What Is Boudoir Photography?

by Nigel Cooper

‘Boudoir’ is a French word meaning a lady’s private dressing room or bedroom. Boudoir photography refers to a style in which a woman poses for photographs while partially clothed or wearing lingerie. Clients of a boudoir photo shoot will typically use the resulting photographs to document how great they look and feel about themselves during this given time.


Boudoir photography has had something of a mixed reputation over the years; especially back in the 80s when it was more often referred to as ‘Glamour’ photography. Back then glamour photography had sleazy connotations and one could be forgiven for conjuring up a mental image of a raincoat-clad pervy old man saying to a model, ‘Oh yeah, give it to me baby,’ as he leered at her through the viewfinder of his camera. In reality, those ‘questionable’ photographers were in fact quite rare. Most glamour/boudoir photographers of the 80s – just like today – were in fact professionals, artists, who were providing a service for women who wanted to document their beauty during their younger years, while in their physical prime, or simply to celebrate their femininity.


Professional photographers, boudoir or otherwise, are just that, ‘professional’. They are too busy concentrating on all the technical aspects of the shoot, camera settings such as: aperture, ISO, shutter speed, white balance, focal length and other photographic aspects like: depth-of-field, perspective, angle and composition. For the professional boudoir photographer the subject in any given photo shoot is just that, a ‘subject’, and like any other subject they are treated with the utmost respect. A professional boudoir photographer will be respectful, diplomatic, discreet, sensitive, courteous and, above all, professional.


Today (at time of writing – September 2019), boudoir photography is incredibly popular, way more than it ever was during the 80s and 90s. Instagram and social media has a lot to do with it, especially Instagram, where women not only want to document and celebrate their beauty, but they are keen to, proudly, share some of the images from their boudoir shoot on such social media channels and show them off to their friends too, while others simply want to present a sensual and personal photo album as a gift to their partners.


Bridal Boudoir Photography


As well as regular boudoir photography, bridal boudoir photography has also become incredibly popular. Bridal boudoir photography is basically the same thing except there are often a few subtle differences such as bridal themes and an emphasis on white.


Bridal boudoir photography is a hot new trend that has become very popular with brides of late. They will choose a boudoir photographer so they can participate in this new trend, to celebrate and document their beauty while producing an incredible gift for their husbands-to-be.


Boudoir Photography Shoot


During the boudoir photography shoot the subject – usually female – will typically wear provocative clothing, usually lingerie, while posing in an elegant, graceful or sensual manner. The main purpose of the boudoir photo shoot is – for both model and photographer – to capture the woman’s beauty, sexuality, allure and femininity in a tasteful, elegant and classy way, immortalising her beauty in stunning photographic images.


Many brides-to-be are in the best physical shape of their lives prior to their wedding day, so it makes sense for her to participate in a bridal boudoir photo shoot to document just how great she looks and feels during this stage of her life. But it’s not just young brides who participate in boudoir photo shoots, lots of women do, and of varying ages too. Though the most common age-range for boudoir photo shoots is 20 to 50, this rule is not set in stone. No ‘professional’ boudoir photographer would entertain photographing a subject if she were under the age of 18, and even over this age a professional photographer will always ask the subject if she would like one of her close friends, or a sister perhaps, to come along to the shoot to act as a chaperone. With regard to the upper age, again, there are no hard and fast rules and it is not uncommon for a woman in her 50s, or even early 60s, to find a boudoir photographer and book a shoot.


The boudoir photo shoot gives the subject the chance to feel attractive and sexy in a private setting that will be just as exciting an experience for her as it will be for the recipient of the resulting images. Although many woman do boudoir shoots for themselves, many choose to do it so they can present a gift to their partners, who are usually enthused and elated with the resulting photo album.


Is Boudoir Photography X-rated?


Many people, especially women, have the impression that boudoir photographs are X-rated, the truth is that any nudity is typically implied, not explicit. The subject doesn’t have to be naked, nor does she have to where ‘barely-there’ lingerie. A woman can look incredibly sensual when fully clothed and the subject will always have full control over what she wears, how much she wears, and what poses she feels comfortable with. A professional boudoir photographer will always respect the model and will help guide her through various poses that work, bring out the best in her while making sure the shape, lines and curves make her physique look amazing while making her look her absolute best using his/her professional experience and expertise.


Male Or Female Boudoir Photographer?


This question can only be answered by the client, but it’s important to choose a boudoir photographer who can bring out your sensual side, which means choosing a photographer who you feel comfortable with in front of the camera, a photographer who you have a rapport with. With this in mind it’s important – vital in fact – that you meet your chosen photographer in person before booking a photo shoot. When you phone up potential photographers think about how relaxed and easy-going the conversation is and if that goes well arrange to meet them in person. Most people will typically know within about 15 minutes of meeting somebody if they like them or not, if they have any sort of rapport etc. If you don’t particularly like the photographer then you’re not going to be able to relax and pose in a natural way for them in front of camera, let alone act in a natural and sensual way during the shoot and this will reflect in the final images. Choosing the right boudoir photographer is key to a successful photo shoot.


Some women will feel more relaxed with a female photographer, while others sometimes feel that they can’t ‘act’ in quite the same way in front of camera when there is a lady photographer behind it, for others it makes no difference whatsoever.


Boudoir Photo Shoot Locations


Many boudoir photographers will have a studio with a bedroom set or various scene settings, or they will have access to a local studio that is equipped thus. If you don’t feel comfortable in such a studio set up it’s possible to book a nice hotel room or other private location for the shoot, in which case the photographer will bring along all the relevant equipment: cameras, strobe/flash lights, soft boxes, reflectors and other necessary items that will enable the him/her to produce professionally lit and stunning images.


Some studios provide champagne and snacks that will allow an otherwise nervous client to gain a little liquid courage for the shoot. I’d also recommend that the subject provides a ‘playlist’ of her favourite music, which will help her get into the zone. If you’ve ever been present during a fashion photo shoot – or perhaps seen one on TV or in a movie – you’ll have noticed that there is always music playing, often dance, as this helps the models get into character. Sometimes it can be difficult posing – acting, getting into character – in absolute silence, music helps the mood enormously. 


Outfits, Props & Accessories


Although boudoir photo shoots often involve lingerie, this doesn’t mean you have to rush down to Ann Summers and start shopping for lacy undergarments. The boudoir photo shoot is all about you, so think about what kind of ‘look’ you want to achieve: sexy, playful, pin-up, sassy or glam for example. You don’t have to be naked, or posed in lacy underwear. It’s quite possible to produce sexy boudoir images wearing modest outfits such as a pair of Levis and a T-shirt. Perhaps you threw on one of your partner’s white work shirts one Saturday morning when you went to make a coffee to bring back to bed and he loved the way you looked in it, or maybe he just loved the way you looked when you put on his Arsenal football shirt that time, so you could pair this with a short skirt and a playful look perhaps.


If you want to go for a pin-up look there are plenty of outfit choices from ‘barely-there’ lingerie to a sexy full-coverage outfit. If you’re short on ideas you can always do a quick Google search for ‘Boudoir Photographs’ and then click the ‘Images’ tab at the top of the browser and check out the search results. Or try other search terms: ‘Pin up photography’ or ‘Burlesque photography’ will yield plenty of images in the results. Then you could drag/drop any that you like to your desktop to save them to your computer and email them to your chosen photographer to show him/her the sort of thing you like and want to achieve.


As well as the clothing you can use other props and accessories such as jewellery, masks, toys, stockings, garters or anything else you can think of that will make your photographs unique to you, and don’t forget the shoes ;)


Hair & Makeup


Most boudoir photo shoots share some common ground with the ever-popular ‘makeover’ shoot. In order to really look the part you’ll need to have your hair and makeup done, professionally. Many boudoir studios and photographers will have contacts in this field and a preferred list of hair stylists and makeup artist who will be brought in to make you look beautiful and amazing on the day of the shoot. Although fake eyelashes and hair extensions are often used, hair and makeup styles can be as natural, or heavy, as you want them to be. Professional hair stylists and makeup artists will usually know what works and what will make you look your absolute best, but, at the end of the day, you will have the final say on your hair and makeup. Feel free to bring along your own makeup, things that you just know work well for you, or let the makeup artist work their magic on you. As with boudoir photographs that you’ve taken from the web to show the photographer, you can do the same for makeup and hair. Do a Google search and save some images of hair and makeup styles that you like and show them to the makeup artist in advance of the photo shoot so they can be fully prepared.


Boudoir Poses


Boudoir photographers are usually well-versed with all the different types of boudoir poses and they know what works and what will look good in the final images. Professional boudoir photographers know that arched backs, leg lifts and torso twists are three key techniques that are used to achieve sexy poses that give the body shape with sublime lines and curves that make the female form look incredible. The photographer will direct the client though the shoot and give direction and make suggestions if he/she thinks the image in the viewfinder isn’t quite working. This could be something as simple as changing an awkward hand possession or changing the facial expression or perhaps coming out of the pose altogether, shaking it out, and then going back into it again to achieve a more natural and relaxed pose. This technique often makes the pose look more natural and less staged. The photographer knows that you are not a professional model (well, actually, you might be) and, with this in mind, if you’re ever confused about a pose or how to move, just ask your photographer and they will be more than happy to advise and show you how to pose.


The Resulting Photographs


As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, many women book a boudoir photo shoot to document and celebrate their beauty, or as a gift for partners. Brides-to-be choose to do a bridal boudoir photo shoot so they can take sexy photos to present to their husbands-to-be as a wedding gift, typically in a beautifully presented boudoir photo album with the stunning images showcased and immortalised for ever.


But wedding gifts to partners is not the only reason for a boudoir photo shoot. Many women do it as they make excellent gifts for anniversaries, birthdays, Christmas, or just because…


There’s no doubt that boudoir photography is not for everyone and if you feel uncomfortable with the idea then perhaps a ‘make-over’ type photo shoot would be a more suitable alternative.