In this last installment I’m going to discuss each person involved in the process of creating fine art nudes. As you would expect, this includes the model and photographer. But I’m going to include the ones equally important to the success of a great set of pictures. The model’s husband, boyfriend, parents, friends, and even the photographer’s wife or girlfriend.
Of course, there is no way I can solve the contrasting elements of jealousy, religious upbringing, or other emotions that are unique to each participant in a shoot. I’m not a psychologist by any means. Just an observer sharing what I’ve seen. If some morsel of this article opens the door to better understanding at some level then it was worth it.
Before I get started I’ll explain my situation. It’s important to know where I’m coming from because it will reflect in what I’m imparting.
I’ve been shooting for almost five years, and for the first two my wife of 30 years, Linda, wasn’t thrilled with the possibilities of me shooting nudes or even implied. No specific reasons, but I’m going to guess on some here. (note:she has read this and confirmed her side)
Possibly some misunderstanding that some women don’t mind being in front of a camera naked. She felt she’d never want to so why would another woman? Or she was afraid of what her family would think of her for letting me do that form of photography? Three things I’m sure of. She trusted me 100% and knows I love her with every fiber of my being. And there was zero chance of me running off with someone. A stable and loving relationship full of trust is a great place to start.
One day, before I was allowed to shoot implied, I was asked to do a shoot with a young woman I’d shot many times before. This was a shoot specifically for her new husband and she only wanted to wear her veil. I asked Linda what she wanted me to do and we eventually agreed she would actually help me with the shoot. You see, she’s a very good photographer herself. So, she helped and found out that the model was very comfortable, the pictures turned out great, and it wasn’t any different from any other shoot. The model even used 6 of Linda’s pictures for her book! From then on my wife has been my biggest fan and more supportive than I could have ever imagined.
As a model, you are the one who feels the pressure from friends and family. They either support you or they don’t. And there isn’t much you can do about that either way. Often they don’t understand what the art is all about. Remember, a good number of people don’t see the art in the lighting and lines of a good artistically done nude. They think Playboy right away. Some will always see a dandelion as a weed and others see it as a wish. Art isn’t for everyone.
Here’s where you find out who feels you need to live up to their standards. And think that you should not always do what makes you happy or fits your life goals and dreams if it is counter to their beliefs and wishes. There won’t be anything you can do to change their minds very often. Avoid arguments of course…those never solve anything. Sometimes the support comes later. Once you are actually portrayed in some great art and show them that it’s beautiful and not porn they may change their tune. People tend to expect the worst and will build it up to be far worse in their own mind than it is.
Some families are very close and if artistic nudes will cause problems it may be better to hold off and slowly get people to warm up to it. Frankly, I feel that if anyone should support your goals and interests it should be the family.
It’s very important to never do anything to prove something to someone else. Even more so to rebel against anyone. Dig deep into your goal for modeling, artistic nudes or otherwise, and make sure it is totally for you and no one else. The art won’t flow well if there is anger or grudges or an agenda other than satisfaction for yourself.
I will admit, I felt a little strange the first few times I was shooting nudes. Nothing sexual by ANY means, but just the difference in capturing skin instead of clothing was new to me. Of course, lighting it to get the fine lines, get shadows to appear in strategic places, and just having a model naked took some getting used to. By the 3rd or 4th shoot it was just as typical and comfortable as any other shoot. So I went through that little transition.
My wife, Linda, is very supportive and, of course, has seen the creations from those shoots and now totally understands what my goals are. I do consider myself very lucky to have such an understanding wife who allows me to explore my artistic side.
Others are not as fortunate and their significant other isn’t as understanding. They just can’t get past the idea of their husband or boyfriend seeing all sorts of naked women. That, and the fear of what others might think of HER when they find out she let you take pictures of nude women.
You can’t tell someone they need to support you. They have to want to on their own. Some ways to help them feel better about the idea might be:
- do some implied work the same way you would do an artistic nude. Darker with plenty of shadows covering the three private areas. Do them well. Then use them as an example of what you’d like to create.
- have your wife or significant other assist you on a nude shoot. She can be the one who helps the model with hair and move elbows and getting the tilt of the head just right. When she sees you doing exactly the same things you do for any shoot she may see that it’s not a big deal.
- make sure that, after every shoot, artistic nude or otherwise, that you spend a good amount of time with your wife or s.o. so they don’t feel neglected. This is a great idea no matter what you shoot.
- spend a lot of time talking with her about exactly what you want to accomplish. Get some art books with examples and see if she sees the beauty. Without the support of your significant other you can’t be creative. And doing it behind her back is wrong on every level. Don’t ever, EVER do that or you will lose her trust and respect…probably forever.
Of course, if you have a history of shooting ‘not so classy’ work its harder to explain why you want to suddenly shoot classic artistic nude work. If you are getting into this genre to see naked girls…well, please stop right here. You aren’t who this is written for. Wrong reasons!!
The significant other
Your husband or boyfriend wants to shoot nude models. If there was ever a situation that seemed threatening, this would be up near the top of the list. You need to have a talk with him about anything you have on your mind. Communication is the key to all good relationships and more so on this topic. Ask questions. Be honest with your feelings. Being supportive has to come from your heart, not your head. Be open-minded and ask to see examples of what he plans to create. Ultimately, you don’t have to agree with or support your partner.
You might agree on a slow process to allow him to move in that direction in steps. Maybe help out with a few shoots and see just how professional the shoot is. Set rules that you both agree on. For example, the model wears a robe when not actually posing. And the photographer looking away while the model gets into position. Whatever makes you more comfortable with the shoots should always be acceptable to your partner. Just communicate.
One last thing
I’ve noticed something interesting about jealousy. When I meet a couple where one is overly jealous, it usually indicates that person actually is at more risk of leaving a relationship than the partner who isn’t jealous. Jealously usually stems from, but not limited to, two things. Not feeling secure in a relationship. And not having that emotional bond and trust in the partner that is very much required in a stable relationship.
Always, always communicate!!
The mind set
Lurking in the back of your mind is always that ‘taught’ idea that nudity is bad. Sinful in some way. Even the most carefree among us knows that little feeling tugging at us when we are naked, even to get into the shower. It’s there and to acknowledge it and know that it’s just an embedded notion is important for some people.
There are two forms of Fine Art Nudes. Society has drawn the line for us. Oddly it’s as simple as nipples and vaginas. One form of fine art, and what I shoot most, shows very little in the way of actual nudity, based on society’s opinion. A shot like this for example shows no more than a bikini, yet it is obviously nude modeling.
Note that, for some people the simple lack of strings showing that there IS a bikini is objectionable. Those are the few that see something evil or nasty instead of the beauty of the skin tones, fine lines and curves, and often mood and emotion. Most of the time, any reluctance of a model to do fine art is based on what others may think of him or her if they posed like this. It’s a valid concern. Without a supporting spouse or significant other, moving forward is nearly impossible. More on this in part 3.
The second form of fine art is full nudity, where we cross society’s lines and open the body to a more free form of expression. Often this form alludes to a bit more confidence and allows for more freedom of expression because there isn’t a need to cover certain body parts. In both cases the same basic beauty and art are present of course.
Here is where you do have a choice of how far you want to go as a model. And this usually depends on your life goals. If you are a teacher you probably wouldn’t want to go beyond the implied most certainly, as an example. And maybe avoid this form of expression all together. If one of my images ever cost someone their job, career, or significant other, I would be devastated. This is a life choice that, unfortunately, could be a limiting factor in your future life so consider it carefully. I’ve found those that display full nudity are super confident and will never care what others think and aren’t worried about it getting in the way of their careers.
So, what is it like in the studio the day of the shoot? If you’ve never done fine art before it’s always a bit stressful to start. Nervousness about the whole process. That little nagging feeling about being nude in front of a stranger.
Well, here’s how a shoot usually goes. First we will do some shooting with a simple top just to get you comfortable with the music, lights flashing, the sound of my voice directing you, we’ll go over some modeling tips and basically spend the first 30 minutes warming up. It’s an important time to get into the creative groove.
You’ll find a large changing room for makeup, changing, and in the event you end up covered in baby oil there’s even a shower. That’s your room for the shoot. Most notably, there are robes. You are welcome to wear a robe when we aren’t actually shooting. While doing light tests, or discussing the next pose, you can wear a robe if that is more comfortable for you. You will find a very creative, yet focused, environment once we start shooting. Especially with the fine art. Getting the lighting exactly right and getting every detail of your pose right is key.
You will be comfortable in no time and excited about what we are shooting. You’ll also find I put my camera down unless you are in position and we are ready to catch the look. After 3-6 different looks or poses we’ll be done. Exhausted. And 3 or 4 hours went by yet it will seem like just 1. And in the case of those who did fine art nudes for the first time, they wonder what they were nervous about in the first place.
So, that’s what it’s like from the models point of view. Based on my observations and conversations.
Next part I’ll discuss the complications of model’s and photographer’s significant others and the huddles that often need to be overcome for everyone to be happy. It’s about communication and understanding.
As I’ve stated many times here, I am an artist first and photographer second. But I certainly don’t work alone. Models bring me their talents in the form of poses and of course the beauty their DNA has given them.
A model that is confident in herself is 90% of the way to perfection. Knowing her beauty, what angles look best, knowing how to move between shots and just how much, makes her a work of art before the camera is pointed her way. That self confidence is key. This is especially true in models who shoot implied nude or artistic nude. When there is nothing to hide behind, nothing to pose against, it’s just her and a blank white studio, it could be very scary. If the confidence is there, it’s easily seen because there is no hesitation, just a desire to give the best performance.
Another key ingredient is trust. Total and complete trust in the photographer and support staff. Trust that we are all there for the same thing. The perfect images. Without the trust no amount of confidence can overcome the moment of mediocrety. A lack of trust can actually sand down the confidence until it’s impossible to continue.
Self confidence AND trust.
Yet another mark of a perfect model is one that is always, and I mean ALWAYS, thinking about how she looks to the camera. She’s always considering that angle.
When I have a model standing sideways to me and I ask them to spread their legs a bit more, a good model will step forward with one foot instead of actually spreading her legs more. She knows that it’s from MY vantage point I need her legs to move apart. This tells me she is thinking about what she looks like to me…very important.
I feel every model should have the confidence in her own beauty to do whatever modeling she wants. This doesn’t mean she has to model nude, but she should have enough self confidence, enough self esteem, to be able to do that if she wanted to. Even in runway modeling the same extreme self confidence needs to be there.
The trust issue is a little harder when it’s a first time shooting with a photographer. That trust comes with time and more often with the first good shots. The trust will show in the finished work.
When a model comes to a shoot with me I always hope that she’s confident in herself, in the work will will accomplish, and be comfortable enough to do it all naturally and have fun with it.
I’m always asking everyone on set if they are having fun. It’s not really a question as it is a reminder. We’ve heard all our lives that if we are doing something we love it’s not work. We should all be enjoying the shoot and getting the art we expected…or better yet, better than we imagined.
So, come prepared with plenty of self confidence. And trust this photographer that if you work with me we’ll get some great art out of the shoot.
At first it was a bit annoying when I went into a shoot with a preconceived idea of what I wanted and others would make suggestions. Of course, there is a time you need to have a focus on a specific look and idea for a client. But if you are shooting for the fun of seeing what you can do and honing your skills, this is what I’ve found makes a great deal of difference in the outcome.
Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity
A photo shoot isn’t a good place to be shy. If you have an idea, speak up. And no, not all of your or anyones ideas will be used, but often even a lacking idea sparks a thread of thought that creates better ideas. I often let the makeup artist and hair stylist chat with the model and see what they have always wanted to try. If they come up with an idea everyone is happy with we head in that direction.
For example, this mermaid shoot wasn’t something I would have actually considered. I’d shot for 4 years and avoided the seemingly required ‘mermaid’ shoot but they wanted to do it and I figured it was a good place to get creative. So sure. It became a lighting challenge where I had to envision the final scene. My creativity contribution. This, for me, was a LOT of fun even though the model had to take my word for it. Trust is good.
So, with some communications the ideas flowed. Everyone was creative in their own way. The makeup artist, Erika, brought bras with shells and pearls glued to them and did some neat little scale type patterns on Katrina, the model. While they were doing makeup I started digging around in the prop room looking for things we could use and found a net hammock that worked just fine. And, of course, Katrina did some wonderful under water type poses with my explanations of how she will be in the water with light from above.
All three Cs were using full steam in this shoot.
In the pirate example above Rebecca and Raygan, her mother, collaborated with Rubii, the makeup artist/hair stylist and came up with the idea of a ship in her hair. I had the ship! So, we made it happen and it came out wonderful. Another very creative day indeed.
Looking over any very creative shoot I’ve done it was full of communication between all involved and that lead to energetic collaboration in every aspect. Everything from hair and makeup to lighting to props to what music we listen to while we create.
Then again, it’s those three Cs that set the mood and it becomes fun and creates the energy in the shoot. And the energy is very important.
Yeah, that’s a trick title. They should be one in the same.
We see a lot of actors that would not make for interesting models because it’s their presentation, their passion, their character presented ‘in motion’ that makes them stellar in their art.
Models have a slight advantage…or disadvantage depending on how you look at it. One frame. One walk down the runway. Just a moment to express that emotion, that glare, that slight smile, the tiny tilt of the head. As small a time frame that emotion or look has to be, it’s still very important that it happens.
I’m not saying that every shot has to look like a Shakespeare tragedy.
It can be as simple as taking a lot of deep breaths, shaking your body like a wet dog to relax, run around the block once if it’s fitness, something other than the OMG the camera is pointed at me look.
Models I love to work with know their jobs. And yes, we all have jobs in a shoot. Mine is easy…light it, compose it, and know what I want. If I tell them what I’m looking for I can go back to my job and they just flat out make it happen!
Tips for modeling…
- When asked to move something like your head or hand, do it ever so slightly. Then the photographer can say a little more, a little more, until it’s where they want it. If you make sweeping changes it’s VERY hard to get together on where we want you.
- While you are posed you have two things to be working on. Think about everything from the expression on your face, the tilt of you head to were your hands are to how your toes are poised. And, you have to think about what you plan to do after the flash. The next pose should be just slightly different. Again, no Kung Fu sweeps.
- Always know where the light is coming from. It’s not always obvious and don’t be afraid to ask. There is nothing wrong with asking to see a test shot so you can do your job better.
Have fun!! Make art!
So, how much planning goes into a shoot? Well, if it’s for a client there is plenty of planning. After all, there’s a goal in mind and someone is paying to get it.
How about a basic one-on-one model and photographer shoot? How much planning is to much and how much is not enough?
Here’s how I do it.
First, I consider who I’m shooting. Hair color and style, eye color, skin, freckles, dimples, just about everything about the persons face goes into the first pass in my mind. What can I do to make those best features stand out and make it a shoot about them? People should look at the pictures and either see that I brought something out in the person that they know, or sometimes even better is to show someone in a way no one has ever seen them. Both are wonderful fun!
So, there are several models I’ve worked with for over a year now and have over a dozen shoots with. Often we just plan a day and time and get together to shoot. Very little planning other than some different wardrobe discussed. We know each other and know the looks and styles we have to bring to the shoot. We’ll just use the energy and imagination of the moment to come up with something on the fly. It never fails to be fun, exciting, and far more creative than we expected. Always.
These two shots are a good example. Dawn and I have plenty of shoots together. Probably more than anyone else. Yet we get together and the ideas start to flow and we knock out a fine memorable shoot. These two pictures are from one such shoot and there were many other looks in just that one shoot.
That, to me, is a key. In about 3 hours we did 13 different looks…or what I call sets. 495 images total. Mixing it up and moving from one look to another can be fun and it keeps the energy flowing in a shoot. Then, when the shooting is done, I have a full bag of different looks to work with to create my art.
So, bottom line and advice that people might try….don’t plan so much.
Do you want to play in a sand box or a beach?
We love to shoot.
It’s a passion and we certainly don’t do it often enough. We tend to want to just start shooting away as soon as we have someone playing and posing in front of our camera. It’s a natural instinct.
Then we get back to the computer and upload the images. We go through them and often think…if we’d payed attention to all those needles in the snow we might have cleaned them up before laying her in the middle of them to shoot. Or if the light had been just a little more to the left and down her eyes would have really popped. It’s to late. Sure, some of the shots are going to be fine.
This is when you have to ask yourself…is FINE what I was after? I hope not. I doubt you are reading this is average is what you are after.
I have a habit of stopping often and just standing there and looking at the model, the lighting, and the overall setting. Yeah, it’s a little odd and I usually tell the model to relax while I think this through. After all, I don’t want them to think I’m just staring at them and they are awaiting direction from me at this point.
So, stop. Set the camera down. Look at the light, where it’s coming from, how it will hit the model, and envision what the end shot will look like.
Envisioning the end shot is the hard part, at least at first. Once you have experience you can look at something you take right on the back of the camera and have a fairly good idea of what you can do with it. I’ve found more and more I look at a picture and get excited about the possibilities of the shot when everyone else looks and doesn’t see what I see. Often my finished shots don’t look very close to the original so in my case it’s even more important to look and imagine what I can do with it. So, it’s slightly more important to get it right…to take my time. Unless the sun is going down there’s time.
Don’t get into the ‘spray and pray’ mode of shooting. If you have a model that poses well from shot to shot, get everything working right and then let him or her go through 6-12 of their expressions and then stop. I do often show them the first test shots to let them know what the lighting is like and how to angle their heads the best to take advantage of the lighting. Then let them play as you shoot. Those will be great shots.
So, take your time. Enjoy being creative. Train your eye to look at the shot in the view finder for a while before hitting that shutter button.
One thing I’ve done, even in the studio, is to wear the R strap with my camera. Then, when I want to think, talk with the model, whatever, the camera is at my side. And it’s not far away in those rare and fun moments in time when a perfect shot hits you in the face and you need to get it quickly.
The hard part about photographing a person is getting a great shot of a pose that doesn’t look like a pose. It’s not easy to do. Actually, it’s damned hard to do and very often overlooked. And it makes the difference between a great shot and a snap shot.
Now we know the first 30 minutes of a shoot is often a warm up period and little good comes out of it as far as a good shot. So, use this time to chat with the subject as you are testing gear and getting some lighting ideas. See how they change when the camera is pointed at them. If their eyes get bigger, or they put on a pout, or flip their hair back every time…well, that’s a good sign you have some work to do. Subjects who actively change when the camera is pointed at them are not going to look natural. And it’s that natural look that makes a shot interesting.
I think the problem is that some think a picture isn’t supposed to echo life. It’s supposed to have the subject looking different somehow. What makes a great shot isn’t an unnatural pose, or a big smile, or some out of place prop. It’s the look in the eyes, the definition of the light coming across their body, and that sense of voyeurism of being able to stare at someone without anyone feeling uncomfortable.
The natural pose should simply say ‘you can look at me’ and not ‘HEY, look at me!”
So, when I point my camera at my subject I watch close to see how they react. That’s my job to get something special, catch them in candid moments, any split seconds that would be moving enough to stare at for a bit.
I don’t shoot smiles often. When I do they are natural…I never ask a model to smile. There is a difference.
Like everything else in this or anyone’s blog, it’s an opinion. It’s the way someone else sees some topic and you can agree or disagree. Everything can be a learning experience if you have an open mind.
I’m sure you all run into this when shooting. Between poses the subject smiles a certain way, tilts their head into the light just so, looks down, up, or flips some hair that fell…and yeah, THAT was, or would have been, an amazing shot.
I’ve learned to simply glance at the back of the camera once after a lighting change to make sure it’s what I want. After that, it’s keeping my mind and eye (and camera) focused on the subject ready to catch that impossible to plan shot. The one candid shot that really gives the viewer a glimpse at the real person. I use the words ‘freeze’ and ‘stay’ a lot. And I usually just give the subject some painfully general instructions on the pose. If the lighting is super critical I’ll share on the back of the camera what the shots are going to look like so they can plan their looks to the lights. Other than that, as long as I’m not battling the DITH look (deer in the headlights) it usually goes very well.
I now average 400-700 shots in a 2-4 hour shoot. Some would still look at that as ‘Spray and Pray’ but it’s not. I did that a lot when I was new so I know what that is. No control and you have no idea what you have when you upload. When I look at my uploads there are very distinct sets and multiple shots were trying to catch that smirk, wink, hair falling in the face, that shot that makes it real and interesting, or just fun. It gives the subject the freedom to play a bit in that set.
So, next time you notice you are spending a lot of time looking into the back of your camera, or sharing those shots with the subject, remember that you are loosing focus.