Top 10 Tips For Preparing to Shoot Your First Boudoir Session


Boudoir image of young girl

If you’re new to shooting boudoir, either coming from another genre of photography or just a beginning photographer in general, your first boudoir shoot can be a little nerve racking. As I’ve mentioned before in another article, boudoir can be deceptively easy looking, viewed from the outside looking in. 

Not only are you dealing with having to instruct the woman on how to pose, camera settings, lighting, you’re also dealing with a bigger psychological factor here as well than in most other types of photography — but we’ll get into all of that soon enough. 

I’ve compiled a list of what I think are the top ten most important tips photographers need to know when preparing for their first boudoir shoot. This is all stuff you should be aware of and going over before your client steps through the door. 

So, what are the top ten tips for preparing to shoot your first boudoir session?

  • Understand the exposure triangle
  • Have a clean, safe, private location
  • Make sure you have something to diffuse the light with
  • Know what your lighting will be
  • Have 10-15 poses ready to go
  • Have a spot for a makeup session
  • Have your release forms ready
  • Have a portable clothes rack
  • Have at least two methods of payment
  • Have bottled water and snacks on hand
  • Confirm your session the day before

Understand the Exposure Triangle

(The following assumes you’ll be shooting in Manual mode.)

Knowing your camera and its settings (i.e. the exposure triangle) well enough to get properly exposed images is critical. The whole point of both your’s and the model’s time is to get images that are properly exposed. If this point fails, nothing else matters because the images will be unusable. 

For those unfamiliar with the exposure triangle, it’s the correct balance of your aperture (f/stop), shutter speed, and ISO that allows for the proper exposure that you’re looking for. You should know how each of these three key settings will affect your image if you adjust any of them either up or down. 

If you’re already an experienced photographer, you’ll probably be okay in this department, but if you’re new to photography then this is something that takes a while to fully understand and it takes shooting under various conditions (lighting, motion, desired aesthetics) and grappling with these different scenarios to fully grasp. 

Most boudoir is shot with natural sunlight usually pouring in from a window so we’re not going to talk about flash or strobe lighting right now. For now, we’re keeping it simple with just natural light with your subject posing next to or near a window. 

Aperture — know how closing down your aperture (stopping up) will increase your depth of field so more of the background is going to be in focus along with your subject, and that opening up your aperture (stopping down) will decrease your depth of field and cause more of the background to fall out of focus

Shutter Speed — know that a low shutter speed (60 fps, 80 fps) will allow more time for light to hit the sensor, but could also cause your images to come out blurry because the shutter speed is too low to stop motion, or if you’re shooting hand-held there’s also the issue of camera shake blurring your images as well.

I like to shoot at no lower than 125 fps (frames per second) and prefer even higher if the conditions allow for it, like 200fps or even 250fps. 

ISO — know that increasing your ISO will help in getting proper exposure in low light situations, while decreasing your ISO will help in getting proper exposure when there is plenty of light available. 

With higher ISOs you’ll be introducing more noise or grain into your images so most photographers try to keep their ISO setting as low as possible, unless of course you want the noise/grain purposely in your images. 

ISO helps a lot when you’re shooting in low light situations and you can’t use a flash or speedlite. 

Almost all modern digital cameras today have ISOs that allow you to push the setting higher and higher with acceptable levels of noise, so it’s not something you really have to worry about when shooting boudoir in natural light. 

Your ISO setting will probably be somewhere between 100 to 640 depending on whether it’s direct sunlight or indirect sunlight that you’re working with — and with those settings the noise levels will be more than acceptable, if noticeable at all. 

So, that’s a quick refresher on the exposure triangle and what all three settings do. Having a handle on this is key to having your first boudoir shoot be successful. 

Have A Clean Safe Private Location

Bedroom with big windows

Having a clean private safe location is crucial to your shoot, heck, it’s crucial to any shoot but for boudoir especially where the woman is more vulnerable because of what she’s wearing… or rather not wearing. 

Acquiring a location can be challenging for some photographers but most usually start off using a section of their own apartment or house. If this is not an option for you, I’ve written an entire article on this called, “ Where Can I Shoot Boudoir If I Don’t Have My Own Studio?”

Check it out when you get a chance.

“Okay folks, let’s keep it clean.”

Obviously you should give your space a good cleaning a day before the shoot. I would do this “day before” cleaning so as not to tire myself out and have plenty of energy for the actual shoot day. 

Clean the Bathroom

This goes without saying but I’m going to say it anyway, make sure the bathroom is clean. That’s a no-brainer. It will be used so make sure it’s clean and presentable. 

Hardwood Floors

Hardwood floor with dust mop

I would sweep and mop the hardwood floors in my living room apartment before every shoot because if the subject had to sit or lay down on it I didn’t want grit and grime and dust getting on her skin and outfit. 

I’ve shot in studios before where I had to get on the floor for certain shots and experienced a dirty floor and it was not a pleasant experience. It won’t be for your model as well so make sure the floors are clean.

Carpeting

Of course if you have carpeting a good vacuuming beforehand will do the trick.

Privacy With Roommates and Family Members

If you live with roommates or family members, it would be best if they were elsewhere during your shoot — elsewhere meaning, not at home. Having them in another part of the house where they could be heard can be unsettling for someone wearing barely anything at all — and you don’t want any unplanned interruptions.

Safety

This is probably more an issue with male boudoir photographers than with female. Being male myself I did certain things and arranged my place in specific ways to re-enforce a sense of safety for my clients.

Give Them A Tour

Starting out in Los Angeles, I shot in my living room, which I arranged in specific ways to facilitate shooting on shoot days. One of the things I did after someone first arrived was to give them a little tour of my place. 

It was a two-bedroom one-bath with a separate kitchen but I would quickly show them every room. I did this to ensure them that no one else was there and to orient them as to where the bathroom and spare room was, and gave them the option of changing in either one.

I lived on the ground floor in a small six unit building so I made sure all the blinds were open to let in all the light but to also give the space a light and open feeling. 

Have Your Release Forms Ready 

You’ll want to have a release ready for your client (whether paying or trade) for her to sign. It basically states that she’s 18 or older, knowingly participating in a boudoir shoot, that partial nudity or implied nudity may be involved, and that it’s her responsibility to speak up if there’s anything she’s uncomfortable with or doesn’t want to continue with.

A release like this should be used regardless of whether you’re a male or female photographer. It protects the both of you. I have two copies that we both sign and date. She keeps one and I keep one. 

It also states whether images can or can not be used for your own marketing purposes. You’ll want to discuss this beforehand as well. If it’s a trade shoot, I require a minimum of three images that I can use for marketing purposes. 

If it’s a paying client, sometimes they’ll be open to using a few shots from their shoot. I always try to remember to take some anonymous shots just for this reason alone. Discreet clients may be more willing to give you some images if their faces are hidden, like with their back to camera, lying face down on the bed, or having their hair hiding their face. 

Portable clothes rack

Have a Portable Clothes Rack 

Have a portable clothes rack where they can hang up their wardrobe if it’s suitable for hanging. This makes it easy to go through and see what they’ve got. If no clothes rack, at least have a space for them to lay out their garments that’s clean and easy to access. Clear off a table, coffee table, desk, or any flat surface that would work. 

Know What Your Lighting Will Be

Light. It’s what photography is all about. You’ll want to know beforehand where you plan on positioning your subject in relation to the light you’ll be using.

I used to practice on a styrofoam wig head situated on the end of a light stand. I’d place it next to the window and see how the light was hitting it and take photos. Then I’d move it or re-position myself and see how that changed things up. 

When you have a live person in front of your lens, it’s GO time. It helps to get a head start on what you can expect with the light. Using a solid colored styrofoam head helps you see just the light, with no distractions, and how it fades off when positioned at different angles. 

Make Sure You Have Something To Diffuse the Light With

Don’t forget, you’ll need something to diffuse the light coming through the window, and a way to support it. The best solution is to buy some inexpensive white sheer curtains from Target or some place like that. 

I wrote an entire article on this very topic entitled, “7 Simple Ways To Diffuse Sunlight for Boudoir Photography” .

You’ll also need a way to hang or attach those curtains. In the past, I’ve used duct tape, clothes pins, spring clamps (I think that’s what they’re called – not sure. I got a whole bag of ’em at Home Depot for about $12). 

You can usually attach them to an existing curtain rod, but if not, then you can use duct tape or gaffer’s tape. Just be careful you don’t stick the tape to securely to the wall, you don’t want a layer of paint coming off with it. Just tack it up with enough pressure for it to stay in place. 

There are many little details that you’ll need when starting to shoot boudoir and this is one that you may forget about… so, I’m reminding you here! 

Sheer white curtains! And tape! (Sorry for yelling… actually I’m not yelling, I’m just talking very enthusiastically.)

Have At Least Two Methods of Payment

smartphone and credit card

If you’re getting paid for the session, make sure you have at least two methods of payment. There are plenty of ways to pay nowadays with apps and smartphones. Make sure you have at least one of them.

I have Square, Venmo, Apple Pay, and PayPal. With Square, you sign up online and they’ll send you a small credit card reader you can plug into the earphone jack on your smartphone and process credit cards.

With the smartphone apps, you need to link them to one of your bank accounts. If you have a business bank account, that would be the one you’d want to link it to. 

Have Water and Snacks on Hand

Make sure you have some bottled water and a few snacks available. It’s always nice to offer your subject some water and something to eat like granola bars or an energy bar in case they need a shot of energy. 

Have 10 – 15 Poses Ready To Go

A big part of being a boudoir photographer is instructing your subject on how to pose. There are many sources to learn posing from but I suggest you have 10 – 15 poses you plan on using for your first session. Having a game plan to start things off with will ground you and instill confidence in you with your subject.

It’s fine to have something on hand to refer to, like pictures on your phone, or something printed out. I do this all the time when I want to incorporate some new poses into my shoots. I save pictures on my phone but I also have a binder I use to collect images from magazines of poses I want to try. 

Confirm Your Session the Day Before

Something I always do is confirm my session time and location with my client the day before — preferably late afternoon or early evening. If there’s been a communication gap of a few days or more between you and your client, call or text them the time and address… even if you’ve done it previously. 

People are busy. They have a lot going on and sometimes we just forget. Contacting your client the day before ensures you did everything right in communicating with them the correct time and place about when and where they’re supposed to show up.

If there’s been any mishaps in scheduling, this gives them some time to fix it by tomorrow. 

Inform Them on Parking

It’s also nice to include any instruction or advice on where they should park. Having lived in Los Angeles for many years, parking can be an issue with restrictions for street cleaning, time limits, and needing special permits to park in some neighborhoods. 

Providing this information to your clients is just good business and they’ll appreciate you cared enough to inform them. 

Have a Spot For a Makeup Station

Makeup on table

If you’re using a makeup artist, make sure you have a place for them to set up where they can work on your client. I’ve used my kitchen table in my kitchen, the counter in my bathroom, a dining room table in a dining room. 

Some MUAs will have their own lighting, but some won’t so you may want to inquire about this beforehand so you’re prepared if they don’t. 

Summary

So, those were my top ten tips for preparing to shoot your first boudoir session… okay, so maybe there were eleven, but who ever heard of a Top Eleven list? That’s just wrong. That would be like eating-an-Oreo-right-after-you-brushed-your-teeth wrong. 

If I had to put them in their proper order, that would look something like this:

  1. Understand the exposure triangle
  2. Have a clean safe private location
  3. Make sure you have something to diffuse the light with
  4. Know what your lighting will be
  5. Have 10-15 poses ready to go
  6. Have a spot for a makeup station
  7. Have your release forms ready
  8. Have a portable clothes rack
  9. Have at least two methods of payment
  10. Have bottled water and snacks on hand
  11. Confirm your session the day before

Bonus!

If you’ve read this far then you deserve a bonus! This bonus consists of yet one more tip for preparing for your first boudoir shoot. Okay, here it is:

Bonus Tip!

Music

Make sure you have some music on hand to play during your shoot. Music will help alleviate any nerves that my be present and aid in getting your subject in the mood or groove of the session. I have one of those small wireless portable speakers that connects to my smartphone through Bluetooth.

Download an app like Pandora or Spotify (Pandora has a free version, not sure about Spotify), ask your client what she’d like to listen to, and press “Play”.

If you found this article informative, pass it along to someone else who may benefit from it.

Thanks for you 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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