As a boudoir photographer, I am constantly faced with the question of, “What makes a photo sexy?” It’s not that people are constantly asking me that exact question, but I have to answer that for myself every time consult with a client, every time I go into a shoot and take a photo, and every time I cull through images after my sessions.
I would say that the answer to this question is very subjective and depends on the person answering it, and I think that those who would agree with my definition of a sexy photo are the ones that end up becoming my clients. In my opinion, there’s a huge difference between beautifully sexy and distastefully sexy, and I definitely prefer the former. I am in the business of making women feel more beautiful than they felt when they walked into my studio; making her feel comfortable, confident, empowered, and gorgeous. So you ask, “What’s the difference, sexy is sexy, no?” Here is what I think makes a photo beautifully, tastefully sexy.
Revealing something, but not everything; I think one of the sexiest things a woman can do is to leave something to the imagination. In other words, if she’s going to show off her chest cleavage, she should keep everything else more subdued and keep the viewer’s eye on her chest. If she’s looking to showcase her backside, she should keep the front side a bit more covered so she’s not showing off both simultaneously.
If she’s going to show everything off at once, then the viewer's eye is not going to know where to look first and may become overwhelmed, leading them to look away. Then the photo may be regarded as distastefully sexy (or even smut) instead of beautifully sexy. That’s the last thing I want, and I’m sure the last thing my client is going for.
“What about nudes?” you ask.
There is implied nude and full nude. Implied nude can mean topless but still covered by shadows, body parts, or other objects such as plants or pillows. A woman can be nude, but still covered, and that is a beautiful way to leave something to the imagination. A full nude can also be extremely tasteful, and eye contact, body language, and environment have so much impact on how she will be portrayed. More on that in the next sections!
Eye contact can be extremely powerful and sexy when done correctly. Some eye contact can scream sadness; some eye contact can scream confidence. We want the one that screams confidence. In my experience, whatever is on my client’s mind is going to be spoken through her eyes. That is one of the main reasons I like to have hair and makeup done right here in my studio or wherever we will be shooting.
Many times, I have not met my client in person before our session. We may have talked over the phone, or even just through email, but I haven’t had a chance to observe her body language yet. The time we spend together and the conversation we have while the stylist gets her ready plays an integral part in making her feel comfortable and excited for our session. The more beautiful and confident she feels, the better the eye contact throughout the session. If she’s coming into my studio straight from work or taking care of her children, there’s a good chance her eye contact will convey stress and uncertainty. Stress will subconsciously show up first in facial expressions and body language, and that is the last thing either of us wants. Having to shift titles and/or responsibilities so quickly before a session doesn’t do much for making somebody feel sexy and self-assured. This is the main reason I like to have sessions first thing in the morning, on a day off from work, so my client can relax and enjoy her time without having anywhere to be and any stresses from earlier on.
Many clients biggest concerns revolve around posing. Many of them assume they will have to know how to pose coming into our session and that I’ll be leaving it up to them to move in the right way. That’s not the case at all, and I’m fully aware that they are not inherently a model.
When a client finishes up with hair and makeup, we go over outfits, and then we discuss the basic posing pointers she will be hearing from me throughout the session. Some of the most common are, in no specific order, “Chest out, shoulders back, bring your chin to your shoulder, point one knee into the other, soften your hands, twist your wrist,” etc.
All of these tiny nuances make a huge difference in what message her body is giving. Stiffened hands and fingers show stress and uncertainty, so I tell them ahead of time that it’s always best to give their hands a job so that they have a somewhere to naturally fall. “Hold your waist, the fabric of your shirt, slide your fingers through the side of your underwear, slide your bra strap down, and whatever you do with that hand don’t do the same with the other; try to keep your hands and body asymmetrical to create angles.” Viewers’ eyes are most often drawn to where the hands fall, which is important to keep in mind while posing.
Another pointer a client may hear from me is, “Wherever your chin goes, your eyes should follow, and vice versa.” This is very important when thinking about posing your face, which honestly, I think is the most difficult body part to pose; the mouth, most of all, which I will cover in the next section. All essential things to pay attention to. Body language can mean the difference between my client showing strength, confidence, and warmth vs. weakness, uncertainty and dispassion; it can also be a significant distinction between what makes a photo tastefully sexy vs. the opposite.
Every new client of mine fills out the same questionnaire before our session. This allows me to get to know basic information about them including their contact info, interests, what they like best about themselves, what their partner may like best about them, what makes them feel sexy, and what their goals are for this year versus last. All of these questions help me get to know them a bit better before we work together.
Again, sometimes I don’t get to meet them in person beforehand, so knowing these details is an important part of making her feel comfortable and relating to her strengths as well as her pain points. When a client tells me one of her favorite features about herself is her smile, and so many do, I feel the need to let them know that Boudoir sessions aren’t exactly the space for lots of smiles unless they are the real, genuine, “caught in the act“, unposed kinds of smiles. I let her know that while her session will be a lot of fun, I generally will not ask her to smile for the camera. Instead, I will catch her in a real smile, whether I make her laugh or if she laughs on her own. If I can capture authentic smiles, these photos tend to be among my clients' favorites. There is nothing better than a real, beautiful laughing smile with the right kind of body language. Not only for my client herself but especially for her groom who may be receiving the ultimate wedding gift of a boudoir album.
That being said, a super sexy, sultry photo is no place for an ear to ear smile with eye contact. This is not a headshot session; this is a session for sexy photos. Sexy photos are meant to show a client’s more vulnerable, private side, so if the smile isn’t caught in the act, it usually doesn’t belong. What expressions do belong? I draw those out by asking her questions about her partner, imagining certain scenarios, and asking her to think about something specific. If she has a certain thought on her mind, her eyes, face, and body are likely to speak volumes through sexy expression and body language.
Outfit choice can make a huge impact on the sexiness of a photo. Obviously, black lacy lingerie is extremely sexy, but so is wearing a slouchy, off the shoulder sweater with no bottoms, paired with the right body language. Again, I think some of the sexiest outfits are those that leave something to the imagination and don’t bare at all. Crotchless getups with hollowed out bra lines don’t exactly do it for me... unless maybe her hands (or his, if couples’ boudoir) are covering her naughty bits. That being said, one of my other favorite “outfits” would be topless, with chunky costume jewelry covering her up just enough. Generally, I’m not huge on lots of costume jewelry unless the jewelry is her actual outfit.
As you can see, boudoir outfits can come in plenty of different forms. Even wearing just a white sheet could be incredibly sexy. In fact, I love when clients come to me with the complaint that they can’t find any lingerie that they like enough to wear for their session. That leaves us open to exploring alternative outfits or coverups like their partners button-up work shirt or flannel, his boxer briefs, a robe, a big fluffy pillow, a slouchy sweater or tee, cut off jeans and a crop top… the list goes on. There are so many non-lingerie outfits to explore, which, in my opinion, makes our session more fun, creative, and original. And when paired with the right kind of body language and eye contact: BOOM. Insanely, beautifully sexy.
Down to the location and the tiniest of details, nothing says sexy like making your shoot your own. While hotel rooms can be a convenient, neutral space for shooting a boudoir session, I wouldn’t exactly call it personal, and in my opinion, the more personal you make your session, the better. I would much rather shoot in my studio, an Airbnb, or in a person’s home. “Isn’t an Airbnb the same as a hotel room?” you ask. My answer: No. Airbnb can have a very personal touch. Even if it’s not yours, you can pick a place that reflects your style with its layout, natural light, furniture, and artwork. AirBNBs these days are quite stylish, and hosts put a ton of effort into making you feel right at home. When you go to a hotel, every room is the same as the next— even the suites might have more space and bigger windows, but they still have the same generic artwork bolted to the walls which never fail to make an appearance in every.single.bedroom.shot 👎🏼 Nothing drives me crazier than generic art in the background of my photos.
My favorite spot to shoot is in my client’s home. When we shoot in a client's home, we are using the bed that her and her partner sleep in, and wrap her up in the sheets that they entangle themselves in, with personal items and photos of them together on her bed stand in the background. She can curl up in his T-shirt, pick up his favorite book, and with the right expression and body language, this could be in an insanely sexy photo. A boudoir session is meant to be fun and personal with your touch of style. Nothing says sexy like individualism and originality. Make it beautiful, make it yours, own it, and show it off.
SO, what do I think makes a photo sexy?
A confident woman, in her element, with relaxed but intentional body language and killer eye contact, wearing an outfit that leaves something to the imagination or bearing it all with class. BOOM.