If you’re a boudoir photographer and you’re looking for a style you can claim as your own, something that will set you apart from other boudoir photographers in your area or even world-wide…
… or if you’re bored with your current way of shooting and don’t know where to look for inspiration or perhaps just looking to change things up, then this article will give you specific insight and direction into doing just that — a system you can use at any time.
Boudoir In Wonderland
I consider myself, in part, a boudoir theorist.
I don’t just write about the technical aspects of shooting boudoir, such as where to place your subject in relation to the light, or how to pose your subject. I also write about the theoretical aspects or the “big picture” of boudoir.
I find everyone talking about the micro and skipping the macro, other than the notion that anything that makes a woman feel good about herself can be considered boudoir… which may be altruistic but is in fact describing boudoir in such a nebulous way it doesn’t help define the genre in any practical terms and is not unique to boudoir.
A perfect example of this is beauty/glamour photography.
When a woman participates in a beauty/glamour shoot she usually gets her hair and makeup done, selects fine wardrobe to pose in, and is photographed in aesthetically pleasing light… and that would make any woman feel good about herself… so is that boudoir too?
No, it’s not.
It’s a beauty/glamour shoot.
The emphasis or intent is not to showcase a woman’s sexuality but rather her “beauty”… with her clothes on.
The beauty/glamour genre has its own rules and conventions which may be similar to boudoir’s but there are enough major differences to distinguish itself as its own separate genre.
And just to drive home the point, here are some other genres of photography that can make a woman feel good about herself:
Deep Down The Rabbit Hole
If you’ve read any of my earlier articles such as What Is Boudoir And Why Is It Critical You Know, Why Couples Boudoir Isn’t Really Boudoir, and What Boudoir Is Not, you’ll have some insight on where I’ll be heading with this article.
Those, however, where just stones skipping across the water.
In this article, we’ll be diving deep down the rabbit hole of genre to give you a blueprint on how to be more creative with your own style, or find a style if that’s what you’re looking for.
I’ll also explain how you can elevate your boudoir photography above that which 95% of all boudoir photographers operate at.
I’ll even show you how to transcend the boudoir genre altogether, leaving behind 99.5% of all other boudoir photographers altogether.
This is a way for you to see the Matrix… instead of being blind to it.
So, “You take the blue pill… and you believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill… and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”
My Two Big Creative Influences
From my early childhood into my early twenties I was heavily into music. I even attended a music school in Boston, The Berklee College of Music, where I studied classical, jazz, pop, rock, even Gregorian chant in an historical context as well as a practical context of writing, arranging, and performing music.
I then had a change of heart, shifted gears, and moved to Los Angeles where I pursued screenwriting and studied story theory extensively for years.
I mention this because both of those creative endeavors are heavily steeped in genre. I’ve been aware of, dealing with, and operating in genres my entire creative life… and continue to do so to this day with my photography.
What Is Genre?
First and foremost, what is genre or what is a genre?
Boudoir is certainly a genre of photography, like jazz is a genre of music and biography a genre of literature.
According to the dictionary, genre is:
— a category of artistic composition, as in music or literature, characterized by similarities in form, style, or subject matter
I like to call these similarities in form, style, or subject matter the rules and conventions of a genre.
So, for example, some rules and conventions of pop music:
— songs are generally about 3 1/2 minutes long
— they consist of several verses, a chorus, and usually a bridge section or solo
— they usually have a strong hook that sticks in people’s heads
— instruments used are primarily bass, guitar, keyboards, drums, and vocals
— songs are usually composed in 4/4 time with a consistent beat
There’s more we can identify but we’ll stick with these for now.
Every art form whether music, film, literature, painting, dance, or photography is broken down into genres that make them unique and identifiable.
“Ooh, I Like Those Kinds Of Movies!”
People seek out certain genres in books to read or movies to see because they like what the rules and conventions of those genres provide them emotionally for entertainment.
Horror, action, crime, thriller, romance, sci-fi, mystery, comedy, detective, biography, myth, fantasy, drama.
Genres In Photography
Within photography, we can identify quite a number of genres.
And more I can’t think of at the moment.
The point is that we can look at this list and immediately recognize the unwritten rules and conventions that make up each of these genres, and what make them unique unto themselves.
Many Flavors of Boudoir
We’ve all seen different types of boudoir too…
Boudoir with angel wings
Boudoir with butterfly wings
Boudoir that’s dark and moody
Boudoir with candid poses
Boudoir shot in black and white
Boudoir that’s edgy
Boudoir with nudity
Boudoir with couples
Boudoir with costumes
Boudoir that is explicit
Boudoir in a milk bath
Boudoir with pregnant women
But… what’s really going on here?
Let’s take another look at this list and take note of the word next to it in parentheses.
Boudoir with angel wings (spiritual)
Boudoir with butterfly wings (fantasy)
Boudoir that’s dark and moody (drama/fine art)
Boudoir with candid poses (street/photojournalism)
Boudoir shot in black and white (film noir/vintage)
Boudoir that’s edgy (submission/domination, erotica, bondage)
Boudoir with nudity (nude art)
Themed boudoir (cinema/literature)
Boudoir with couples (engagement/erotica)
Boudoir with costumes (cosplay/fantasy)
Boudoir that is explicit (erotica/pornography)
Boudoir in a milk bath (fashion/Pop Art)
Boudoir with pregnant women (maternity)
The words in parentheses are different genres whose elements are being used to flavor the main genre of boudoir.
Why Is This Important To Recognize?
It’s important because if you can recognize what something is, and understand what something is, then you can dive deeper into that genre and extract more elements out of it to make your current look stronger or even combine elements from different genres to produce images no one has ever seen before making your boudoir something that’s totally unique and different which will set you apart from everyone else.
See the Matrix.
If you fail to see this your creativity will stumble around in the dark, understanding this allows you to see in the dark.
A Real World Example
Let’s take a closer look at how this actually works and how you can apply this to your own boudoir style.
Let’s say you’re someone who uses angel wings in your shoots.
Now, on one level you can shoot clients in a boudoir fashion wearing a set of big feathery angel wings (an element of the spiritual genre) and be done with it.
However, if you want to kick it up a notch here’s what you can do.
Dive Deeper Into Your Second Genre
Borrow more than just one element from your second genre.
Our second genre here is the spiritual genre.
Now, we have to look at that genre and write down everything we can think of that defines that genre.
We already have angel wings.
Let’s think of some more…
Flying or levitation (defying gravity)
A bright white light
Celestial rays of light
A choir of singing angels
A glowing haze
The color white
I’m sure there are more but that’s what comes to mind at the moment.
So right away a couple of ideas hit me.
One is to combine our winged subject with celestial rays of light to give the image an otherworldly feel to it.
You could, for example, shoot your “angel” against a bright window causing her to go into silhouette with rays of the sun emanating all around her darkened form.
In fact, spray some Atmosphere Aerosol in the air for a haze effect for those rays to show up even better.
This would give the image a completely different vibe… a spiritual one, as if you’re capturing a real (sexy) angel from the spirit realm as opposed to a woman just wearing a set of costume wings.
Let’s try something else.
Let’s use the element of celestial rays of light again but this time in the form of a shaft of light as if from on high.
You could do this a couple of ways.
Using Natural Light
Pose your subject near a window that you’ve applied dark curtains to (or V-flats) but left a small opening.
The dark curtains/V-flats serve as a snoot of sorts to allow only a shaft of light to strike your subject.
The shaft of light symbolizes a heavenly connection and makes the image more interesting.
Again, I’d use Atmosphere Aerosol to complete the look.
Using Artificial Light
The other way to achieve the same effect would be to use artificial light by placing a strobe, speed light, or strong constant light outside your window pointing inside to replicate the sun, then capture your subject in silhouette inside.
Using A Solar Tunnel
A solar tunnel is sort of an amped up version of a skylight. I wrote about them in my article How To Shoot Dark and Moody Boudoir Using Natural Light, but a solar tunnel would work even better if you have access to one.
Place your subject directly under the solar tunnel inside the shaft of light coming straight down.
With this option the symbolism is even stronger.
You could also set up a small modifier with a strobe, speed light, or constant light with an overhead boom and get the same effect that a solar tunnel would give you.
Wrapping Up Our Angel Example
So, by borrowing a few elements from the spiritual genre (angel wings, celestial rays of light, a glowing haze ) you’re creating images that have a whole new look and feel to them.
Now, the more elements you add, the more your image will automatically begin to tell a story but we’ll talk more about that later. I just wanted to mention it here briefly because you can begin to see the possibilities.
Okay, that was fun, right?
Let’s try another example.
Borrowing From Photojournalism/Street Photography
Using boudoir as our main genre or our base genre, let’s combine elements from photojournalism and street photography. I group these two together because they share so many common elements.
Now let’s list as many elements as we can that define these two similar genres:
candid images (nothing is posed like in traditional boudoir)
black and white images
voyeurism (subjects not aware they’re being photographed)
real life scenarios / slice of life moments
a sense of spontaneity
35mm lens (which is a popular focal length for street photography)
subjects in their own environment
With our next example we’re going to use all these elements, which will create a very strong look.
Combining Boudoir With Elements of Photojournalism/Street Photography
You would have to shoot in either your client’s home or your home because the setting needs to reflect a real home environment.
Now, throw out all those posing guides you bought because we’re not going to use anything that’s “posed”. We want to capture candid slice-of-life moments here.
Think of yourself as a street photographer who doesn’t want to get caught photographing their subject, so you must “hide”, but in reality we’re only going to give the impression that you’re hiding.
You’ll do this by shooting from another room into another room, as if you’re spying on them, or from behind a piece of furniture or plant with the leaves in the foreground.
The key is to have something blurred in the foreground.
You want to create the impression that your subject is completely alone and just moving about doing common everyday things like getting undressed, unaware of your presence.
Now, since this is a boudoir shoot you still want to capture sexy images but they’ll be done in this style instead of the more traditional style of posing your subject and having everything staged.
Create different scenarios around various rooms of the house — bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, hallway, living room, and so on.
I gave you one example already of your subject getting undressed in their bedroom. Another vignette could have them fixing coffee in the kitchen in sexy lingerie or fixing their hair in front of a mirror in the bathroom.
The power of this style is in the real-life scenarios that you create.
Turn your images to black and white and add a little grain (to look like film) and you’ll set yourself apart from 99% of all other boudoir photographers.
The challenge here, though, will be to come up with enough interesting scenarios to fill an entire session.
Okay, just to recap how we arrived at this end result, we took our main genre of boudoir and combined it with one or more elements from another genre to flavor it with.
Think Outside the Photography (Soft) Box
Don’t just restrict yourself to photography genres, borrowed elements can come from anywhere.
Using Architecture (or Geometry) To Influence Your Boudoir Images
Architectural photography is certainly a genre of photography but I’m not talking about it in that sense here. I’m talking about the design element of architecture or rather its aesthetic use of geometry.
I wrote an article called, My Creative Process Behind This Boudoir Image and in it I talk about posing the female form with furniture to form a symbiotic whole that showcases an overall (geometric) design or shape.
This is an example of how the geometry of architecture can influence boudoir.
I discovered this quite by accident but recognized what I was doing, so I was able to dive deeper into this concept of forming geometric shapes using the female form and a piece of furniture or some other structure, like a doorway perhaps, to come up with an overall architectural-like shape.
As an exercise you could browse through a book on architecture and see if anything triggers your imagination with regard to boudoir.
Wild, I know, but that’s the reverse way to approach this.
In other words, don’t start with boudoir. Start with something completely unrelated and see if anything in that area sparks your imagination that you could use to enhance your boudoir with.
When Does It Stop Being Boudoir?
Okay, that’s a great question.
In my opinion, boudoir stops being boudoir when the base genre becomes something else — when you’ve lost the essential rules and conventions that define boudoir and you’re using the rules and conventions of another genre.
That is when boudoir stops being boudoir.
That’s why I don’t consider anything shot outside to be boudoir. Too many of the base elements are missing and also the intent of the images is different from boudoir.
The Rules and Conventions of Boudoir
I define the rules and conventions of boudoir as the following:
— a single female subject with emphasis on showcasing her female form
— a sense of intimacy
— in intimate apparel, various stages of undress, or implied nudity
— images captured inside a home setting or one that represents one where there’s the expectation of privacy
— emphasis on capturing an expression of a woman’s sexuality whether subtle or overt
When you take someone outside the intent changes from private intimacy to public exhibitionism, even if you’re in the middle of nowhere with no one else around.
If you don’t believe me then try this.
Strip naked in the privacy of your own home.
Okay, now go outside somewhere, where no one’s around and strip naked.
Does if feel different?
Inside you have the expectation of privacy, outside you don’t. There’s an element of exhibitionism regardless of whether or not you’re alone.
That, to me, is the biggest difference between shooting boudoir indoors verses what I would call an outdoor modeling shoot.
Outside you lose your expectation of privacy and your sense of intimacy and once those two rules and conventions of boudoir are gone it’s not boudoir anymore.
Let’s try one more example using this technique, then we’ll talk about how you can transcend boudoir completely.
Another Example Borrowing Elements From Another Genre
I’m going to pick something I’ve never thought about before, just as an exercise, so you can follow along with my thought process in real time.
How about opera?
I don’t know a whole lot about opera, perhaps a bit more than the average person having gone to a music school and having been exposed to it, but that’s about it.
So, what are some elements that define opera?
A grandiose setting (ornate furniture)
A story / drama
At this point I’m running our of ideas so I’ll hop on YouTube and type in “opera” and see what comes up.
From my days at music school I remember one opera in particular by Mozart called The Marriage of Figaro, which is probably the most well-known and famous opera ever written.
Watching snippets on YouTube of a live performance the first thing that strikes me is the furniture and the period the story takes place in.
The furniture is really making an impression on me. It appears to be that French Rococo style of the 18th century.
That, more than anything, is really starting to influence me now. In fact, I’m going to shift from opera to this French Rococo style of furniture as my second genre now.
The thing that strikes me most is how the curvature of the legs, armrests, and backrests resemble the curves and undulating line of the female form. It’s a direct reflection of that.
That, to me, is interesting.
So, if you wanted to create a unique boudoir look borrowing elements from French Rococo furniture design you could furnish your studio with an ornate loveseat, chair, or even headboard and footboard of a bed in that style.
Diving deeper you could purchase a variety of undergarments, corsets, bustiers, or just lingerie that implies that period that women could use during their shoot.
That type of lingerie along with a piece or two of French Rococo furniture on a hardwood floor and a big window would give you a boudoir style that no one else is doing.
How To Transcend The Boudoir Genre
The word “transcend” means to go beyond the range or limit of something.
So, you’re starting from that something (i.e. the boudoir genre) and then going beyond what would conventionally be considered boudoir (in our case, borrowing elements from one or more other genres).
Up to now we’ve discussed using elements from another genre of photography, or even going outside photography and using elements from another area altogether that has its own rules and conventions that define it.
We’ve been pushing the envelope of what boudoir is and elevating it above what is normally considered to be operating strictly within the rules and conventions of the genre.
But what does it mean to transcend a genre?
Transcending a genre is to express that genre (in our case, boudoir) in such a way that it becomes something else never before seen… yet is still recognizable as boudoir.
You do this by combining elements from two or more different genres with boudoir (or just one genre but used in such an extraordinary way that it’s a game-changer).
When you start using elements from more than one genre, story-telling automatically becomes part of your image… and when your image tells a story its more than just a nice looking image.
In other words, it’s one that has impact other than just visually.
One level is the stylistic element of the image, the other is the dramatic element of the image.
Your image doesn’t have to being telling a story to transcend the genre, but most likely it will if you use elements from two or more other genres.
A Real World Example Of Transcending A Genre
In a previous article I used The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s album as an example of how pop music could transcend its genre.
I’m not going to repeat myself here, but I am going to use another musical example. It’s a song I feel transcends rock n’ roll in much the same way and came out before Sgt. Pepper’s and is believed to have influenced Lennon and McCartney in experimenting the way they did on their record.
Good Vibrations by The Beach Boys is a song that transcends the rock n’ roll genre.
If you’re not familiar with it I suggest giving it a listen on YouTube, or go back and listen to it again.
The most distinctive sound you’ll hear is an instrument called the electro–theremin. It’s an electronic instrument best known for appearing in cheesy 1950’s sci-fi movies.
Although it’s the most distinctive element of the song and serves as a musical hook, oddly enough, it’s the least influential element that makes this song transcendent.
There’s a whole lot more going on beneath the surface.
What’s Really Going On In Good Vibrations?
The Opening / Verse
It starts with a single acapella “Ah” a split second before the organ and bass join in. The first vocal isn’t even a word, it’s a vocal expression of a boy’s enamored feelings he has for a girl.
That alone is truly unique and gets passed over because it happens so fast we hardly notice it.
The opening chord progression is very atypical for a rock n’ roll song. I’m not going to dive too deeply into musical theory here but most rock n’ roll songs consist of basically the one chord, the four chord, and the five chord of a key in some combination or another.
GV avoids all that from the outset.
It opens with the one chord, the flat seven chord, the flat six chord, to the five chord.
Even if you know nothing about music theory, you can see how far away the opening chord progression is from most mainstream rock n’ roll songs.
Changes like that are more common in jazz tunes.
The bass is doing something unique too.
Instead of playing on the beat with root notes, it’s playing off the beat in a syncopated rhythm high up on the neck.
In the next eight bars we have flute, piccolo, and contrabass joining the arrangement which are more commonly associated with classical music, not rock n’ roll. Remember this is 1966.
It’s also unusual to have two bass instruments playing on the same song, but since the electric bass is played so high up on the neck, it actual sounds more like an electric guitar so the contrabass serves as the real bottom for the song.
At the end of the first verse we change keys from E flat minor to G flat major.
Changing keys in a pop song, especially back then, was usually not done. Today, if it happens, it’s at the end, kicking the song into overdrive for a big climatic ending.
The chorus starts in G flat major and consists of an eight bar phrase “I’m picking up good vibrations, she’s giving me the excitations”, and repeats three times, but each time it repeats it changes key.
There are three key changes in the chorus alone that build to a climax, before resolving back to the original key of E flat minor of the verse.
So we’ve had four key changes from verse to chorus when most rock n’ roll songs are played in just one key.
After the second chorus most songs go into a bridge or solo section, in GV we have a musical interlude with the main instrument being a carnival-sounding piano, (which you’ll hear on Sgt. Pepper’s) but then even that interlude changes into what is now known as the “breakdown”.
It’s that part of a song where every instrument stops playing exempt for something keeping the beat.
A perfect example of this is in Sweet Child O’ Mine when Axel repeats the phrase “Where do we go? Where do we go now? Where do we go?”
That’s “breakin’ it down”.
In GV, we get another change of key from the interlude to the breakdown (that’s five key changes for those keeping score).
At the end of the breakdown we have a complete break in the song with no music or vocals — everything just stops. (How often do you hear that?)
The Second Chorus
In the second chorus after the breakdown, we have the same three key changes, but now this time in reverse descending order (that one blew my mind).
The Second Interlude
After the second chorus we have a rare second interlude that features voices mimicking musical instruments using the original ascending key changes from the first chorus.
This second interlude then changes key one last time to G major as it fades out, totaling six key changes for the song.
Brian Wilson knew intuitively the value of borrowing elements from other genres and mixing them with his genre of rock n’ roll to create something truly unique and special.
Good Vibrations is a rock n’ roll song that transcends its genre.
A Transcendent Version Of A Transcendent Song
To hear a transcendent version of Good Vibrations check out this YouTube video of Wilson Philips live in concert. In this rendition all the musicians are singing their musical parts along with Wilson Philips doing the original harmonies.
It’s an amazing performance of an amazing song.
This is a shining example of what can be created when you mix genres with a high degree of artistry.
Now, most people are not going to be aware of everything I just talked about. Heck, I wasn’t even aware of all that went into this composition until I started doing more research on it, however, people intuitively feel that it’s different.
Back To Photography and the Three Levels of Boudoir
Before I begin my discussion on the three levels of boudoir I want to emphasize that one can be both commercially successful and artistically successful at any one of these levels.
Remember, this article’s objective is to give you a methodology for creativity if you’re looking for a new style or bored with your current way of shooting.
That being said, let’s briefly explain the three levels of boudoir (as I see it).
Level 1 – The Genre
You’re operating strictly within the basic rules and conventions of the genre. You only shoot women in lingerie, or in various degrees of undress, or implied nudity in a bedroom or boudoir setting in natural light.
Level 2 – The Genre Elevated
You use one or more elements from another genre that adds to your visual style. So, that could be with wardrobe, furniture, lighting, props, posing or whatever but you’ve ventured outside the rules and conventions of boudoir.
Level 3 – The Genre Transcended
You use two or more elements from different genres (or one element in such a unique way that it blows everyone’s mind) that also tells a story. Like I mentioned before, it will become automatic that your image tells a story when using two or more elements from different genres and you create something no one has ever seen before... yet is still considered boudoir.
The Eclectic Contrast
It’s time now to talk about the eclectic contrast. Another word for this is juxtaposition, but I like eclectic contrast better.
They both mean the same thing, which is putting two or more things together that aren’t normally associated with one another — for example, a kitten playing with a bowling ball.
Certainly eclectic — definitely a contrast.
If you start using elements from different genres you will inevitably run into an eclectic contrast.
Let’s go back to our angel-winged subject at the start of this article.
If we borrow an element or two from the bondage genre, let’s say a pair of handcuffs, and we put them on our angel in some fashion, we have an eclectic contrast.
The purity and innocence of an angel clashes with the perception of a criminal in handcuffs or something kinky.
It does pose some intriguing questions though, and hints at a narrative… one you have to fill in with your imagination.
Why is this angel in handcuffs?
Who is her captor?
Is she a willing participant or did she break some heavenly law and now must pay the price?
What is the expression on her face saying?
Do we even see her face?
The image is certainly telling a story, but like a movie trailer, it’s only giving us the highlights. It’s only giving us a taste of what’s going on. It’s teasing us into wanting more. It’s demanding our attention and captivating our senses and engaging our minds.
Now, whether or not this image transcends the genre will depend on one more thing.
Is it done with some degree of artistry?
Artistry, The Final Ingredient
Everything we’ve talked about so far is dependent upon this one X factor.
You can borrow elements and themes from other genres and sources and mix them with your main genre but is it artistic?
If it’s nothing more than the equivalent of some “artist” that takes a piece of trash, attaches it to a canvas and calls it art, then “no”, it’s not… at least in my opinion.
You still have to create these images with a good faith effort of artistry in order for them to be considered transcendent.
At long last our journey has come to an end.
I knew this was going to be a long article before I wrote it but felt it was important to include several examples and really go into detail with them so you got a good idea of how this works.
Using this approach will provide you with the opportunity to be commercially successful as well as highly respected critically, a rare combination indeed.
Go forth now, and start creating these cocktails of boudoir no one has ever tasted before.
I’m excited to see what you come up with.
Thanks for your time!
Founder / Lounge Boudoir
Inflation.War.Stock market crash.Everything is more expensive and there’s a lot of uncertainty in the world right now.I don’t mean to sound negative but this is the reality...
In this article I’m going to talk about three mindset pitfalls… or rather, perspective pitfalls that can keep you from becoming successful. Sometimes having the right perspective about something,...