When New York City-based Jane Boon, a former tech expert turned writer, considered getting boudoir photos done, she knew all too well how easy it would be for the photos to meld with patriarchal notions of women’s beauty.
To mitigate this, she established her own limits before her session. She decided on things like how much of her body she wanted to expose, she took charge of her outfits and props, and she approached it with a light heart as if a lark. The results blew her away.
“My expectations were quite modest,” says Boon. “The photographer, JimCasper, was encouraging. He brought a sense of humor and fun to something that could have been quite absurd. When I saw the finished results, I thought, ‘This looks like a woman who’s confident in her sexuality!’ The moment was maybe a bit more powerful and sexual than I had realized. It represented a challenge for me to be more like the woman in the photo.”
What is boudoir photography?
Boudoir photography, a growing niche of portrait photography, gives us a chance to shape and embody our erotic inner life. It calls upon our capacity for playfulness, for joy, and as Boon says, to step out of the routine and inhabit the persona of the kind of woman we secretly want to be.
She attributes her freedom in front of the camera to her maturity—the hard-won experience of age. “In my 20s, I would have been more self-conscious, thinking too much about my appearance, says Boon, who recently completed her first BDSM-inspired novel, Edge Play. “I’m 54 now, and with age comes a comfort in my own skin. For me, boudoir photography became a game—a pleasurable adventure, rather than anxiety producing.”
If the idea of sexual self-expression of the photographic kind appeals, you could start your journey with a DIY affair. Begin with what Kansas City-based Tayanna Nelson, who runs the Missouri-based Good Bodies, calls sexy selfies. DIY erotic photos can help you get comfortable in front of the camera, play with sexual self-expression, understand angles and light, practice poses, and see how far you can privilege pleasure over how it “looks.”
These sexy selfies might lead you to wanting to explore what a professional session might be like, says Nelson. In the meantime, you may be surprised to find out, as I did researching this story, how fun it can be to be in front of the camera completely on your own terms.
What does your sexual joie de vivre look like when no one else is looking?
All too often, we emphasize appearance over sexual pleasure, which can make our sense of agency, power, and worth contingent upon our perceived desirability. Self-worth and desire work in tandem, much like a bird’s wings. To desire, we need to feel worthy and wanted. But desirability is an inside job—it comes from the knowledge that we are worthy, deserving, inviolably lovable. We all have the capacity for pleasure. Ultimately, what makes us attractive is how we transmit our pleasure.
So, give yourself the unilateral permission that an erotic photoshoot—whether DIY or commissioned—offers. It’s a chance to release your inner badass (and goodass!), reveal a private version of self, and go beyond ideas of good and bad, appropriate and inappropriate, subject and object, altogether.
The biggest piece of advice the boudoir photographers I interviewed were unequivocal on is this: Get clear on who your photos are for. Photos you do for someone else—whether it’s your boyfriend or girlfriend, husband or wife, live-in partner, etc.—tend to be less successful. “The images come out best when they don’t stem from wanting to fulfill someone else’s fantasy,” says Casper. Once you are clear you are doing photos primarily for yourself, you can begin to have fun with them.
It’s a very personal thing, adds Nelson, who describes her photography as mission-based boudoir: “Because everybody is a good body, it begins with connecting to your body. Then, you can explore what makes you feel good and how that translates into how you carry yourself, which is the secret to sexy.”
8 Tips to Help You Take Sexy Selfies
Excited by the prospect of taking erotic photos—but not quite ready to hire a pro? Start with a DIY session, says Nelson. These pro tips will help you feel more comfortable and fall in love with the end result.
Tip No. 1: Make a playlist. One way to feel more comfortable in front of the camera, says Nelson, is to bring music to the moment. Whether you are home alone or at a studio, having your own playlist can soothe your nervous system.
Tip No. 2: Work with the light. Experiment with the light source by asking, “Where is the light?” Is it next to you as in front of you? Is it behind you? Take the pictures all three ways, then look at the pictures and see which one looks best in different settings, suggests Casper. Nelson also recommends having your body half in light, half in shadow and seeing what kind of effect that has.
Tip No. 3: Soften your face. Sometimes women feel like they need to look mean or intimidating or serious, says Casper. As if they must take on a certain kind of dominatrix expression. But oftentimes looking away from the camera, conjuring in your mind a seductive scenario, makes your face relax and blossom. “People almost always stare at the camera when they take pictures of themselves,” says Casper. “But if you turn your face toward the light and the camera is off to the side, that’s almost always going to be a more compelling image than if you’re facing the camera.”
Tip No. 4: Choose clothes that fits. Rather than trying to squeeze yourself into a smaller size, which can create bulges and welts, opt for clothing that fits you. The most important thing about your wardrobe is that it respects your contours. Also remember, lingerie doesn’t have to be expensive to look good; plenty of cheaper versions sold on Amazon will photograph just as well as more expensive items, says Casper. Play with what makes you feel sexy, such as jeans and a man’s shirt, or being strategically covered in a bedsheet. Completely naked can be freeing, but don’t feel pressure to take everything off. There’s always a beautiful tension and suspense between what’s visible in a photo and what’s hidden. Accessories, such as long lace gloves, can bring a burst of drama. Textures and layers add visual interest, creating a compelling juxtaposition of naked skin with sumptuous fabrics or intricately patterned lingerie.
Tip No. 5: Cultivate intention. Have a heart-to-heart with yourself before you start snapping pics. Lead with self-inquiry about your best intentions for the session: What do you want to convey to yourself? What parts of your body do you appreciate the most? What qualities do you love about yourself that are not physical? How can you express those visually?
Tip No. 6: Lose yourself. One of Nelson’s favorite exercises for shaking off self-consciousness is to close your eyes and tilt your chin to the light source. Drag your hand down your body, feeling the contact and arousal. To make it easier to shoot yourself while doing this, use a tripod and your camera’s timer. Another way to forget about the camera and become absorbed in the moment is to take videos of yourself, moving, turning, and even dancing. Then, you can choose stills from the video that may surprise you with their frank, unfiltered expressiveness. As an extra challenge, Nelson even suggests filming yourself masturbating, just to become that much freer in front of the camera and to work through the last shreds of reticence.
Tip No. 7: Find your angle. Make angles with your body that make you feel good, says Nelson. See what kind of dynamic, interesting shapes you can make with your body by adding a twist, an extension, or a contraction. Don’t be afraid to practice poses that you have seen and like. When I played with this, I found lying down on my back on the bed is not a visually compelling image. Try to animate your face and position your body into images that make strong lines.
Tip No. 8: Expand the boundaries of your comfort zone. If you are too far out of your comfort zone, it can trigger trauma. However, if you only stay in your comfort zone, there’s no growth. See how you can play with your edge. What do you learn when you are willing to surprise yourself?