Essential Nude Photography Tips
Nude photography is a difficult genre. To get good pictures in this category, knowing your camera and preparing good lighting are essential, but still not enough— you need a feeling for working with people, and tact. So I’ve prepared a few tips for you about what to think about and watch out for when photographing nudes.
Every photographer who’s doing nude photography can interpret this term a bit differently. And looking at their web galleries, you’ll see they each have a signature style. It may include favourite locations, like Stefen Soell who likes the spectacular backdrops of the great outdoor, to unusual poses, special lighting, or specific post-production.
Just one article can’t cover this whole wide subject, so here I’ll just cover a few of the essentials with lots of examples from some of the great nude photographers.
A nude photography session is not a bunch of snapshots. It’s not a date, either. It’s a serious attempt to create fine art. Not saying that it can’t be fun. It should be fun. A professional approach helps inspire confidence. Both for the photographer and for the model. If a model is uncomfortable with the photo shoot or the photographer, the results will not be as outstanding as you may have wished.
Being totally professional, sexual thoughts should be far away from a photographer’s mind during photoshoots. But it happens every now and then, either because the model is particularly sexy or because the model herself knows that she is sexy and likes to tease the photographer to bring on some embarrassing movement in the photographer’s underwear to boost her own self-esteem. How do you handle these situations?
- First things first. Always keep it professional. As either parties professional integrity can be on the line, both for professionalism and legitimacy (are they really a photographer, or just getting kicks out of seeing young women wearing very little).
- As a photographer you should never steer the conversation in any where close to a sexual direction ESPECIALLY when working. If a model is trying to steer the conversation in that direction. Steer them back. If they don’t get the hint actually tell them that it’s unprofessional. If needs be. Stop the shoot. When working I rarely talk to a model when I have camera up apart from directions. If anything have generic chit-chat with a model (like when getting your hair cut) Have you gone on holiday this year. Are you busy at the moment.
Take Preparations and Consent Seriously
As a nude photographer beginner, you’ll work best with an experienced nude model—especially because of posing. Still, there are no limits to who you can work with.
While there are some photographers who obtain the model’s consent for photography in general and only persuade them to do nudes after they’re at the studio, I prefer the most precise advance agreement possible. First, this makes it clear that nudes are involved, and second, it gives the model a chance to decide what can be photographed and published.
Some models aren’t bothered by anything here, while with others you’ll need to reach an agreement on specific conditions. Some will need you to ensure they will remain anonymous, or that your photos won’t show full frontal nudity. Note that anonymity means both not showing their face and not showing other “identifiers” such as tattoos.
A contract with the model—a model release—is especially important before nude photography. It specifies:
- what you’re allowed to publish,
- how you can use the pictures,
- what they’ll receive (which may be money or may be promo pictures).
Model releases are practical for photographers too: the model can’t later say that they’ve changed their mind and e.g. forbid the pictures’ publishing. So your work won’t be in vain.
Use a posing guide
Posing guides exist for several good reasons. Many models are not completely aware of the possibilities of poses. Even professional models may need coaching in order to position themselves as the photographer is intending.
Verbal skills are helpful, too, but the posing guide avoids any confusion about intended directions. How to place the legs, what to do with the hands, what angle to tilt the head, how much leaning or back arcing, all of these are instantly communicated by a posing guide.
This helps keep the photo session professional and enjoyable. It also avoids any issues involved with unwelcome physical contact.
With some models, especially a first time nude model, to have something happen as innocuous as brushing hair out of their eye or touching a shoulder to indicate direction of motion could make them extremely uncomfortable.
With other models directions given by touching won’t make a difference at all, but even these models will benefit from the photographer using a posing guide.
Figuring what to use as props can enhance your nude photography. From holding a fan to wrapping a sheer piece of fabric strategically around the model’s figure to having a chair for use in posing, props add to the fun factor of keeping your model comfortable.
The number of poses available by using a simple chair are numerous. The model can sit in various positions, lean on the back of the chair facing the camera, or lean into the chair facing away from the camera. This is just one small example of how props can add to your fine art nude photography
Sign a contract or model release
Since nude photography is so personal for the model, you will want to make sure you have permission to show the resulting images as you were intending.
Maybe you plan to submit them to a contest, put them up for sale in a gallery, or just post them to social media. Any way you look at it, or have others look at them, you need to know you have the freedom to use them.
With amateur models, even if you have a model release, if the model changes their mind about displaying their nude body, you might consider their wishes and adjust things accordingly.
Of course, if dealing with professional models or any kind of payment, try to ensure you are legally covered for various contingencies.
Model releases also help you confirm that everyone involved is a legal age to enter into contracts. Check your local municipality for details about that.
A studio is by far the easiest choice, but you might not have access to fully equipped studio. So you can essentially shoot in any place that won’t mean crossing limits for society (or your model). Both indoor and outdoor sites are fine. However, if you live in a place with a rich hiking culture, you’ll have to accept that forests, etc. won’t be people-free. Indoor shots eliminate this problem; you’ll be undistracted. Find somewhere secluded as most countries can prosecute you for indecent exposure.
Your stylistic aims for the photo play a role here too. For photos based on precision and contours, it’s most practical to work at the studio; soft and natural photos, meanwhile, work best with nature itself.
Scout out your location with privacy in mind
Especially if you are planning on nude photography in an outdoor setting, you will want to have good privacy. Primarily for the sake of keeping the model comfortable, but also keep from causing any concern from local officials or the neighbors.
Even if you aren’t anywhere close to violating any local decency standards, it can ruin your day to have offended people crash your photoshoot.
It’s also generally a good idea to stay on the good side of your neighbors, including if we’re talking about hikers in the wild accidently stumbling on your session.
Abandoned urban locations are also desirable photographically, the same things about privacy apply. In either type of outdoor location, you’ll also need to have your mind on safety.
Rent a room
If you don’t have a studio of your own, or a good home location to do the photoshoot in, renting a studio or a room in a nicer hotel can work out.
A studio available for rent might have basic charges for certain periods of time. Many studios will also have some studio equipment available for use, such as lights and backgrounds, if it’s not listed with the price, be sure to ask. Assuming leads to disappointment when it isn’t what you expected.
A room or suite at a nice hotel will give you a whole day to schedule your session, maybe book several sessions in a row. You probably won’t get much use out of a budget hotel room, as the confined space can hamper camera and lighting placement options.
Warm up the Room
Ok, so a practical tip and perhaps an obvious one. Make sure the heating is on! You might not notice the coolness of the room but the model certainly will. It’s hard to pose and look relaxed when you’re shivering!
Poses in Nude Photography
Nude modelling is similar to acting and other performances. Your model has to pose differently than how they’d stand at, say, a bus stop. Dancers, especially ballet dancers, are experts here—they’ve trained both specific stances and overall elegance. Even if you pose them strangely, they’ll still look good.
Your specific approach to a given nude shot will be important for posing. Gentle, romantic poses will work without sweeping gestures.
But in many nudes, you can see how the model’s back is curved. While it looks normal and effortless in pictures, it really isn’t. And because it’s often true that the more their back is curved, the better, models will often deliberately exaggerate this element.
Likewise it’s good if the model’s feet are pointing outward—if the situation allows it. It doesn’t look good when a model is posing marvelously from their head down to their ankles, but their feet are at right angles to their body.
Keep Facial Expressions in Mind
These photos also need the right expressions. I consider expressions to be the hardest part of this genre, because when it comes to poses, even a beginning model can learn the basic ones in their first hour. But work with facial expressions depends on experience and takes longer to train. So more experienced (older) models are at an advantage here. Although young extroverts can surprise you too.
Expressions are very important, and unfortunately they can also ruin a photo. For example when the model gawks into the lens with annoyance or terror.
You might wonder why they’d do that, but when you tell them everything you’ll be wanting from them, it can happen easily. You can have so many requirements that they start thinking so hard about posing, they forget about their faces. As a photographer, you have to evaluate whether the model’s current expression is right, or whether you want something else.
If neither you nor the model is sure where they should look, there are several good options worth a try.
The first is for them to look downward. This can often be more appropriate than if they were looking out into the distance. When the model is looking at the ground, it gives the picture a softer look. The previous picture is a good example.
Sometimes closed eyes are better; they provide a truly dreamlike atmosphere. And they completely remove the problem of which way to look.
My last tip for more relaxed photos is to have the model’s mouth open slightly. When it’s tightly closed, the picture looks stricter.
Also note that naturally, you’ll avoid worries about facial expressions in photos that don’t show a face.
You have a flood of possibilities when you’re working with light. Some people prefer naturally lighted scenes, while others prefer studio flashes, which they have completely under control. You can also combine natural and artificial light.
You don’t have to feel limited here. There is, however, one striking kind of lighting that’s used in nude photography often—one that’s a favourite and that I’d like to mention.
In its purest form, it produces traditional studio shots where there’s a dark model who’s outlined by light contours. Creating this effect is easy. You simply need to place the flashes (usually within softboxes) alongside the model and turn them towards the camera.
You can also use a similar approach outside the studio. Then you can have an artificially produced rim of light as a supplement to existing light.
Black and White, or Colour?
You’ll rarely go wrong when using black and white for nude photography. And above all the dramatic, outlined shots from the last section have so little colour inherently that you can’t even tell the difference between black-and-white and color photos.
Still, there are situations where there are more colors in play, or where the model’s skin is so superb that the color original is pleasant and problem-free as well.
Personally, I often try both variants and pick one of them for publishing. The disadvantage of this approach is that sometimes I like both versions and I have to pick just one with a heavy heart.
Be familiar with post processing
This is another basic nude photography tip. Some sort of post processing is going to be necessary for fine art nude photography. If we are shooting in camera RAW, we will use our program to create an image file that can be shared. We may need to add colour correction or convert to black and white.
There’s also image touch up that is often needed. In film photography, skin flaws or other problems were air brushed out. Digitally, our programs (like Lightroom/ Photoshop) let us fix things from a minor skin blemish to evening out skin tones. We can even alter facial features and other features if so desired.
No need to go overboard on anything, but a basic working knowledge and familiarity with these programs will allow you great freedom in achieving what you have pre-visualised.
Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment
There are many styles and ideas for photographing nudes. If you let yourself try out a variety of approaches, this may sometimes bring unavoidable errors and failed photos, but it will also enable you to create something new.