What Do I Need To Start Shooting Boudoir?

Boudoir photography is more popular than ever now. 

In my area alone, when I started, there were about three or four photographers specializing in boudoir. Now there are more than a dozen… and that’s in just the last two years.

More and more people (and especially women) are finding it to be a great way to earn part-time or even full-time income (or more) as a business they can get up and running in a rather short amount of time, with minimal startup costs.

So, the question remains… what does one need to start shooting boudoir?

What are the bare necessities?

What are the unavoidable costs?

What is the bare minimum I need to start producing images?

There’s a bit to unwind here… but we’re going to tackle these questions right now. After all, I started my own boudoir photography business, so I speak from experience. 

I’m also going to approach this from the standpoint that you’re either a photographer already shooting another genre, or you’re brand new to both photography and boudoir.

The Difference Between Starting A Business and Growing A Business

There’s a difference between starting a business and growing a business.

Starting a business is about getting the basic building blocks in place whereby you can produce a product or offer a service to a paying customer.

Growing a business is about increasing your profits by either charging more or selling your product or service to more people… or both.

For now, we’re going to focus on getting the basic building blocks in place whereby you’re producing boudoir images for sale.

And I’m assuming you don’t have unlimited funds and looking to save where you can. So, you want the best value your money can get that will still work for your business as a soon-to-be professional.

You Need A Camera and Lens

Okay, you’re going to need a camera and lens, that’s pretty obvious.

If you’re a photographer shooting another genre already (like weddings, families, or seniors) you probably have this box checked. However, you may need to invest in a lens appropriate for boudoir

Best Lens For Boudoir

If you don’t own a 50mm or mid-range zoom (something in the vicinity of 24-70mm) you’ll need to get one.

Now, you can buy new or you can buy used

I buy used lenses all the time and save a ton of money, but I only buy from places like

A great video to check out to understand why you can have scratches on your lens but not have them affect your images is right here, “Why Buying SCRATCHED Lenses is a FANTASTIC Idea!”

(A more accurate title might have been “Why Buying Scratched Lenses is a Fantastic Idea if You Want To Save a Bunch of Money!” but that was probably too long.)

An explanation of each rating is given on KEH’s website, so you know exactly what you’re getting. 

Lenses rated “Ugly” or “As Is” are damaged to the point whereby your image will be compromised — so avoid buying anything with these ratings.

Average Price For A Lens

You can get a standard 50mm lens from around $70 to $250 for virtually any kind of camera system whether DSLR or mirrorless, with an f-stop of 1.8 or higher.

Or you can get a standard zoom lens (or kit lens) for around the same price in the range of 28-70mm, 24-105mm, 18-55mm or thereabouts.

If you already own one of these types of lenses (50mm prime or mid-range zoom) there’s no need to buy one at this point. Upgrading your gear can come later. 

Right now we’re only concerned with getting up and running with the bare minimum of gear and cost —

And, as I’ve mentioned in other articles, your image quality will improve more by learning how to light and properly expose your subject than by lens choice at this point in your journey.

Buying From A Private Seller

When buying used from a private seller, like on ebay, you’re taking more of a risk because they’re not going to offer you a guarantee on your purchase (like KEH will), and contacting them if there’s a problem and getting your money back could be difficult… if not impossible

If, however, you buy used from a private seller locally, where you can inspect the equipment in person, then that’s a better option.

I’ve done all three, but as my choice in lenses gets more expensive, I go the route that’s going to guarantee me a quality product that’s going to work. 

Brand New To Photography

If you’re brand new to photography or have limited experience, then go with a mid-range zoom lens (or kit lens) like the ones mentioned above, or a 50mm prime lens with an f-stop of 1.8 or higher.

Getting a 50mm with an f-stop of 1.4 (or lower) will be way more expensive and you don’t need that at this stage of the game… or possibly ever, and besides, your clients are not going to be able to tell the difference between a $100 lens and a $500 lens unless you show them two images side-by-side and point out the difference to them… and there’s no need for that.

Every camera and third-party lens manufacturer is going to have a 50mm lens for sale. It’s a standard commodity, like buying bread at the grocery store.

The Camera

If you already have a camera (full-frame or crop sensor) then stick with that for now. I don’t care if it’s a DSLR or mirrorless.  

You can always upgrade later if you feel the need.

My approach to getting a new lens or camera is — how much will it improve my end product and/or workflow. What is it going to give me that I can’t get from my current gear?

I think a lot of photographers went out and bought new mirrorless cameras in recent years simply because they were new and had a “cool” factor to them… and I get that. Sometimes buying the latest new gadget just makes us feel good.

But I bet for a large percentage of them it didn’t really make a difference in their image quality or workflow. 

I guess what I’m getting at, at least with the topic of this article, is that you need to balance what you need against the current trends in the market place, along with price and quality. 

Sure, mirrorless is definitely the future we’re heading into, but that doesn’t make DSLRs irrelevant. 

Most Bang For Your Buck

If you don’t have a camera and you’re looking to get into boudoir, you’ll find more bargains and value getting a used DSLR. This is the route you want to take if you’re looking to spend as little as possible. 

With the popularity of mirrorless cameras, more and more photographers are selling their perfectly functioning DSLRs to buy these new cameras with… and that bodes well for someone like you if you’re lookin’ to pick up an awesome DSLR at a low price.

The real question is, if you’re just learning about photography, what is the best camera to learn with?

Mirrorless Or DSLR?

My thoughts on this are, if you’re really pinching pennies but want to get into boudoir spending the least amount of money then go with a used DSLR in fairly good condition. 

You can get up and running and learn about photography and boudoir and get paying clients and then upgrade later if you feel you need to. You may not.

On the other hand, if you’re new to photography and you have a bit more cash on hand then I would recommend starting with a mirrorless camera.

The future has a big flashing sign with bright lights that reads, “Mirrorless!” It would be naive to ignore that.

Might as well jump into the ever-changing fast-paced technology river at the most leading edge point that you can. 

The concepts of photography are the same whether using a DSLR or mirrorless, it’s just the technology in controlling those elements that has changed. So, for example, increasing your shutter speed is still going to decrease your ambient light whether using a DSLR or mirrorless system.

Odds are your first camera won’t be your last, but simply your first…

And like learning how to drive, you can start with a very good standard car that will get you from point A to point B… or you can start with a Lamborghini with options and features you don’t really need at this point that will only confuse and frustrate you.

I recommend the former over the latter.

You want to get a camera you can learn from easily that won’t confuse and frustrate you.

My Camera Recommendations For 2021

So, if you’re new to photography here are some great cameras that are still professional grade you can learn from more easily… and if you’re looking for my pick for the best beginner full-frame mirrorless camera, then check out, “Best Beginner Full-Frame Camera For Boudoir in 2021”.

DSLRs

Canon 6D Mark II (full-frame)

Nikon D750 (full-frame)

Mirrorless

Sony A7iii (full-frame)

Nikon Z5 (full-frame)

Canon RP (full-frame)

Mirrorless (crop sensor)

Fujifilm XT-3 (crop sensor)

Fujifilm XT-4 (crop sensor)

Sony a6400 (crop sensor)

Sony a6100 (crop sensor)

At this stage of the game, it’s really not about the camera but more your skill at lighting, framing, posing, and overall aesthetic that will make your images look good. 

(please read that sentence again)

When you get that part down, then you can look into upping the quality of your images with a better camera and top-end lens if you decide you really want to stick with it.

You can have the best camera and lens in the world but if you don’t know how to light and pose your subject, it’s all a waste. 

Let’s Take A Breather

Okay, I don’t know about you but I have to take a knee and rest a minute after talking about cameras and lenses. It can be exhausting and a lot to learn if you’re coming at this new. 

And I get it, I was where you are now at one point… and you don’t know what you don’t know. 

My advice would be to read a lot of articles, watch a lot of videos, and ask working boudoir photographers for their opinion on this, and try to educate yourself as best you can.

It’s only after you get a camera and use it a lot, that you’ll know what you want from one moving into the future.

Okay, rest period is over. Towel off, squirt some Gatorade into your mouth, and let’s get back to it!

A Place To Shoot

Now that you have your camera and lens, the next thing you’ll need is a place to shoot where natural light is available through a window (or open door).

Since you’re not charging at this point, but merely doing trade shoots building up your knowledge and experience shooting boudoir, the most convenient and cost effective place to shoot is your own place… if it’s feasible.

If not, perhaps you could shoot at a friend’s place if she’s going to be your subject. You want these first few shoots to be free of any pressure to deliver. You want the atmosphere to be relaxed so shooting a friend in a familiar place is perfect.

If either of those two are not an option, you could rent an Air B&B or hotel room, or even a photography studio in your local area.

For even more ideas check out my article, “Where To Shoot Boudoir If You Don’t Have A Studio”.

Posing Guide

Okay, you’ve got your camera and lens, a place to shoot, a subject… but you’re going to need a posing guide of some sort.

You could wing it and see what you get, but I would advise using some kind of boudoir posing guide so you learn the language of boudoir… kind of like learning the alphabet. 

Learn the boudoir alphabet and become familiar with your standard boudoir poses first, then branch out from there if you wish.

There are a lot of posing guides offered by various boudoir photographers but they can get pricey, like up to $500! Personally, I don’t think you need a posing guide that costs $500. 

Be wary of anyone telling you they have the magic formula for anything (myself included). I‘ve lived long enough on this earth and worked in very divergent creative fields to know there are many different methods and strategies when it comes to a creative endeavor (such as posing) and things are constantly changing and evolving.

Be smart with your money on this. 

Or… what you could do (which is what I did) is…

Do your own research (and save money) and start collecting poses you find on Instagram, Facebook, other boudoir photographers’ websites, magazines, and start a collection of your own boudoir poses.

I have private Pinterest boards with poses I’ve collected from everywhere that personally speak to me that I like and that suit my style of shooting. Pinterest is a great place to store these images all in one place and keep them organized. 

Then they’re all on your phone or iPad at the touch of a button.

An easy way to think about posing is to break it down into different categories:

Bed poses

Floor poses

Chair poses

Standing poses

Kneeling poses

If you categorize your poses into the type of furniture they’re on or the model’s positioning (i.e. standing, lying down, sitting) it will help organize them much better for you.

It breaks it down into bite-size pieces you can wrap your head around, as opposed to just “boudoir posing” in general, like one big category.

So, when starting out, decide what types of poses you want to get, then find three or four images somewhere to use as examples.

A posing guide gives your shoot a plan and direction and will help both you and your model because you’ll both have a picture or what you’re trying to get.

The amount of space you have and type furniture will dictate which poses will be suitable, so pick and choose accordingly. 

TFP Agreement

TFP stands for “trade for prints” meaning you’re trading your photography services and images with a model in exchange for her being your model/subject. 

You both get images for your respective portfolios but there’s no money exchanged — you just trade services. This keeps the cost of building your boudoir portfolio down.

Now, if you’re shooting your friend then there’s probably no need for an official agreement, however, once you move beyond your circle of trusted gal pals you should start using one.

A TFP agreement is a short simple contract (or agreement) between you, the photographer, and the model that outlines what each party is getting and what each party can and can not do with her images.

This agreement protects both you and your model and keeps everyone honest. It spells out exactly what each of you are getting in your exchange of services.

For example, a good TFP agreement will restrict your model from selling her images to a third party without your consent. 

I had this almost happen to me when I first started so I made sure to include that type of protection in my own TFP agreement.

If you’re interested in getting a TFP agreement specifically written for boudoir trade shoots then check out My Ultimate Boudoir TFP Agreement”.

In Summary

So, the basics of what you’ll need to start shooting boudoir are:

A camera and lens

A place to shoot with natural light 

A model

Some type of posing guide

A TFP agreement

Those are what I would say are the basic building blocks to start shooting boudoir.

Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that, but that’s where you begin. 

It’s where I began.

I was already shooting headshots and portraits so I already had a camera and lens, and the place I was living in at the time served as my studio.

I did trade shoots for a while, until I felt I was ready to start charging people and began using a TFP agreement when I got serious about building my business.

To know when you’re ready to start charging, check out, “When Should I Start Charging For My Boudoir Photography?”

Photography 101

If you’re brand new to photography I suggest buying a course online that takes you step by step through the basics of photography. It will be more organized than trying to learn from random videos on YouTube.

Creative Live was founded by a photographer and offers tons of classes on photography. I’ve taken many myself.

You have to get to the point where you understand how shutter speed, aperture, and ISO affect your image. It’s called the Exposure Triangle because together they work to produce the kind of images you want. 

One More Thing… Do You Have What It Takes?

There’s one more thing you need to start shooting boudoir… and that’s the gumption to do it.

Shooting boudoir can come with a lot of pre-conceived ideas from people on the outside looking in. Some think nothing of it, but others will be offended by it and even look down on your for wanting to do it… especially if you’re male.

You may have some hesitation about sharing what you’re doing with others, out of fear they will look at you differently, but sometimes you have to alter who you are in order to become the person you want to be.

I had to experience some raised-eyebrows and skeptical looks when I started, but ironically those same people later became some of my biggest fans… and I won them over with my professionalism, my work ethic, my consistency, and my art.

They couldn’t see what I saw… my vision of what I wanted to do with boudoir.

Perhaps the same is true for you.

“If you dare nothing, then nothing is all you will have gained.”

Thanks for your time!

Charles Mitri

Founder / Lounge Boudoir

Bella Mitri Boudoir

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Related Articles

When Should I Start Charging For My Boudoir Photography?

Related Links

My Ultimate Boudoir TFP Agreement

My Ultimate Boudoir Photo Shoot Contract

Why Buying SCRATCHED Lenses is a FANTASTIC Idea!

I Destroyed This Lens. Will It Still Work?

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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