Mastin Labs is a household name among wedding and portrait photographers who are in love with the light and airy look you get with the Fujicolor Original pack, but we're no one-trick pony. Boudoir folks, we've got something special for you, too. These tips will help you shoot and edit boudoir photos that will make you proud.
You can totally shoot light and airy boudoir photos, but dark and moody light lends itself well to highlighting and accentuating the shapes that make up a person. Plus, you can use it to conceal or reveal parts of your subject in ways that enhance the mystique of the shoot.
Since "boudoir" literally means "bedroom," by nature, most boudoir shoots are indoors and make use of window light. How you position your subject with the light source plays a massive role in the look and feel of the photos you produce. If you start by placing the subject with a window behind them, you're on the right track to some gorgeous boudoir light. What you'll get is a sculpting light that highlights curves with lots of contrast between light and shadows.
If you want to try a brighter look that would go beautifully with Fujicolor Original, try positioning your subject so that the light is hitting them from the front with the window behind you.
Location and Wardrobe
For a classic dark boudoir feeling, go with dark or neutral tones. Deep earth tones can work well too. For the location that can mean the color of the paint on the walls and furnishings, and though wardrobe is sparse in boudoir photography, what the subject is wearing is more impactful if it doesn't clash with the surroundings. Avoid bright, vivid colors that can draw the viewer's eye away from where you intend it to go or change the mood of the shoot.
Your choice of lens is essential. The go-to's for an intimate, up-close-and-personal feeling are 35mm and 50mm. These are close to what humans see in their natural field of vision and are "normal," particularly the 50mm. If you choose a longer, more telephoto lens, it feels more like observing from a distance. Maybe that's what you want, but it's always best to have intention and understanding of why you're making the choices that you are while creating photographs.
If you choose a wider lens that shows more of the indoor environment, be careful of positioning subjects too close to the edges of the frame. Wide-angle lenses are prone to distortion at the edges. They can cause some very unflattering elongation - if you want a subject's foot to stretch to twice its proportionate length, let it trail into the edge of a wide-angle lens. Another potential pitfall of wide-angle lenses, in particular, is foreshortening - it can make odd perspectives where what's closest to the camera looks enormous and what's further seems small. You can use this intentionally in some circumstances, but it's hard to think of a case where this would work in boudoir photography.
Before you get to this point, remember that ideally, 90% of the photo happens beforehand, leaving only 10% to post-processing. We're polishing, not rescuing.
In a Mastin Labs workflow, choosing the best preset for the job is the foundation of the results you'll get when you edit. Our favorites for dark and moody boudoir are Portra 160 from the Portra Original pack, Portra 160+1 and Portra 160+2 from the Portra Pushed pack, and Superia 400 from the Fujicolor Everyday Original pack.
Portra 160 is the least saturated Mastin Labs preset, and this is a good thing for low-light people photography. Darker exposures can concentrate saturation, so choosing a low saturation preset lets you keep the deep tones you want without over-saturating the skin.
In film photography, pushing means shooting a roll of film with your camera set at a higher ISO than it's rated for and having the lab compensate when they develop the film so that the exposure is correct. For instance, if you have an ISO 100 film and you shoot like it's ISO 200, that would be pushing one stop because ISO 200 is one stop higher than the film's action ISO. Pushed film retains characteristics of the film stock but adds contrast and tints in the shadows and highlights, depending on the film.
So, the Portra Pushed presets correspond to how Portra films look if you push them one or two stops. Portra 160+1 mainly increases contrast, and Portra 160+2 adds a red-brown to shadows.
Superia 400 is a different animal. It's has a warmer and more saturated effect with warm highlights, and it has a little bit of a faded effect in the shadows. Despite being out of line with the rest of the top choices for boudoir work, it can produce lovely results.
Whatever preset you decide to use, the tone profiles included with Mastin Labs preset packs are super useful for the type of light you'll be using. If the contrasty light is squashing too much detail in the shadows, the "shadow soft" tone profile will save the day. It opens up the shadows without destroying the overall mood of the photo. If the window that is your light source is in the frame and looks too bright, "highlight soft" can tame wild highlights. If the whole image looks more contrasty than you'd like, "all soft" will soften both the shadows and highlights.
Check out Kirk's boudoir live edit to see our best presets for boudoir photography in action and pick up some more tips for shooting dark and moody boudoir as well.