Boudoir photography

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Boudoir photography is a photographic style featuring intimate, sensual, romantic, and sometimes erotic images of its subjects in a photographic studio, bedroom or private dressing room environment,[citation needed] primarily intended for the private enjoyment of the subjects and their romantic partners.[1] It is distinct from glamour and art nude photography in that it is usually more suggestive rather than explicit in its approach to nudity and sexuality, features subjects who do not regularly model, and produces images that are not intended to be seen by a wide audience, but rather to remain under the control of the subject.[2][3]

Common motivations for boudoir photography shoots include a surprise gift by a bride to their future husband on or before their wedding day, undertaking weight loss regimes or other forms of body alteration (such as breast augmentation or cancer surgery), and as a gift to servicepersons overseas.[4][5]


The term "boudoir" comes from the French language verb bouder meaning "to sulk" and was primarily attributed to women's dressing rooms or sitting rooms and private salons. Nude or sexualized female forms have been a theme of photography since as early as 1840.[6] Early erotic photography, such as French postcards from the late 19th and early 20th century, pin-up girls, and Hollywood culture have influenced the visual style of boudoir photography.[7] Notable early artists of the form include Albert Arthur Allen, who photographed larger women against ornate backgrounds.

Boudoir Pre WWII[edit]

Boudoir's first use was in early 20th century France with upper class women being captured in their private salons.  Artistic movements during this time contributed widely to the sensual depictions of women in both public and private spaces. The Art Nouveau and Art Deco movements broke away from previous art movements by emphasizing glamour and natural form, in which boudoir fit in well showcasing feminine beauty. Photography became a more popular medium during this time, allowing boudoir to gain notoriety. Pieces focuses on romantic settings with alluring and intimate backgrounds. These themes follow the stylistic traits of boudoir throughout the 20th and 21st century. Notable photographers during this period are Jacques-Henri Lartigue and Jean Agélou, both of who focuses on erotic subject matter. In early 20th century boudoir was influenced by the Art Deco movement, feminist trends that saw the rise in female artists and subject matters beyond male depictions. The style still remained centered on upper class women and themes of elegance and glamour. Photographers of note during the early 20th century include Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, and Gertrude Käsebier. These photographers were from the pictorialism movement which moved away from the more scientific use of photography to an artistic expression. [8] Pictorialism influenced boudoir style by expanding the use of photography for pleasure, so subject matters could be an expression of one's sensuality. During this time as women were able to explore roles beyond the home female artists like Imogen Cunningham and Dora Maar were able to use common stylistic themes of boudoir to add a feminine take on photography of the era.

Boudoir during WWII[edit]

After the dissolution of the Prohibition Era in 1933 and the beginning of World War II, the US Government began using propaganda to encourage young men to fight for their country. With the knowledge that “sex sells”, the military began using pin-up girls on their recruiting posters with slogans like “She’s worth fighting for” or “Come home to your girl a hero”. This made the pin-up girl one of the most recognizable forms of boudoir and paved the way for modern boudoir by normalizing the female form in advertising.[9] The style of pin up differs from classical boudoir as pin up was used for commercial purposes in advertisements and marketing during the roaring 20's and especially during way eras of WWI and WWII. The golden age of pin up from the 1930s to 1950s with famous magazines such as Esquire and Life playing major roles in the widespread use of pin up photos. Prominent photographer Alberto Vargas led the campaign in his work with Esquire focuses on "Varga Girls" [10] These images would remain a staple of the key stylistic components of pin and boudoir photography throughout the 20th century. Soldiers would keep mementos of pin up photos in their personal supplies to keep up moral. In addition, it became a common form of nose art on military planes for pin up images to be painted on as a way of identifying groups, and maintaining individuality.


Known for her “million dollar legs”, actress Betty Grable was the icon of pin-up girls in the 1930s and '40s. One of her most famous portraits was distributed to over five million troops during WWII. Not only was she known as one of the first women to take out insurance on a body part, she was also known for being one of the highest paid female actors in Hollywood during her time.[9] Other examples of boudoir from that era include images of Clara Bow, Mae West and Jean Harlow.

Boudoir in the 21st Century[edit]

Boudoir photography was popularized in the millennium[clarification needed] with the arrival of digital photography.[12] It became popular with women seeking to create a private collection of professional studio portraits. This is a deviation from 20th century uses which had a more commercial presence in magazines and advertisements.[13] Boudoir photography dates from the mid-1980s onwards,[14] and is characterized by the empowerment of its female subjects, who now are typically the photographer's direct clients[15] rather than being hired models. While traditionally associated with women, male boudoir photography is shattering conventions and stepping into the limelight. This intriguing branch of photography invites men to showcase their vulnerability, strength, and confidence in a visually stunning and emotionally charged manner.[16] Private sessions typically are formatted with a photographer and one subject, with other parties present to aid in the comfort of the subject. Sessions can be in the studio of the photographer or any place the subject feels comfortable like their home. Common outfits worn during sessions can be lingerie, costumes, or completely nude depending on the client.


It is common for women to have boudoir photographs of themselves made as a gift to a partner, conventionally on the occasion of their engagement, marriage, pregnancy or before an enforced separation such as a military deployment.[17] In the United Kingdom it became popular for brides-to-be to commission photoshoots as a wedding gift for the groom.[18] Boudoir photography is also sometimes given as a gift with the intention of re-affirming and encouraging the romance and sensuality between partners in a long-term relationship.[19]

Increasingly, boudoir photography is seen as something that a person might do purely for their own enjoyment, for the pleasure and affirmation of seeing themselves as attractive, daring, sensual, and sexually desirable.[20][21]


Boudoir photography encompasses a range of styles and moods. Named categories of boudoir photography include classic, implied and erotic. [22]

Visually the genre is characterized by diffuse high-key images[23] that flatter the appearance of skin, short focal distances, and shallow depth of field,[24] which together impart an intimate, "dreamy" mood. Other common styles include a low-key, deliberately grainy black-and-white, reflecting the influence of art nudes, early erotic photography, and film noir.[24] Also common are poses and lighting setups intended to replicate the mood and appearance of classic pin-up photographs and paintings.[25]


The motives behind engaging in boudoir photography vary from person to person. Common motives include women intending to gift the session photos to her partner, documentation of a place in time for the subject, and the personal experience of boudoir.[26]  Modern uses of boudoir have been linked to increase self empowerment, comfort in one's sexuality, and more positive self image.[27]  Studies on the mental effects of boudoir are structured around interviews with boudoir photographers and subjects. A key part of boudoir sessions is a consultation before the shoot where all parties can communicate comfort levels of clothing, settings, and poses. Subjects and photographers of boudoir have indicated that boundaries can, and commonly do, change during the shoot as comfort levels shift.[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Shelp, Scott G. A Comprehensive Beginner's Guide to Photography, Second Edition. p. 116. ISBN 9780557164493. Retrieved 31 December 2015.
  2. ^ Bastita, Nino (13 August 2015). "Why You May Not Be A Boudoir Photographer Even Though You Think You Are". Retrieved 31 December 2015.
  3. ^ "Is Boudoir Photography Porn?". How to Get More Photography Clients. 2014-05-12. Archived from the original on 2015-09-09. Retrieved 2019-06-10.
  4. ^ Rowe, Critsey (2011). Boudoir Photography. Gardners Books/ILEX. ISBN 978-1-907579-19-6.[page needed]
  5. ^ Waring, Chris (1 August 2021). "Erotic, maybe a bit sexy, but not pornographic". BBC News. Retrieved 1 August 2021.
  6. ^ Warren, Lynne (2005-11-15). Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Photography, 3-Volume Set. Routledge. p. 448. ISBN 9781135205430. Retrieved 31 December 2015.
  7. ^ Sinkovits, Tanya (July 18, 2014). "A Peek Inside Boudoir Photography". WGNO. Retrieved 31 December 2015.
  8. ^ "Pictorialism Movement Overview". The Art Story. Retrieved 2023-11-26.
  9. ^ a b Celebrate Your Sexy Boudoir Photography (March 13, 2017). "The history of boudoir: 1920'S – 1940'S". Celebrate Your Sexy.
  10. ^ Elena Buszek, Maria (March 1998). "War Goddess: The Varga Girls, WWII and Feminism" (PDF). n.paradoxa (6): 89–100.
  11. ^ Strobel, Brittany (July 28, 2021). "Origins and Evolutions of Aviation Nose Art". Wisconsin Veterans Museum. Retrieved November 26, 2023.
  12. ^ Alexandra, Vince. "Miss". The Telegraph Newspaper.
  13. ^ West, Michael, "The Birth of the Pin-Up Girl: An American Social Phenomenon, 1940-1946:, University of Iowa, 2020,
  14. ^ Calio, Jim (Feb 11, 1985). "Now for Some Real Play Mates! Boudoir Photography Proves Wives and Girlfriends Can Be Sexy, Too". People. Retrieved 31 December 2015.
  15. ^ Leigh, Marisa (3 February 2014). "Where Did Boudoir Photography Come From?". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 31 December 2015.
  16. ^ "Male Boudoir". Boudoir Photography Guide. Retrieved 2023-09-05.
  17. ^ Surina, Echo (2009). "Centerfold". Exquisite Weddings. Retrieved 31 December 2015.
  18. ^ Vince, Alexandra (March 25, 2011). "Miss". Startups.
  19. ^ Kanim, Debra (2 Sep 2015). "In the boudoir with Orthodox Jewish women". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 December 2015.
  20. ^ Meehan, Mary (June 22, 2010). "Boudoir photos help women reconnect with sexy side". Lexington Herald-Leader. Retrieved 31 December 2015.
  21. ^ Barnes, W M N C (4 February 2015). "I posed in my lingerie to celebrate ME! How sexy Boudouir photo-shoots unlocked the inner confidence of three Devon mums". Western Morning News. Archived from the original on 1 August 2015. Retrieved 31 December 2015.
  22. ^ Jones, Michael. "Boudoir Styles". Sin City Boudoir.
  23. ^ Hewlett, Terry (2014-07-31). Flash Photography: Art and Techniques. Crowood Press, Limited. p. 5. ISBN 9781847977670. Retrieved 31 December 2015.
  24. ^ a b Lark, Jessica (2014-05-13). Elegant Boudoir Photography: Lighting, Posing, and Design for Exquisite Images. Amherst Media. p. 91. ISBN 9781608957279. Retrieved 31 December 2015.
  25. ^ 25 Amazing Boudoir Photography Techniques. Edward Verosky. p. 44.
  26. ^ a b Wentland, Jocelyn; Muise, Amy (March 25, 2010). "Stepping Out from Behind the Lens: A Qualitative Analysis of Erotic Photographers". Sexuality and Culture (14): 97–125 – via Springer Link.
  27. ^ Jantzen; Østergaard; Vieira (2006). "Becoming a 'Woman to the Backbone': Lingerie consumption and the experience of feminine identity". Journal of Consumer Culture (6): 177–202 – via Research Gate.