rent. Also, it can be helpful to take along items like a small ladder, or step stool, just for the purposes of taking more control over the space you actually have on location. Try shooting high, try shooting low, try anything that comes into your head. For me, it becomes a veritable playground where anything could work. Anything could also fail, but you never really know until you try it.

Playing with Light

Light can be interesting to play with in these properties. Some will have amazing natural window light, others will be more dramatic with lamp light being the primary source of light, still others will have a random assortment of window light and varying colors from different bulbs used throughout the space. Regardless of what exists in the property, there will always be one way to put it to use or another. The trick is simply to experiment with it. Your light sources will have an affect on the poses that your model uses as well as the compositions you create for such poses. That may sound stressful, but one of the main benefits for shooting in a vacation rental is that you aren't as limited on time. Where most studios will rent out the space by the hour, a vacation rental will rent out for a much longer period of time. Typically you will have an afternoon check in time and a late morning check out time. This means you should have an ample amount of time to just experiment with what works and what does not.Β 

When I find myself working in a particularly difficult room, I don't so easily give up. I just keep trying new things whether they actually work or not. Quite frankly, I shoot a lot of terrible shots in order to figure out how to best use the space, and that's when the ones that actually become final images are taken. I know that I can always get at least one good shot from any given room, I just work until I find that one shot that works and then tweak it a bit until I feel happy about the images that were captured. My favorite type of light is always going to be window light. But I have found that incorporating lamps to work fantastically. Another trick that I have begun to enjoy is to turn on a light in another room and to leave the door partially open to create a more directional light source. I just keep trying things until one of them works out, it's fun!

Experiment with Camera Settings

Camera settings are another one of those random challenges that I didn't really expect to play with but ended up spending more time than I thought getting things to look how I wanted. For example, I like to shoot my boudoir work at an f-stop in the realm of 3.5 or 4.0 but if I don't have much light in the space then I now find myself compensating with either higher ISO settings or slower shutter speeds, or both. Some of the slowest shutter speeds that I have ever used for portraits are ones that were used in these scenarios. I found myself slowing down to a shutter as slow as 1/10 at a focal length of 70mm. That sounds like a recipe for disaster, but I just crammed myself into my little corner and held the camera steady against a door frame for stability. Crazy? Possibly, but it worked and the shots came out splendidly.

I also found myself opening up the ISO to ranges which involved much more digital noise than what I prefer to end up with in my portraiture. It happened out of necessity rather than choice, but it ended up creating a solid learning experience for how to take these images and make the most of them with my post-production. Needless to say, I have had ample opportunity to learn how to take a noisier image and turn it around to be a visually pleasing portrait that becomes something thoroughly enjoyed by my model or client. Sure, it took lots of time and practice, with the use of many varied approaches to processing these digital negatives. But over time I began to figure out what typically works for these images and once I had a pattern established then the rest fell into place.

Communicate Clearly with Your Hosts

The first, and best way to treat your Airbnb hosts with respect is to have clear communication with them up front. Make sure that they understand what you'd like to do and that they're okay with you setting up a shoot. The more clear your communication with them, the better. So far, I have yet to had an issue setting up shoots like this and most hosts are simply curious how the shots will turn out. Always make sure to read the house rules, something that every Airbnb location will have, before booking it and using it for a shoot. Don't damage the place, try to keep the furniture how you found it, and be respectful of the place by not filling it with a crowd or noisy individuals. It should be common sense, but sometimes that can get lost if we aren't careful. Give it a try, have some fun with it, and see what your creativity can do with such a challenge.

In essence, shooting in random places such as an Airbnb should be a fun challenge, not a stressful one. If you are already traveling, or if your model or client is traveling to come to you, consider simply using the place being rented to stay in as your possible studio. It probably won't work for everyone, but it's one of those opportunities where you can really just let your imagination and creativity go wild for a little bit. If everyone is on board, then some truly unique and incredibly fun images can result. It goes without saying, but still, if you do choose to shoot in a vacation rental then make sure to treat the property and the hosts with respect.

Rex Jones's picture

Rex lives in Saint George, Utah. His specialty is branding and strategy, working closely with businesses to refine their branding, scale internal structure, and produce high-quality marketing efforts. His photography is primarily commercial, with intermittent work in portraiture, product imagery, and landscape photography for his own enjoyment.

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So what are the rules in regards to Airbnb and commercial use? Or is it Hosts discretion?

It depends on the hosts. I have had several airbnb's in my area turn me down for my requests to use their space for boudoir sessions. But I have also found a few great people that have let me rent their space for my boudoir sessions.

Exactly. Just ask up front and find the right people to work with. :)

"I have had several airbnb's in my area turn me down for my requests to use their space for boudoir sessions."

Unless you're renting space within their own living space, how could they even know or care? I've rented a few Airbnbs (just for living in for a few days) and have never even had the hosts visit or contact me. I would think that as long as you followed the rules laid out in the offering there would be no problems. I've never seen one that had a rule: No photography.

That's a good point. Particularly if you're staying in it. I could see it be something else if nobody was staying there, but you had contacted them literally to use it as a studio. But I agree, as long as you follow their house rules then there shouldn't be a problem.

Not sure why they would care, however, I always email the owners and ask permission. Not because I think they will show up, since I am requesting the entire house not just a room, but because I want to be honest and advise them what I will be using the space for. I assume that some people hear the term boudoir and they just don't like it. I have found someone that has an amazing space and has been super amazing, he has let me rent it for 1 day instead of his 2 day minimum and has just been really great. So i suppose you don't have to ask permission, but i do.

I tend to agree with the property release issue. The Air BnB is renting out living quarters, using for commercial purpose could cause problems down the road.

I'd also be concerned about what happens if a light starts a fire and nobody talked to the host about commercial use. If their insurance is invalid in that instance, I'd expect to get sued.

Great idea. One thing I would add is that it would be useful to bring two or three speed lights. I think they could prove very useful.

I'm in the planning stage right now for an upcoming vintage Hollywood glamour styled shoot. I think perusing the local Airbnb offerings may just be the ticket.

I was wondering about that as well. It seems some compact lighting solution might help with the ISO / bracing for shutter speed concerns. The creativity might then come in making that light look like it was natural to the place.

I had two Airbnb's turned me down when asked to shoot boudoir and one agreed. I also had a good response from a local hotel that agreed to a day rate of 80% of the night rate and I hope to take them on the offer soon.

It's a good idea as long as you are honest about what you are about to do.

Only problem I see is finding one that doesn't just look like a more upscale house than what I already have.

Sounds like you're set then! :)

No my house is all studio but if I was going for Airbnb I'd want something exotic or themed and not just a nice house. Off a lake, a pool, older style or certain look. Overlooking the city or beach, etc.

Well, that really shouldn't matter now should it... That is, unless it the exact same furniture and decor in the exact same layout...


If that's the case then why do it at all and just keep changing bed sheets and decor in your own house?

I'm mildly curious: are you obtaining property releases for these shoots?

Not impressed with this sample as "use of space", really nothing special which will let me think about renting a place for such shooting here.

I recall seeing a very interesting series of images that told a story of a woman in her home, and an Airbnb could be a great place to fashion such a story.

there's always room for them boobies

In LA there are plenty of places that are ABB that specifically say NO to productions or events and some that say OK to them. We shot at a big house on a hill for 700 per day and the crew slept there over night. For a real photo location it would have beena lot more. The owners didn't care.

Disappointed to see this article lead photographers to possible legal issues with shooting at AirBnB locations. Listing the "What to do with AirBnb with owners" being written in the Camera Settings section is misleading. That should be mentioned at the very beginning of the article.

I just spent 2 weeks traveling in Europe with a client and shooting boudoir fashion/glamor/lifestyle in several unique AirBnBs – a house built into a natural cave, a house with infinity pool overlooking the Aegean Sea, an urban flat in the center of Athens, etc...
Now that I'm back I'm considering using AirBnBs here – never occurred to me to ask permission because the images are non-commercial and not a large production.

The rules in the actual AirBnb don't say much, if any, about photography. As long as you obey the house rules for the property, you should be fine. But, specifically if you're just renting a room from an occupied house, then checking beforehand with the host would just be a courtesy that will help keep your personal guest rating high.

You ask for permission for shooting boudoir, but they might think you are shooting a porn scene?

Or they think the girl going into your room is an escort. :)

That happened to me. The owner thought I was shooting a porn scene because I was shooting with two girls, separately.

I never really considered using a bnb for a photo shoot because of the lack of privacy, but I suppose if you can make it work you can save a lot of money. I might just try it sometime.

I have mixed emotions about shooting at Airbnb's. Two of the three times, they were too small.

I had a good outcome in an Airbnb last year. The host offered the living area too for no extra cost. In exchange I took some portraits of her as a bonus.

Hey, that’s awesome! All about building good relationships!

Maybe this is a Los Angeles thing, where there's a commercial production on every corner, but I've yet to run into a single AirBnB host that was happy about having me shoot boudoir in their space. Like others said, they often specifically say "you cannot do any photography on premises". If you mention doing a shoot at their place, I'd say there's a 95% chance of them telling you "hell no". Maybe they assume you'll be shooting porn, which isn't exactly uncommon for the LA area. In their heads they go "Great, I'll have people fucking in my apartment for all of to see, that's going to be fun to explain". Maybe it will lower the resale value of the property? HOA will raise complaints about the owner?

I've had 100% luck with Peerspace though, since it's specifically made for this purpose. Nowadays many Peerspace locations come with a bed, which is often the key of the genre. The huge downside of Peerspace though is that because it's meant for productions, it's really expensive. Expect to pay minimum $100-200 an hour for an interesting spot. Thus you're either rich and don't care, or you're being paid a ton for your work, or you try to wrap things up in an hour, which is generally not great, as both you and the model will only truly warm up by set 2 or 3.

So far to me this is an unsolved problem. You can't do AirBnB without being sketchy ("Oh yeah, just doing a staycation with my girlfriend.... ignore the giant bags of camera gear") and you can't really afford Peerspace.

Wait one minute; why are all these models women? Men are being unfairly discriminated against by Boudoir photography. I'm outraged and offended!