The Thoughtful Photographer Blog

Author: Joe Edelman | Category: How To Shoot Models

NAKED Part 1 – The Fine Art of Shooting The Female Nude

 
 

This is the first of several articles and accompanying videos that will detail my approach to fine art nude photography. I will cover finding models, prepping for a shoot, model releases, camera equipment, lighting equipment and techniques, posing and directing your models, some cool reasons to shoot at the WRONG exposure and even a real cool Photoshop/Lightroom trick to expand the range of your fine art images.

Special emphasis will be given to the specific lighting and posing techniques that you see in the images displayed here as well as on my website www.JoeEdelman.com.

Be sure to read Naked Part II – Naked Part III and Naked Part IV

Webster’s Dictionary defines the word nude with phrases such as: nude human figure; being nude; not covered by clothing or drape. For hundreds of years, the nude female form has inspired works of art from the classics to modern abstract expressionism. In the name of art, the female form has been both appreciated and objectified.

My goal is to appreciate the beauty in the female form and to create images that result from a collaboration with my subject.

My goal is to appreciate the beauty in the female form.

That’s correct – collaboration. I rarely pose my subjects when shooting nudes. Instead I prefer to work with a concept and encourage my subject to move and interact with the light or background. I’ll talk more about that in Part III.

You will notice that I prefer not to show faces when shooting fine art nudes. If you have looked through the galleries of my work on my web site you have already noticed that the overwhelming majority of my work places extreme emphasis on the subjects eyes. Indeed the eyes are the most valuable communication tools that we have when showing a person in a photograph, but for my nudes, I enjoy the challenge of creating mood and emotion without the eyes. So this is just a personal preference. For the sake of these articles I will show you examples with and without faces.

How do you find models?

How do you find models?

ASK!

You would be amazed how many people will say yes if you ask honestly and respectfully. Now let’s use a little common sense here. If you just ask somebody to “pose naked” for you – expect to get turned down. When you ask someone be prepared to give them details about the types of images you had in mind. Show them samples of your work. If you haven’t shot nudes yet – show them sample images that you found online that are like those that you hope to achieve.

If you don’t have the guts to ask a friend, neighbor or relative, you can try the amateur modeling web sites. Two of the most well-known and popular sites are www.ModelMayhem.com and www.OneModelPlace.com. You will find literally thousands of girls on these sites who are willing subjects. Signing up for a free profile will allow you to search for subjects in your area or who are traveling to your area and contact them. Girls quickly figure out that they can and SHOULD get paid to pose nude. You may find some beginners who are willing to pose for trade (TFP = Time For Prints), but you should generally expect to pay anywhere from $25 to $100 per hour for models that you find on these web sites.

If you are going to use these web sites understand that they are the photography equivalent of Facebook and like anything else in life you will tend to get what you pay for.

How to select the right model

How to select the right model

At first you may be faced with a “beggars can’t be choosers” scenario. Indeed if this is the case, work with anyone who is willing – you need the practice.

As your skills and portfolio progress you will realize that different models will work best with different concepts or ideas.

Your choice may be based upon:

  • Your own personal taste in body type
  • The lighting that you intend to use
  • The poses that you are interested in
  • Does the image require a special skill set**
  • Are you able to pose the model or do you need a model that can move with little to no direction?

** Dancers make great figure models. They are able to bring a skill set and creative toolbox to a shoot that will help to elevate your images to a new level. A dancer is able to create elegant and long lines and has much more physical control and tolerance for difficult poses or movements.

Dancers make great figure models.

Offer to meet in advance

You need to create a safe working environment for your model. It can be frightening even for a willing model to agree to pose in this genre. Offer to meet the model in advance and let them get to know you.

Even if you don’t have a studio and are planning to shoot in natural settings, offer to meet them for coffee or lunch. This will go a long way towards establishing a professional and comfortable working relationship. McDonald’s and Starbucks make great casual meeting places.

This brings up the difficult debate… Do you allow the model to bring an escort so that she feels more comfortable or not?

My answer is NEVER! I have never and would never allow a model to bring an escort (friend, boyfriend, husband, relative) to a photo shoot – clothed or nude.

Now before you get fired up and remind me that there are a lot of crazies in this world and I just told you to provide a safe working environment let me explain why letting your subject bring an escort is simply a DUMB idea and how you handle it.

If I was speaking with a young model and she told me that she “needed” an escort the first thing I would question is why she thinks she needs one. If it were because she fears for her safety then I would have to discourage her from doing the shoot in the first place.

There is no other occupation that I am aware of where you are encouraged to take your friends or relatives to work with you. The fact of the matter is that if your model has an escort along it completely changes the dynamic of your shoot because this is a person who knows the model in real life and not as an artistic muse. You will never get your subject to completely relax and collaborate with you when someone is watching them who knows them intimately.

This is why you take the extra time and make the effort to meet the model in advance.

Additionally if the model has never posed nude before, I will generally arrange to do a very short session of 10 – 15 minutes as a test / practice. This gives her the opportunity to experience it first hand and then drive home and think it over, allowing her to decide that she both enjoyed the experience and wants to do more or to realize that it is not something she is not ultimately comfortable with.

Give your Model a Prep List

Give your Model a Prep List

Give her specific instructions prior to your shoot. If you don’t – you can’t expect her to get it right.

A few examples of things that should be on the prep list for a fine art shoot:

  • Wear loose fitting clothing – NO ELASTIC.
  • Wash hair the day before the shoot – NOT the day of the shoot.
  • Clean and well groomed nails and toenails.
  • If you are working with a makeup artist – arrive with a clean face – no makeup.
  • Arrive on time. In this business on time is 15 minutes early.

For more guidelines: How to Prepare for a Shoot

Make your model feel as comfortable as possible.

Prepare for comfort

Make your model feel as comfortable as possible.

Working to put your model at ease is a sign of a true professional.

  • Many studios are cool in temperature. Warm it up!
  • Have a warm and comfortable robe handy for the model to wear between shots.
  • Keep the robe near her on the set. There is no need for her to walk around your studio without it.
  • Respect your models space and DON’T TOUCH!
  • Watch your language. You may be comfortable with slang terms or off color remarks but that doesn’t mean your model is.

Obtain a signed model release before you shoot your first frame

Get a signed release – FIRST!

Obtain a signed model release before you shoot your first frame to avoid any future legal actions. This will also help to establish a professional atmosphere.

If there could be ANY question regarding the models age, it is a good idea to ask to see her driver’s license and photograph her holding it.

If I intend to NOT show the girls face or identity I will actually have her sign a modified release with simple language that states I will not show her face or any identifying marks (tattoos, birth marks, etc) and that I will not associate her name with the images. This policy has gotten me a lot of subjects who would not have otherwise agreed to pose nude because they would have been identifiable.

Watch this video for some more samples of my work and some behind the scenes clips of me shooting figure studies.

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Be sure to read NAKED Part II – Equipment and Lighting for Shooting The Female Nude.
I will discuss equipment and basic lighting set-ups for photographing the nude form.

Would you believe these two images are shot with an iPhone4?

Would you believe these two images are shot with an iPhone4?

Believe it!

Be sure to read Naked Part II – Naked Part III and Naked Part IV