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.
Another item I changed which really made a difference was including a "Things You May Be Too Embarrassed To Ask" section in my client prep guide, which everyone receives after booking with me. I tried to make the process easier for my clients by including a message to the effect of "This type of thing may not be for everybody... but it's all just good natured fun. Let's do it!" I included examples of different kinds of "non-traditional" boudoir stuff with a reassuring message about "It's all OK!"
This takes pressure off of the client.
Step 3: Show Them Examples.
Additionally, if the client can see and identify with sample photos of how they envision their session, this also provides a certain degree of social proof. I, personally, have never really posted a lot of explicit photos on my website-- I never really felt it was necessarily-- but a funny thing happened.
As I started to include a few photos of this type in my gallery, requests to do those particular poses. Clients were emailing me my samples shots and "I want to do vibrator shots like the girl in the black..."
So, slowly I have been adding a few more photos of an explicit nature to my galleries. It has helped. I still don't think a majority of these photos are necessary, nor do you need super "raw" type photos. A few strategically places examples seem to be just fine.
Shooting Erotic Boudoir With Clients
So, how does it all come together? Fear not. Let me start by saying that "erotic" boudoir isn't the same thing to all people. "Wild" is a relative thing. What may be considered "wild" by one client, may be a "tame" to another.
Secondly, more often than not erotic boudoir tends to be a set or two of an entire "standard" session. It is not typically a situation where a client wants to do an entire session of this type of photo.
So, in the end, it tends to be not that really much more difficult to shoot than a run-of-the-mill boudoir session with a typical clients.
There are some things to be aware of, however. It can (and will) take some practice shooting new props and poses that you haven't really worked on before. Clients may have some photos ideas that may cause you to struggle a bit to come up with "boudoir-y" (meaning: cute) ways of capturing them. After a bit of practice, though, it just becomes any other pose.
When I started shooting more erotic sessions, vibrators became one of props that many clients started bringing to their sessions. At first, I struggled a bit with making them look "cute," and learning how to frame shots using the vibrator as a prop. With some practice, and over time, I came up with a bunch shots to do with vibrators... from tame to "en fuego," to fit almost any request.
This is a good example of a prop that can be shot in a more playful manner, or it can literally become just pure erotic. Clients can decide how far to go. Some clients are satisfied simply holding one out in a hand-- and that is enough of an edgy pose for them. Others may go further and want shots containing masturbation or insertion. There will even be a group desiring dramatic shots during the moment of orgasm. It can become pretty intense.
Vibrators are one of my most popular "props" in my sessions. Clients see my gallery shots and will text me a copy of the photos and say "Oooh, this one is hot. I want that shot on my list." No problem.
There are a couple of key things to keep in mind while shooting erotic boudoir:
I believe the most important thing is to keep the integrity of your work at your level during the session.
Secondly, creating a positive environment for clients is one of the foundations of being a strong boudoir photographer.
At first you will struggle learning new shots, poses and positions. As I mentioned a few paragraphs ago, it will become easier. The idea is still to create drama in the pose without having the session veer off into some other type of situation all together. Take it step by step.
As in any boudoir session, creating a positive, judgement free environment is essential for a success erotic boudoir session. This is not something your typical woman does every day... If your clients feels awkward... the photos will look awkward.
Even if things cross the line a bit, and the client is enjoying herself, I let it go.
If boudoir photography is evolving, photographers have to be prepared for this change, as well. Although not every client is going to want to do a more intense version of boudoir photography, there will be an increasing number of clients that want to push the limits.
As a photographer, if you choose to accommodate these type of requests there are a few steps:
Don't let YOU be the issue.
Make it OK for your client by creating a positive environment.
Support the genre with social proof via samples.
Additionally, you'll need to practice your new craft! It's not easy switching gears.
Ultimately, our job as boudoir photographer's is to make our clients happy by providing exceptional photography. Erotic boudoir can make that goal a bit murky. As a photographer, you may have to come to a decision on how and if you will be willing to accommodate such requests from clients.