Nude Photography can be quite a divisive subject to discuss in the photography world.
There are many that see it as a perfectly legitimate art form that can empower people and question perceptions of beauty.
At the same time, there is another argument that it is exploitative, degrading and impossible to look at any differently than pornography.
Truth be told, we can see both sides of the argument. There will definitely be photographers shooting nudes with bad intentions. However, there are also artists out there creating the most incredible work whose subjects just so happen to not wear any clothes.
As a result, we’ve designed this blog post to give some insights into the best practice for keeping you and your models happy if you do decide to experiment with nude photography.
For us, nude photography should be thought of as a natural extension of portrait photography, something we have discussed in great detail in a previous article.
However, being able to capture the essence and personality of your subject can perhaps be trickier when they are laid bare of visual clues and presented in their natural form.
A little disclaimer before we go any further. If you hadn’t guessed already, this blog post is going to be all about nude photography. So, if you are offended by nudity or don’t want to learn about it as an art form then why on earth have you searched for nude photography? There will also be images of male and female nudity throughout so if you don’t want to read any further I guess this is where we say our goodbyes.
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What is Nude Photography?
Fairly obvious right? It’s just taking pictures of people in the buff!
Well no, not really! Nude photography can be much more complex than that.
It can obviously be used to create sexualised images there is no getting away from that. However, it can also be used to promote body positivity. By capturing different nude body types it can help people to feel more confident about their own appearance and that everyone is different.
There are many artists that have utilised this aspect of nude photography which we will talk about in more detail in this article.
With the constant bombardment of images of photoshopped models, it can be immensely satisfying to see real bodies represented. This is just one great example of nude photography being used for good rather than the bad press it gets for exploiting its contributors.
Equally, nude photography doesn’t just mean a photo of a man or woman against a white background for the viewer to ogle. There are many ways to approach nude photography without such a basic understanding of the art form.
Many portrait photographers imply nudity within their images. This is where you take photos covering the areas of the body which seem to cause offence.
Implied nudity has been used to comedic effect in popular culture from The Simpsons and Calendar Girls and even Austin Powers but it can also make great nude photographs.
Wikipedia does quite a good job of describing nude photography. It states that it is “the creation of any photograph which contains an image of a nude or semi-nude person, or an image suggestive of nudity. Nude photography is undertaken for a variety of purposes, including educational uses, commercial applications and artistic creations.”
A Brief History of Nude Art
The human form has been represented in an artistic way from the earliest of civilisations, particularly in the West.
Throughout history, humans have been fascinated with capturing the nude form whether that is in painting or sculpture to display ideals of male and female beauty.
Michelangelo’s ‘David’ is a prime example of using sculpture to display the nude form. It dates back to the 1500s but there are far earlier examples scattered throughout history.
Nude art photography, on the other hand, is relatively new in comparison. It has only been around since the invention of the camera in the early 19th century.
Photographers would often try to recreate poses from historical nude paintings or sculptures. However, it faced criticism from traditional fine artists because of its too true to life representation.
Modern Nude Photography, What’s The Point?
So what is the point of nude photography and how can it be used for good in modern day art?
Laura Dodsworth is a photographer and artist who aims to break down barriers and taboos related to the naked human form.
So far she has created 3 series of work. She has photographed and interviewed 300 women and men about their breasts, penises, vulvas and vaginas.
She hopes that by turning her lens towards these physical taboos she can create a conversation about social taboos and offer a deeply personal perspective on our most private, painful and pleasurable stories.
Her collaboration about breast cancer with the fashion designer Stella McCartney saw her photograph and interview 12 anonymous women who survived breast cancer. There is no airbrushing and the images are entirely honest shedding light on the unspoken reality of breast cancer.
Jamie McCartney (no relation to Stella or Paul McCartney) is another artist who has used male and female nude photography within his work. He says that “like my sculptural works, as well as being beautiful images, they protest against the pervasive body fascism that sickens our society. I have avoided image manipulation or airbrushing because I love the beauty of natural bodies, shown as the Gods intended.”
In a similar vein to Laura Dodsworth, he has also explored notions of perceived body normality in his sculptural piece ‘The Great Wall of Vagina’. It took him 4 years to complete with the help of 400 volunteers from which he took plaster casts of their vaginas. The idea of the piece was to educate people about what normal women really look like ‘down there’ rather than an often impossible vision displayed by pornography.
These are just two examples of how modern art is breaking down barriers and showing that nude photography doesn’t have to be erotic. It doesn’t have to be bordering on pornographic or titillating but instead can be educational, inclusive and make us more accepting of different body types.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Nude Photography
So you are probably reading this article because you want to get into nude or boudoir photography. This genre of photography offers great possibilities for producing creative work so let’s talk about some do’s and don’t which will help you take the best photos.
Connect With Your Models
Instead of getting straight into the photo shoot it’s important that you put your model at ease.
Take time to make them feel comfortable and get an idea of their personality as you would with any other model. This can be as simple as making a coffee, discussing your ideas and asking what type of images they are interested in making.
When this is done your shoot can feel effortless as it eliminates any awkwardness either the model or yourself might be feeling before the shoot.
Involve Your Model
You should show your model the images you are taking throughout the shoot and discuss what you think is working.
Involve them as much as possible in the creative process. After all, they will have seen themselves naked thousands of times. As a result, they probably have a better idea about how they can look their best in the photos you’re taking.
This will help you both to build a rapport. At the same time, it will boost their confidence about you as a photographer (especially if the images are good).
Never Touch Your Model
Over the years this is one of the reasons that nude photography has developed a bad rap. You should never touch your nude model unless they’ve ok’d it with you first.
This is just basic common sense and should apply to all forms of photography anyway. However, there are times when you might be so zoned into creating your art that you simply forget the sensitivity of the subject matter.
Instead of feeling like you need to touch your model in order to create the desired photo you should work on your communication skills. Try to mirror the pose that you are after or show them a photograph of someone pose you require.
Working in this way will make your model feel much more comfortable in front of the camera. And obviously, if you’re not a creep they might want to work with you again in the future.
Using props in your nude photography can be a really effective way to add intrigue and character to your photos.
You can also use props to partially cover your model which will add a level of interest to your photos. By using a chair, table or bed sheet for example you can experiment with more poses that make your images feel more sculptural.
Less Is More
Sometimes with nude photography less can be more and by partially covering the body you can create really effective imagery.
Your model doesn’t always need to display full frontal nudity in order to create amazing nude photos. She or he can use their hands, arms or legs to cover their private parts.
Equally, you can have your model face away from the camera. Or use strategic lighting and shadows to make the images have a more curious quality.
This implied nudity is a lot more accepted at the moment in society. As a result, you’ll find more models are willing to participate in this type of photography. Especially if they’ve already seen the stunning images you can create beforehand.
Some models might only shoot with you if it is agreed beforehand that they will remain anonymous. This can easily be achieved by posing your models in a way that strategically hides their faces.
You should also ask your model if they object to you posting their photos on social media or your website.
Tips For The Best Nude Photography Art
Plan Your Shoot
As with all types of photography, planning will always stand you in good stead to get the best possible shots.
It’s really important and especially in nude photography to discuss your ideas. Make sure you are both on the same page about the type of images you want to make.
Nude photography is not as simple as just taking photos of someone without any clothes on. If you want great photos that accentuate your model’s natural beauty then you will need the right poses and correct lighting to make all of this possible.
It can be a good idea to sit down with your model beforehand with an inspiration board of poses. This way they can get a greater understanding of the images you are looking to create. At the same time by doing this you will be able to break the ice on what can be quite an awkward situation. Particularly if this is the first nude photo shoot for either you or your model.
Pre Visualise Your Images
Knowing what your nude art will look like in advance will be a major key to its success.
You don’t want your model standing around naked. Especially if you’re outside whilst you try and figure out the best way to take your photo.
Instead, you should ask your model to get into position whilst they are still wearing their robe. This way you can practice the pose you are after until you are confident it will look good on camera.
You want to make the process as comfortable and easy for your model as possible. This will produce the best results.
Once you are happy with the setup, ask them to de-robe, or have an assistant take away the clothing. Grab your shots in a timely manner and then allow your model to cover up again.
Nude photography isn’t about continuous shooting. By pre-visualising your scene and executing your photograph quickly and effectively it can make the whole process much more fluid for everyone.
Black and White Nude Photography
Shooting black and white nude photography can be very flattering towards your model’s skin.
The great thing about many modern cameras is their ability to shoot RAW images. One of the great benefits of this is that you can shoot in black and white on your camera but still record all the colour in your RAW file. You can then decide at a later date whether to convert your RAW file to black and white or edit it in colour.
Even the most beautiful or handsome model will have blemishes or blotches on their skin. If you are showing the colour images to your model during the shoot these images can be quite confronting. However, if you initially show them your captures in black and white the images become more about the shapes, light and shadows created more than a clinical depiction of their naked bodies.
Nude photography and black and white is just a match made in heaven so definitely give it a go.
Is It Hot In Here?
This is more of a practical idea but one that if you get wrong could spell disaster for your nude photography shoot.
Whether you are inside or outside you are going to want to make your models are as comfortable as possible. That means you might need to whack the heating on or bring some extra fleecy robes to your photo shoot.
After all, you’re asking your model to be naked. As a result, you’re going to want to make sure they’re not shivering in every photo you take.
Which Focal Lengths?
This can vary from model to model and photographer to photographer. However, it can be an idea to start off with some distance between you and your model.
This will allow your nude model more personal space and enable them to get comfortable with the way you photograph.
We’ve talked in a previous blog post how a 50mm can be great for a real eyes view of a scene. Equally, once you and your model have developed a rapport a 35mm lens might be suitable.
The focal length you shoot at will massively shape how your images look. It will also determine how you interact with your subjects.
An 85mm lens on a full frame body is a popular choice amongst nude and portrait photographers. They are typically smaller than zoom lens so less intimidating to your model. They also produce flattering proportions to your photos.
Shoot In Raw
As we’ve mentioned already, shooting in RAW rather than just JPEG will mean you can show your model the image in black and white if you want.
However, that is not the only advantage of shooting in RAW. This file format records far more data than JPEG. As a result, it allows you a lot more control when you come to edit your photos.
You will be able to recover far more detail from the shadows and highlights. This means you have far more control over how the final image will look.
Why So Serious?
Taking yourself too seriously in any form of photography can put everyone around you on edge.
Instead, try to keep the mood relaxed and fun especially when making nude photographs.
Obviously, it helps if you’ve worked with the model before but having the ability to make people feel comfortable can often be overlooked in photography.
In a similar vein to our tips on portrait photography, simple poses will often produce the best results.
You should direct your model as much as possible to convey the vision you have in your head. Once you are happy with what you’ve got ask them if they have any ideas of poses they would like to try.
Overcomplicated posing often looks unnatural and robotic. Instead, try to get your model comfortable and relaxed in order to capture the best photos.
You should look for shapes and consider how light is falling on the body to create unique photos.
Move Around Your Subject
As we mentioned earlier it is a good idea to pre-visualise the image you are going to take.
However, it is also important to move around your subject particularly if you are using a fixed focal length.
You can do this whilst your model is robed. This will allow you to create images from different and more exciting angles. Try shooting them from high up for a flattering angle or shoot from low down to make your model look taller.
Hire A Stylist
By hiring a makeup and hair stylist you can really take your photos to the next level.
They can notice a hair that’s out of place and fix it in a flash. This can go along way towards making the perfect nude photographs you’re after.
It can also be a huge advantage having an extra pair of hands on set particularly if you want to incorporate props into your scenes.
Don’t Copy Someone Else’s Work
There is nothing wrong with being inspired by someone else’s work. We have even included nude photographers in this blog post that we think you should check out.
However, you should never blatantly copy someone else’s nude photos and claim them as your own. Instead, look at why you think those photos are successful. What works and what doesn’t? and put that into practice in your own nude photography.
At the end of the day, you’ll find it much more fulfilling to create your own unique style of nude photography rather than simply becoming a poor imitation of another photographer.
Your choice of aperture in your nude photography shoot can really affect the overall feel of the images you create.
A wide aperture of say f/1.4, for example, will allow you to create a shallow depth of field. This will mean you can isolate your subject from their background. Equally, shooting in this way can allow you to focus on details such as the shape of your model’s hands rather than the overall nudity of the image.
On the other hand, perhaps you want to have your model feel part of the environment in which they’re being photographed in. In which case it might be better to shoot at a smaller aperture of around f/8. This will mean much more of your image is in focus and your nude model becomes part of the landscape.
Nude Female Photography
Viewing the female nude has generally been considered as more acceptable and desired by society. We have seen this through the years with its depiction through the male gaze in both art and films.
As a result female nudity has, therefore, become normalised, if not expected.
Recently and in particular with the MeToo movement, we have seen women taking back some control of a male gaze dominated world. Women are standing up to the way they are portrayed in the media and asking for equality when it comes to nudity.
The actress Jennifer Lawrence explained in a 2018 interview that her topless sequences in the film “Red Sparrow” made her feel empowered and acted as a way of her to take back control of her body after illegally obtained nudes of her were posted online.
There is a lot of controversy about nude female photography. However, if the women modelling are choosing to do this is there really anything wrong with that? Especially if they feel empowered by showing their naked bodies?
Nude Male Photography
The history of the male nude actually dates back to the ancient Greek sculptures. These were used to portray idealised heroes, gods and portraits of Olympic champions.
In those days male nudity was totally acceptable and gladiators would even train and compete without clothing. In fact, women were often clothed in depictions in sculpture whereas men would be presented as God made them, free from any clothing.
More recent history has seen portrayals of male nudity take a back seat compared to female and more so within t.v. and film.
A 2016 report by St. Mary’s University shows that actresses are three times more likely to appear nude on screen than their male co-workers.
Equally, take the film Titanic as an example, it was rated as PG. This rating allows female breasts and nipples to be displayed so long as they are in a non-sexual context. However, compare that to the rare occurrence of a film with full frontal male nudity. Would you see the same rating? It’s highly unlikely.
There are however some nude photographers who are trying to buck the trend. Producing worked exclusively shining a light on male nude photography.
Abigail Ekue, for example, is a photographer who has tried to bring more attention to nude male photography with her fantastic series ‘Bare Men’. She says in her artist statement that she “wanted a series of natural, candid, voyeuristic nude images of men being themselves. Through Bare Men, I am able to present men artistically, emotionally and being themselves sans clothing.”
As we’ve already mentioned in this article, nude photography, whether male or female can be used to aid body positivity. Abigail goes on to say “Over time Bare Men has also evolved into an outlet for men to work through body image issues and to finally be seen. Many of the men expressed their desire to objectified — to be considered beautiful and lovely.”
Location Ideas For Nude Photography
Choosing the ideal location for your nude photography will form an integral part of your planning process.
You should discuss this with your model ahead of time as they might reservations about shooting outdoors especially if there are lots of people around.
Shooting outdoors will offer you a great amount of freedom and choice when it comes to the backdrop of your nude photography art. Woodland areas make a great choice of location as do urban cityscapes, the beach and architectural areas.
Textured backgrounds such as foliage or the roughness of an architectural ruin can offer a great contrast to the softness and pureness of your model’s skin.
There are obviously advantages and disadvantages to creating nude photographs outdoors. One is the weather, particularly if you’re working in intermittent climates.
As we’ve previously mentioned it’s a good idea to have plenty of layers of clothing available for your model to wear in between shots. Keeping them warm will go along way to making sure you get the most out of your session.
If you are going to shoot outdoors the bests time to do it are when the light is less harsh. Avoid the midday sun as this will produce harsh shadows. As a result, you won’t get the most out of the photographic situation.
Instead, try to schedule your nude photography session around sunrise or sunset hours. Golden hour will produce beautifully soft lighting which will make your model look their absolute best. Equally, overcast days can be great for fine art nude photography. That’s because it produces even lighting which is great for those kinds of images.
If you are shooting outdoors you should be mindful that nudist photography might offend some people. Try to choose locations that aren’t popular tourist hotspots. If members of the public are in sight take your photos of your nude model as quickly as possible.
This is another reason why early morning photography is a great idea. Shooting at around 6 am (if it is light enough) will generally mean there are fewer people out and about. That means you can shoot your images without being disturbed.
Creating nude photographs indoors will allow you the greatest amount of control over lighting, environment and climate.
Whether you are shooting in a studio or your home you should apply some of the tips and tricks we have talked about in this blog post.
Shooting indoors with a lot of natural light will be a perfect match particularly for boudoir photography. Combining this with shooting with a shallow depth of field your camera will be able to produce beautifully soft images that really compliment your model.
Another thing to consider when shooting indoors is that you might be more limited on the backdrop to your photos. As a result, you will need to work harder on creating interesting poses with your model and photographing them from different angles.
10 Nude Photographers To Inspire You
Antonio is a Spanish photographer who is always looking for new ways to express himself through portraiture.
His series entitled ‘Zodiac’ shows an amazing use of nude photography and is open to several interpretations. He says about the work that “to eliminate all sexual connotations I have sought the subtle inspiration in the beauty of the sculptures of classical Greece, and have carefully chosen the lighting, the perching and the framing to show the woman’s body in such a delicate way that it resembles polished marble.”
The photos are simply stunning and it is no surprise that he won first place at the Fine Art Photography Awards
Abigail is a fine art nude photographer who aims to hold up a mirror to her clients, helping them to see themselves as beautiful. She has published a book entitled ‘Bare Men’ a project that we discussed earlier in this article. It features the first 17 men from her ongoing nude male photography series.
Abigail also promotes positive body image through her nude art photography and modelling. She believes women should take control of their portrayal as it relates to womanhood, fitness, sex, sexuality, sensuality and simply loving the skin they’re in.
Lauren is a nude photographer and creative director based in LA. While she also specialises in other areas of photography her fine art nude photos are particularly eye-catching.
With her photography, she tries to create something uniquely beautiful without trying too hard. Her images are rooted with moody undertones and otherworldly terrains. She uses creative set design and cinematic motifs to create a dream landscape for her subjects.
Henriette van Gasteren better known by her pseudonym, Lilith, is a photographic artist who has been exhibited throughout the world.
She uses self-portraits to provide a commentary on the image of women in the modern day. Lilith consistently works with themes of identity, freedom, equality, gender roles, religion and the negative and positive aspects of human experience.
Her work is often humorous, confrontational, often sensual and always original and insightful.
Olivier deals with both female and male nude photography within his artworks.
In his series ‘Drifting’ he takes the viewer on a journey through art history. Each picture merges the tradition of the reclining nude with the still life painting genre from Flanders.
He favours an eerie atmosphere within his nude photography where you are not 100% certain of what you are looking at. His models often look like sculptures or painting rather than modern photographs.
Working as a photographer for over 16 years he has come across sheer beauty, attraction and vanity but also self-doubt, vulnerability, prejudice and resentment.
In Ruediger’s fine art, nude photography models are not forced to cooperate to the desires of the photographer, instead, they work to their own rules and wishes.
All his nude photography is undertaken in an analogue medium format with a selection that has been transferred into Cyanotypes.
Jan exclusively works with the medium of film for his nude fine art photography. His images are simply stunning and definitely worth checking out if you are after inspiration for your own art.
He predominantly works with female models but does on occasion shoot nude male photography as well. His work creates artistic pieces which captivate the viewer through their empathetic and highly aesthetic visual language.
He considers himself to be a portrait photographer first and foremost rather than someone who does nude photography. However, he believes that a lack of clothing gives him a genuine look at the fragility of his subject and their emotions.
Ryan only discovered photography just before turning 27 but you would think he has been photographing all his life with his extensive body of work and expertly crafted nude art.
In an interview with Ryan Trimble, he states
I’m fine with doing nudes, but they have to be done right. And I’d rather take my time in figuring that out, than mess it up. Our culture is saturated with sex and nudity and I have no desire to participate in that. But if I’m going to make raw, powerful, storytelling images, nudes are an honest way to do that. So I’ve started shooting and showing more of those recently and I love them. I’m proud of them.
Eric is a Belgian born artist and nude photographer. In his work, he captures the essence of a woman’s soul that transcends mere physical representation.
In his series entitled ‘nudes’, he uses only natural light just as a painter would in their study.
By using slow shutter speeds it allows his camera more time to capture each model’s unique character. This reveals a sense of sublime femininity which borders on abstraction.
Eric’s nudes are all very similar but at the same time different. They are all beautiful, yet their differences and unique qualities are magnified. It is a series that celebrates the human form.
Renée Jacobs is one of the most celebrated photographers of the female nude of our time.
She was the recipient of the prestigious International Photography Award for Fine Art Nude and her work has been exhibited and published around the world.
Where To Find Models For Your Nude Photography Shoot
There are various ways to find models for your shoot. Each method obviously comes with its own pros and cons.
One thing to consider is that there is going to be a major difference in the quality of the model between someone who is charging and someone who is willing to shoot for free. This isn’t always the case and you might find an amazing model who is just at the start of their career looking to build their portfolio.
However, a model who is represented by an agency will generally have a lot more experience. They will also probably have reviews on their professionalism as well as an extensive portfolio. This way you can gauge if they’d be the right fit for your shoot.
Below are some ideas of places you can try to find nude models for your photo shoot.
One of the easiest ways to get started in nude photography is to ask friends if they’re interested in posing for you. This seems more possible if you are female asking another female but there are obviously exceptions to this rule.
Equally, it could happen that a friend completely surprises you and asks you to take their nude photos.
Perhaps they want some sexy nude photos creating for their partner or just want to experience what it’s like to model for a photographer.
Once people find out that you’re a photographer you will be inundated with requests from friends which are far stranger than photographing them naked.
The great thing about photographing your friend is that whilst it might be slightly awkward at least you can both have a laugh about the situation.
It allows you to test the waters of whether this is something you can see yourself doing in the future. At the same time, your friend will get some amazing photographs which might also boost their body confidence.
Being comfortable with a familiar face will allow you to relax as a photographer as you learn how to take good nudes.
Model Mayhem is a great place to gain access to models for both male and female nude photography.
They are the number 1 portfolio website for professional models and photographers. You can search by location and also see whether your models are comfortable with nude photography before getting in touch.
Equally by presenting your portfolio on Model Mayhem you might be contacted by models who want you to photograph them. Typically this website is used by photographers and models who want to build a mutually beneficial portfolio.
Model Management connects aspiring models and professional models with reputable photographers, stylists and agencies.
Photographers can search their database which is home to international models allowing you to find the best fit for your nude shoot.
A social network for both photographers and models MuseCube was established in 2003. MuseCube has always held itself to a high standard by representing the talent of a wide range of experience and professionalism.
Instagram or Facebook
These popular social media sites can be a great way to find models for your next shoot. If you follow other photographers and you see models in their photos that you think would suit your style ask them for some further details.
Alternatively, if they have tagged the model in the photo you can contact them directly to discuss your ideas. Always be polite and explain the type of images you want to make.
If you already have a portfolio or website send them a link to it so that they can see you’re a professional photographer.
Where To Go From Here?
Well there you have it, our ultimate guide to nude photography, hopefully, you’ve learnt what it’s all about and we’ve inspired you to give it a go.
We realise that nude photography can be a controversial art form and that there is a very fine line between tasteful and not so tasteful. However, it is a very popular form of photography so to ignore its existence is almost impossible.
Doing nude photography can teach you so much, not least about how to respect and appreciate the human body. We are all made differently and there is no one singular view of beauty.
As you have seen by the work of many of the nude photographers featured in this article it’s not all about erotic imagery. Rather, it can be used to educate whilst also being artistic and beautiful at the same time.
- Nude Photography Controversy – Emily Ratajkowski & Jonathan Leder
- Tips For Photographers & Models – Weekly Imogen
- Creative Nude Photography – Shawn Talbot