Boudoir photography is my favorite shooting. It's like playing an adult version of dress-up in your mother’s closet and creating a gorgeous piece of art from all the pieces that come together. Those pieces include lighting, flattering poses, interesting clothing, and most importantly, the woman’s expression which tells the story. While not all pictures need to include a woman’s face, I often find those most arresting.
Prepare Your Location
Set up an area or areas in your studio or home that are tested and true spots for the boudoir. Considerations include natural lighting (or places to set up lighting) headboards, windows, bare walls and large area rugs. Check for distractions such as lamps, pictures, knickknacks or TVs.
Outdoor places are also good. Incorporating a swing, chair, tree, or garden can add great value but check for privacy! If you have neighbors or live on a busy street, be wary of inadvertent displays.
Build up your prop collection. Thrift stores and Asian vendors on Ebay are amazing resources. I found burlesque costumes, feather boas, opera gloves, Japanese umbrellas, rhinestone jewelry, fascinators (fancy hats), robes, masks, and nightwear for a few dollars apiece. I was fortunate enough to have a red velvet antique chaise lounge I inherited from my grandmother (she would seriously LOVE that I was using it this way!) but I also have found a few Victorian chairs and stools for extremely cheap in junk stores. You may have to be willing to do some sanding or slight mending, but the payoff is worth it.
When I first decided to try boudoir photography, I called in favors from a variety of girlfriends and we experimented with props, furniture, poses, and areas of the house that looked promising. Once I had some success, I then advertised for a few willing models for a free session and pictures in exchange for some more practice and photos for my portfolio. Once I saw consistency of quality in my shots, I started advertising.
Set Your Priority (and we are not talking modes)
In shooting boudoir, the absolute first priority is that the client is comfortable and enjoys the process. That is also the most difficult task to achieve. Women have been raised on the horror stories of unscrupulous photographers who have taken advantage of young women and exploited them. Couple that with intrinsic body issues every woman seems to harbor, and you have a very reluctant and nervous client!
Soothe, Compliment, and Joke
I find that humor goes a long way. I tend to be an extrovert, so chatting casually with a client and making light jokes with her is natural to me, but not every photographer has that type of personality. No one expects a Grammy-award winning comedian, but introduce casual chatter or questions. When it doubt, get her talking about herself or her hobbies.
Professionalism must be maintained at all times. Not just for her sake, but yours as well. I always warn a client that I am going to straighten or adjust something before I touch her. I ask for her input on some things which generally makes her feel like she has some control of her situation. You do not want to have any of your motions or words misconstrued as anything else but professional.
Soothe, soothe, shoot. Yes, it’s very much like it sounds—calming an anxious baby or animal, but there is a reason why that works so well. I also work to not show negative or alarmed expressions when I “chimp” or check the image. The client immediately jumps to the conclusion, correct or not, that she is causing a negative reaction when it is most likely something I have done, like forget to adjust the ISO or exposure. I don’t always compliment because it becomes meaningless, but after a mini session of the same pose/location, I murmur “beautiful” or “you look ravishing.” If you are doing your job, this is not pandering—it’s the simple truth!
As for chimping, show your client an exceptional image of them once in a while throughout the photo shoot. You don’t want to show her everything, but a few great ones here and there go a long way to boost that confidence that makes the picture even better.
There are a hundred details or more in boudoir shooting and I will be posting a Part II and possibly a PART III in the coming weeks. I hope you found this helpful and I welcome comments or questions!