Bring Sexy Back: How to Light, Style, and Shoot Vintage Boudoir Portraits

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Professional photographer Lou Freeman knows what it takes to breakthrough and stand out from the competition. She was the second woman ever to shoot for Playboy, a difficult job she held for 12 years. Hugh Hefner the only one who requests her services; she’s worked for all of the top international fashion magazines and has photographed celebrities ranging from Tiger Woods to TLC to prizefighter Evander Holyfield.

One strategy Lou uses to set herself apart from the crowd is to work tirelessly on self-assignments aimed to impress commercial clients, build her personal portfolio and boost her creativity. During her Lighting for Boudoir and Glamour course on creativeLIVE, Lou gave a live demonstration of how she develops and sets up a special challenge for herself–a vintage boudoir shoot.

One of the keys to Lou’s success, whether she’s working on personal project or a commercial shoot, is the time and effort she puts into designing her set. For her vintage boudoir shoot, Lou made sure the set and the model’s wardrobe had the proper unique, used and stylish feel. Building around a piece of jewelry she found in a vintage shop, she pieced her set together with items that matched the same era or color family — an interesting lace collar, an old corset, dyed cheesecloth and lingerie, tree branches, and a neutral backdrop. According to Lou, the the key is to choose one theme, color, or accessory and create a world around it.

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Next, Lou focused on her lighting setup. She placed speedlights inside of softboxes and arranged them on either side of her model Rembrandt style. Lou also used another softbox give the background a nice soft light. She shot with a 5D Mark III and controlled her lights with Canon a ST-E3-RT Speedlite Transmitter, which allowed her to adjust her strobes in-camera. Lou added warming gels to her lights to achieve the look of old sepia images straight out of the camera.

As for posing her models, Lou recommends using poses that flatter the model, but more importantly, communicate the shoot’s theme. She works systematically by beginning with closer cropped images of the upper body and moving on to full-length, complicated poses once her model becomes more comfortable.

Special shoots like Lou’s vintage boudoir shoot demand much more time and effort than a typical portrait session. That said, look at the results – it’s work like this that transcends glamour and boudoir and enters the world of art that is likely to impress a wider audience and client base. Lou suggests that any photographer looking to progress put together at least a few big shoots a year to stay fresh and wow potential clients.

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​Nicoal is a freelance writer and photographer with a penchant for learning as much as possible. Her imagery ranges from nature-inspired portraiture to outdoor product photography. Connect with her at