What Is Erotic Boudoir? ...And Should You Shoot It With Clients?
Updated: May 8
Boudoir photography is always evolving. What was "scandalous" for one generation, isn't necessarily the same for the next. Thirty five years ago a boudoir photo of a woman in a brassiere was to be kept under lock and key-- What if the neighbors saw that?! Such a scandalous thing could ruin reputations. Hide the children!!
Back then, boudoir photography was a fringy thing, at best. It certainly wasn't for PTA moms. There must have been something depraved about those women who wanted to do such a scandalous thing, right? Even finding a boudoir photographer probably meant a trip down a dark alley, and required some kind of a secret knock to gain access to the forbidden studio. Inside these walls photographers would smear Vaseline on their lenses to create a strange soft images, and develop these illicit shots in sketchy darkrooms. It was quite a scene, man.
Flash forward a few decades and boudoir and society have both changed.
In 2020 we have an entire generation of women in a race for "Insta-fame" who voluntarily post photos of themselves on Instagram in essentially no clothing-- everyday. Over and over, again. --And nobody cares. Self proclaimed "Fitness Motivators" drag friends along to the gym to capture their workout routines-- which is very necessary because nobody really understands what exercise is 🤦♂️ -- and the results seems to always be not so workout focused, but more "here's more photos of my ass" focused.
On the boudoir photography front, brides are coming in regularly to give boudoir albums on their wedding days. Wives come in regularly for anniversary or Christmas gifts. Boudoir clients are: teachers, doctors, accountants... the list goes on. Boudoir has, well, become super acceptable-- and cute!
Boudoir photographers have upped their game, as well. We have super hi-res digital cameras that can produce stunning images. There is fancy professional software to help clients look their best. Photographers have taken to learning the art of boudoir and have really created a scene of amazing work.
For all of these innovations and changes, boudoir photography is still widely misunderstood. In its purest form boudoir photography is about beauty. It's about observing a women in her private moments in her room. Even though there may be lingerie in boudoir photography, it isn't necessarily about explicit sexuality or nudity. The focus of boudoir photography is beauty over overt sexuality. It's a bit voyeuristic. It's a bit pretty. It's mostly about making women feel great about themselves.
As our times have changed, so have some of these basic tenets of boudoir photography. These changes are primarily driven by changes in our culture. What was a edgy thirty five years ago, today may be rather mundane. People want to keep pushing the limits.
As such, boudoir has definitely taken a turn in a wilder direction. Although there are certainly still plenty of women that was do to more traditional sessions that aren't necessarily explicit, it is a lot more common, however, for women to want to push the edges and do photos that aren't typically within the bounds of traditional boudoir.
So, what has happened to boudoir during this shift? To state it simply, boudoir has become more overtly sexual. There is even a version of boudoir now called erotic boudoir.
So, What Is Erotic Boudoir?
So, what is erotic boudoir? Well, I don't know if it has a single all-encompassing definition. Erotic boudoir would typically be a session where the client is interested in expressing more of her sexuality in a way that may fall outside of "traditional" boudoir photography. This may be done in a few ways. There may be more nudity. There may be more poses of a explicit nature. Erotic boudoir also may contain elements of bondage and masturbation, just to name a few. All the while, as photographers, we try to keep these elements within the "riverbanks" of standard boudoir. Those "riverbanks," however, seem to be ever widening.
Erotic boudoir changes up the traditional boudoir session quite a bit. In my unscientific opinion, most women are a bit anxious when they come in for a boudoir shoot. Not only that, more often than not they are dealing with a photographer they don't know. Many clients may not feel real comfortable bringing up certain shots they "really" want to do in a boudoir session at first.
Clients may feel a bit uncomfortable about how everything is going to unfold, and they take a bit of a "wait and see" approach. After the session starts, and the initial fears and nerves have all passed, they realize how much fun it is, and what a great time they are having. It is usually at this point they will come in the room after an outfit change and say, "Is it OK to take a photo with this sex toy?"
My Three Steps For Introducing Erotic Boudoir....
Step 1: Don't let "You" be the issue
I, personally noticed a while ago there was this pent up demand to do some less "traditional" type shots, and I thought about how to make it easier for my clients to bring up the topic. As a male boudoir photographer, initially, I photographed my sessions with more of a conservative approach. I really operated with a "less is not more" state of mind. A big part of this was that I personally didn't want my clients to feel I was "pushing" them to doing shots they really didn't want to do. Secondly, I didn't want to create a feeling of discomfort for them.
I went on for years like this. --And I was fine with it. I really learned something, however. Every once in a while I'd have a client who would literally say "I want to do something a bit wild," in the middle of a session and I would think to myself, isn't this wild enough?
Something slowly started to dawn on me though. It's not about me... it's about my client having a good time. Seems like a simple construct, but it really was something that wasn't obvious to me at first.
I had deliberate talks with a few clients about this topic, and that really helped. It really helped to change my view on the entire topic. My clients were having fun. They really felt they were in a "judgement free" environment, and they truly wanted to express a side of their sexuality and trusted me to capture it in an elegant manner.
It turns out the first hurdle in the process was indeed me.
Step 2: Making it OK
I wanted to make sure this type of "self-censoring" didn't perpetuate in my sessions. I didn't feel like I wanted to put screaming messages about erotica on my website, but I wanted a clear message for clients who wished to go a bit further in their sessions, it was OK.
The first thing I did was to include a page about erotic boudoir on my website. This way potential clients viewing my website could see there was an offering for those who wanted to spice up their shoot a bit.