Another Good Read On Shooting Nudes
While rather lengthy I found this article to be a very good read.I honestly cannot recall where I had come across it but I had saved it for future references and thought I could share it with you here.
Good nude photography - like good photography in any other area - means always looking for something different. As the great art editor and teacher Alexei Brodovitch used to advise (see the feature 'Sixties Style', link at top right), if you look through your viewfinder and see what you have seen before, don't take the picture. Find new ways to look at your subject.
You also need to become aware of the difference between looking at the subject and looking at the picture. Learning to see the image in the viewfinder or on the ground-glass as a picture is easy to write but took me years to achieve, and even now is easily lost. One of the things that makes the nude a difficult subject is that it is so easy to get emotionally intense about the body in front of your camera and react to that emotional intensity rather than making the picture represent some of that feeling.
It helps to look at the nude work of some of the great photographers. Edward Weston, (link at top right,) was arguably the greatest photographer of the nude in the first half of the twentieth century. His early work was in a pictorial vein, often keeping the model at rather a distance, although only a few examples have survived. The great advance that he made around 1920 was in moving in closer to his model (especially in some pictures of his assistant, Margarethe Mather) and seeing his subject in a much more formalist manner, as composed of planes and textures, shapes and forms.
Weston was very much inspired by his models (and often not just photographically) and his photographs reflect their differences as well as his own developing photographic style. The irradiant sensuality of Tina Modotti penetrates his lens just as surely whether he is photographic a close portrait of her tearful face or her luxuriant form in repose in the sun.
Photographing dancer Bertha Wardell, Weston responded to her muscularity and movement, altering his techniques to capture much more dynamic poses with the aid of a smaller and faster to use (still a 4x5" Graflex) camera that he had used for fleeting portraits.
Some of his greatest work came from his partnership with his second wife, Charis Wilson Weston. Perhaps reflecting her personality, he produced works that were at times more calculated, more intellectual, such as the triangular pose in the doorway. Of course this was only one side of their relationship, and perhaps the best-known of his nude pictures of her came from a session where she flung herself repeatedly into the sand dunes in front of his 10x8" camera. More than any other subject, the nude is a partnership between photographer and model.
Another major series of work that reflects this is the series of pictures taken by Alfred Stieglitz of his second wife, the painter Georgia O'Keefe. When married, he was sixty and she around thirty; theirs was a relationship that sometimes embarrassed friends and family by its intensity and physicality. It was so powerful they could not bear to live together for too long, each was too strong a personality to be able to cope with the other, but nor could they stay apart, returning after periods of absence in their favourite haunts, she in New Mexico, he in New York.
Often concentrating on details such as her hands, or using her breasts or torso, his pictures explore her psyche and her moods in intimate close-up. Few of them are available on the web (see links, top right), although you can now buy the definitive collection of his work published by the US National Gallery of Art, 'Alfred Stieglitz: The Key Set', which contains reproductions of the complete collection donated to the gallery by O'Keefe. It is a massive work which justifies its price.
The fine online collection of his work at George Eastman House contains several good pictures of O'Keefe, including several studies of her hands and some well-known portraits, but the only nude image is of Rebecca Strand, the wife of his protege, Paul Strand. Stieglitz makes the most of her Rubenesque figure in the left of the picture, her left arm reaching around under her left breast as she lies in the water of Lake George to support her right breast. Reflections from rippled water mask the lower half of her torso.
The nudes of Manuel Alvarez Bravo are very much concerned with telling or alluding to some kind of story. You can read more about him and his pictures, especially his 'Good Fame Sleeping' in my two pieces on the great master of Mexican photography who died in 2002.
Bill Brandt's work with nudes in the 1940s and 50s was ground-breaking. He started in a fairly conventional fashion, with relatively discreet pictures of naked young women sitting demurely inside ordinary rooms that were published in popular magazines. It was his purchase of an old wooden wide-angle camera that led him into new areas. The camera had been designed for uses such as photographing scenes of crime, enabling a picture to take in the whole scene in a room through its wide-angle lens. It gave only a faint image on the ground glass focussing screen, because of its relatively small lens aperture.
Photographers before this time had generally favoured the use of normal or slightly long focal lengths for nude studies. As with portraiture, these enabled the photographer to keep at a slight distance and produce a relatively natural perspective - keeping for example ears and nose in a face at roughly the same scale when taking a tightly framed portrait.
Brandt moved in close to his models with his wide-angle lens so as to make their bodies (or parts of them) large in the frame. This might mean that a model's arm was only half the distance from the lens as her leg, and so it would be imaged at twice the scale. These 'distortions' caused by the difference in subject distances gave the images a different quality of which he made deliberate use. Many critics dismissed the work at the time as ugly and incorrect, but it created a new way of looking at the nude.
In several previous features on the nude, including 'Fine Art Nudes' and 'More Nudes' I've looked at the work of other photographers, including the Czech photographers of different generations Frantisek Drtikol and Jan Saudek.
Among other sites containing good contemporary work (some listed in previous features), are those of Joyce Tenneson, Kim Weston, (Edward Weston's grandson), Dianora Niccolini, William Ropp and Joris Van Daele, whose 'Bare Naked Gallery' site also contains some useful information on his approach.
You will also find many other photographers whose photography of the nude is of interest. It is probably easier to search for them in a bookshop or library if you can do so, rather than on the web. You will find more useful links in my other features on nudes, but searching on the web will often turn up large numbers of highly undesirable sites as well as a few that are of interest.
I used to think it difficult to produce boring pictures of the nude, but hours of searching on the web and looking at many sites have convinced me otherwise. There are many sites which I could only use as examples of how not to light and photograph the nude. Should you find others which you think are as interesting as those found here, please let me know.
Questioning Your Motives
Once you have made yourself familiar with the various ways that photographers in the past have approached the subject, you are in a position to ask yourself why you want to photograph the nude.
Try to decide what it is that interests you and will stimulate your photography. I think it is important that you are honest with yourself, although not always necessary that you be absolutely frank and open with others. What is it that interests you about naked men or women - or about a particular person - that makes you want to photograph them?
Several photographers have written about why they do this, one of the more interesting pieces is by Karin Rosenthal (see links at right.) You can also read Bill Brandt's thoughts on his work, and there are statements by several of the photographers featured in 'Art Create.
Lust in itself is seldom a good reason to take up nude photography, although perhaps many of the most powerful images have been driven by it at least in part. Variations on "I'm a photographer and I'd love to photograph you" are seldom particularly efficient as chat-up lines. If your interests are largely other than photographic, then you are almost certainly wasting your time on the photography.
Deciding on an Approach
Once you are clear what your interests are, you will probably not find it too difficult to start thinking about what you will do in your photography. You may like to write something down in the form of a project, something I often find helps to direct my thinking. Once you know what you want to do in detail, then you can start thinking about how you can do it.
Practising Your Techniques
Probably the nude is not the best subject for beginners in photography. Good nude photography generally needs you to master an number of skills, in lighting, and posing and directing a model, as well as the normal technical skills covering exposure, focussing and other aspects of camera use. Some photographers have indeed taken to the subject simply because they regard it as being the best test for their photographic skills, although I've never felt this to be a satisfactory reason.
There are easier ways to hone these skills, particularly in the areas of still life for most of the technical skills involved, and in portraiture to improve your rapport with people as well as applying your appreciation of lighting.
Still life enables you to work easily and at your own pace, and avoids any problems of dealing with people. You can build confidence handling simple forms, lighting them and studying the results. Some of the best still life photographs have been the simplest. You can work on a small table in the corner of a room, perhaps with a sheet of A2 white card as a base and background, or a white wall, making use of everyday objects such as cups and saucers, cutlery, bread, eggs... Look at the work of Josef Sudek if you want to see such things done with total mastery.
You don't even need proper photographic lighting to learn from making still life. If you are working with black and white film, ordinary desk lights and room lights can be used, so long as you are able to move them around to control the effect. Even normal daylight can be chosen and worked with to good effect.
Portraiture is also great practice for nude photography, especially if you are going to work with models. It also gives you a good chance to sort out how to use lighting. It is particularly useful if you are setting up a studio of your own, and portraiture is in any case likely also to be an important use of your facilities.
One way that you will convince people that you are a serious photographer is by building up a portfolio. If you want to photograph the nude, you will want to have a portfolio that contains work in that area. However when you start, you will not have that material to put in it. A portfolio of good still life and portraiture is probably the best alternative from which to start an interest in the nude.
One of the best ways to prepare for photographing the nude is to draw it. There are art classes available in many art schools that cover life drawing, some of which are happy to accept beginners. There is a lot to be learnt from the discipline of close and detailed observation that is needed to draw from a model, and also often from the other members of the class.
Life drawing also tends to involve models of a fairly wide variety of age, gender and build rather than the more homogeneous photographic nude and glamour models, and can be a great way of enlarging people's views of what nude photography might be about.
Nude and Glamour
There are a number of commercial studios that cater for so-called glamour photography. They are often quite well equipped studios and can usually be hired if you have a need for a studio. Some also run 'club nights' or 'group nights' where groups (usually of men) photograph models in various states of supposedly glamorous dress and undress. Its an activity that has little connection with photography as I know it.
Some photographic clubs also organise similar events. The jokes about nobody bothering to have film in their cameras are probably largely untrue, but when I once belonged to a club that sometimes ran such sessions, we seldom if ever saw any prints from them in club competitions or exhibitions. Possibly there are some clubs that do it better.
Worthwhile photography of the nude seems to me to come out of some kind of partnership between photographer and model. It may involve payment, but it also involves more, a working together to a common end that I don't feel can come out of such group sessions. They may however possibly be ways that you can overcome some of your inhibitions about approaching people in getting started in the field.
There are those who think that photographing the nude means simply photographing the kind of attractive and immaculately groomed women who seem to be rather more common in magazines and on television than in real life. They see photography as giving some kind of entree to a world of the rich and beautiful. I see it more as a way of finding significance in the life around you, wherever that is and with whoever you live with, a journey that starts from where you are, although it may lead to the unexpected.
Expect to have to convince people that you are respectable and honest, and make sure that you behave in a way that reinforces this impression. You should make sure that anyone you want to photograph knows exactly the kind of photographs you want to take - and the best way of doing this is usually to be able to show them a portfolio of your previous work.
It is also useful to have a proper business card for yourself as a photographer, including your name, address and phone number (and email and web site addresses if you have them.) If you have a proper ID card from one of the professional bodies that issue them it will also reassure people. The so-called ID cards that anyone can buy from some internet sites are worthless however, and mark you as an impostor.
Yourself as model
Many photographers - male and female - have made themselves the subject of their nude photography. It can be a good way to make a start, but it is also something that many have dedicated themselves to in the longer term. Among famous photographers of the nude, many including the incomparable Imogen Cunningham started with self-portraiture, although hers was hardly a momentous start.
There are some obvious problems with working with yourself as a model. There are severe limitations to what you can take holding your camera in your hands, and you are likely soon to want to put the camera onto a tripod and use either the self-timer or remote release of some kind. It isn't easy to pose in front of a camera and see exactly what you are doing, although a carefully placed mirror next to the camera can help a lot.
Many photographers have photographed their partners - male or female - though most of the better-known examples are of men photographing their wives. There are many advantages in such an arrangement, both practical and emotional, as long as both photographer and model are happy with the idea. However it can also lead to arguments, especially if the pictures are unflattering.
If you are intending to publish or exhibit your nude photographs, your subject may not wish to be readily identifiable, as the pictures will in their nature make private facts about them public knowledge. Even in the relatively bohemian atmosphere of Carmel, California in the 1920s and 30s, Edward Weston had to photograph many of his models without showing their faces, and some 75 years on, many communities are less open about such things than Carmel was then.
Many photographers have also photographed other family members in the nude, including their parents, siblings and children. In many places there may be problems about photographing those under 18 in the nude or semi-nude, even with their parent's permission (or if you are the parent.)
Again make sure that any friends you photograph are over 18. Get into the habit of showing friends your portfolio of work, and you may find some of them are prepared to sit for you. Its usually best not to try and pressure people, but worth suggesting the possibility to those you think might make good models.
There are good and bad professional models. In general those who are used to working as 'glamour' or fashion models are likely to be expensive and also probably unused to serious nude modelling. Models who sit for life classes may also be prepared to work for photographers at the same relatively low rates. Life models are generally excellent at holding poses steady for long periods of time, but may be less good at adopting a wide range of poses.
Many hire studios also have models for hire. Check carefully with the studio about the kind of work the models do (they will usually have photographs that will give you a good idea.) The charges are often aimed more at photographers for the glossy magazines.
Local newspapers or other media may be willing to accept small-ads asking for models. Make clear what you are doing and what they are likely to gain from it. Quite a few photographers have got numerous replies from such ads when working on projects, often in return for supplying photographs or minimal payment.
You need to be sure that when people contact you after reading an advert they get a positive and encouraging reception, and can be sure that what you are doing is above board. You also need to be sure that they are taking you seriously.
You need to think carefully about your and their security in arranging any meetings or photographic sessions following your initial contact. If you go to visit people in their homes, make sure that others know where you are.
People You Meet
Your work as a nude photographer may often make an interesting subject of conversation with work colleagues or people you meet at parties and other social occasions. You will probably find it worthwhile to have a postcard printed of one of your best images (or you could do this yourself if you have a good inkjet printer or darkroom) to give to anyone who expresses an interest or who might make a suitable model, with your business details on the back.
Some photographers have had cards like this and given these out to likely looking strangers on the street or elsewhere, asking them to ring if they are interested. Although in general they are careful not to try and pressure anyone, it could be a high risk strategy, and you need to take extreme care to chose a suitable location. It's not an approach I'd be happy to try.
Nude photography generally requires a private location, where you can work without interruption or onlookers. Few models will feel relaxed unless than can be sure you are in a suitable place where you will not be disturbed.
Outdoor locations probably need to be fairly remote, although some photographers have worked in the centres of cities in the early mornings. In most countries and cities there are laws preventing nudity in public places, so you will generally need to work in private spaces whether indoors or out.
Unless you are working with a partner or close relative or friend, it is always wise to have other people present at your photographic sessions. It is a good idea to have an assistant with you, even if you do not really need one for your photography, especially if you are visiting people in their own homes. When using amateur models, always suggest they come with a friend rather than on their own.
You need to make your model feel safe and confident, and also to safeguard yourself against any accusations that might be made about your actions or behaviour. It can sometimes be useful to record or video sessions; if you do so, make sure there is a notice in your studio about this.
Always get anyone you photograph in the nude to sign a model release, preferably before you take pictures. Any publication of nude pictures without proof of permission would almost certainly be viewed as a 'defamation of character' that could leave you open to heavy damage claims.
The release should make clear any limitations you have agreed to on the use of the pictures - for example, if you have agreed not to show the model's face in them, or not use the model's name. It should also make clear what you are allowed to do, for example to exhibit, publish and sell prints of any of the photographs from the session in any form at any time and place without further payment.
There are a number of standard releases available on the web (see the Business Matters links - box at top right.) You can add the details of the session (including date and time) as well as the names of those concerned and what you have agreed. David Brinkman of Paragon Galleries has a good example of a specific release for his male nude photography on his web site.
Exact legal requirements will differ from country to country (and possibly from state to state) but so long as you add the information clearly you will probably be in the clear, though I'm not a lawyer. Take legal advice if you are in any doubt or think it important. In some countries there has to be at least a token payment - for example 1$ - made in exchange for the model's agreement. Some of the best photographers get people to model for them simply in exchange for a set of prints (see 'Time For Prints'), but it may be a good idea to add a nominal cash payment as well. You should make sure the model has a copy of the agreement.
There are many uses of nude photography for which no model release is needed, but it makes sense to get one in every case. Firstly because it makes sure that you and the model know what can be done with the pictures, but probably more importantly as a safeguard against any future legal action. Even if unsuccessful, this could cost you more than an arm and a leg.
If using a model, you should think about providing changing facilities. Professional studios will usually have a changing room, but a curtain or screen may be enough. Clothing, especially tight underclothes, leaves marks on the skin that take quite a while to disappear, and these seldom improve nude photographs. You may need to remind amateur models to bring a suitable loose robe to cover themselves with while the marks fade.
It can also be useful to talk to the model while waiting for this, and a cup of tea or other drink may be useful. Of course you may also be able to get on with photography avoiding any parts of the body with clothing impressions.
Music & Atmosphere
You and your model will generally work best in a relatively relaxing atmosphere in which you can communicated clearly with each other. Often background music will help - especially if you let your model choose it - but don't have it so loud that it gets in the way of conversation. If you find it difficult to talk when taking photographs, then you need to get more familiar with the technical stuff - or have an assistant to do it all for you.
Unless you are taking pictures of yourself, you should feel too warm in the studio, as you will have more clothes on than the model. Aim for a comfortable temperature for someone without clothes, and dress lightly so you don't sweat too much. Tungsten lighting can provide some useful directional heating that keeps your subject warm without having much effect on you. But remember that goose pimples seldom look attractive in photographs.
Any camera capable of producing professional results is suitable for nude photography. However, many pictures will require precise control of viewpoint and framing, so a camera which allows you to see exactly what the lens will record is essential.
The obvious type of camera to use is thus a single lens reflex camera. If high print quality is needed, then a 120 format camera is an obvious choice. If the demands are more moderate, a 35mm camera will be much easier to use and more economical.
An alternative is a good digital camera. Either one of the professional models or a good 'prosumer' model. For most purposes a 5 or 6 Mp model would give the detail required. Most of these are SLR designs, and the others allow you to use a digital display to check the accurate composition.
The very highest quality would come from a large format camera, using 4x5 or 8x10 film. The larger size is more expensive to buy and use, and also harder, as it generally gives a smaller depth of field. An advantage of the larger size is the ability to get a decent sized print by contact printing, essential if you want to use contact processes such as platinum or POP (printing out paper.)
Large format cameras are focussed on the ground glass using the actual image that will be used to expose the film, thus providing even more accuracy in framing than the SLR. However they are slow to use and you may find the model has moved either during exposure (slower shutter speeds will be needed) or between examining the image and exposure.
Film or Digital?
Digital photography has the great advantage of being able to see your results immediately, while with film you have to wait for processing. There can also be problems with getting nude images processed through normal film services. Unless you process your own film, it is generally a good idea to take it to a lab where film is processed on the spot, and to check with them whether they are prepared to handle nude photography.
Professional labs are less likely to have any problem with processing your work, whether in colour or black and white. Much of the best nude photography has always been in black and white, and this is relatively easy to process for yourself (see the feature 'Develop your own black and white film' if you are interested in learning how to do this.) An alternative is to use Polaroid film, although this is expensive and limits what you can do. There are some Polaroid materials that produce black and white negatives.
Digital photography avoids any problems with processing. The quality from the professional digital SLRs is on a par with 35mm film at least so far as colour is concerned, and I've been pleasantly surprised with what I can achieve using mine for black and white. Probably I can do better with film under ideal conditions, but the difference is slight in practical use.
If you are setting up your own studio, remember that size, and height in particular, do matter. A decent studio to allow you to photograph a full length standing figure needs to be around 20ft long and 10ft high. If it is shorter you can't get sufficient distance between the figure and the background, and if the ceiling is lower then you can only light a standing figure from a relatively low angle. Smaller studios seriously limit what you can do.
There are no special requirements for lighting for nude photography, and the equipment you need is the same as that for other studio work. As always you have a choice of flash or continuous light sources. If you want to work dynamically, catching your subject in mid-movement, then flash is an obvious choice, but for more considered work the greater light output of continuous sources compared to the modelling lights in flash units may make your work easier. As mentioned previously, it is an area of work where the extra heat generated may sometimes be an advantage.
As always, avoid the cheap studio light fitting made for amateur use if at all possible. With a moderate budget you may get better value from studio flash units (or buying secondhand professional continuous units.) Large soft boxes or similar light sources are likely to be very useful.
For most studio photography you will want to work with a plain background. The most basic solution is a white painted wall, preferably with a cove or sheet of material curved to give no line between the vertical wall and the floor - which should also have a white area.
If no light is allowed to fall on the background, then it will photograph dark (a real deep black is generally hard to manage), while increasing amounts of light will change it through greys to white. You can also project slides or coloured light on to it.
Photographic background rolls in a proper holder are more versatile. It is much easier to get a black background using a roll of black paper, and dense even colours are also easy to obtain (except for the cost and storage room required for these large rolls.) A white roll is again the most useful, and has the advantage over paint that you simply cut off the dirty parts and pull more clean paper down from the roll.
You can also paint on white background paper or use projection to get the various effects you want. You can buy painted or coloured backgrounds, but these are much less versatile.
Exhibiting, Marketing, Publishing
Good model-released nude photography is probably fairly easy to sell to photographic magazines, but otherwise the direct market may be small. If you put your work on a web site it is likely to attract high traffic, and many photographers are trying to sell work direct to customers. The large number of visitors makes it much more likely to sell than most other subjects, but may cause problems with your ISP. Most web sites have an agreement with the ISP that sets a limit on the amount of material transferred, and this may easily be exceeded if your site includes nudity.
There are sites which make the major part of their work online available to subscribers only, usually with some free galleries to give an idea of the work. However the best sites seem to work simply by having a relatively small amount of the best work on display, and may use the web both to generate print sales and to attract others to model for them.