Portrait photography can be extremely challenging, even when everyone involved is fully clothed, but bringing things into the boudoir can be an entirely different challenge. We asked boudoir photographer Myla González of Cheeky Boudoir in upstate New York to share some of her tips for getting started.
Preparations for your boudoir session should start well before the day of the photoshoot. Boudoir photography shoots are very intimate by nature and can be intimidating for the subject. Communication is extremely important because you want to build trust. The level of comfort and trust between the photographer and the subject is often readily evident in the final images.
Here are some essential steps for communicating with your subject:
Get to know your subject. Giving your subject a questionnaire prior to your boudoir photo shoot can help her organize her thoughts about the session. Ask her how she envisions the process as well as the final photos. Ask her which of her features she would like to flaunt in her images and which she prefers to downplay. If the subject is a client, then be sure to ask about her plans for the final photos. That will help you create the best possible final product.
Have a face-to-face conversation. I get it—e-mails or texts are easy. However, as I mentioned earlier, you want to build trust with your client, and you can't build the trust that you need over e-mail. Even a video conference is an upgrade over text-based communications when it comes to building trust. Take this opportunity to review her questionnaire answers, chat about the wardrobe pieces she plans on bringing to her photoshoot, and answer any of her remaining questions (I have clients that come in with notebook pages filled with them!). Your job is to ease her nerves and reaffirm her choice to trust you with photographing her boudoir session.
Make one last call before the big day. The night before her session, phone her again to ask her if she has any last-minute questions. Letting her know that you're excited about her photoshoot will pump her up and further ease any nervousness. Take this moment to also ensure that she knows the location of the shoot and the time that she should arrive.
When my clients ask me about what types of outfits to put together for their shoot, the first thing that I tell them is to make sure that whatever they choose, it should be something that they feel comfortable in. If a client brings in a lingerie set that’s too far outside of her comfort zone, it will show in her face and body language in the images. A few other important points to make when consulting with her on wardrobe choice is to make sure that your client chooses pieces that fit properly, are clean (preferably new), and reflect her style.
Lingerie is built to be beautiful and flattering, but that often comes at the price of durability. Keeping a small emergency kit on hand can help prevent a session from ending due to a wardrobe malfunction. Some of the most handy tools to have on-hand include scissors, a mini sewing kit, and fashion tape (double-sided tape that won't damage skin or fabric).
Hair and Makeup
As with any other type of portrait photography, professional hair and makeup makes a big difference in the outcome of your images. Whether your client wants a glam look or a more natural style, a professional hair and makeup artist will be able to create a look that will translate well through the lens. It will also take some of the pressure off the subject. If you have hair and makeup people with whom you like to work, don’t hesitate to make recommendations. It can be comforting to have another reassuring voice who is familiar with the process.
During the Shoot
More than likely, your client will be nervous and won't know what to do in front of the camera. As a boudoir photographer, I know it’s my job to direct her throughout the shoot. This sometimes involves demonstrating the poses myself, which also helps the tone of the shoot by showing my subject that I’m not asking her to do anything I wouldn’t be comfortable doing myself. Positive feedback is also key. Let her know that she’s doing fantastic and, when you’ve captured a particularly amazing shot, show her the image on the camera to boost her confidence.
If I have a client who is having a particularly tough time loosening up in front of the camera, I won’t hesitate to drop the camera and run through some breathing exercises. I will have my client close her eyes, breathe in for three counts, then breathe out for three counts. We’ll repeat this for as long as she needs to. When I feel like she has relaxed a bit, I will instruct her to slowly open her eyes and resume the shoot.
The location where you will be shooting will play a big part in determining the appropriate gear. How much space will you have? What is the lighting situation? Personally, I'm a big fan of fast prime lenses for boudoir shoots. The extra light they let in is very nice, and the big aperture also allows me to focus on details and create dreamy images. I love an 85mm lens, but if the room is small, it can be very challenging to get a good variety of images with this telephoto. Another great option would be a 50mm lens (I have my Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art on my camera 85 percent of the time). Once you start working with focal lengths wider than 50mm, distortion may start coming into play, which may not be very flattering to your client, especially around the edges of the frame.
This is a great way to start your shoot since it is a perfect warm-up pose to loosen things up. Ask your subject sit back on her feet with her knees slightly apart. Regardless of what pose you put your client in, always give her hands something to do. In this particular pose, I like to ask my clients to start by playing around with their hair or the bra straps. If she’s wearing a men’s shirt or cardigan, she can use her hands to pull the fabric tight around her body to accentuate her natural shape. From there, you can take shots from several different angles, moving all the way around your subject to get a variety of images.
No matter what pose you have your client in, you want to make sure that you accentuate her curves and add angles to your photo. Ask your client to lie on her back perpendicular to you with her knees bent and feet together. To lengthen her legs, ask her to extend one of her legs without totally straightening it. With proper direction, you can get at least 20 different images from this single pose. Be creative by adding some detail shots in the mix (her eyes, lips, the lace on her lingerie, etc.). Grab a step-stool and shoot some frames of her from above.
Another classic boudoir photography pose is to have your subject lying on her side. You can easily move into this pose directly from the one with her lying on her back. To accentuate her curves, ask her to lie with her bottom leg straight and the top leg bent with the knee touching the bed (or whatever it is that she’s lying on). Have her prop herself up on her elbow with her hand in her hair. With the other hand, have her place it on top of her hips while tucking the elbow behind her. If she’s self-conscious about her midsection, have her place that hand in front of her instead.
One of the highlights of my job is being able to wow my client with a great shot of her backside. Whether your client is curvy or not-so-curvy, this method is my tried-and-true way of getting a booty shot that she’ll love. Start by having your client stand facing away from you at an angle. Ask her to stand with the leg closest to you straightened and bend the leg that’s farther away from you. To give her body even more of a curve, ask her to pop her bottom back. Sometimes women will bend forward when you ask her to pop her bottom back. If this happens, ask her to tilt her pelvis. When shooting, you want to position yourself so that her bottom is slightly above your eye line.
Retouching a boudoir photography shoot can vary widely from photographer to photographer. While many professional boudoir shooters opt for magazine-style editing, which can include methods such as frequency separation for that flawless look, I do know of very successful boudoir photographers who do little to no editing at all. Some common actions include removing temporary blemishes, using the liquify tool sparingly for minor tucks, and utilizing some form of skin softening or smoothing technique to lessen or eliminate skin imperfections.
When it comes to post-processing after a boudoir session, my main goal is to never edit a client to the point where she doesn’t look like herself. Over-editing conveys a message that can be damaging to a woman’s self-esteem. Instead, I want to empower my clients. I want to give them an experience that challenges their expectations of themselves. I want my clients to know that they’re just as beautiful and sexy as any of the models that they see in glossy publications.