What Is the Most Important Element in Boudoir Photography?

Boudoir Portrait

There are many things that make up an image — the subject, lighting, composition, setting, expression, pose, color (or black & white) resolution, and on and on. But there’s one element that rises above them all that will cancel out any “mistakes” that aren’t quite what you’d planned for in your image — and that element is  — emotional impact.

What is the most important element in boudoir photography? It’s the emotional impact your image has on the viewer.  If your image can deliver an emotional impact then that will overshadow any technical flaw that isn’t up to your standard, and overcome any amount of megapixels your camera seemingly lacks.  

Do I have images that are weak in some areas technically but that deliver an emotional punch? Yes, I do. You probably do too. They’re the ones you keep going back to and gazing upon because there’s something there that keeps drawing you in.

That “something” is how it makes you feel — its emotional impact. 

Can You Plan For Emotional Impact In Your Images?

Is it possible to plan for capturing a shot that has emotional impact? To a certain extent, yes, you can, once you’ve moved past getting proficient with the technical aspects of your camera and having control over your exposure and lighting — then your mind is free to concentrate more on artistry and composition. 

When I first started learning photography my mind was so pre-occupied with trying to understand the exposure triangle (shutter speed, aperture, ISO) that I really couldn’t focus on anything else besides just trying to get a good exposure. Then throw off-camera flash into the equation and it’s on to yet another technical learning curve. 

Step 1

It wasn’t until I had a good working understanding of my tools (camera and lighting) that I was then able to devote my thought process to creating something beyond just a decent exposure with an above average expression. 

So, that would be the first step in planning to capture an image with emotional impact — knowing how to use your tools to capture your subject with the light that you want with the exposure you intended to get. 

Step 2

Step 2 would be to understand what the elements are that invoke emotion in us. Looking at just the boudoir genre we can name a few.

— the expression in someone’s eyes and face

— the lighting, which has a lot to do with creating a mood

— the pose and what someone’s body language is saying

The Eyes and Facial Expression

Some of these are fairly tangible, like capturing an expressive close-up of someone’s eyes with just the right expression. That can certainly have an emotional impact. With some subjects that will come fairly easy but with others it can sometimes be nearly impossible.

Having been a portrait and headshot photographer before shooting boudoir, I found that some people’s emotions sit closer to the surface than others, and they’re also more free with expressing them.

Others are more guarded and bury their essence deeper within themselves. With more comfort sometimes they can loosen up a bit, but with others that is harder to do. You do the best you can to bring out that emotion and expression but sometimes people are who they are for whatever reasons.

Lighting

Lighting is huge in my book, especially when it comes to creating a mood and sometimes just the “mood” or look of an image can be emotionally moving. I will say this about creating emotion with light and that is when working to create a mood with light, direction and intensity play a big part. 

Direction of Light

When light has a direction it has a focus, it’s telling the viewer to look “here”. It’s guiding our eye, taking one on a journey through your image. It’s saying, “this is more important here than that over there”. 

Intensity of Light

Light’s intensity plays a big role in creating emotion too, from hard light to soft, from a wash of light to a shaft of light, and to lots of light to very little light in an image. 

So, direction paired with intensity is key. 

Creating different types of moods with light is beyond the scope of this article, but controlling light is a big element in creating an emotional impact with your images.

The Pose

Each pose is saying something, it’s talking to you through the subtle (and at times, not so subtle) language of the body… or body language.

Whenever I meet someone new I pay close attention to their body language because that tells me what’s really going on with that person, how they’re really feeling. Sometimes it’s in reaction to me, other times it has to do with what’s personally going on in that person’s life at the time. 

Either way, it’s a powerful form of communication.

Posing is nothing more than communicating with the body. 

Having your subject strike just the right pose can certainly create an emotional impact, from subtle to BAM!

Combing Elements For Maximum Effect

The more of these elements you can get in an image, the greater its emotional impact will be. 

Getting one is good. 

Getting two is better. 

Getting all three is great.

The Unexpected

During a shoot, it’s hard to stop and study each image on the back of your camera so you never really know which image is going to be “the one” — the one that delivers that emotional impact the most.

(If you’re shooting tethered to a laptop, you’ll be more likely to catch it.)

It’s usually not until after the shoot, when you get home and load the images onto your computer and view them on a bigger screen that those shots really jump out at you. 

And they will, as you’re scrolling through, those premium images will just stand out and make you stop scrolling. 

In fact, that’s a little test I do. I’ll scroll through the images rather quickly until one demands my attention and makes me stop scrolling. 

Those are usually the ones that are delivering some type of emotional impact to the viewer.

Not Losing Sight of the Real Goal

A lot of times we photographers can get caught up in the latest camera that’s coming out with even more megapixels, or the latest technology (like going mirrorless), and we can lose sight of what the real goal is, and that is capturing images that move us emotionally.

That’s what we really want and what our clients want. They want images that make them feel a certain way and that can be accomplished with a 24 megapixel DSLR from ten years ago, or with the latest and greatest one that’s out on the market today. 

It can be accomplished with diffusing light with the most expensive pro scrim or with an old white bedsheet that’s held up with duct tape. 

You can achieve a lot of the same results with gear that is both old and outdated alongside the newest and most expensive gear money can buy. 

Conclusion

Your most valuable asset as a photographer is being able to work with your subject for them to drop their insecurities, fears, and doubts, and allow you to capture their raw humanity — in whatever form that takes.

Creating images that deliver an emotional impact is what separates boudoir photographers from those who just takes pictures of what someone looks like, verses those who capture who someone is.

It’s a two-way street. 

The photographer has to do their part but the subject also has to meet them halfway by being vulnerable enough, and trusting enough for that moment to happen when everything is aligned and you snap that picture and capture magic. 

Thanks for you time!

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

Charles Mitri

Founder / Lounger 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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