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Boudoir Photography Lighting Tips & Tricks

There are literally infinite ways to light women for boudoir photos. This can make the task of learning how to light women daunting for beginners as you try to figure out where to start. To help you get started, this post is going to show you some easy boudoir photography lighting setups so you can create stunning portraits for your upcoming photoshoot!

In this post we’ll cover:

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Boudoir Lighting Ideas

Since most of you reading this are likely beginners, it’s important to highlight that you can absolutely create well lit boudoir photos using just your camera. I do this on every one of my photo shoots by posing my clients into the natural light I find at the photoshoot location.

That said, you can also get creative and augment the natural light you find with every day items. For instance, I’m always on the lookout for things like candles, string lights or any other household items that emit light. I usually use things like t his for background interest, but occasionally I’ll also use them as primary light sources.

If the natural light and items around me feel limiting I’ll then create my own lighting using different lighting gear I bring with me (more on these items in a moment). The point is that boudoir photography lighting is likely available to you wherever you’re photographing your client. However, it will be up to you to find that light, augment it, or create it if it’s not available.

Boudoir Lighting Gear

This photo was captured using 4 monolight strobes

If I had all of my gear stolen tomorrow, I’d feel confident that I could photograph a boudoir session using only natural light. That said, I’d also find not having access to at least one monolight to be incredibly limiting. 

On every one of  my sessions I use at lest one monolight studio strobe. Depending on the space and the client, I’ll sometimes use as many as 4 monolights. 

Building a 4 light kit can be really expensive for most beginners depending on the brand you choose. Therefore, if you don’t have the money for a 4 light kit, consider starting with one monolight and acquire more as you go. If that’s still too expensive, I’d  recommend you get at least an LED light wand and or a video light.

In the hands of a good photographer, you should be able to create great boudoir photos with all of these tools. However, monolights will offer the most control for whatever look you want to create. this is because monolights have the ability to be modified using light shapers such as softboxes and beauty dishes. 

Continuous lights like LED wands and video lights can work well if you’re on a budget, but you generally can’t modify these lights with shapers as well as you can with monolights.

Continuous lights also aren’t as bright as strobes. This means if you choose to use them, you’ll generally have to capture your photos at higher iso’s. Obviously higher iso captures will decrease the quality of your final photos, so just keep this trade off in mind if you decide to go this route.

On the other hand, constant light sources also have some advantages over monlights you  might also want to consider. First, continuous lights are often faster an easier to set up which can be a huge advantage when photographing a woman at her home or in a hotel room. Some models are also available in RGB which allows you to color your lights without using gels. This will save you the cost of the gels and the time to set up colored lights if this is something you’re into. 

Monolight  & Modifier Examples

Continuous Light Examples

Boudoir Photography Lighting Diagram For Natural Light

Now that we’ve covered the different lighting you can use at your boudoir photoshoot, I’d like to show you a lighting diagram for natural light that I use at just about every photoshoot. 

Whenever possible I always try to pose my clients into the natural light I find around me and capture them with that before I attempt anything with a strobe. The reason I do this is because it’s fast which allows me to create multiple looks quickly. Posing into natural light also forces me to get creative with my posing. This is because you’ll have to pose into these light sources as they present themselves.

The easiest natural light source that is available to me in almost every space are windows. Keep in mind that northern facing windows will offer the softest light source as the sun will never directly enter these windows. These windows are best for beginners.

Alternatively, when I’m photographing women younger than 40 with nice skin, I personally prefer southern facing windows with  full sun as this gives harsh moody lighting which I’m partial to. For beginners I recommend you stick with the northern facing windows if you have the option.

In any case my favorite way to use windows is as a cross light. By turning your client sideways to a window or door, you can pose flattering shadows onto the woman’s body and highlight her curves. You can study the boudoir photography lighting diagram for natural light below for an example of how I do commonly do this.

Boudoir Photography Lighting
Natural light boudoir photo of one of my clients

Boudoir Photography Lighting Setup Using Studio Strobes

When natural light isn’t available, I’ll then build a lighting setup to light my client. Sometimes I’ll use these lights as the only light source if I  have good light control in the room I’m working in. I’ll commonly do this when I’m creating bodycapes or moody edge lighting. 

Most of the time though, I like to use my strobes to highlight my client while also blending the lights with the natural light around me. I do this in a couple of different ways, most commonly I’ll use my strobe as a key light and expose the shot so the ambient light is my fill. This keeps the shadows from going too dark. 

The second way I’ll commonly mix strobes with natural light is by using a natural light source as a rim light and the monolight as a key. The reason I do this instead of breaking out another light is it’s a quicker way to add an extra light without having to set it up. This can make a big difference as getting more photos faster will give your client a larger variety of photos to choose from at her reveal!

Below is a common 2 monolight setup I use on just about every photoshoot. It basically utilizes the same cross lighting that we did in the natural light example and then adds a second rim light. The rim light is a really great way to define the shadow side of your clients body so it doesn’t fall into blackness.

Below is a boudoir photography lighting setup using 2 studio strobes. Keep in mind that you can also substitute the monolights in this example for the continuous lights we mentioned earlier for a similar look.B

boudoir photography lighting
2 Monolight boudoir photo of one of my clients

Need More Help Building Your Boudoir Kit?

I hope you found this post helpful for choosing a boudoir photography lighting kit for your business! Now you’re probably wondering what the best lens for boudoir photography is or what would be a good camera for boudoir photography to round out your kit with. Both of these links should help you compliment your lighting with quality gear. Once you have good equipment you can then focus on honing your skills so you can make the best photos possible for your clients!

Jason Guy

I am a portrait photographer based out of Sonoma, California. I create portraits for people of all ages with the goal of making images that are timeless. Portraits you will look back on decades from now, and still love them just as much then as you do today. While flattering lighting and pose are important, capturing how others see you is what I ultimately strive for.

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