How Do You Replicate Sunlight For a Boudoir Shoot?


Shaft of sunlight through window

If you’re someone who shoots boudoir with natural light but at times have to shoot on days where there is no sunlight, or very little… what’s a boudoir photographer to do? Well, you could always reschedule… but that can be inconvenient for everyone involved and there’s no guarantee the sun will be shining on that day too.

And what about daylight savings? When it starts getting dark around 4:30 in the afternoon? Yuk. That severely limits the window of opportunity when you can shoot.

Now, regardless of where you live, there will be times when you’d just like to have more light coming through your window.

So, how do you replicate sunlight for a boudoir shoot? The only solution is to use artificial light that looks like sunlight. With the use of a strobe, speedlite, or constant LED light panel you can mimic sunlight and give it direction and shape as if it was natural light coming through a window.

In this article, we’re going to explore a few different options you can use to replicate sunlight for a boudoir shoot, and we’re even going to replicate sunlight indoors where there is no window but will look like there is.

Tools to Create Your Own Sunlight

To create your own artificial sunlight you can use a studio strobe, a small speedlite, or a constant LED light panel. 

Studio Strobe

Studio strobes can get expensive. If you’ve already got one, great. You can use that. I personally wouldn’t go out and buy a costly strobe just to use every now and then to replicate sunlight, but if you find yourself using it more and more in this fashion, then you may want to invest in one down the road, especially if it can be used in other areas of your photography.

Speedlite

A speedlite is a great alternative to a strobe. They’re small, compact, and relatively cheap to buy. You can get very expensive name brand speedlites from Nikon or Canon for around $500 – $600, but there are plenty of options from third party companies that are a great bang for their buck for around $75 – $100 or even less.

I personally use Yongnuo and Neewer speedlites because dropping a $500 flash and having it break is no fun. I dropped one of my Yongnuo speedlites on a subway platform once and it died a quick death, but it only cost me $60. 

At some point I may acquire some strobes because I use flash all the time for my dramatic moody look, but right now the cheaper option works just fine. 

LED Light Panel

The third option, an LED light panel, does not require a transmitter or receiver because it’s a continuous light. You switch it on and it stays on, unlike a strobe or speedlite which provides a quick flash of light when triggered.

A couple of advantages to using an LED light panel is that it won’t get hot. Unlike some incandescent tungsten lights which can make your studio feel like a sauna and melt the makeup right off your face. 

I would always do a custom white balance when using these kinds of lights because you may not be able to trust the manufacturer’s labeling of color temperature. 

They’re also easy to store if you stack them face-to-face and are a great solution for providing artificial sunlight for your boudoir shoots. 

Please note that if you do decide to get yourself a set of LED panels, they’ll require an electrical hookup. It’s not hard to do but you should hire a professional electrician (if you don’t know of anyone) to do the job right. 

It’s a one-time expense that will pay for itself with just one paid shoot, that’s LED panels and electrician combined.  

Light Stand

Regardless of which option you choose, you’re going to need a light stand to mount it on. They’re fairly inexpensive and come in a variety of adjustable heights.

If you’re using a strobe, expensive speedlite, or costly LED panel you don’t want to get the cheapest light stand available. It makes no sense to mount a $1500 strobe onto a $50 light stand that could fail on you.

It always pays to buy good quality equipment… within reason and within your budget. A good light stand should last you a long time if you don’t abuse it. 

So, keep that in mind when you mount your artificial light, whichever one you decide to go with.

Sandbags

Along with a light stand, you’re going to want to make sure your artificial light doesn’t tip over and smash into a thousand pieces onto the ground. That’s where a sandbag or two comes in handy.

A sandbag will give you peace of mind as well as keep your lighting from tipping over if someone knocks into it accidentally. It also ensures it won’t fall onto your subject.

Waterbags

A relatively cool new item on the market now are waterbags. Designed in similar saddlebag fashion, waterbags are used just like sandbags but can be filled with water on location saving you weight, space, and energy in transporting them. They’re also much easier and less messy when used as a counter balance on a boom arm, for example.

When you’re done, you just unscrew the opening and pour out the water and everything packs flat in your carry bag. If you’ve ever lugged sandbags any distance, it can wear you out and tire you out for your shoot.

If you go with waterbags, however, just make sure you have water available to fill them up with at the location you’ll be shooting at. 

Radio Transmitters and Receivers

Whether you decide on strobes or speedlites, they’re both going to need a way to communicate with your camera, and the way that’s done is through wireless transmitters and receivers.

You may have heard of the brand Pocket Wizard before. Pocket Wizard is a popular company that makes these small devices that send a signal from your camera to your strobe or speedlite to tell it when to fire. 

A cheaper alternative is Yongnuo and there are others as well.

Some strobes and speedlites have built in receivers while some require a separate receiver that you attach to the light to receive the signal from the transmitter that fits into the hotshoe on your camera.

Using a Cable

With the newer radio transmitters, the hard-wired cable approach is slowly fading out of existence. Granted, running a cable that connects from your camera to your strobe or speedlite is probably the most reliable way to ensure a flash every single time, but it also comes with some drawbacks.

First, you’re limited to the length of the cable as to how far away your strobe or speedlite can be from your camera.

Second, having a cable on the floor or worse, having it hang in mid-air between your two devices is a safety hazard, and it could also find its way into your frame.

A Softbox

You’ll want to use a softbox with your strobe or speedlite to soften the light and also direct it. They usually come with two diffuser baffles, one on the inside and one on the outside.

I like using a softbox as opposed to an umbrella since the softbox will direct the light better with its boxy perimeter panels. Using an umbrella can work but the spill of light will be much broader and less directed.

A simple way to correct this is to collapse the umbrella down and use a small clamp (or clothespin) attached to the central rod to hold it in place. This rather crude method works very well when the strobe or speedlite is aimed into the umbrella so the light is reflected back out.

I’ve never shot directly through the umbrella but would imagine controlling the spread would be much more difficult. 

If using an LED light panel, some models come with “barn doors” to help direct the light, but if not, you can always cut some panels from a piece of cardboard (or cereal box, I’ve done both) and tape them in place. 

You could also just use it “as is” and see how that works. 

“Here Comes the Sun”

Placing the Light Inside

Okay, you’ve got a light stand, softbox, sandbag (or waterbag), and either a strobe, speedlite, or LED panel. It’s finally time to create some sunlight! 

If you’re using a strobe or speedlite indoors place your light source with softbox just off camera aimed at your subject coming in from one side. 

If you picture the face of a clock and your subject is standing right smack in the middle of the clockface, your light will be placed at the 9 or 3 o’clock position.

If using an LED panel, try taking it off the stand and placing it right in the window itself resting on the sill. Use some sheer white curtains to conceal it and also to soften the light. With your subject standing next to the window, it will look just like natural sunlight.

The advantage to this is that it allows you to shoot at night when there is no sun, or on extremely overcast days when you need that extra “pop” of light. 

If using the “window method” you may want to acquire a larger LED light panel that better fills the frame of the window. Amazon has some that are 2’ x 4’.

Placing the Light Outside

Another option is to place the light outside pointing in through the window you want to use for your shoot. With this method you may not even need a softbox because the light will be passing through two filters, the glass and then the sheer curtains on the inside, so you’ll have to try it both ways to see which works best.

The LED panel will probably not be effective placed outside since the “throw” of light isn’t as powerful as that of a strobe or speedlite so I’d keep that one for the sill of the window inside.

Related Question

What shape should my softbox be?

I would definitely use a square or rectangular softbox as opposed to a round or octo-shaped modifier just to retain that square-ish shape of light that a window frame produces, especially when used inside. 

However, if used outside, the shape of the modifier isn’t important because the window itself will dictate the shape of the light that will be cast inside so any shape will work. 

If you found this article helpful, pass it along to someone who may also find it useful.

Thanks for your time.

Charles Mitri

Founder / Lounge Boudoir

Bella Mitri Boudoir

Charles Mitri

Charles Mitri is an award-winning boudoir photographer and also founder and writer of LoungeBoudoir.com, an educational blog and resource website for boudoir photographers worldwide. He lives in Yorktown, Virginia.

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