DIY Lingerie Photography: 5 Steps to Taking Your Own Lingerie Photos
Estelle X is a queer Chinese-American smut creator and lingerie enthusiast based in San Francisco. She styles, models, and photographs her work on estellex.com.
Taking photos of yourself in your underwear can be an intimidating prospect, but you don’t need expensive equipment or professional media experience to create images that make you feel good about yourself.
When I started documenting my lingerie collection a year and a half ago, my photography repertoire consisted of uninspired vacation pics and furtive Snapchat selfies. I’d worn makeup just a few times in my life, and only under the guidance of friends and/or their moms. I was, and still am, using the front-facing camera on my iPhone.
If you have a smartphone, lingerie, and a comfortable place to wear it, that’s enough to get started. There’s a lot you can do with free apps and good lighting!
1. How to Set Up for a Photoshoot
Even though it has a lower resolution, I use the front-facing camera so I can see what’s going on in the frame. This sweet bendy tripod lets me shoot from all sorts of wild angles, but I usually leave it on my desk because it’s a good height for capturing details on my torso, where most of my lingerie is concentrated.
If you don’t have a tripod, that’s okay. You can prop up your phone on whatever’s around. I shot photos like this - with a ruler holding my phone up - for about 8 months. If you go this route, a Bluetooth remote will help you avoid knocking your phone over each time you tap the screen to take a photo.
Natural light makes a huge difference. I’d recommend shooting near a window during the day if you can. A lot of phone cameras produce grainy photos if it’s even a little bit dark.
If you’re committed to photographing people indoors and have the funds to invest in your practice, I’d suggest considering a ring light. I bought this 19" dimmable ring light to augment the natural light I have.
It’s currently $84.95 and while $84.95 isn’t exactly a DIY budget, it’s improved my photos so tremendously that it’d be borderline dishonest not to mention it. It works best with a light stand, but since the cheapo light stand I bought was so poorly manufactured it didn’t even fit together, I’ve just been propping my ring light up on blankets. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ It’s not precise at all, but for what I’m doing, it’s good enough.
2. How to Take Photos of Yourself
I set the timer in the native iOS camera app to three seconds. Apple’s timer mode takes photos in bursts of five.
A slight difference in the physical world translates to a big difference onscreen, so being slightly in motion when it goes off gives me a bunch of options. It also makes the images look more dynamic and less stiff.
About a minute into a shoot, I've gone through a few poses, so I stop and check to see how the photos are turning out. There are often fairly obvious things I want to correct quickly so they don’t detract from the rest of my shots:
- lingerie is bunching or digging into skin and needs to be smoothed out
- straps are not aligned properly
- tags sewn on the inside are sticking out
- items in the room / shadows of those items are in the frame
- the face I'm making does not look how I think it looks
After that initial check, it’s a balance between maintaining a good flow and checking on the photos to make sure I don’t discover any unfortunate surprises after the shoot is over. I basically do this 100 times:
Another option is shooting video of yourself going through poses. This reduces the amount of time you have to spend fiddling with the camera. I personally don't do it because I find the process of separating the individual frames I want to be cumbersome on a phone. But for some people, this tradeoff is worth it!
3. How to Edit the Photos
Out of each five-photo burst, Apple automatically chooses the photo it determines to be the best (indicated by the small gray circle below the photo thumbnails in selection mode). I still like to go through them manually because I don’t want to miss anything.
I delete most of the photosI take. Then I go through what’s left and "favorite" the ones I think have potential.
I add the best ones out of my favorites to an edit folder, which makes it a lot easier to track down which of many minutely different photos I decided were the best.
I generally do all my editing in Ultralight (iOS only). Though you can create your own filters, I stick to their pre-made ones. VSCO (Android and iOS) is another good option I’ve used in the past. Both of these apps are free to download; additional filter sets are available as in-app purchases.
4. How to Share the Photos
Maybe these photos are just for you. Maybe they’re for some very lucky recipients. Or maybe they’re for a corner of the internet you’ve been lurking in for years. If you want to create your own space to share your photos, you’ve got options, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.
Obviously, the advantages and disadvantages are far more complex than this chart. Everyone has a different experience; this is just a summary of mine.
5. How to Reduce Risks
Deleting things on the internet doesn’t mean they’re truly gone. Beyond your viewers’ personal screenshot folders, searchable online archives preserve a website's previous iterations long after they’re modified or taken down. There are automatic scrapers reposting entire Instagram accounts on other sites, and every public tweet ever is permanently archived in the Library of Congress (though they’re currently very inaccessible).
Because decisions about how social media platforms get built are mostly made by cis heterosexual men trying to #growthhack their startup to the moon, the assumption that they should surface your account to everyone you have ever possibly met is a popular one. You will likely get recommendations to follow people you know from work or school or other parts of your life. And when you see someone in your recommendations, it also often means they are seeing you in theirs.
If you post these types of photos online habitually, they WILL be discovered by someone you did not want to find them. You will encounter entitled creeps who will be vocal about what they want from your body. Unfortunately, this is inevitable, and you don't have to have as big of an audience as you might think. But there are still ways you can reduce risk. Managing risk could be an entire blog post on its own, but at the very least, I’d recommend the following:
Remove the EXIF data from your photos before you share them.
EXIF data is metadata attached to every photo that includes the exact geographic coordinates of where the photo was taken and the name of the device that took it - which will likely include your name if that device was your phone.
Currently, Instagram and Twitter remove EXIF data automatically, but Tumblr does not. If you send photos via text or email, the EXIF data will still be there. This article outlines how different platforms treat EXIF data, but I can’t guarantee its accuracy, especially as time goes on and companies change their policies.
You can remove EXIF data using a variety of desktop, mobile, and web apps. I use Photoshop, which seems like overkill, but it’s what I have around.
If you want to try to keep things separate from your “real” life:
Picking a stage name is the first step. Create all separate accounts for your stage persona, including email addresses and phone numbers if possible (if you have a “real” phone number, you can get a new number through Google Voice). Weird stuff can happen when apps use phone numbers mined from their users’ contacts to suggest connecting with people they know.
You Got This
Seeing media that represents you the way you want to be seen is a rare experience for many women, people of color, queer and trans folks, and disabled folks. Creating that media yourself is more than an indulgence. It is an assertion that your life is full of stories that deserve to be told, and that your stories don’t exist to be flattened and harvested by those who care more about profiting from your culture than challenging institutional threats to your health and safety.
Your body is imbued with the warmth of your thoughts, your experiences, your creativity, your resilience. You’re already on your way to taking the lingerie photos of your dreams. If you decide to, I’d love to see how you share your stories with the world. You can find me and more of my photos on Twitter, Instagram, and estellex.com.