The Boudoir Photography Empowerment Movement
In recent years, boudoir photography has majorly evolved from a genre about creating sexy pictures just for him into a far-reaching body-positivity empowerment movement.
Portrait pioneers like Sue Bryce ushered in this new era by making magazine-style glamour accessible for everyday people. Sue’s students, running with both her vision and business model, have driven the quality standard of portrait photography to new artistic heights all while building successful, sustainable businesses.
While Sue is a glamour photographer, not a boudoir photographer, she has created several “Sue-style boudoir” educational videos that focus on glamour, fashion, and connection inspired by vogue, vintage pinup, and classical elegance.
See: Glamour vs Boudoir: Find Your Style, Vintage Pinup, Vintage Lingerie, White Sheet, Black Lace, and Vintage French Top. Unlock access to these classes and more with a special Boudoir Membership Discount + free Boudoir Posing Card Gift.
Boudoir photography, just like glamour photography, has exploded into a movement for all types of women, men, and transgender people to celebrate their unique beauty, confidence, and power.
In this blog, we’ll explore modern perspectives on boudoir photography by Kara Marie Trombetta, Teri Hofford, and Jasmin Jade, three photographers who have propelled the evolution of the genre, making it the modern empowerment phenomenon that it is today.
If you want to make boudoir photography a lucrative part of your business, don’t miss out on exploring the links in this article, including an exclusive free download when you start a Portrait System Membership with a special discounted price on your first month!
Be sure to go all the way to the bottom of this article for an Ultimate Boudoir Resource Guide that you will want to visit again and again!
Before we look at what boudoir photography has become, let’s look at how it began.
History of Boudoir Photography
Boudoir photography is as old as photography itself. In the 1890s, illicit ‘French postcards’ — sold in sets, beginning with fully dressed women progressing to partial or complete nudity — were printed on postcards and hidden under apothecary counters, so they could be clandestinely sold.
Settings like a woman’s boudoir (private dressing room) and plein air (outdoor, naturalistic settings) hearkened back to the imagery and emotion of classical paintings of the female nude. Some photographers today, like Joshua Simmons, use the term boudoir strictly in this classical sense. Others, like Jasmin Jade continue the naturalistic aesthetic, shooting outdoors.
In the 1920s, boudoir photography went public along with the birth of the modern woman, who abandoned her corset and traditional feminine norms for drinking, smoking, and driving motor cars. Albert Arthur Allen brought the art form notoriety as he fought protracted legal battles for sending obscene materials through interstate mail.
Everything changed in the 30s and 40s when pinups were used to recruit men to enlist in World War II, encouraging them to “come home a hero” for her. Hollywood’s Golden Era was in full swing, and magazine covers and ads glamorized the female form.
See: Vintage Pinup and Vintage Lingerie. Unlock access to these classes and more with a special Boudoir Membership Discount + free Boudoir Posing Card Gift.
In modern times, for everyday people, boudoir photography found a niche in wedding photography as photos for him on that special day. Now, boudoir photography is popular for any occasion and is particularly helpful for anyone seeking to experience greater confidence in themselves.
What is Boudoir Photography Today?
Boudoir photography today has as many definitions as there are people who create it. Most boudoir photographers agree that this genre has tremendous potential for personal empowerment by nature of its vulnerability. Some photographers utilize boudoir photography as a means of engaging deeper healing work with their subjects. When someone feels their own power and beauty while in their most vulnerable state, that confidence can carry over into all aspects of their lives.
See: Sue Bryce Live Shoot Portrait Interview with Teri Hofford for a visual and narrative exploration of stripping off the layers that keep us from experiencing the beauty of our true selves. Unlock access to this class and more with a special Boudoir Membership Discount + free Boudoir Posing Card Gift.
“The definition of boudoir photography is one of the most argued about amongst photographers, but I find that just like any other genre of photography, it’s open to interpretation by its artists and subjects. Personally, I simply define “boudoir” as self-celebrating intimate portraiture intended to benefit primarily the subject themselves. (And, sure, their partner, the walls of their home, and/or the entire world via the internet should they so choose.) Interpreting it that way means that, just like in any other type of portraiture, the goal should be to celebrate the subject in the way they desire to be captured. By that logic, boudoir photography should never be simplified down to only sensual lingerie-clad images in a bedroom setting to be gifted to a spouse. People, their preferences, and their intentions are extraordinarily diverse, so we would be doing a disservice as portrait photographers to make all boudoir look exactly the same.”
“Boudoir photography is traditionally the art of taking photos in one’s bedroom, usually for the viewing pleasure of a male partner, but in the last 10 years it has expanded to become less about the partner and more focused on empowerment for the subject. For me, boudoir was the means through which I was able to have difficult conversations with folks about their relationship with their bodies and use the photos as a means to help heal that relationship. It is vulnerable, beautiful, at times sexy, sensual and provocative, and it pushes folks outside of their comfort zone in the most glorious way.”
“Boudoir photography for me means more than just a pretty photo of a woman. It goes deeper than that. For me, it’s all about empowerment. When I photograph a woman, I want to empower her in her being. They say your struggle is your gift. When I was younger, I struggled with being powerful. I struggled with putting myself first and setting boundaries, among other things. I know how it feels to not feel enough. Nowadays, I empower other women with the strength I possess through the things I’ve been through in my younger years. It’s not about the photos; that’s just the icing on top and the final proof that they are in fact amazing, powerful beings.”
Why is Boudoir Photography So Popular?
Boudoir photography has risen in popularity alongside the body positivity movement. As people explore what it means to truly love and value themselves and their bodies just as they are, a photoshoot can provide a cornerstone experience. A photoshoot gives someone the opportunity to be the center of attention and the chance to be seen and see themselves as worthy of that experience. The subject can have a profound experience of feeling beautiful, strong, and resilient and being seen that way. After such a transformative experience, the resulting images become a touchpoint to access that experience, allowing that person to create and embody new, more empowered narratives about who they are and how they can be in the world.
“We’re in a day and age of self-discovery, self-acceptance, and self-celebration. I believe that boudoir photographers as a whole have done a tremendous amount of work elevating this genre to support these movements. What was once considered to be just a wedding gift has grown into an empowering, therapeutic form of self-care. The point, in my opinion, of this powerful type of photo shoot experience, is to give our subjects permission to celebrate all the parts of themselves, both inner and outer, without the need to hide behind extensive wardrobe or makeover transformations.”
“The intent behind boudoir has changed significantly, becoming less focused on whether or not another viewer will find the subject attractive and more about the subject themselves seeing their own beauty. We have seen the rise of the boudoir industry alongside the body positive movement in which both have helped each other shift and move forward. Being able to see ourselves differently in photos helps us rewrite a lot of the narratives that we’ve been taught about bodies. That being said, the point of boudoir photography will be different with every photographer (which is why it’s so important for the photographer AND the client to be clear on their expectations!). Some still want to focus on photographing from the male gaze, while others are enjoying expanding to being more inclusive from a woman’s gaze. Neither is right and neither is wrong so long as the expectations are clear up front!”
“Boudoir photography has gotten a great deal of hype in the past 5 years. There are so many different boudoir photographers, and they are all different. Yet they are all doing one thing, empowering another human being. For us women especially, we photograph a woman through the gaze of a woman. That means the photos are barely sexualized. They show the strength and grit of a woman rather than just sexy photos.”
Boudoir is for Everyone – Boudoir Photography for Plus-Size People
What’s in a number anyway? Everyone is beautiful and wishes for their beauty to be recognized and celebrated, no matter their size. Photographers have the unique gift to share with people reflections of their beauty, and they can add steam to the body positive movement by creating images that challenge the limiting beauty norms we’ve been exposed to for so long.
How do you do boudoir photography for plus-size people?
“The same way I do photography for any size… by celebrating all the beautiful unique personalities and features of each human without body-specific rules. What is “plus size” anyway? We are all a series of lines and curves and energy with unique desires. I communicate extensively with each human in front of my camera to determine what their desires are, and I work thoughtfully to properly celebrate their personalities in an artful way.”
“Every single person requires a different experience. Boudoir photography is accessible for all bodies despite the imagery that we’ve been force-fed in the past. We need to understand that size isn’t a barrier to looking and feeling confident/sexy/powerful and that size isn’t the thing that’s going to get in the way of how a client poses/acts/etc. It is SO important for photographers to check their biases at the door. Many times, we assume we need different posing for plus-size bodies, but it’s only because we haven’t seen plus-size bodies in the same poses. It’s not that they can’t do them. It’s that every body will look different in different poses, and the ones we haven’t seen will make us feel uncomfortable. But uncomfortable doesn’t mean bad; it just means different. We have been taught a very specific way of photographing women, and when bodies don’t fit those criteria, we can assume that it’s bad or – ugh – unflattering, but again, it’s just different. Speak with your client (EVERY CLIENT) and get to know them – their physical limitations and comfortability – and chat with them about the specific outcome they would love to have. For more information, I recommend checking out The Boudoir University to understand more about why this work is so important.”
“We assume that people of a certain size want to hide their bodies, which is often not the case. Especially in Boudoir. Why would we want to hide all we are? If you have a person of any size in your studio you can be almost sure that he/she is not trying to hide their body, and unless they tell you otherwise, you should make it an effort to photograph the woman as she is. I photograph people according to their body type. Which means I will end up with the poses that make each person look amazing. I’ll go through poses and movements and study their body language. Then I decide how my client looks best. It’s all individualized.”
The Boudoir Photo Shoot Experience
A client chooses to have a photo shoot for many reasons. The images you provide them are important, but even more important is what kind of experience you provide for them and how it makes them feel. Their experience and how they feel about it makes all the difference as to whether they refer their friends to you and if they want to come back again. If you want to provide the kind of experience that has your clients talking and coming back for more, it is crucial that your client feels seen and heard and that they feel safe and taken care of.
See: Kara Marie’s Boudoir Prep Guide for all her tips on how to prepare you and your client for a boudoir photoshoot.
“The experience I create for my clients starts long before they set foot in front of my camera. I pride myself on educating, serving, and guiding each client in a way that grants them permission to start exploring who they are, what they want, and how they want to feel about themselves through this experience. Just like I don’t put “boudoir” in a narrowly defined box, I don’t put my clients in one. Each human is unique, and I am honored to be trusted with helping them to discover and celebrate their individuality in this way. After photographing thousands of clients and engaging each one of them in thoughtful conversation about their intentions, I can assure you that “sexy photos” is almost never uttered as a reason for wanting to do this. People want to feel SEEN; they want to see what other people see in them, and they want to do the soul work involved in this self-discovery/self-celebrating process because they know their potential and crave the positive impact on their lives that they’ve heard boudoir can have. That’s way more than “sexy photos” can do.”
“Again, the ultimate boudoir photo shoot experience is going to differ between photographers, but the main elements should definitely include:
- clear communication and expectations on what is expected from the client and the photographer
- establishing boundaries about what is/isn’t comfortable
- providing guidance on everything from wardrobe to hair (removed or not) to editing to the shoot process to the parking and every little thing that could cause a person anxiety – a boudoir session is anxiety inducing. The more ways we can minimize this, the better!
- making sure that what you are saying is in line with what you are doing/showing (i.e., if you say you are body inclusive, please actually do the work to make sure this is the case)
- becoming trauma aware/learn about different perspectives and anxieties that folks in marginalized bodies might have
- having hair and makeup artists that can accommodate all bodies/skin types/textures/ages/genders, etc.
Because the boudoir experience is incredibly vulnerable and intimate, it is imperative that we understand where the client is coming from. I encourage all photographers to have their own PAID photoshoots by photographers they love so they can go through the experience to better educate/relate to their clients.”
Tips for Boudoir Photography
Are you feeling ready to jump in and try boudoir photography? Our expert boudoir photographers share their top tips for you to keep at the forefront of your mind.
See: Top Ten Tips for Shooting Boudoir by Kara Marie, part of her Boundless Boudoir Course, for her tips on how to have successful boudoir photoshoots.
“The biggest advice I can share is to:
- Communicate with your clients and shoot for your clients. Too often we get consumed with what other photographers are doing instead of focusing on the subject in front of us. While we are the professionals, boudoir photography is a dance that requires two.
- Shoot as much and as many diverse bodies and clients as you can – even if it means paying for models or doing model calls. The bodies you show are the bodies you will have coming to you.
- Learn the ins and outs of running a business. This is integral. If you want to do this as a business, you need to be a business owner FIRST, photographer SECOND. The work we do is SO important, but you need to learn how to do it sustainably: financially, emotionally, physically, and mentally.”
“With Boudoir, practice makes master. The more you practice, the better you get, so I suggest getting some models together and keep practicing until you are confident. Believe it or not, a boudoir session is an energy exchange – your client will feel when you are unsure of things.”
Boudoir Dos and Don’ts
When working with clients in this deeply vulnerable genre of boudoir, there are definitely dos and don’ts. Teri Hofford offers the ones that are top of her list.
“Don’t touch without consent.
Do communicate, communicate, communicate. When you think it’s over-communicating, communicate some more.
Do be confident in the work you produce so you can create space and not make it about yourself when a client struggles to appreciate their images. Body image is a hard thing and photos bring it to the forefront; we need to be okay to sit in the discomfort of dislike with our clients, understanding that it is less to do with us and more to do with the client’s perception of themselves. (That being said, make sure you are actually producing consistently good work!)
Do constantly check in with your client at every stage from booking to reveal.”
What Boudoir Is Not
We’ve talked a lot about what boudoir photography is and how to do it right. Let’s look for a moment at misconceptions people have about boudoir, and how to discover what it means for you and your clients.
“If I had to assign one misconception, it’s just that many people think of boudoir photography as having to look just ONE way. Naturally, because of the evolution of style and purpose of this genre, there are bound to be people who remember boudoir photography as it was originally introduced to them. That said, there are plenty of teachable moments that any boudoir photographer should take the opportunity to educate on. Because boudoir photography has a unique interpretation for each photographer that offers it, it’s our mission to define what it means to us clearly, in our own public-facing and client-facing communications, so that the people who feel drawn to our interpretation are matching with us. If we’re doing the thoughtful work of explaining our boudoir philosophies on our websites, then only those who identify with that particular view of boudoir will contact us. Therefore, it becomes less about clearing up misconceptions, more about guiding the clients with likeminded philosophies towards us, and not judging those who have different views on what boudoir means to them.”
“There are different types of boudoir photography within the boudoir genre. It ranges from modest boudoir in front of a backdrop all the way to erotica, which is a very lucrative genre, by the way.
I usually do not have to clear up misconceptions because clients who book a boudoir session with me usually know exactly what boudoir is all about, and they’ve been waiting for months ,or even years, to make that decision to finally do it. “
Learn how to nip those misconceptions in the bud with clear marketing that describes what you do and who is the ideal client for you: Boudoir Marketing with Sue, Jasmin Jade, and Kara Marie. Unlock access to this course and more with a special Boudoir Membership Discount + free Boudoir Posing Card Gift.
The Ultimate Boudoir Education Guide
There’s so much to learn when it comes to boudoir photography. If you missed following up with all the links in the article above, don’t worry, you can find all of them just below. I’m also including additional resources where you can hear other photographers talk about their experiences with boudoir photography and give their tips to help you succeed in this genre.
Be sure to bookmark this page, so you can return to these resources again and again!
Boudoir Courses Available with a Discounted Portrait System Membership*:
- Black Lace
- White Sheet
- Vintage Pinup
- Vintage Lingerie
- Vintage French Top
- Self-Portraits by Teri Hofford
- Glamour vs Boudoir: Find Your Style
- Empower All Bodies with Sue and Teri Hofford
- Get the Scoop on Kara Marie’s New Boudoir Course
- Boudoir Marketing with Sue, Jasmin Jade, and Kara Marie
- Boudoir and Its Boundless Potential with Kara Marie
*Get your first month for only $7 + a free Boudoir Posing Card Sampler from Kara Marie Trombetta when you use the code BOUDOIR7.
Boudoir Courses Available in The Portrait Masters Store:
Products to Enhance Your Boudoir Images:
- Kara Marie’s Boudoir Prep Guide
- Kara Marie’s Boudoir Digital Posing Cards
- Top Ten Tips for Shooting Boudoir from Kara Marie
- Kara Marie’s Badass B+W Lightroom Preset Collection
- Jasmin Jade Preset Collection: Create Preset Pack
- Embrace Presets: Boudoir Tones by Jasmin Jade
Blogs on Boudoir Photographers:
- Dive Deep into Fine Art with Joshua Simmons
- Boudoir in the Wild with Jasmin Jade
- All Bodies are Beautiful with Teri Hofford
- Empower Body Positivity with Teri Hofford
- Inclusive Love with Ore Adesina
- Unlocking Success with Sissela Johansson
- Money-Making Mindset with Carrie Roseman
- The Life You Truly Want with Alina Botica
- Fascinating Oasis with Kirsten White
- Get Set Up for Success with Keeley Miller
- Rise to the Challenge with Kate Styles
- Achieving High-Value Sales with Carrie Roseman
- 5 Tips for Creating Award Winning Boudoir Portraits with Johanna Julia
Podcasts Featuring Boudoir Photographers:
- How Kara Marie Runs a Thriving International Portrait & Boudoir Business in Italy & Texas
- How Shawn Black Quit Wedding Photography & Found Success in Boudoir
- How In-Person Sales Changed Cari Faye’s Outdoor Boudoir Business
- Q&A: Outdoor Boudoir with Jasmin Jade
- Q&A: Body Image with Teri Hofford
- How Ore Adesina Takes Boudoir to the Next Level & Makes Her Clients Feel Comfortable
- Successful Boudoir & Personal Branding Business in Romania with Alina Botica
- How Teri Hofford Expanded Her Brand with Body Positivity
- From Burnt Out Teacher to Successful Boudoir & Personal Branding Photographer with Kirsten White
- Q&A: Marketing for Boudoir
- Why Kara Marie’s Clients Spend Over $5000 on Photoshoots
Rangefinder Articles Based on this Blog:
- The Boudoir Photography Empowerment Movement
- …and while you’re there, put “boudoir” in the search bar to find even more articles about boudoir photography!
- The Boudoir Summit at WPPI
- The Boudoir University
- Association of International Boudoir Photographers
- The Portrait System Accountability Group — With a subscription to The Portrait System, you’ll have access to two community forums where you can meet photographers around the world who are walking the same path as you and want to help you succeed. Our accountability group, On the Hook with Kevin and Angie, hosts two Zoom meetings a week, where you can talk face-to-face with other photographers about your struggles and successes, share your own experiences, and benefit from their experience and wisdom. It’s great for photographers shooting in any genre, including boudoir.
Boudoir photography is such a hot genre right now. Few activities in life give people such a potent way to deeply embody their power and vulnerability simultaneously and come away with a talisman that enlivens that experience for everyday reflection. Boudoir photography has the power to catalyze healing and evoke confidence in people in a way that can have a positive ripple effect on their whole lives and everyone they contact. We hope this article has helped answer questions you have about boudoir and that it serves as a resource to help photographers use boudoir as a means to empower their clients and create positive change in the world with each beautiful encounter and image.