Boudoir Photography 101: Suggestive, Not Indecent
Boudoir photography sometimes has a reputation for being scandalous and even indecent. When you consider what it is—romantic and intimate photography (though rarely erotic) that’s typically more suggestive rather than explicit in nature—you can see why this misconception exists.
In reality, boudoir photography is a style that’s more conservative in that it’s usually meant for a private audience instead of a wider one. Plus, photographs of this nature are also intended to be kept under the subject’s control instead of the photographer’s.
To clear up further misconceptions, let’s take a more… intimate (pun intended)… look at boudoir photography.
What we call boudoir photography today can be traced back to 1920s photographer Albert Arthur Allen, a Frenchman who specialized in shooting women against elaborate backdrops. From there, we can see boudoir photography pop up again in a pop-culture contribution popularized in the 1940s: pin-up girls. These girls had on stockings, corsets and even men’s accessories as props, in unique portraits, to be sure.
By the 1970s, it was increasingly common to see more women in suggestive photographs for artistic purposes. As the decades wore on, attitudes surrounding women as subjects in photography have become more liberal, which is why boudoir photography today is a genre all its own.
There are sub-genres within boudoir photography. Some styles are as varied as the countries that produce them. For instance, in the UK, various categories of boudoir include “provocative and sensual,” “naughty girl,” and “fun and giggles.” But beyond specific names for various boudoir styles, the way the women are shot also varies from style to style.
Diffuse images that rely on high-key lighting are common in this genre overall, as this approach emphasis a shallow depth of field and shorter focal distances. It also makes the models’ skin look better. These techniques together generally create a dreamy and almost fantasy mood that’s very suitable for the purpose of boudoir.
Another style goes in the opposite direction by utilizing a purposefully grainy and black-and-white tone with low-key lighting. In contrast to the above, this will create a throwback to art noir photography and early erotic photography.
Finally and unsurprisingly, yet another style deliberately attempts to recreate vintage, pin-up girl photography by evoking its mood and appearance. This is done by having the models pose in styles reminiscent of 1940s-era boudoir, as well as using lighting from that era in the shots.
The Styling of Subjects
Boudoir photography is meant to be kept under the control of its subjects, which makes it quite different from your typical photography. As such, the subjects generally decide what they want to wear to a boudoir shoot since the aim of a shoot is to produce pictures that will primarily be seen by the subject’s significant other.
Having the subject choose her own wardrobe is advantageous because it also ensures that her facial expressions in the photos reflect this comfort level with what she’s wearing. Boudoir photography characterized by models who look uncomfortable or like they don’t want to be there is obviously counterproductive.
Overall, the wardrobe selection should be something clean and preferably new (just bought for the shoot), properly fitting, and reflective of the subject’s style.
What Happens in a Shoot?
For many people, modeling for boudoir photography will usually be their first time (unless they’re a professional model) in such a situation. That’s why boudoir photographers have a big role to play not only to guide subjects through the shoot, but also to make them feel at ease.
While boudoir happens at the discretion of the subjects, the photographers conducting the shoot will still have to direct them through it. This means that photographers may even have to demonstrate some of the poses, which isn’t too different from other, more mainstream forms of photography.
Because of the somewhat risqué nature of boudoir, this tactic can be very helpful to subjects doing this for the first time, as it demonstrates that the poses they’re going to strike are entirely comfortable for the professional beyond the lens, too.
Certainly, nerves can be a big factor for some subjects with these more intimate poses, which is why some photographers will actually go through breathing exercises (think meditation) before the shoot with their subjects. Only when the subject is fully relaxed is it a good idea to commence the shoot because, as mentioned above, nervous or apprehensive subjects can definitely undermine the entire point of boudoir.
Classic Boudoir Poses
Over the decades, certain types of poses have evolved as the go-to choice for many photographers. In fact, this genre wouldn’t be boudoir without them! Some of the most common poses subjects will find themselves in include:
- On her back: Self-explanatory and usually on a bed, this pose provides great versatility as subjects can extend their legs, keep them bent at the knees, or try any combination thereof.
- On her knees: Sitting back on her feet with the knees slightly apart, this pose allows character and personality to enter the fray, as subjects can use their hands to play with their hair or bra straps.
- Lying on the side: The advantage with this pose is how easily subjects can transition between it and the first one (on her back); numerous variations are possible, thanks to bending one leg or the other and getting the subject to prop herself up by her elbow.
Pictures for Your Lover
From the start, boudoir photography was about photographing women in artsy ways. Over time, that also included nude shots, but where boudoir is today is a style that can be both artsy and highly personal.
At its core, boudoir photography is meant to be intimate photography for one’s significant other. Because of its risqué though not necessarily nude qualities, misunderstanding about this genre of photography has understandably arisen. However, at the end of the day, it’s really a decision between couples (and the photographer snapping away, of course!).
Boudoir also epitomizes how photography can just teasingly approach the line, but not really cross it. Suggestive though personal and private, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but definitely serves its purpose as far as some couples are concerned.