Definition of Boudoir Photography

Boudoir photography is a genre of photography that involves female subjects in sexually suggestive or sensual poses. It is distinct from erotic photography in its emphasis on the aesthetic qualities of the subject and the craftsmanship of the photographic process over the sexually stimulating nature of the image.

Origin of the Phrase

The word "boudoir" has been used throughout history as the name for various rooms (or parts of rooms) used by women. The boudoir is always related to the bedroom and is regarded as a private space. It has been used to refer to a dressing room, a traditional bedroom or a sitting room within a bedroom. These uses have led to the modern short definition of boudoir photography as "bedroom photography," though boudoir photography may be set in a variety of environments.

Boudoir is derived from the French word "bouder," which means "to pout."


There are many elements that can be used to identify boudoir photography, though none of them are exclusive or guarantee that a photograph is best classified as boudoir. Generally the subject is in some state of undress, whether wearing something revealing such as a dressing gown or even partially nude, perhaps obscured by an object in the room or hidden by the angle of the camera. As such, many boudoir photographs play on the idea of teasing the subject, suggesting more than is actually shown. This is an important distinction from erotic photography, where the emphasis is very much on the reveal.

Boudoir photography is often set in an idealized environment, such as an elegantly decorated bedroom or naturally beautiful outdoor space. Boudoir photography is often commissioned by the subject as a gift for a lover or spouse, so commonplace personal environments (such as the subject's actual bedroom) are common as well.


The women who act as subjects for boudoir photography are unlikely to be professional models. These everyday women are often made up and posed by the photographer or an assistant to look natural and at ease. Boudoir photographs may be retouched but are not subject to the same airbrushing and digital manipulation as commercial erotic photography. The idea is to let some of the subjects flaws remain visible as a means of heightening the realism of the image. Boudoir subjects may differ in age and appearance from the idealized subjects of erotic photography and form a much more diverse group that is more in keeping with the general population.


Although the term came into being later, boudoir photography is as old as the earliest photographic processes. It draws on elements of sensual painting and printmaking that were distinct from--yet related to--erotic art.

Boudoir photography became popular with the onset of new commercial printing methods in the 20th century and was a major part of the pinup craze of the 1940s and 1950s.

Boudoir Photography Today

Today, like many industries and art forms, boudoir photography has been changed by the Internet. Local boudoir photographers advertise their services as "tasteful" and "discreet," marketing primarily to middle- and upper-class women. Many use boudoir photography as a supplement to other photographic work.