Boudoir Photography Basics

Boudoir photography can be rewarding but take time to learn the business first - By Kate Sharp

One of the first areas of photography that people outside the business tend to fantasize about is boudoir photography. I’ll admit there is a certain high five quality to the first time you get paid to take pictures of scantily clad women. The novelty wears off after the first few and you’ll be surprised how quickly it turns into just another location job. Although I still have to add the scenery is better than any cubicle job!

Boudoir photography is a trend that started 10 minutes after the first camera was invented. Once they figured out the photographic process worked, they started looking for some gal willing to take her clothes off. That’s pretty much the same feeling that’s evoked when a budding photographer gets a new camera. It’s a trend that ebbs and flows in popularity and lately it’s been making a come back.

Resist the temptation to run out and start advertising yourself as a boudoir photographer until you have a lot of experience shooting portraits and a good selection of lighting gear.


Like with any other portrait, lighting will be key to getting quality results. The difficulty will be lighting the location, which will likely be outside the studio. If it’s possible, try to get photos of the room you’ll be working ahead of time, so you can adjust your lighting kit appropriately.

Also bring your own extension cords. Older homes may not have enough outlets for all your lighting gear. I use heavy duty cords, a power strip, and gaffer tape to make sure no one trips over them.

The key lighting features will be soft and warm. Soft boxes are a must and it’s good to have a selection of gels you can use to warm them up even more if necessary. I always carry half, quarter, and eighth straw gels because they’re particularly flattering for skin tones. You can also use the gold side of your reflector.


I’ve found that some clothing or lingerie can actually be more alluring than being naked, but that will be dictated by your client’s comfort zone.

I encourage people to consider professional nudes when they’re at their youngest and hottest. You’ll be glad to have those shots in a few years after kids and life take a toll on your looks. But not everyone is comfortable with that thought, so let the client find their own comfort level. Sometimes I’ve had clients decide they were comfortable enough to try it after shooting started, so be adaptable.

Any time nudity is involved I have a nudity clause in the contract, get a copy of their photo identification, and give the client greater latitude over image rights. That doesn’t apply to commercial nudes, but boudoir clients are going to want to know their picture isn’t going to be hanging in a gallery somewhere.

Working Alone

I never work alone on boudoir shoots. I’ll almost always have my wife come along and prefer the client have a friend or relative on hand as well. I tend to err on the side of paranoia, but the last situation you ever want to get yourself into is a “he said, she said” about what happened on a boudoir shoot. On the flip side, if there are too many people running around it’s going to kill the mood and make the client nervous.

It’s sometimes requires a little tact and patience to balance the needs of a location shoot with a nervous client. I’ve found it’s actually better sometimes that I leave the room if the client is nervous and let my wife talk to them for a few minutes. When I hear them start laughing, I know it’s okay to get started again.

Just don’t jump into boudoir photography without learning the business first, at least start with some reading on the subject. You and your clients will have a much better experience.