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The Ultimate Guide to Boudoir Photography: How-To, Tips, History, and Famous Photographers

Photography is often used to capture the complexity and rawness of the human experience – and in this article, we discuss a type of intimate photography that infuses portrait, fashion, and beauty: boudoir photography.

If you’re looking to get started with boudoir photos or you’re an experienced boudoir photographer after some helpful tips and tricks, you’ve come to the right place. Below, I offer plenty of advice, from top equipment to boudoir photography posing ideas and more.

What Is Boudoir Photography?

Boudoir photography is a form of portraiture that often contains romantic, intimate depictions of your subject and is captured in either a studio setting or on location. It usually takes place in a dressing room or private space such as a bedroom.

Boudoir is characterized by its sensual nature and features subjects posing in intimate ways to create personal and even erotic images.

Boudoir photography infuses elements of fashion, beauty, and fine art to create emotionally rich situations and scenarios.

Although boudoir photography has become increasingly popular and even commercial in recent years, photographers have taken boudoir images for decades, as I’ll soon explain.

How to Capture Beautiful Boudoir Photographs

Stunning boudoir photography is achieved by creating a definitive mood and feeling with your subject. Boudoir photography is meant to exude sensuality, playfulness, provocativeness, romance, and intimacy. There are certain poses already heavily associated with great boudoir photographs, as well as standard boudoir photo ideas.

Best Lenses for Boudoir Photography

Regarding equipment: these days, lenses are more relevant than cameras. The glass makes the greatest impact on how an image looks, as lenses determine the focal length and aperture. 

For boudoir photography, you want to ensure that your images include as limited distortion as possible. Distortion refers to any part of your image that may appear warped or unnatural due to the lens design or focal length. For example, wide-angle lenses tend to make your living subject have bizarre proportions due to the glass curvature. 

As such, the best lenses for boudoir tend to be those in the standard focal length range, from around 35mm to 70mm. You can choose a zoom lens that passes through the standard range or opt for a fixed lens.

If you know your location offers a bit of distance, you can also bring along a telephoto lens. Although telephoto lenses are naturally ideal for far-away subjects such as wildlife, they have another nifty use: telephoto compression makes subject proportions look great! Because of the focal length distance, your subject will have much more flattering proportions.

Ideally, you want a lens with the widest possible aperture. Even with studio lighting, boudoir tends to happen inside of homes where the light may not be very bright. Wide-aperture lenses let in a lot of light and have the added bonus of creating shallow depth of field effects, which can be a great way to isolate your subject from the background.

Posing Guide for Boudoir 

Boudoir photography is intended to bring out your subject’s greatest beauty; as such, knowing which poses flatter each individual is the key to success. Although each boudoir session is specially tailored to your subject, there are a few tried-and-true poses that tend to do well or are a great foundation to build from! 

From the Back 

You can’t go wrong with a shot from the back! This can be captured standing up, sitting down, or lying on one’s side. Angle yourself so that your lens is perfectly parallel to your subject. 

For shots standing up, a big trick is to have your model cross their legs and arch their back. This creates a very flattering figure and works to eliminate any sort of distortion that could be caused by your lens of choice. For hands, feel welcome to ask your model to either drop them and follow the curvature of their body, raise hands up and fix their hair, or place hands on the hips. 

For a back shot sitting down, ask your model to kneel and arch their back. Throwing the head upward can make their hair fall in a very flattering manner. 

For a lying pose, ask your model to turn on their hip as you shoot from the back. The hand can be placed on the hip following the curvature of the body. The head can either face forward or face up.

Lying Down 

Ask your model to lie down on the bed, couch, or floor while you capture an image above them. This may require a ladder or step stool, so that’s a good tool to bring! 

Your subject has a variety of options here – they can have their torso facing upward with legs turned to the side, they can arch the back, they can wrap their arms around their body; there is so much you can do. If you set your camera to a fast shutter speed, you can ask your subject to keep moving into different poses and see what works the best. 

Other popular laying poses involve asking the model to lie on the hip while you shoot at eye level.

Details 

Much of boudoir takes place with gorgeous lingerie or showing off natural bodily beauty. As such, detail shots are excellent. There are different poses you can put your subject in to get the most flattering detail shots. 

For chest shots, have your subject throw their head back and arch! You, as the photographer, will shoot from a higher vantage point looking down. 

For shoulder shots, have your subject use their hands to slide down a lingerie strap as you capture the shot from eye level. 

For leg and foot detail shots (especially if your subject is wearing knee-high fishnets or lace), have your subject get on their hands and knees and throw both legs up. Compose the shot so that the knee is closer to the bottom of the frame and the legs fill the rest of the frame. 

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Sitting with Crossed Legs

Having your subject sit on the edge of the bed, chair, or couch with their legs crossed is a great option. The big trick here is to have your subject actually sit on the edge of their seat (don’t let them sink into a normal sitting position!). By putting your subject on the edge, they have more leverage to arch the back, lean forward, and move the legs around. 

One Leg Up, One Leg Down 

Positioning one leg up (bent) and one leg down (unbent) is flattering for most people. You can do many variations of this pose. 

Your model can be sitting (as in the image above) and instead of crossing their legs, they pull one leg in and keep the other one out. Your model can be standing with one leg bent up and the other firmly on the ground. Your subject can lie down with one leg bent into their body and the other one outstretched. 

On All Fours

Having your model get on all fours and arch their back is a good option. For a more dynamic version of the pose, have your subject kick their legs up rather than placing them on the ground. 

Kneeling Pose 

Preferably done on a bed where it’s more comfortable on the knees, the kneeling pose is fantastic; it allows your subject to push themselves up and offers plenty of flexibility to play with their arms, hands, and arch the back. Notice a common theme? Backs must be arched! 

In Front of a Window 

Looking out a window is a great way to take advantage of flattering light and create a very elegant image. Face your subject toward the window and have them look out of it longingly. 

Leaning Against a Wall 

Walls make excellent props! Asking your boudoir subject to lean on the wall can really highlight their beautiful curvature. One of the best ways to do this: tell your subject to first place their bum on the wall, then one leg on the wall and one leg on the ground, arch the back, and let their upper body and shoulders land on the wall where they may. This should create a little bit of space between the back and the wall due to the arch. 

Legs on the Wall 

Speaking of walls, go ahead and place those legs on it! This is a very pin-up style boudoir pose in which your subject is laying on the ground, their bottom is pushed all the way to the wall, and they place their legs up on the wall. Legs can be crossed on the wall or one leg bent and one leg outstretched. Take the shot from ground level.

Tips for Great Boudoir Photography

In addition to the above, keep the following tips in mind for photoshoot success! 

  • Make your subject feel comfortable. Boudoir photography is an intimate process that requires trust between the photographer and the subject. Speak with your model about your expectations and ideas; also, allow for any input to make the session successful. If you are a male photographer, having a female assistant may also help.
  • Focus on poses that bring out your subject’s confidence and beauty, rather than using explicit poses. Get into a good posing flow so that each new pose naturally forms from the previous pose.
  • Use natural light, if possible, or softer studio light to frame your subject. Avoid lighting that washes out your subject’s figure or creates distortion. Use large softboxes to spread light evenly.
  • Prepare and plan all of the elements of the shoot including hair, makeup, wardrobe, and even prop settings. Boudoir photography is less of a portrait session, but more of an inclusive idea surrounding your subject. Don’t be afraid to be creative.
  • Consult the model frequently during the session. Share back-of-the-camera images and give feedback and artistic direction when necessary. Boudoir photography is truly a team effort, so being open and flexible throughout your shoot will lead to creating beautiful images.

The History of Boudoir Photography

The term boudoir originated in France and historically has been used to depict a women’s private room. Usually found between the dining room and bedroom, the boudoir is a place of activities for the woman or somewhere to spend time with a romantic partner.

The concept of boudoir photography originated back in the 1920s, where photographers would create settings in either their studio or a luxury hotel environment. In these photography sessions, the models wore lingerie, or in some cases, were nude – a technique that was meant to express implied sexuality, not vulgarity.

The intention of boudoir photography is to capture the beauty of a subject’s figure and emotions, rather than an unrealistic or inappropriate exploration of the subject’s body.

Additionally, boudoir photography was also used to create images for women’s romantic partners. The genre became popular among women, as many soon-to-be brides would surprise their husbands with images of themselves or even send their photographs to partners who were overseas.

Famous Boudoir Photographers

Several photographers have been recognized for paving the way for this photographic niche.

One famous boudoir shooter was Albert Arthur Allen, an American photographer known for his nude portraiture back in the 1920s. His images were a form of boudoir at its most explicit, and his subjects can be seen sitting, standing, or lying down with very few production elements on the set.

Allen focused primarily on capturing the women in their natural state, not always looking directly at the lens or properly posed. His work shows some of the first fully nude images of a woman’s body, breaking boundaries in a world of classic portraiture.

Another boudoir photographer was Cecil Beaton, famous for his images of Marilyn Monroe. Beaton was an English fashion, portrait, and war photographer. His black and white film imagery of Monroe depicts a soft, feminine complexity with implied sensuality.

His images of Marilyn show her in a casual manner, wearing lingerie to offer the touch of seduction.

Other boudoir photographers include Sam Shaw, Steven Mason, and companies like Bella Bella. In the 21st century, boudoir photography has transitioned into a more commercially recognized form of photography, plus it’s become the standard for creating intimate imagery of the industry’s elite.

Boudoir Photography: Delicate and Sensitive

As you can see, boudoir imagery is a unique niche in the medium of photography. With the intention of capturing the true sensuality, intimacy, and sexuality of your subject, boudoir photography is a process that should be handled in a delicate, sensitive manner.

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