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Monday, September 12, 2016

5 Tips for Nude Photography

Although I am a portrait photographer (in other words: I photograph people), nude photography is something I have not been too interested in. There is a very specific reason for it: more than any other kind of people photography, nude photography requires a deep connection between photographer and photographed, if anything good is expected to come out of it.

To remove your clothes and be "at the mercy" of the photographing lens requires trust - always in the context of artistic nude photography; if you just want to take snapshots of someone without their clothes on, we're entering a wholly other discussion, outside the scope of the present article and AmateurNikon.


Nude Photography is all about affect

But if your aim is to make some truly meaningful nude photographs, displaying the timeless beauty of the human form, nothing can substitute that trust. And this, as I said, is the reason why I have not been interested in nude photography. I could not do that with a stranger (i.e. a model), because I would not care enough for him/her to translate it into a photo.

Still, as an experienced people photographer, I know exactly how it works. Today, I'll give you five concrete tips on how to take better nude photos. Let's get right to the point!

Note: due to the personal nature of nude photography, I cannot publish any such photos I have taken myself. Hence, as an exception, the example photos of this article are from the public domain.



1. Connection, trust, communication.
Nothing good can come out of any kind of people photography if you don't form a connection with the person you're photographing. This is particularly true for nude photography, because the person you're photographing feels vulnerable. Especially if it's a partner or a close friend and not a professional model, assume that s/he feels uncertain, self-conscious, and hesitant.
Talk to the guy/gal you're photographing, make them feel relaxed. 
Don't buzz over them with the camera as a first thing. Leave the camera aside and spend some time chatting. Let them feel comfortable in your presence.

It's not about what you see; it's about what you don't


2. It's all about affect.
Like with every other kind of photography, nude photography is also about affect and, in fact, even more than other kinds of photography. The reason? Simple. When you photograph something as uniquely personal as a nude human body, you really must succeed in ascribing an emotion or a state of mind to the scene. Otherwise, the photo will fail.
There is no such thing as a nude snapshot; there is only nude art and obscenity.
Perhaps "obscenity" is a bit too strong word for it, as it connotes a moralistic standpoint. That's not my point, I speak purely in photographic terms. What I mean is, if you take a nude photo without any emotions or thoughts evident in the scene, then nudity becomes the subject. That should not be the case, and here is why

3. The subject of nude photography is not nudity; it's a human being
Nude photography, always assuming you're interested in aesthetically pleasing, engaging artistic images, is not about showing breasts, buttocks, and genitals. It's about showing the human body as an organic whole, a living organism that lives, breathes, moves, feels, and exists. More importantly, as I mentioned earlier, it's about emotions, thoughts, states of mind - in one word: affect. Focus on the person, not their nudity. Their body is just their means to explore and interact with the world.
Don't show what is visible; show what is not
You're probably wondering what that means. It simply means that by focusing on the person, like I told you, their body is there to support the composition (instead of their body merely being the sole subject in a monolithic composition). Focusing on the person, some parts of their body will be exposed and some will not. The in-between area (perhaps partly covered by a robe, underwear, or other items) increases attraction (both visually and metaphorically speaking).

A suitable pose can be crucial


4. Posing considerations.
This depends a lot on what you're trying to achieve (i.e. what kind of affect you're after). If you want to convey sensuality, it's a different thing compared to wanting to convey, say, abandonment. It's all about affect. And, needless to say, this is directly related to what the person you photograph wants, too. If it's a close friend or a significant other, chances are they simply want a flattering photo of their nude body. It has to be sensual and alluring, in other words. If you want to experiment with something else (e.g. a naturalistic composition, portraying the raw reality of the human form), you have to be very clear about this. The most self-confident person will experience a little shock seeing their own nude body in a not-very-flattering posture.

5. Technical considerations
Post-production is an integral part of photography, and the same goes for nude photography. At the same time, as I've explained again and again, post-production is simply the continuation of plans and strategies you've already employed. In other words, you must have a very clear idea in your mind about what kind of shots you're after. Then, you must set up you equipment and your setting for it, shoot it, and post-produce it. More importantly, you need to understand the connection between affect and those decisions. An HDR nude without any justification* is a horrible idea. Similarly, having a nude image then start throwing all kinds of ready-made filters (a la Instagram) is pointless and dangerous.

* A steampunk setting would be about the only case I can imagine an HDR image would be suitable.

Here are some quick reminders/examples on how photographic signifiers can help you translate affect into an image (for more details check this)

a) You're going for a dreamy/ethereal effect underlying romanticism, sweetness, innocence? Lower the contrast and saturation, add some highlight glow, reduce sharpness.
b) You're going for a threatening/aggressive look? Increase contrast and sharpness, make sure there are harsh shadows in the scene (e.g. use direct external flashes), tilt the frame.
c) You're going for a mysterious, enigmatic look? Hang black backdrops all around, position your external flashes so that only small parts of the model's body - including the eyes - are visible. Let imagination do the rest.

As a conclusion, I really must repeat once more: Nude photography is, even more than other kinds of photography, all about affect. If there is to be anything good out of it, you must show emotions, thoughts, a state of mind. It's not about bodies, in the end; it's about minds.





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