Updated: Feb 27
What is outdoor boudoir? Well, let me start by saying there's a bit of an issue here. Let me explain...
Ahh, outdoor boudoir. You'll see this mentioned online from time to time across the interwebs, such as a photographer's posting on social media about an "Outdoor Boudoir" event they will be hosting. You'll may come across a blog post about "Ms. R's" outdoor boudoir session which is full of shots in grassy meadows. Some photographers even have a dedicated page on their website to such an offering. It seems like this is a thing. No? If you even dig a bit further, you'll even see this topic popping up in articles on websites such as FStoppers.
So what gives? It all seams so "natural." These posts always contain lots of text about "warm summer breezes", and the purity of "golden fields," which are the perfect location to host your outdoor boudoir session. It's all very appealing! Except for one small detail... technically, there's no such thing as outdoor boudoir.
"But wait, Mike. Just like you said, I saw it online. It does exist. The photographer even showed a woman in a lace bodysuit laying half submerged in a pond."
"Yeah, there was even other photo of a woman in a bra and undies laying in the grass! She was in grass, I say!! That's outdoor boudoir!"
Well, no. It's not outdoor boudoir-- At this point I can't help but think about the phrase from Seinfeld, "Not that's there's anything wrong with that!" Allow me to explain.
I guess the simplest way to start is with the definition of boudoir photography. Boudoir photography is an extremely simple, and misunderstood genre of photography. There are a few basic tenets that describe all boudoir photography. These are:
Where do we shoot boudoir? We can start with the word "boudoir." Boudoir is defined as a woman's bedroom or private room-- an intimate setting. It's a where. Boudoir photography is photography that captures a woman in her boudoir. OK, so know we know where boudoir takes place... perhaps a bit about the why.
Why do we shoot boudoir? Well, boudoir is about capturing a woman in this intimate setting. It certainly has voyeuristic overtones. Its a look in on a woman's private quarters. It's her caught in private moments-- perhaps not meant to be seen-- creating a sense of allure. Is she smiling, or looking into the camera? Well, perhaps, but there's just as much chance that she isn't.
And now, the how. How is boudoir captured? Well, given the paragraphs above we know the where, and the why-- and we can use those to piece together the how. As boudoir is a simple and pure form-- so is the how. It is captured in a simply lit style which is beautiful, organic and flowing. It tells a story and makes you want to know more. It creates allure.
Those are the three core parameters of boudoir, as defined by me. --And who else better to do it! Can there be exceptions? Of course there can. Art being art, there can be many interpretations of boudoir.
So, let's take those basic tenets and apply them to what has been called outdoor boudoir. Let's start with the "Where." Is a grassy meadow a women's bedroom or boudoir? --No, it isn't.
How about the "Why." Is a grassy meadow an intimate setting? Are we looking in on a woman's private quarters? Not really. A grassy meadow may possibly even be a wide open public space.
Now the "How." Is the session captured in a beautiful, simple manner? Possibly. Outdoor photography may be photographed using natural light, or a simple lighting setup that doesn't interfere with the tone of the session.
So, by the definition of boudoir photography, this scenario may only possibly pass one of those criteria. There's more, though.
The other big mistake is people often associate the term "boudoir photography" with any photograph of a woman in underwear. It simply isn't the case. An outdoor photo of a woman laying on a pile of rocks in a bra isn't boudoir. Lingerie isn't the defining characteristic of what makes boudoir photography. It may be an element of boudoir, but it is not the sole defining characteristic.
Look at it this way. Taking a photo of a woman in a bathing suit standing in my backyard doesn't make it a beach photo. A bikini may be a wardrobe element of a beach photo, but the bikini itself isn't the sole defining factor of a beach photo. If I snapped a photo of a woman in a subway car wearing a bikini, that really isn't a beach photograph, either. Get the idea? There are a few things that need to come together to define the beach photo, such as the location, and other factors.
In addition, the primary tone of boudoir photography is beauty rather than an overt sexuality of the subject. It's a fine distinction, but it's there. An untrained eye may not be able to spot the difference, but a photographer who studies boudoir should know.
So...what is outdoor boudoir, then, if it isn't boudoir?
Well, now we're getting to the heart of the issue. A woman in a lace bodysuit laying half soaked in a cold pond is simply a glamour or beauty photo situation-- not that there's anything wrong with that! Calling it boudoir... well... doing that is really is technically incorrect, and it perpetuates a bit of an untruth.
As a photographer, I understand the on the client side all they really know from a retail photography perspective is they've heard about boudoir-- and they know it involves woman taking photos in, well, mostly lingerie. Boudoir photography has grown enough so people have an idea of what it is, and people naturally associate these other types of photo situations as "boudoir" because there is a woman in a "bra" in the photo. I get it.
On the photographers part, and for simplicity of the client, this misclassification really isn't doing anyone any harm. As a bit of a "purist" myself, and for anyone who is studying boudoir photography and selling it as a service, hopefully they will be aware of this distinction.
In the end, we all all here working to create the best art we can, and to ensure our clients are having a wonderful time during their sessions. Whether you refer to it as glamour photography or "outdoor boudoir," these goals remain the same. For the photographers reading this article, I hope this can clarify some details on the subject, and you can use it to grow, improve, and understand the engaging world of boudoir photography a little bit better.