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What Is Boudoir Photography?

Hi, I'm Michael. I am a womens portrait and boudoir photographer from New Jersey who works with wonderful women from all over my home state and the NYC area.

I've worked with many clients throughout the years, and I'm still a little surprised when someone comes in for a session and is expecting something...well... a bit different. Although many people may have an idea, it seems that most don't really know the correct definition of boudoir photography. The real answer may surprise you.

Even though I talk to clients extensively, and have tons of information on my website about the subject, sometimes clients have a completely different experience in mind when they show up. On some level this would make me feel like I failed-- in the sense that I have not communicating properly with the client. Perhaps I didn't ask the right questions and clearly set expectations. --Or maybe, the client really didn't understand what boudoir photography really was about, from the git-go. Let's take a look...

So, that leads us to the question-- What is the definition of boudoir photography? Well, you can search the interwebs, but its sort of tough to find an exact boudoir definition. Today we'll attempt to define boudoir. Google grabs their default definition from The Knot (a wedding website)-- which may not be exactly the best source of photography information.

I guess maybe... that's sorta... kinda... in the ballpark --But not really. Hmm... so if Google isn't hitting the nail on the head, what hope do any of us have?

Well, I think what happened is that the term "boudoir," which is a fairly specific type photography, has been adopted and applied to a whole larger genre of photography, that technically isn't really boudoir. It's become, in a way, a proprietary eponym-- a situation where a successful product has come into general use to refer to a generic class of products rather than its specific brand type. For example, how Kleenex is used to describe lots of different tissues. Boudoir is used to describe lots of different types of photography...that may feature women in lingerie... most of which, though, aren't boudoir!

I think lots of people have in their minds that boudoir is the all encompassing term for taking photos in little or no clothing. ...That's not exactly what it is.

What is the definition of boudoir photography?

Boudoir is an extremely simple, and very misunderstood genre of photography. The main construct of boudoir is that - as it’s name implies — typically takes place in a women’s “boudoir,” or bedroom, and contains elements of voyeurism, in so much that the viewer is observing a woman’s private moments and there may be indications that she may, or may not know the viewer is watching.

Boudoir is foremost about beauty, passion, and simplicity. Boudoir is photographed in a very simple organically lit style, and may be beautiful and passionate.

Well, lets dissect a bit, and see if we can find out exactly what the definition of boudoir photography is... so we can know better what it isn't.

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.

As Stuart from the Big Bang Theory so elegantly put it "It's a little wrong to say a tomato is a vegetable, it's very wrong to say it's a suspension bridge."

This a premise that also surrounds boudoir. There are some photographers out there that are doing what are in actuality gradations of boudoir. What some photographers are promoting as boudoir are "a little wrong," and others are well into the "suspension bridge" category.

Now lets take a look at a few situations of what boudoir isn't.

What boudoir "technically" isn't.

"So, smartypants, you're telling me that the photos I took with my photographer in his/her studio on that velvet couch with all those fancy-schmancy lights and jacquard backdrops aren't boudoir?"

--Um....well, not really. ...And therein lies the confusion.

If we follow the guidelines above, and take a look at the where, does it fit with our definition? Not really. A dark photography studio isn't exactly a women's boudoir.

Now, once again, and with that being said, I know photographers who have bedroom vignettes beautifully put together in their work spaces, so just because you visit a photographer's studio doesn't automatically disqualify you from the boudoir experience. Just ask them exactly where the photos will take place. If they have a bedroom vignette, you're good to go.

If we take a look at the why in your session, are we capturing a woman in an intimate setting-- peeking in on her private quarters? Well, no, again. And, because your session fails the where, seems you automatically fail the why-- we would lose any voyeuristic overtones.

As far as the how goes, well, in my opinion, studios sessions are never captured simply. Lots of flashing lights and equipment-- and sometimes waaay too many flashing lights, and lots of cables, and other gear- well, doesn't seem to simple or organic, does it? It may be an impressive display of expensive hardware, but its probably not aiding to create a beautiful story. (And trust me, having lots of lighting equipment all in your clients face tends to really kill the transparency and mood of a session.)

"OK, then, smarty. If it wasn't a boudoir session, what did I just pay all that money for? Huh!?"

Well, from sound of it, you may have just taken part in a glamour session. --Not that there's anything wrong with that!

Honestly though, from seeing many of that particular iteration of "jacquard backdrop laden" photos, I'm really sure exactly what they are supposed to be.

Boudoir has a beautiful setting

As a second example, boudoir is not necessarily about what someone is not wearing. Once again, plopping a mostly nude woman down on a mattress shooting away is not boudoir.

You can open any edition of Maxim, or similar style of men's magazine, with model photography and see lots of photos of women in various states of undress in bedrooms, and none of them are boudoir.

Boudoir is about beauty. Although there may be underwear, lingerie, or sometimes even nudity in a boudoir photo, the focus of boudoir is not constant sexuality or what the women isn't wearing, but creating beauty. As stated earlier, the perspective is looking-- in an almost voyeuristic way on someones private time and seeing them in an alluring moment... perhaps you were never meant to see.

Can boudoir be a bit racy? --Of course. The definition is certainly open to a bit of interpretation. --And that is perfectly OK. I can look at a photograph and in 1/2 second tell you if its boudoir, or not. With a bit of practice, you can, as well. If are looking at a photo and your first reaction is, Wow, she looks beautiful, or that photo is quite alluring, then you may be looking at boudoir.

In Conclusion

I may be more of a purist than most. I shoot my photography in a certain way in a certain location, with a certain style-- all the while creating a story. That is how I chose to operate. Is it better? No, certainly not. It's merely a decision I made to create a "truer" boudoir experience.

This is where the confusion in my clientele comes in. They may all not be looking for a "boudoir" session, after all. When I have women showing up with lots of props, or sending me Maxim style glamour shots, they think all of that is part of boudoir photography, but it isn't!

I'll be the first to admit, it's fun idea to grab a few shots of a client in her husband's Jets jersey to include in her album. First, it's an important connection she wants to make as a way of "including" her husband in the process, and secondly, (and ultimately) boudoir sessions are about creating a fun atmosphere for your client and letting them have a great time.

As a matter of fact, shooting true boudoir is extremely challenging and difficult to master. That's part of the reason why there are actually not many "true" boudoir photographers out there-- despite many photographers categorizing themselves as such. Is it easy to find someone who works in this sort of fashion? Not always. It is difficult form of photography that few do well. Inexpensive? Not quite. You are certainly going to pay for the expertise of the photographer.