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Warning: Lets start this tutorial with a warning. This post is about Nude Photography and does cover a topic that some may find offensive. We’ve only included one very tame image and the post is (in my opinion) very tastefully written by a woman (one of our forum members who wishes to remain anonymous) who shares her experience and some lessons learned while photographing a friend.
If you think you’ll be offended by this post we do invite you to skip this post. This is a topic many of our readers are interested in so we feel it is relevant but do understand that it is not everyone’s cup of tea.
Let me start by saying that I never thought I’d do any nude photography – not because I am against it as a form of Art – but partly because it never seriously crossed my mind as something I’d do and partly because I never thought I’d come across anyone who would pose for me.
However recently a long term friend asked me if I’d be interested of taking some nude photos of her for her husband.
At first I thought she was joking but she was quite serious. They’ve been married for 10 years and she wanted some tasteful shots – nothing too risque or explicit – that she could give to celebrate their anniversary. She wanted someone that she could trust and someone who she thought could take a decent shot.
After attempting to convincing her that perhaps I wasn’t a good enough photographer for the job – I eventually agreed. We set up a time for the shoot at my home and I set up a simple make shift home studio. Below are some of the lessons that I learned from the experience.
1. Know what you’re looking for before you start shooting – what ended up happening with us is that when my friend arrived for the shoot and we started taking photos we quickly realized that we didn’t really have too many clues when it comes to posing for these types of shots. The first shots I took were quite bad and we quickly realized that we (or I) were not prepared. We decided to take a break and I pulled out a few of my photography magazines and books where I knew there would be examples of some poses that we could aim for.
We chose a pose that we wanted to start with – a shot of her standing with her back to the camera – the focus being her back – lit from the side to accentuate her curves. We saw this ‘classic’ nude shot in a couple of different books and thought it’d be a good place to start. Knowing what we wanted to achieve in this shot helped a lot. Taking nude shots is not as simple as grabbing a camera and getting your gear off – it helps to know what shot you’re attempting to get.
2. Try Black and While – at the start of our shoot we were shooting in color. The results were quite confronting to my model. She is a beautiful woman but even the best of us have a few blemishes or blotches on our skin that can be quite eye catching in shots. I had been intending to shoot in color and convert the images to black and white later but on seeing her reaction to the shots I’d taken decided to shoot in Black and White.
In doing so I noticed that the shots completely changed in their look and feel. They became less about the body in the shots and more about the shapes, the light, the shadows etc.
3. Warm up the Room – ok, so a practical tip and perhaps an obvious one. Make sure the heating is on! I actually didn’t notice the coolness of the room (I had my clothes on after all and perhaps had a bit of adrenaline at the thought of messing up the shoot) but my friend certainly did. It’s hard to pose and look relaxed when you’re shivering!
4. Use Longer Focal Lengths – this will probably vary from person to person but we found that things worked best when I shot with longer focal lengths. Perhaps it was partly that I wasn’t up real close and personal as I took my shots and this allowed my subject some personal space – but the shots when I used a longer lens were better than those when shooting with short ones. I had started off shooting with a 50mm lens but ended up using a Canon 85mm prime lens that I’d borrowed from a friend for most of the shoot and was very happy with the shots.
I also had a 70-200mm lens which came in handy towards the end of the shoot when we did some shots that focused upon taking some more close up shots of parts of her body – almost abstract type shots.
5. Anonymity Helps – another thing that we discovered as we went along is that the shots where my friend’s face was turned away from the camera were somehow more photogenic than those in which she was looking at the camera. Again it wasn’t that she’s not attractive or that she was uncomfortable with the situation – but something about seeing her face proved to be a little distracting in the images. Not seeing her face on the other hand added a little mystery into the shots. I’m not quite sure how to describe it any other way but the images also became a little less confronting.
6. Keep the mood relaxed and fun – I had the advantage of being friends with my subject and being a woman myself put her at ease more than if I were a male – however even with those two advantages it was a somewhat never wracking experience for both of us. Being naked in front of another person and being that other person can be quite confronting – although it can also be quite funny if you let it be. We took the ‘funny’ approach and spent a lot of the time giggling like school girls and I think it helped us move beyond the initial awkward stage.
I also had a couple of sheets and blankets handy so that between shots my friend was able to coverup and keep warm. We also used them to keep her covered when we were taking some of the close up shots later on where they couldn’t be seen.
7. My Home Studio – we used a couple of setups that worked well. One was with black material behind the model and a couple of spot lights lighting her from the side. We did this with the first shot that I mentioned above and it left us with the effect of her standing in front of a dark background. The other shot was her sitting on a chair that we covered with a white sheet. This we lit with natural light from a great window in my home.
My main advice is to keep it simple when it comes to your set up. You don’t really want your subject standing around while you adjust settings and get things set up – you want him or her to be relaxed and not put out by the experience.
8. Simple Poses – I wish I could show some of the shots we took (by my friend would be horrified with that as they were shots just for her husband and her and not the masses here at DPS) but the best shots were very very simple shots.
I’m not sure if this helps but I found that when I stopped treating my friend as a person wanting a portrait and started looking for shapes and considering how light was falling on her body (almost more like a landscape) that I started to get the best results. As a result I had her stand, sit and lay in comfortable positions and found myself moving around her more than having her move around me.
9. Cover Up – another lesson that we discovered over the morning that we shot was that sometimes less skin is more. We tried a few shots where my subject covered herself up in a number of ways – either by using her hands and arms to cover her torso or where she even at one point wore an unbuttoned shirt.
As it turned out some of these were her husbands favorites.
Over all the experience of photographing a naked person was one that was a great learning experience. I’m not sure that it will ever be something that I’ll do again (although my friend wants to do it again for their 20th anniversary) however it was one that taught me a lot. I am sure many other DPS readers have experiences that they could add to this in comments below – I’m looking forward to learning more from you.
PS from Darren: The DPS forums do have an Darren) for a password.