Boudoir Photography: Breaking Into the Market

The popularity of boudoir photography has exploded over the past few years. It’s not only become a fashionable wedding gift for brides to present to their grooms on their Big Day (or the night before), but it also makes a great anniversary, Valentine’s Day, and “just because” gift. Along with the tremendous increase in demand, there’s also been a huge increase in the number of photographers offering boudoir as part of their services. Some are even specializing in it. If you’ve been thinking about breaking into this lucrative market, here are some things to consider.

What Exactly Is Boudoir?

First, let’s start by defining what boudoir photography is all about. Boudoir might easily be classified as a subset of glamour photography. Both genres typically feature a female subject and have an emphasis on sensual, sexy, and flirtatious looks and poses. But while glamour photos tend to feature women in sexy outfits, exaggerated poses, and slightly unrealistic situations, boudoir is more about lingerie, seductive looks, and relatively plausible scenarios.

Boudoir, as the name implies, typically depicts a private or bedroom atmosphere where lingerie, or less, is the only dress code. However, this is only a working guideline as the glamour and boudoir genres tend to overlap. After all, if your client wants to include some swimsuit pin-up shots in her session, who are you to say no?

The Clientele

There is no one “type” of woman who commissions a set of boudoir images. And there are many reasons clients will come to you to have pictures made, other than those mentioned above. Many will acknowledge they are reaching a turning point in their lives and would like to mark it with beautiful photographs of themselves. Some will tell you they are thinking of starting a family, and would like to capture the look of their pre-baby body before it changes. Some will say they have started seeing themselves in a new and liberated light and wish to explore this side of themselves in pictures.

Whatever the reason, you should know that virtually every client will be at least a little nervous. Your client will know she’ll be center stage, attempting looks and poses that she’s not quite sure she’s even capable of. Her goal is to look beautiful and come away with amazing pictures, but she’s going to be nervous at the thought of being undressed and directed by a relative stranger, or even a familiar photographer, in front of the camera. If that weren’t enough, she, like most of us, would probably change a few physical characteristics about herself if she could.

If you’re good at putting people at ease, and projecting a friendly, confident, and professional demeanor, you should have no problem working with boudoir clients. The next question is whether or not boudoir photography is something you’d really like to offer.

Is Boudoir Right For You?

Before adding boudoir to your list of services, you should consider the implications it will have on your business, and whether or not it’s a good fit for you as a photographer. Boudoir can certainly be a very profitable addition to your package offerings, and also as a stand-alone service. And there are few other types of portraiture that can have such a positive impact on a client’s self-esteem, which can make it very rewarding to you as a photographer. However, if you have moral or ethical objections to this type of imagery, or feel uncomfortable with the idea of working with clients who are wearing little or no clothing during their sessions, shooting boudoir is probably not right for you.

The availability of a studio (home or otherwise) will certainly come into play, as this isn’t the type of portraiture you would normally do out at the park. Boudoir clients will expect some type of private studio or location where they will be comfortable and not have to worry about uninvited or unknown people having access during the session. Many photographers will arrange hotel room locations for their boudoir sessions, although this will add considerably to the overall cost to the client. Many clients are okay with that and understand that they might want to invest in hair and makeup, new lingerie items, and accessories, too.

Adding Boudoir To Your Current Offerings

Once you’ve made the decision to offer boudoir photography services, you’ll want to let people know. If you’re a wedding photographer, chances are you’ve already been asked by a few clients if you offer boudoir sessions as part of your packages. New brides are typically looking to present a book of sexy pictures to their grooms either on, or around, the wedding day. It might be a good idea to design a boudoir package add-on similar to your bridal, engagement, or other wedding products.

With or without that built-in clientele, I suggest you educate yourself about the business and techniques involved in modern boudoir. You’ll need to actually shoot a few sessions in order to gain the necessary experience you’ll require to provide the quality of photography your clients deserve. You might want to start off by offering free or low-cost sessions to a select group of clients. The benefits of practice are so important, but so is getting your subjects’ permission to display some of their images for self-promotion.

Make sure your initial subjects agree that in exchange for free or low-cost images, they’ll sign a simple release to allow you to use their photos for this purpose. Then post your best boudoir photos in a “boudoir” section of your online portfolio, blog, or at the very least in your offline print portfolio. This will be key to eventually attracting paying clients by showing that you can legitimately and skillfully provide this type of portraiture.

It’s possible that it will also become a selling point for your other photography. Some brides would rather hire one photographer to handle all of her wedding-related photography. I’ve also had women start off as boudoir clients only to come back to me for every other type of family portraiture as the years go by!

If you are considering offering boudoir photography to your clients, I suggest you read my primer on the subject, 10 Ways to Improve Your Boudoir Photography Now, which discusses everything from the details of working with clients to best-selling poses, and the followup, 25 Amazing Boudoir Photography Techniques, which gives you detailed info on how to recreate some of my best boudoir looks. These books will help you jump-start your boudoir work.

Photos © Ed Verosky

5 Responses to “Boudoir Photography: Breaking Into the Market”

  1. Learning to "smize" or smile with your eyes is a great way to get great portraits and make whomever you are photographing feel at ease.

  2. The hardest part of boudoir photography is managing client expectations.

    Women come to me with photographs such as the ones in this article as samples for the images they want me to create.

    I tell them that I can create beautiful imagery, but they need to be willing to invest in a make-up artist, as well as wardrobe.

    No one can pose for sessions like this without full body make up.

    Older lingerie comes out looking tattered. It must be new.

    I also make sure to show them samples of real women - not portfolio models - with similar body types who have worked with me.

    This sets their expectations to the right level, and they are happy with the results.

  3. @Rich: Clients should expect results similar to what you show in your portfolio, so it is great that you do that to help manage their expectations. And I agree that clients should invest in hair and makeup, and if necessary new lingerie.

    I feel I should clarify that the samples in this article feature actual clients (not models), each with the figure you'd expect of a real women.

    None are wearing body makeup. What you are seeing is a combination of well executed lighting and basic retouching in-line with modern boudoir photography.

  4. Rich,
    While I agree that hair and make-up are an important part of boudoir photography, I have never seen an occasion where "full body" coverage was required. With creative lighting and basic retouching skills you should be fine with conventional hair and make-up artistry.

  5. Ed & Mark:

    I guess my experience has been different. I deal with extensive stretch marks and age-related effects on women who usually have had more than one child. The typical age I shoot is late-30s through mid-50s.

    With a mix of great light and a full makeup job, their photographs require little more than a RAW conversion and selective sharpening of the eyes.

    My first boudoir client was a bride's mother. She referred me to her friends, and that referral network has remained mature age-wise.

    Full makeup also is a great profit center. I hire the MUA and hair stylist for the entire session and mark up their charges by 35%. I include that in one package rate with my fees and the printed products.

    Ed: I should have been clear and written that I used models in my printed boudoir portfolio for nearly a year, until I realized that my clients were trending older than the 20 year olds in my books.

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