Book review: How to Photograph Nudes Like a Professional

How to Photograph Nudes

Photographing people without any clothes on. It’s pretty popular. (Mmhmm, people really are interested in getting it right; Try Nude Photography is one of Photocritic’s most popular articles.) It takes lots of different forms and if you’re good at it, there’s money to be made from it. But, like many things, it can be hard to get right, which is why Ashley Karyl, a photographer with 25 years’ experience taking pictures of people wearing nothing, has published his book How to Photograph Nudes Like a Professional.

Wanna know what I thought of it? Sure? Okay then!

Technical, practical, and philosophical

At 328 pages, this book contains masses of information. It covers the technical: cameras, lenses, lighting, editing, and retouching. The merits of colour or black and white are compared. The superiority of digital over film is debated. It tells you everything you need to know about lighting a shoot with candles. And it gives you lots of post-processing information.

It looks at the practical: finding and working with models, comparing shooting on location with in a studio, makeup and hair, and printing. You get anecdotes about the models Karyl’s worked with as well as guidance to find the right model for the job. There are some very helpful tips for shooting on location. You’re reminded not to interfere with the makeup artists and hair stylists because they’re professionals, too.

It even gets philosophical and talks about photography as a medium and a profession. Some of his advice here doesn’t relate to the photography world alone, it is sound for anyone who works as a freelancer. (Yes, it reminded me when I was working past midnight that I ought to be in bed, or at least not working.)

And all of this is backed up by Karyl’s experience in the business.

Personal but not so practical?

It is aimed at amateurs who are on the verge of turning professional or professionals at the beginnings of their careers, but in many respects it reads much like Karyl’s autobiography. Karyl talks you through how he came to nude photography, how it has changed over the years, the people and the projects he’s worked on, and what he has experienced and learned through this. It’s full of anecdotes and observations which give the book a personal feel. In fact, he prefers to think of it as being a conversation with him because he didn’t want to write a step-by-step guide.

Unfortunately for me, this is where I think that the book falls down. It contains so much information that its largely unstructured and unsystematic form makes it unwieldy. A step-by-step guide might not be what he wanted to create, but his information still needs to be accessible to the reader. Karyl is a photographer, not a writer, and it shows. He has a great deal to relate and would have benefited from the guidance of a ruthless editor to help him express it all. Ironic, really, considering that he covers editing ones photos so extensively.

And despite it already being 328 pages, the book could do with more pictures. There are barren wastelands of pages with no images. It’s a book about photography, after all.

And finally

So what do I think overall? I want to like this book. I want the gems of information and the anecdotes to sparkle. I want an editor to take to it with a scalpel so it can live up to its potential. And I want more pictures.

How to Photograph Nudes Like a Professional, by Ashley Karyl. Available for download at at $29.