When I first decided I wanted to push myself and experiment with more intimate portraiture I ran into one hurdle right away, it's tough to find spaces where people can be photographed half naked comfortably that also look magical.
Milk baths really are a game changer because all you need (as far as a location goes) is a preferably white bathtub in a room with a white ceiling. It's great because the same setup can be repeated again and again easily but variations in props and wardrobe create a truly one of a kind look every single time, and let me tell you, these milk baths smell and feel amazing, my clients rave about how relaxed and empowered they feel afterward.
So, without further ado, here's how I get the look...
Step 1: Plan a Vibe
In my opinion, intimate portraiture aka boudoir should explore the personality of the model. Collaborate with your subject, and decide together a look that represents them so they feel comfortable and authentic. In this case, Destinee is sweet and ultra feminine so it was all about pink bows, champagne roses, and a lavender manicure to seal the deal.
Step 2: Wardrobe Plan
Figure out what your model is going to wear, and have them shoot you a pic, this makes the next step a breeze. Stick to your determined vibe, many times a client will have just the perfect piece that they know they feel amazing in (as was the case with my girl Destinee here). But sometimes a special purchase is in order, in that case, you may want to do the wardrobe and flowers sort of at the same time.
If your at a loss for where to go for wardrobe, look no further then Solokoff their gorgeous Made-in-Canada lingerie is sustainably produced and they lean toward a more natural look with less padding which works great in a milk bath. Honestly, you’ll feel the #bodypositivity after five seconds on their site…
Tulle is also a handy addition, grab some tulle that matches your color palette OR tulle that matches the tub… more on this later. It can be found at a fabric store or online at Tulle Shop. Go for the 54″ wide or more, it’ll be helpful later on. (P.S. Save it when you’re done it can be machine washed and reused many many times!)
Step 3: Floral Plan
I exclusively use real fresh flowers for my milk baths. I think they look better, smell better, and they definitely float better! If you use fake florals you have to coat them and let it dry… IDK personally it’s not worth it.
For Destinee, in the middle of summer in New England, champagne roses, babies breath, and eucalyptus were not only seasonal and available choices but they fit into our soft, bright color palette and darling aesthetic.
PS If your anywhere near Rhode Island, take a photo of the outfit your model is planning to wear into my girl Giti at Botanica Wedding, you can find her hanging out during the week at her retail shop, Busy Bee Florist in East Greenwich, RI. She works with me on these loads, and always has amazing suggestions. Order them ahead of time though so she can have them for you the day you need them!
Peep her insane instagram for floral inspo, then take a minute to pick your jaw up off the floor.
Consider using blooms that float. Things that open up from the center work best like most types of chrysanthemums do. Roses are always a good one but they are a little tricky to keep upright + don’t forget to add in some greenery as well!
When in doubt, refer back to the vibe that you’ve established that should drive your decisions. Champagne roses are girly and delicate while a tub filled only of greenery with a black bodysuit could be edgy and cool.
Step Four: The Bath
There are only two things you need to make a sensational milk bath: Milk + Bath Salts.
For the Milk, organic whole or 2% works best, it’s the fat in the milk that makes the water opaque and that’s what has all the skin benefits. It takes about one gallon for standard size tubs and 1.5 gallos for the larger tubs. Add it slow the water will become opaque very quickly and it will turn bluer as you add more.
If you or your client would prefer a dairy free bath, go for coconut milk is the way to go because it still has all that good fat in it. It takes 3-4 cans and make sure you get the full fat one or even coconut cream works delightfully.
For bath salts or epsom salts I LOVE Newport Sea Foam Trading Co. Artisan Bath Salts. The salt does 3 things: it exfoliates and lets all those fats really nourish the skin, it smells amazing, and helps heavier greenery float a little better. I love the lavender sents i feel it pairs well with most fresh flowers and really amps up the aroma.
NOTE: Some people are sensitive to essential oils, and there are a few in particular that pregnant women should avoid, if you’re in doubt, just go with unscented epsom salts, like these from Salt Work’s Ancient Ocean Powder Grain
Step 5: Setup + Shooting
This is the fun part, just be prepared to practice a bit of patience.
- Set up a flash on a light stand pointing toward the ceiling, this will act as a giant softbox and create that beautiful ethereal look, I like to toss a leaf in the tup and get the exposure I want on manual because the light won’t really change on you as you go.
- As far as camera settings go, I like to open the aperture pretty wide I pretty much keep it between f1.8 and f3. I keep the ISO low, like 64 or so. and a faster shutter speed seems to help too, I used 1/250 with Destinee, then just use the flash to adjust to the exact exposure you need.
- Get the water to a comfortable temp, the milk doesn’t cool it down too much, weirdly enough I find myself having to add cool water to the tub as the shoot goes on rather than hot!
- Toss in a handful or two of bath salts, it doesn’t have to be too scientific, use your best judgment. Mix it up good!
- Wait until the water settles then add the milk slowly and gently stir as you go so you can see the color and opacity without creating a ton of bubbles
- Add the greenery first then add SOME of the blooms
- At this point have your model hop in and fill in around her with more blooms and greenery. This is the part that requires a little extra patience because they will not stay where you but them.
- Instruct your model to move slowly through poses, if you need a little height or stability for her a solid white towel under the water can work wonders.
Wait, what about the tulle?!
The tulle comes in really handy when you need to expand the backdrop or cover an unsightly jet on the tub. It can also add a bit of texture or color to the tub itself. Layer it up until it’s opacity is where you need it. For Destinee I had it set up behind her for a few seated shots.