Soft & Sensual Photography: Boudoir Style Involved

Sensual, seductive, hinting classy and elegant.
Soft series are more sensitive and elegant than bold glamour portraiture and nudity is more often implied than explicit.

Creating sensual series means, taking variations of candid and posed photographs of the subject partly dressed or in lingerie.

In my opinion, “sensual” also stands as a synonym for an aspect of “boudoir photography”.

Soft Light Quality is Crucial

Without a doubt, the character of light is important – it can also be described as quality. For this look, the light quality has to be very soft (low-contrast shadows).
It does not matter whether the series is created with daylight, flash or mixed. Most important is rather that the lighting is soft, flattering and even.

I captured this series on location and the actual idea was to combine incident daylight with scattered flash light in order to achieve a nice balance and smooth room illumination. Unfortunately it rained that day and the natural daylight was simply too weak to fulfill the requirements I had for this whole scene. So I had to fully rely on my lighting equipment…

The Look & Styling - Soft Nudes - Build Your Photography PortfolioFinal Imagery 1 - Soft Nudes - Build Your Photography Portfolio

Strobe & Softbox: Not Always Soft Enough

But strobes (irrelevant which form & size) basically emits hard light (= creating harsh shadows) which does not comply with the character of this look at all.
On this set I could not bounce because the walls with their various colors would have caused quite a strange color temperature mix. On top of that, the ceiling was paneled with dark brown wood. You get the picture, right?

Therefore, my biggest light former I had on set was put to use: an octobox with 120 cm/4’ diameter.
The problem that now presented itself was the short distance between flash head and model. The light beam could simply not spread wide enough to create a huge soft light cloud.

What to do now?

Photo Lighting Setup - Soft Nudes - Build Your Photography Portfolio

Easy but Ingenious Solution: The Shower Curtain

My friend and fellow photographer Michael Zelbel uses shower curtains in a very skillful and formidable way in order to eliminate any kind of hardness created by the light source (= it scatters light). Since I saw him applying this trick, 2 cheap plastic IKEA shower curtains crown my lighting equipment collection at all times so I can build an improvised light wall if needed 🙂

Of course they swallow quite some light power but when working with monolights this really does not matter – the devices are strong enough to even this out…

So this led me to the following lighting setup:

  1. Octobox (120 cm/4’) is creating the first diffusion.
  2. Place a shower curtain in front of it to serve as the ultimate light softener and produce a bigger volume at the same time (= extensive light source).

In addition, I decided to go with a higher ISO-value which provided me with the perfect combination that I needed in order to let the weak daylight immerse and merge the artificial light cloud into the desired light volume.

In the following, I would like to further elaborate about posing details, the compositions related to them and the emotions resulting from them. The conscious control of the visual concept (that actually defines the look in the end) in combination with the right framing and corresponding lens (+ open aperture) is key.

Soft Nudes - Build Your Photography Portfolio

Posing: Model Concentric-Concept

In posing we fully concentrate on mood and message. It’s a very model concentric-concept.
In general, poses have to be minimalistic. The subject is showing soft lines, nothing extreme. It has something flowing, round, and comfy about it.
But direct your subject without letting the scene appear to be static.

Final Imagery 2 - Soft Nudes - Build Your Photography Portfolio

Lighting Gear & Specs Used

  • 1x Monolight 400 Ws @400 Ws
  • 1x Octobox (120 cm/4’) – w/Grid
  • 2x Plastic Shower Curtain 180x200cm/6x6.5’

Camera Gear & Specs Used

  • Full frame
  • 35-200mm
  • f/1.8-3.5
  • 1/60
  • ISO 640
  • 4900°K

Lighting Set Plan - Soft Nudes - Build Your Photography Portfolio

Tutorial “Women Photography: Style & Genre Blueprint”

Tutorial: ‘Women Photography – Create, Enhance & Improve Your Images The Easy Way’

9 Films. 138 Min Runtime. HD
Photographing Women: Your Comprehensive Portfolio-Building Blueprint. Starring Melisa Mendini.
Evolve your photography. Explore new styles. Enhance your portfolio. For the first time ever, Dan presents a completely revealing overview of 7 characterized looks. Each of these looks gets meticulously stripped down inside of the following three main categories: “Classic”, “Soft” and “Bold”. Based on a variation of setups, this tutorial series helps you to find the best strategy to purposefully build your imagery.


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Dan Hostettler

A traveler at heart, inspired by women, working along Swiss precision. Dan is a mediapreneur, photographer, author of several books and founder + Editor in Chief of SexyWomenPhotography.com.

Being a successful photographer for more than 15 years Dan got internationally published and featured on/in GQ Online, The India Times, FashionONE TV, FotoTV, GoodLight Mag, amongst many others. Dan is currently residing and working in Prague, CZ.

Dan will talk about his projects, provide insights in shootings & concepts, produce webinars, create Academy content, explain styles, emphasize the importance of working with models and any other exciting topic he discovers along the way.

What is your approach when it comes to creating the softest (almost shadowless) images possible? Post a sample please!

11 Comments

  1. Autumn is right time to learn about boudoir lighting. Thank you! Great post!

    Reply
    • Very succinct and helpful as always Dan.

      Reply
    • Dan Hostettler

      Hey Kazu,
      yeah Autumn is the time to get back shooting indoor and more calm. Glad you like it. Thanks for reading/watching!

      Reply
  2. Did Melisa give you a strange look when you setup the shower curtains?

    I sometimes get strange looks when I shoot models with a Fuji x-series as the models always expect you to use a DSLR.

    Reply
    • Dan Hostettler

      Hi Ray, no Melisa was not wondering at all.
      First of all she knows that working with me is always a bit out of the norm 🙂 Secondly she’s really just interested about the results. Although taking actions like this needs a bit more time and demands some patience for the model. But my experience with all the models: Lighting is never a topic they ask/care/wonder about. Until know everybody just left it up to me without questioning.

      Camera “sizes”: I can understand that’s unusual for a model when a photographer approaches the set with a “small” camera. But here applies that’s none of the model’s business. The professional ones are just naturally curious and ask because they want to learn something about “why & how” – but certainly not sniffing. That I would consider as unprofessional and not quite appropriate…

      Reply
  3. Hi Dan,

    Great post. You hit the nail on the head when you indicated that generally the key to soft light is wide aperture. However the other way is to increase the amount of light on the background so that you are shooting on almost pure white. In the example I posted, I actually flooded light on the background so that it bathed the set and allowed me to stop down the aperture to around f11 or f14 for the subject and still get rid of most shadows.

    Reply
    • Dan Hostettler

      Hi Dru,
      Thanks for your comment and image.

      Regarding background: you are right about brightening up the background, but sometimes the scene’s backdrop/surroundings just have to be included in the image to tell the story or they can’t be “blown away”. If all would be white all the time I could shoot in the studio. The location’s feel just adds so much to a story.
      Yet a location may appear just ugly or unsuitable – then it’s a great idea to “fade” the backdrop away.

      Whatever the reason for your decision on this pic was: Greatly done! Thanks for sharing.

      Reply
  4. I see you list a 35-200mm lens with f/1.8-3.5.
    Who makes this lens? I have searched on line and can only find 35 – 200mm lenses no faster than f/3.5.

    Thanks.

    Reply
    • Dan Hostettler

      Hi Michael,
      Thanks for your question. I’m sorry for the confusion, I was not precise enough:
      35-200 mm is meant to be the focal length range used for the different shots here; it’s not an all-in-one lens/zoom.

      I used my Sigma 24-70/2.8 and my Nikkor 80-200/2.8 and my prime Nikkor 85mm/1.8

      Hope this helps 🙂

      Reply
  5. Ralph Stark

    Hi Dan;

    Great post I will have to try the shower curtain. We at the Photocoop are lucky in that our boudoir studio has setup to give us soft daylight in the morning. Mostly I use two 48″ by 72″ Fotodiox reflectors to bounce the window light from two 8’x 10′ onto the subject. The windows have shear curtatins which diffuse the light further. In this image the over the bed and angled down at about 45 degrees. There is a gap I shot through but as you see the light very soft and even. The model is Anastasia Arteyeva.

    Thanks
    Ralph

    Reply
    • Dan Hostettler

      Hi Ralph,
      Thanks for your insights and the image. Very alluring; nicely done!

      Great you have such a place like you mentioned for shooting this style. On my side, I’m sometimes on location shooting different looks (styles) and then it happens that I need to improvise.
      Even if all details are planned in great detail upfront, plans/conditions sometimes changes. So that’s why my 2 little shower-curtain-guys are indispensable 🙂

      Best,
      Dan

      Reply

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