Recently I was fortunate enough to take part in a live internet broadcast with fabulous Italian photographers Carlo Nicora and Fabiana Zonca, who work under the brand London Boudoir and, for commercial work, The Round Peg.
The broadcast took place at the couple’s smart home-come-photographic studio in South London. Some early drama meant a make-up artist could not attend but Fabiana rose to the challenge, working on our model, Agnie. I was there as the student/assistant, hopefully armed with some good questions, and able to work with the model myself using some of the techniques learned.
The broadcast was transmitted via the Ustream service using an Apple iPad and iPhone. A chat room and Twitter feed was also set up so viewers could ask questions live. Friend of the couple and great photographer in her own right, Emanuela Redaschi (see her website), filmed most of the broadcast. At one moment more than 40 people were watching from all over the planet. It’s amazing what can be done with commodity off-the-shelf tools and an internet connection these days.
Carlo and Fabiana are fond of using backlighting for the dreamy look it gives and because the wraparound light is flattering for every subject. Many photographs in the London Boudoir portfolio are backlit so it’s something of a ‘signature’ element for their style.
I don’t shoot backlit especially often so had to juggle my camera settings for a while to get a feel for what works. Even using my Canon 5D mkII’s spot mater on the skin of the model’s face seemed to give too dark an exposure but found shooting a stop or more over the meter reading generally got where I wanted to be. Reviewing my images later on the computer most were exposed close to something good, though. When we later shifted to ’45 degree’ window light I was much more in my comfort zone. I do like the backlit look, though, and will be experimenting much more with it in the future.
Carlo said he generally shoots f/2.0 to f/2.8 to ensure sharpness while still retaining a very shallow depth of field. I realised we are both fans of the Sigma f/1.4 50mm and my copy is what I used for the shots I took, although I generally shot more at f/1.6 or f/1.8 at ISO400-800 just because I just tend to with that lens – although one or two did fall a touch out of focus so Carlo’s settings would have provided more of a safety net. Both Carlo and Fabiana have their own styles and they do not synchronise settings. In the environment we were shooting in quite a number of settings could have been ‘valid’ – they do say ‘light!’ though if there’s a sudden shift in lighting conditions.
Posing models London Boudoir style
Carlo and Fabiana’s methods create images that are beautifully relaxed and often seem spontaneous. They work with poses, but not a standardised list, to make women look their best. Deliberate ‘posing’ sometimes gets a bad reputation because of the tenseness or awkwardness you often see in portrait photography (or because photographers don’t really know how to do it well) but the London Boudoir photographers use poses as more of a framework and the models look wonderfully relaxed and natural.
Needless to say, you can’t expect a model/client to produce natural looks on demand but you can create the circumstances where these moments are certain to happen. So it was fascinating to see how London Boudoir works with a model to make her feel relaxed, how breathing at the right time is used to create those natural, relaxed expressions, which I think sets their work apart from much material dubbed ‘boudoir’ out there. Carlo and Fabiana are meticulous and think about everything, which is why their work has a consistently high quality every time.
A dedicated boudoir studio
Also of interest to me was how Carlo and Fabiana make thoughtful use of a fairly small space to create their high-end images. I personally feel some photographers make the mistake of getting obsessed with accessing incredibly grand locations or 2000 sq ft warehouse studios, which for most forms of portraiture is seldom necessary. The couple’s boudoir studio is painted white while white bed linen in used so light naturally bounces around creating a soft, flattering look. For boudoir they generally use natural window light and large reflector panels to shape and direct this light. It’s given me some great ideas for utilising my own domestic spaces for model test shoots – especially with the great British summer offering few opportunities to get out and about.
As well as giving a flattering, soft look perfect for boudoir, natural lighting removes that extra layer of elaboration you get from studio lighting. Although I love using my Bowens flash lighting, even minimal faffing about with it can break the connection with the subject – I see a lot of complex flash photography where, while the lighting looks hollywood, the subject looks like they’ve been reduced to a mere wallflower, detached from the process, and it shows in the shots. In the intimate setting of the boudoir, a good rapport with the subject is pretty much everything. Carlo stressed the importance of not communicating with your model with your camera pressed to your face – seems obvious stuff but easy to forget and mumble through several inches of heavy Canon 5D!
During a boudoir shoot both Carlo and Fabiana shoot simultaneously, perhaps using lenses of different focal lengths like 50mm and 85mm. When one is talking through something with the model the other will take candid shots as these interactions often yield perfect natural smiles, laughs and facial expressions.
My turn to shoot
A couple of times during the broadcast it was my turn to direct and pose the model, which was easy as Agnie had a sparkly and engaging personality. I’ve seen workshops before where a (probably perfectly good) photographer seems to freeze at the ‘exam conditions’ and fall into ‘um’, ‘uh’ mode when put on the spot. But I didn’t do too badly, felt relaxed and really enjoyed working with model. Reviewing my shots later, there were several I would have been delighted with it if it had been my shoot.
Being part of the broadcast certainly inspired me to create more out-and-out boudoir shoots.
I think boudoir, especially in the UK, is a market that’s still developing and quite a broad range of material is tagged ‘boudoir’ that varies immensely in style and quality. London Boudoir’s beautiful work is the real deal and a valuable investment for their doubtless extremely happy clients.
Here’s the full iPhone shot broadcast for you to enjoy. Despite the grainy quality it’s packed with essential boudoir tips.
For more information on London Boudoir or just to look at their amazing work, point your browser at London Boudoir Photography.