The Milk Bath

So I don’t know if this is a popular thing outside of the photography realm, but something kind of odd I’ve seen explode the last few years are milk bath sessions. It’s often some young pretty girl depicted in a bath filled with white liquid and strewn with flowers, greenery, or fruit. I’ve seen boudoir, maternity, & occasionally baby sessions done this way. It’s somewhat simple to set up, but the talent is in the posing and lighting.

First off, I hope you’re curious, because I’m totally explaining.


There has to be wardrobe coordination with the photographer. The photographer should go over what works best and discuss colors, fabrics, styles etc. Sheer or lace gowns, tops, lingerie, and robes seem to be favorites, but a LOT of time, people opt to just go nude.


You don’t necessarily have to take a milk bath in a tub. Sometimes, people get an outdoor kiddie pool & cover it in a sheet of (usually) solid color plastic, a galvanized tub (for kids), or the obvious nice, clean bathtub. Then start filling it with water and add milk until the water turns as white as you want. Let’s face it, it would be cold, uncomfortable thick, sticky, downright gross, and expensive to completely fill it with milk. Something a little less common, but nonetheless, fun, is adding a little tint to the water. I know I tried my first stab at this last year in a creepy self portrait & I just used black watercolor paint. I’d never do this for a client, but it was just me. I’d find a more natural or skin friendly option, like color bath tabs. Do they have those in black?


This was from a 365 project in 2018. Every day I had prompt & created something relevant. This day was “surface”. So I did “What Lies Beneath (the surface)”. I thought about this pretty surface on the water with this wicked creepy thing living in the depths.

That’s actually my hand that I latexed and painted. It was tricky to angle it so it didn’t’ look like my arm, especially without a mirror. This is when I learned silk flowers sink. And because this was a self portrait, I Photoshopped more flowers around my head because they kept sinking and floating away. To be honest, it was a total pain in the ass, but it was fun and I learned a lot.


If it’s inside, hopefully there’s a beautiful window nearby, otherwise you’ll have to pull out the lighting equipment, -and that just makes me nervous. Outside, it’s harder to control the light because the sun can make super bright spots and trees & things cast crazy shadows. So if it is in the great outdoors, there needs to be a reflector or flash to brighten the shadows or a thingy called a scrim to even out nasty light (like a filter to darken the bright spots & decrease the shadowy areas).
Example of a scrim. 


Once the bath & lights are ready, you stick your brave subject down in the milky water & grab your flowers/props. The flowers have to be fresh to float, or you have to spray artificial flowers/greenery with Scotchgard, allow them to dry, and then float them.


Last, you add the props. You really are just making it a harder fight if you add them and then stick the client in the water because all of that special arrangement gets tossed when the water starts to move because, well, obviously, the water moves when someone gets in. So stick the subject in and then add flowers or whatever ya got. Floating things tend to drift and move, so repositioning seems to happen a lot. It definitely takes a tedious eye & patience. 


I’ve seen these mostly done with flowers, whatever kind the client wants, coordinated with the attire and make up. Greenery is starting to become more popular, which is cool. It’s less fuss and a little more natural and easier to obtain. Something I’ve see a ton with babies are the fruit baths. They put them in a milk bath, or sometimes just a regular bath, and float strawberries, orange and/or lemon slices. It sounds weird when I read it aloud, but it does turn out super cute and fun, especially for summer.


So anyway, on to the point of all of this! I was skimming my Facebook feed a couple of days ago, & I stopped on this amazing milk bath image. I wish I could credit the artist, but it’s a private group. My (almost 5 year old) son was really curious about it. I think he was asking about the “water”. So of course, I just explained the whole milk bath, but in way less detail than this blog. Wondering how this must sound to a kid, I threw in a joke about how we could do one for him but we’d toss in cereal instead of flowers. Cause the kid loves cereal, and let’s get real, it’s a gigantic bowl of milk.

He absolutely LOVED this idea. I kind of did too. So a box of Fruit Loops later, we created this:

I don’t have girls to practice on, so this was the first time I figured out how to use a boy as a guinea pig for this kind of thing. I do regret not having more Fruit Loops to fill in the gaps. Dealing with someone his age, my time was limited, so I didn’t bother repositioning the Fruit Loops more than once or twice! He had a hard time sitting still & just wanted to eat them and play in delight. I could have used good ole Photoshop to add more cereal, but I didn’t feel the need. I also seriously regret not thinking of how to clean this crap up before I created the mess! I got a big slotted spoon to remove the soggy cereal from my bathtub, which, as you can imagine, was a painfully slow process. The kid had tons of fun & I got to experiment, so I’d definitely do it again.

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