What Boudoir Is Not

I’m taking a stand.

I’m taking a stand because I think a stand needs to be taken.

Someone needs to wrestle this beast to the ground because right now it’s like a bull in a china shop. It’s out of control and there are a lot of broken pieces lying around.

What exactly am I talking about?

Gargoyle-like winged fanged beast

I’m talking about boudoir.

It’s currently in a state of complete chaos and inspiring evolution both at the same time. (And I’ll get into why those two are necessary for art further down.)

It’s no wonder I feel like boudoir is the wild, wild, west of the photography world lately. 

And I predict two camps will emerge once all the dust settles, along with possibly a third… but more on that in a future post.

I’ve written about this topic before in an article called, “What Is Boudoir Photography and Why Is It Critical You Know?” but I’m feeling the need to return to this subject because first, I care about the genre and the direction, or rather mis-direction, that it’s going in. 

And second, I have some new insights I want to express about this.

But first, a little background to set the stage.

What Does the Word “Boudoir” Mean?

As most people know, boudoir is a French word that roughly translates to mean a woman’s dressing room or drawing room that’s just off from where her bedroom is. 

Back in the day when boudoirs were popular, they served a number of functions. They were a place a woman could change clothes and prepare herself while getting dressed. They served as a retreat of sorts for a woman to go if she needed to be alone for whatever reason. It was a place to bring other lady friends to talk and confide in one another while the men withdrew to smoke cigars or drink whiskey in the drawing room — and even for trysts with lovers.

But in any event, a boudoir is a private place for a woman that’s inside the house that comes with the expectation of privacy.

Photographing a Woman Outside In Lingerie Is Not Boudoir

Once you take a so-called “boudoir” photoshoot outside, it’s no longer a boudoir shoot, it’s an outdoor modeling shoot in lingerie.

Woman kneeling on rooftop in black teddy.
Woman on balcony in bra and panties

Just because a woman is wearing underwear or intimate apparel and posing on the rooftop of a building, on a balcony, or in a gazebo does not make it a boudoir shoot. 

Once you take the shoot outside you’ve lost the setting of your boudoir. Now, I don’t believe all boudoir needs to take place in a bedroom specifically, but I do feel it should take place in an interior space that represents a bedroom or other intimate space within the home whether that’s in a studio setting or in an actual house.

This is where modern boudoir has expanded and evolved to  — taking it out of the bedroom and into other confined parts of the house that would be considered to have the expectation of privacy, like a boudoir would have. 

Once outside, there is no longer the expectation of privacy, even if you’re in the middle of nowhere because you’re exposing yourself publicly — you’re outside.

And as I stated in my previous article, the intent changes from capturing private intimate moments of a woman’s sensuality to one of public exhibitionism. The image loses its private intimacy.

Boudoir is an intimate style of photography whose energy is contained by the confines of a room. Once you go outside where there are no walls or ceilings, all that energy dissipates. 

To prove my point we should turn our attention to the film and TV world.

The Closeup

When a story dictates that a scene requires intimacy in films and TV shows, the rule of thumb is that you go in for a closeup. Whether it’s a closeup of one person, a two-shot closeup of two people, or a tight shot of three people close together, the choice of shots is always a closeup.

Man forming movie frame with hands

Why is that?

What’s happening is that the director is creating a “room” with two walls, a floor, and a ceiling using the frame of the camera. And moving in close for a closeup creates the intimate space within that “room”. 

You wouldn’t shoot an intimate scene far away from the actors in a long shot, would you? No, because that would be the opposite of intimacy.

That’s why shooting “boudoir” outdoors is not boudoir… at least how I see it. (I’m not casting judgement, but simply trying to define what boudoir photography really is.)

Why Intimacy Is An Important Element of Boudoir

Intimacy reflects the mood and feel of a boudoir. It’s a relatively small room or space with the expectation of privacy. It’s hard to have an intimate moment with no privacy. 

Having an intimate moment outside in public is more akin to exhibitionism, which is not the intent of shooting boudoir for the everyday woman. She’s not putting herself on display for all to see.

It’s also why you wear intimate apparel inside and not outside. It’s called intimate apparel for a reason because it’s used for intimate occasions. 

Photographing a Woman Indoors In Big Open Spaces Is Not Boudoir

Shooting “boudoir” in a decrepit abandoned building, industrial warehouse, or sitting on the wing of a plane in an airplane hangar is not boudoir.

Although inside, these spaces in no way resemble the furnishings of a home or bedroom and are the farthest thing from being a confined intimate setting as one can get.

Young girl in woods in teal laced bra

Photographing a Woman In Nature In Intimate Apparel Is Not Boudoir

Is there such a thing as outdoor boudoir? If you ask me, my answer would be “no”. For the reasons listed above about a confined intimate space within the home, shooting out in nature is the exact opposite of this. 

There’s also the aforementioned absence of privacy. Even if you’re in the middle of the desert, with no one within a hundred mile radius of your shoot, the image itself, when viewed, resonates exhibitionism — simply because your subject is exposing herself to the outside world. 

Photographing More Than One Person Is Not Boudoir

Boudoir celebrates the female form in a sexy, sensual, beautiful way in an intimate home-like environment. The minute another person comes into the picture the focus is no longer about the aesthetics of that female but rather the relationship between those two people. 

Two young women in shorts and bra posing together

It becomes about the dynamic of sex, or the dynamic of love, or even friendship, or a combination of those things. In any event, it becomes something else — it becomes an intimate couples shoot where the emphasis is on the relationship.

That’s why I believe there’s no such thing as “couples boudoir”. It doesn’t even exist based on my definition of what I believe boudoir to be. 

Calling a shoot that involves two or more people an intimate couples shoot not only clearly distances itself from boudoir, but also defines it as its own genre (or sub-genre depending on how you look at it) which I think is a good thing. 

I go into great depth on this topic in an article I wrote called, “Why Couples Boudoir Is Not Really Boudoir” if you care to read more on that.

Photographing Simulated Sex Is Not Boudoir

Simulating sex acts with another person or even self-gratification is not boudoir. It’s either a sensual couples shoot, or erotica. Erotica has a different intent and focus than boudoir. The focus of erotic photography is some type of sex act, a specific sexual organ, or themes of S&M and B&D a lot of times. 

Woman sitting on man's lap

Its intent is usually to shock and challenge the viewer and push the boundaries of how we think about sex. 

Erotica usually involves at least one other person in the image and if not, then a lot of times it involves other objects that are used for a sexual act. 

That’s a far cry from boudoir. 

Be clear, I’m not casting judgement here, only pointing out the differences between all these genres because as a boudoir photographer the lines can get blurry. 

You have to be clear what it is you’re offering clients and also be clear on what you’re willing and not willing to shoot.

Okay… What About Dudoir?

Dude with long hair in white T-shirt

Ah yes, dudoir, the male version of boudoir. What do I think about that?

Well, you may be surprised to learn that I find dudoir to be a legitimate space that traditional boudoir is moving into… or rather, evolving into — but I don’t think it should be called dudoir because people won’t take it seriously and it still has that tongue-in-cheek feel to it.

And I believe the word “boudoir” should be reserved in reference to women only, and not men. After all, it was women who had boudoirs, not men. 

The Intimate Gentleman

Shirtless black male model

I propose we call what is now referred to as “dudoir” as an intimate gentleman’s shoot or just gentleman’s shoot. That has a much more legitimate ring to it, don’t you think? Sounds kind of classy too. You could probably charge more for a gentleman’s shoot than for a dudoir shoot. And we all like money, don’t we?

It will be interesting to watch what happens with this because right now it’s pretty much an open playing field for those who want to take this art form and run with it.

The Mess It’s Created

So, why is it important to define our genres with regard to boudoir, intimate couples shoot, gentleman’s shoot, and erotica?

Well, one such mess is in photography contests that promote themselves as being “Boudoir” yet images that are clearly not boudoir win and place all the time

This tells me two things.

One is, that even the people who run and judge these contests have no idea what boudoir really is, because every genre has rules and conventions that serve as the boundaries from which to operate within.  

These rules and conventions are good and necessary too because not only do they define what a genre is, but they’re also used as a standard or measurement by which other genres can evolve and innovate from.

And that keeps art ever changing, advancing, and moving forward into uncharted territory. 

Funny, isn’t it? The one thing you might think as being restrictive (rules and conventions) is the very thing that makes it possible for art to evolve and new genres to emerge from.

The second thing it tells me is that there’s an opportunity here for boudoir photographers to come together and define their genre… and I think it’s just a matter of “we don’t know what we don’t know”. 

Let me explain…

An Example of Genres In Music

I come from a musical background. I’ve played the piano since I was five, wrote songs, jingles, studied music history, music theory, composition, got a degree in film-scoring from Berklee College of Music in Boston where I studied baroque, classical, jazz, and pop.

Sheet music

The reason I state this is because I come from, and have worked in genres most of my adult life. I’m very aware of genres and how they work and their benefits. (I also spent many years studying and writing screenplays which is another heavily genre-ridden field.) 

Getting back to the point of this section though, I want to use the different musical periods throughout history to illustrate genre and how it helps to evolve and create new ones.

I won’t go back too far in time, and I promise this will be quick and painless, but starting with this last century and working backwards, the period of music known as minimalism evolved out of modernism, modernism evolved out of romanticism, romanticism out of classical, classical out of baroque, and baroque out of renaissance. 

Mural of jazz greats on side of building

Each of those periods had a musical style (a genre) with rules and conventions that defined it, however, there were always new musicians coming up who challenged those rules and conventions and bent those rules and conventions to the point that it eventually led to a completely new genre. 

However, if those rules and conventions didn’t exist in the first place it would all be just one big genre called “music”. 

Take jazz for instance. Jazz would be the main genre but within jazz there are many sub-genres or sometimes referred to as styles, like dixieland, swing, be-bop, cool, free.

What’s Happening With Boudoir?

I see a lot of people (not everyone though) labeling any shoot with a woman in lingerie or underwear anywhere or with anyone, as boudoir. I see people doing intimate couples shoots and calling it boudoir, people shooting erotica and calling it boudoir, shooting women on the beach in shorts and a top as boudoir (and that image actually won a “boudoir” photography contest! Huh?!)

Girl in bra and panties doing backbend in field

It’s comparable to my example above of just throwing everything even remotely hinting at a woman, or man, or couple, nude, partially nude, not nude at all, wearing lingerie, not wearing lingerie, wearing swimsuits, wearing normal clothes but showing a little skin — as boudoir.

This makes no sense to me and is confusing to others I’m sure.

The Beatles black and white image off plane

The musical equivalent to that, taking the jazz example above, would be playing dixieland jazz and calling it bebop. It just makes no sense. Now some may argue that one can call something whatever they want, “Who are you to define what something is?” Well, you can call something anything you want but that doesn’t mean you’re correct.

You can say that the Beatles were a jazz band, because that’s how you hear it. Okay fine, call the Beatles a jazz band… that just shows your ignorance. 

WPPI Photo Competition

WPPI hasn’t figured it out either.

The Wedding & Portrait Photography International photo competition held annually in Las Vegas combines Boudoir with Beauty and in previous years has combined Boudoir with Glamour as one category.

They’re clearly saying that there’s no real distinction between them and I think that’s a mistake. It’s like they’re saying, “Boudoir… beauty… glamour… they’re just shots of semi-nude women so let’s just group all that together.”

Those are all separate genres that do share some common attributes, but how are they different from one another is the real question.

Why not have those three as separate categories and give us the “rules and conventions” of each of those separate sub-genres to go by?

Because I know boudoir is not the same as glamour and not the same as beauty.

Their other categories are very precise:

Bride Alone: Wedding Day

Groom Alone: Wedding Day

Wedding Couple Together: Wedding Day

Wedding Photojournalism

Okay, with these I know exactly what they’re looking for. 

But with boudoir, I honestly believe they think that any half-naked woman anywhere, wearing anything is considered boudoir — but then they even include what I would consider “fashion” shots of women wearing elaborate costumes and headpieces that cover most of their entire body. Huh? What’s going on here?

This might shock you, but going back six years in WPPI’s history of previous contest winners and second and third place finishers (36 images in total) there was only one image that could clearly be seen as taken in a bedroom, along with one other that could possibly be interpreted as being on a bed. 

How can that be?

This makes no sense to me.

That’s like having a “Wedding Couples” category but the winning images are of couples — none of whom are at an actual wedding!

Part of this is because the category of boudoir is watered down and mixed in with “Beauty” or “Glamour”. Why not just have strictly a “Boudoir” category?

Because people don’t know what exactly that is.

The Reason Why

I think the reason for this is that boudoir is still coming into its own, it’s still trying to find itself and define itself and quite frankly, I don’t think they’ve really sat down and thought about what defines a genre like boudoir.

matador with red cape waiting for bull to charge

I really believe it’s a case of “they don’t know what they don’t know”. 

Some genres are easy to define because it’s obvious or they’ve been with us for so long, like portraiture, or wedding photography, or high-school seniors.

So, I’m taking the bull by the horns and wrestling with it to try and get it under control before it runs further amok wreaking havoc in its wake.

My Definition of Boudoir

So, let me put my money where my mouth is. I’m going to define boudoir as I see it.

Boudoir — a style of photography that celebrates a woman’s natural beauty, sensuality, and form in lingerie, underwear, or implied nudity that takes place in a bedroom setting or other intimate spot in the home. 

Wow, it took me six pages to come up with that one sentence. It could probably be improved upon, but that’s what I’m going with at the moment. 

So, Now the Point of It All

At the beginning of this article I mentioned how boudoir was currently in both a state of chaos and evolution and wrote how those were necessary for art (to evolve)… including boudoir. But what I didn’t state was that it was missing a very important step… and that is the agreed upon rules and conventions of what boudoir currently is. 

Right now, there are no rules and conventions for the genre. It seems that almost anything is labeled as “boudoir” when it really isn’t… and that’s a problem. 

Why?

In order for the art form to grow and evolve it must first define itself, which is what I’ve attempted to do with this article.

It needs to have established and agreed upon “rules and conventions”. This is so that boudoir photographers know what it is they’re actually trying to capture in their images, for clients to know exactly what they can expect from their boudoir photographer, and for “Boudoir” photo contests to actually be judging boudoir images.

The Other Reason

This is important for another reason as well. Without the restrictions or boundaries of these rules and conventions there is no standard of measurement by which to measure quality by or qualification of. If one wants to become a master boudoir photographer, there needs to be a standard of measurement to hold their images up against.

It’s like a football player who wants to become great but everywhere he goes to play, the rules are different. There is no standard by which to measure his performance and skill by. 

So, that’s one reason why rules and conventions are so important to define one’s genre.

The Evolution and Innovation of Art

Black & white image of Andy Warhol's head

Another reason is for the evolution of the art form itself and the creative invention of other genres.

What I mean by this is there needs to be rules and conventions by which new and innovative photographers can put such a unique twist on, that they begin to invent new styles which eventually leads to the creation of new genres altogether.

Rules and conventions allow those with new ideas to break those rules and conventions which lead us to new styles and genres and is how art evolves. 

White bust of Beethoven against dark background

Beethoven started experimenting with new harmonies and dynamics against the rules and conventions of the Classical style of music (Mozart & Hayden) and was the composer that influenced others after him that ushered in the Romantic period of music. 

Without those rules and conventions that are defined and agreed upon, there is no evolution of the art because anything is accepted from the very start, there is no qualification of it belonging to the genre to begin with, along with no standard to measure it by. 

Right now, the problem with boudoir is that there is no standard of rules and conventions that defines what boudoir is. 

I hope this article will change that.

Thanks for your time!

If you found this an insightful read, please pass it along to someone else who may also enjoy it. 

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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