This article contains media that the editors have flagged as NSFW.
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.
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.