A few assumptions right up front:
- You have nothing but the highest respect for your models
- You want to create art
- You have seen a naked woman before and aren’t going to turn into an idiot (or pervert) when you have one in front of you asking “how do you want me to pose?”
- Nude models are by no means women only, so when I say “her” you can substitute “him”
- You have some competence with lighting and posing people. If not, start with portraiture until you can make a clothed model look good 🙂
I’m not an expert, I’ve done several shoots of local models where there was nudity or boudoir content and they went well, but I am by no means an “expert” in this field. An amateur photographer after being asked to photograph his first nude shoot and not having a clue what to do, showed up on the r/AskPhotography forum, and I answered, and felt it deserved to be turned into a couple blogposts. This first one is what to do from the photographer point of view.
Here are a few of the “Cover Your Ass” pointers up front.
- The model must of legal age. Note that this is a bit of a fuzzy thing from a legal point of view, as this isn’t the “age of consent” (that’s how old you have to be to get married without a parental approval), but the age you have to be able to be in a legally binding contract. At least that’s what I think, but I’m not a lawyer. Because of this, if there’s any question, don’t do it, plain and simple, you’ll save yourself a hell of a lot of headaches. Hell, find out the legal ages in your country/state/province and then add two and make that your minimum age to work with. You really don’t want to be known as “that guy” in your area.
- Make sure there is a third party there so the model has someone along with her. It doesn’t matter if she’s of age (which she should be), having a third person there will make a lot of potential problems go away, even if everyone is completely fine with the shoot. Seriously, it just makes sense.
- Make sure you get a model release signed up front and make sure that you are both clear on what the images can and can’t be used for. If they can be used for your portfolio and people on the internet will see her naked, make sure that you are both clear on this. If they are never to leave her possession and never be seen in the light of day by anyone but her, make sure you are both clear on this. If you’re an amateur photographer shooting for free, (a TFP shoot) the general exchange is that you both get pictures for your portfolios. If she isn’t wanting you to have the images to post or use for your social media or advertising, then it should probably be a paid shoot, as she is taking full possession of the images and you won’t be getting any of the TFP benefits.
Ok, that’s the up front work and the CYA side of things, now some tips for the actual shoot.
In terms of real logistics, it’s most comfortable for her (I assume anyway) to be clothed as much as possible. Wandering around buck naked in a strange environment with a relative stranger probably isn’t going to help her relax, so make sure she has a robe or wrap of some kind to be in 99% of the time, until the shooting starts. Also make sure it’s a closed set, assuring her that your roomates/parents/kids aren’t going to come home in the middle of the shoot will give an extra level of relaxation (or at least lock the doors to keep random strangers out).
It’ll most likely take her a while to warm up and get into it, and get used to being naked in front of the camera (assuming she’s an amateur as well), so starting off not nude will help warm her up and get comfortable with the posing, camera and lights.
Make sure you have a plan up front too. Get her to send you some ideas and inspiration that she likes, and that’ll give you some ideas of what to do. For you, hit photo sites with examples of boudoir and nude photography and dissect the pose and the lighting. Save them to your phone or laptop so you can have the equivalent of a scrapbook with ideas in it for you to draw on (I use evernote for this). This will help your own confidence as you’re not going in completely blind and it gives you a place to go if there’s a break and you need some inspiration.
Now the actual images and poses. Nude photography is a lot of times more implied nude than actual nude. Plain old nude can be pretty boring, and well executed artistic photographs are often hidden, strategically posed to hide the girly bits, in a men’s button up shirt, on a bed, bodyscapes, under a sheet, etc.
High key and low depth of field is a great setup to go to. A f2.8 or f1.4 lens would be great, but honestly, any lens will work fine if you know how to use it. You’ll want to create flattering lighting with whatever you have available or in your lighting kit. Having a window with sunlight or a couple of strobes with umbrellas can be all you need.
Shots to Consider
- Low depth of field, with her face/hands/something in focus and her naked body out of focus to create some mystery.
- Poses, poses, poses. Look and practice (yea, it’s silly and ridiculous, but trust me it’s a hell of a lot easier to try it now than in the pressure of the moment and trying to seem like you know what you’re doing but ending up saying things like “uhm, just uh, pose nicely, yea, like, move your hand or something”… been there, done that). Look at poses, watch podcasts, anything you can to get ideas into your brain so you have something to draw from. It’s amazing to see what difference shifting your weight from one side to the other, popping an arm in or out, or moving a hand just a tiny bit.
- Silhouettes are always fun, they still require good posing, but you can be less precise (I think) and it’s easy to setup, just throw a bright light behind her in a doorway, make sure there’s at least 4 stops of difference between the light behind and light in front of her, adjust your EV until you get the back blown out and her in shadow and make some interesting shapes. Think as well about using this to create some cool artsy black and white bodyscape images by getting the light to cut across her curves and lines on the body. Google bodyscapes to get some examples of this (note: this link will contain nudity, but I will assume that if you’re this far into a post on nude photography you’re not offended by this).
Shots to avoid
- The “hand bra” shot… just don’t do it, the same as selective colour 🙂
- Explicit “porn” type shots…. in my opinion that’s not art or photography, just porn, and not something that the model will enjoy.
- Butt shots. I’m not an expert on women, but I’ve been told a few times (notably by Sue Bryce in her excellent Creative Live Glamour Photography seminar) that women don’t like pictures of their own butts, or more specifically aren’t going to want to see them after. Again, think “classy”.
Things that you should prep her with before she comes out to the shoot. Make sure she brings clean clothes (no dirty socks or sexy shoes with dirt on the soles) and is clean and sexy feeling (soles of feet again something to think of, especially if you’re doing cool depth of field shots). Maybe not for your first shoot, but if you pursue this farther consider doing profession hair and makeup, look at Sue Bryce’s before and after set for an example of what a proper hair and MUA can do for a shoot (along with great posing of course).
Make sure she’s comfortable. This means water or snacks are available (and offered to her), a clean comfortable robe for downtime, a private place to change and get ready, and again, nothing, NOTHING but the utmost respect for your model as your equal and another professional who is there to collaborate with you to make art.
Last but not least be professional and have fun. The right attitude is essential to give her confidence as well. No matter how young, good looking and uninhibited you are, being naked with someone taking pictures of you will be a scary/unnerving experience. Give it a try yourself and see how you feel, and now think of what you can do from the other side of the camera to make the subject feel better. Hint: “ooh, sexy, yes baby, sexy, oh ya” (a la Austin Powers) is not the way to do it 🙂
If you’re having fun (again, enjoying creating images that she’s going to love, enjoying yourself, laughing, make sure she’s having fun) she’ll have fun, relax, and give you better images.
Another great site to check out is Smoking Strobes, where Michael has a decent eBook for sale but more importantly a huge number of free video tutorials on lighting, posing, etc. A great resource. Lots of other places out there as well. There’s also classic nude art to look for inspiration from. Remember that light and shadow are what you’re looking for, and control of the light will let you mould the model and create awesome shapes, both sexy and mysterious.
Head on over and read Part 2, or you can view my boudoir photo gallery or read more of my boudoir photography experiences.
If you’re interested in have a boudoir photoshoot, please contact me and let’s set it up!
- Michael Zelbel – Smokin’ Strobes
- Discussion about age of consent and model releases: 1 2
- Simon Chaput – Great examples of bodyscaping photography
- Aura McKay – Vancouver photography instructor (I took a great class on nude portraiture from her where much of this brain dump comes from)
- Top: Miss Justine Mariiie – Travelling Alt. model / @justinemariiie
- Bottom: Eleen Prasad – Vancouver model
[…] part two of my series on an introduction to nude portraiture I wanted to get another point of view, that of the model. […]
Many thanks for your excellent advice, tried it recently and pleased with the results