If you’re getting into boudoir photography, you’ll more than likely start out using natural light from a window or an open door that opens to the outside… or even an open garage door if you set up an appropriate backdrop (I’m assuming you don’t want the lawnmower and garden tool themed shoot).
In this article I’m going to show you three main boudoir lighting setups with a couple variations thrown in on two of them, but three basic setups, or to think of it another way, three main configurations involving you, your subject, and the window. (To keep things simple I’ll be using “window” as the light source but know that can also mean an open door or garage door.)
Let’s start with what I consider to be the most simple setup.
Place your subject directly in front of a window, facing the window, with her shoulders parallel to the window. This squaring up is important because with front lighting you don’t want to create any shadows on the face or body by having your subject angled in any way with regard to the direction of the light.
The purpose of front light is to have your model fully lit, that’s why she’s facing head-on towards the window. This positioning reduces the appearance of wrinkles, blemishes, and any other skin irregularities (such as a tiny scar) because the light is filling in all the shadows those skin conditions would normally create.
If they were angled in any way, those same skin conditions would become more noticeable because the light would be hitting them at an angle and create shadows.
Now, in order to capture your subject fully lit with front lighting you need to position yourself directly in front of your model, between the window and your subject. (So, the window is at your back like in the diagram below.)
Boudoir Lighting Diagram For Front Lighting
Please note that your subject does not have to be facing the window. I’m assuming that’s the position most photographers will choose. However, she could have her back to the window if that’s the image you want to capture. The idea is that she’s not angled towards the light in any way that would create shadows on her.
Pros and Cons of Front Lighting
Produces a fully lit image; flatters women concerned about wrinkles, blemishes, or scars
Images can appear flat and two-dimensional because of a lack of shadow contouring the face and body; the less shadows you have on your subject, the less three-dimensional it will look
Use back lighting when you’re looking to capture a stylized silhouette… or partial silhouette which we’ll talk about in just a moment.
Place your subject in front of the window (facing any direction) and establish the pose you want.
You’ll have to adjust how close or far away she is from the window depending on the space available and the aesthetic composition of your shot.
Now position yourself in front of the model so your subject is between the window and you, like in the diagram below.
Boudoir Lighting Diagram For Back Lighting
Pros And Cons Of Back Lighting (Full Silhouette)
A more stylized shot with added mystery
Can look flat and two-dimensional if your model is completely blacked out, almost like clip art.
Whether you capture a completely black silhouette or one where you can make out some contouring of the face and body (a partial silhouette), will depend on how bright your ambient light is and your camera settings (mainly ISO and shutter speed in this case) when shooting head-on (like in the diagram above).
What Is A Partial Silhouette?
A partial silhouette is when there is a small amount of ambient light that illuminates the front of your subject, or you’re shooting a bit off-axis and you’re capturing some of the light that is wrapping itself around the side of your model (as in the image below).
Both partial silhouettes, the one on the left is where I’ve moved to my left a bit, and the model is also slightly rotated around more to catch some of that light wrapping around her.
The shot on the right is more on-axis but there’s still enough ambient light in the room to make out her features and what she’s wearing. Notice the natural edge light on either side of her face.
Achieving A Partial Silhouette With A Bounce
You can achieve a partial silhouette by also using a white bounce or reflector to bounce some of the light back onto your subject (like in the diagram below).
(By the way, if you’re looking for a good bounce check out V-Flats from V-Flat Word. They can also double as negative fill, or as solid white or black backgrounds… so that’s cool too.)
Pros And Cons Of Back Light (Partial Silhouette)
Produces more contouring making the image more three-dimensional and the slight illumination peaks our curiosity in trying to discover who this person is; adds interest to the image
I don’t have any cons for partial silhouettes; I much prefer them to full blacked-out silhouettes
The third and final setup is angled light, which comes in several varieties.
Side light is when your subject is perpendicular to the window, where you, your subject, and the window form a right triangle.
Boudoir Lighting Diagram For Side Light
Side light will cut your subject in half with one side being lit while the other side falls into shadow.
With hard light this can look quite harsh, but with soft light the transition from light to shadow is more pleasing. Odds are you probably won’t be shooting your subject at such a 50/50 ratio but rather slightly angled.
This is where broad lighting and short lighting come into play.
Broad lighting and short lighting are two sides of the same coin, kind of the yin and yang of angled light. The big difference is where the photographer places themself in relation to the window and their subject.
With broad lighting, the photographer is shooting with primarily their back to the light (at some angle), while their subject is in front of them. With this set up, the model’s face closest to camera will be lit while the side furthest from camera will fall into shadow.
They call this broad lighting because the broad (or wider) side of the face is illuminated while the side furthest from camera, the short (or narrower) side will be in shadow.
Boudoir Lighting Diagram For Broad Lighting
Pros And Cons Of Broad Lighting
Adds shadow to the far side of your model creating more shape and contour
No cons really I can think of.
With short lighting, the photographer is shooting primarily facing the window (at some angle) with their subject between them and the window. It’s kind of like back light and capturing a silhouette but the angle at which you’re at is much greater, thus, capturing more of the light that is hitting your subject’s face furthest from camera.
They call it short lighting because the side of your model’s face that is furthest from camera (the narrow side) is being lit while the side closer to camera (the broad side) is falling into shadow.
Boudoir Lighting Diagram For Short Lighting
Pros And Cons Of Short Lighting
Adds a lot more shadow to the side of your model closest to camera creating more mood and mystery; ideal set up for those who like their boudoir dark and moody; will make your subject appear slimmer because more of her body is hidden in shadow
Much of the image is in shadow which may be too much for some
What’s the difference between a partial silhouette and short lighting?
The big differences is the amount of light on the subject.
With a partial silhouette, the light is still very dim making it hard for the viewer to fully make out the subject. It’s still basically a silhouette.
With short lighting, the light is stronger making it easy for the viewer to clearly see the features of the subject on her lit side. It’s clearly not a silhouette.
I hope these boudoir lighting diagrams have given you a clear understanding of these basic setups using window light. However, you can easily replace the window light in these examples with artificial light such as a flash, strobe, or some form of continuous light.
The next step is for you to go and try these out yourself!
Knowing the pros and cons of each will enable you to utilize whichever “look” your client happens to favor, as well as, giving you the power to present a wide variety of looks which will lead to more images being sold and making you more money.
Thanks for your time!
Founder / Lounge Boudoir
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