Nude photography 101


Portraiture is one of the most exhilarating forms of photography. It’s rewarding, exciting, challenging, and a lot of fun. But people have a way of hiding from the camera: Clothes. Nude photography is essentially portraiture sans clothing, which is what makes it such a fun topic to explore and develop as a photographer. Personally, I’m completely convinced that a photographer who starts developing their nudes also becomes a better portrait photographer.

One of the things people frequently e-mail me about is how to get started in nude photography – some of you want to make a living out of it, many just want to have a go and experiment, but don’t know how to begin.

Of course, Photocritic already has a series of articles on the topic already, including an introduction, and an interview with acclaimed nude photographer photographer Renoux.

Well, today you’re all in for a phenomenal treat, as my good friend Tammy guest-writes an article on taking the first steps into nude photography, by inviting your girlfriend to model for you.

Needless to say, depending on what you do for a living, this article may not be ‘safe for work’.

Take it away Tammy…

nude-1.jpgLet’s start with the basics: You already know that your girlfriend is gorgeous. While you may not be a digital pro, you’re still pretty handy with a camera, and you’d love to be able to capture some of your girlfriend’s natural beauty – if you’ve never tried before, here are a few tips to get you on your right way!

Ask permission.

Much like that nervous first date, the prospect of nude photography can be a little scary and intimidating, both for the photographer and the model. Though most women enjoy feeling beautiful, they also realise there is only room for so many supermodels in the world, and many women are self-conscious about how they look, particularly in the nude. There is great security in clothing and taking it all off, even for a camera, can be like having an audience when you’re at your most vulnerable.

If you are interested in taking nude photographs of your girlfriend (or girl who is a friend. Or boyfriend, for that matter), make sure you sit down and really talk to her about this ahead of time. If she doesn’t appear convinced, perhaps it’s worth reminding her how beautiful you think she is and that you’d love for her to be able to see for herself and let you try some nude candid shots. She might not leap on the opportunity, but give her some space to mull about it.

nude-2.jpgSometimes the best things come to those who can wait patiently. Chances are good that if she didn’t have sex with you the first night, she might will not be ready to jump into nude photography the first time the two of you talk about it either.

Less is more.

Trust is an important aspect of every relationship, and there is definitely a deep kind of trust that needs to be present before a woman feels open to this sort of photography. Do not pressure her to do anything that she doesn’t feel comfortable with. In fact, do everything you can to make sure that she feels comfortable. Involve her ideas, discuss her fears and concerns, and find out what she might like to try.

Nude : Anonymous
Nude : Anonymous by on Flickr

It might help to thumb through some photographs or magazines for ideas and possible poses. See what she likes. If she’s nervous about exposing a body part like her nipples, illustrate different ways that she can pose nude without having to show whatever part she’s shy about.

Of course, there’s myriad ways to get around the whole nudity thing – even if a model is naked, they don’t have to look it in the photographs. Come to think of it, even if they do look naked, you don’t have to show off all (or, indeed, any) of the ‘naughty bits’:

You can ask her to cup her hands around her breasts so that she feels less exposed. Or the first time she poses, let her warm up to the idea in a sexy lingerie outfit or a skimpy swimsuit in the bathtub. If she’s worried about her frontal view, she can pose on her stomach. Try shots that focus on the small of her back, her bottom, and her neck (they’re all vastly sexy bits of the body, if you photograph them right!).

If she’s worried about showing her face, allow her to hide it – get creative, and it doesn’t have to be of detriment to the final result. Try profile shots, silhouette shots in a dimly lim room, or experiment with black and white photographs. Often, you’ll find that subtlety is hot, and truly sexy photos are often the ones that hide more than they show, anyway.

If she’s concerned about anything, big or small, make sure to take her concerns seriously – I know we’re harping on about this point, but that’s only because it’s important: Listening and paying attention to detail are two of the greatest things you can do to help her relax and feel completely comfortable with the idea of being in front of the camera

nude-3.jpgGet Close. Closer. Nope, still not close enough.

The main focus of your photographs should be your girlfriend. Don’t be afraid to experiment with close up shots and interesting angles. If your girlfriend has a particular feature that you find very erotic or sensual, try to highlight that feature in the photo.

This is your chance to experiment and discover new sides both of her and what you think of her – and if the photos turn out as well as you hope, then chances are that she’ll appreciate your, er, appreciation as well!

Don’t act like an idiot.

After you find something she’s decided she’s willing to try, make sure to mention how beautiful you think she will look. Especially for a woman who feels shy or self-conscious, reassurance is a must. If she’s never posed nude before she may feel like she doesn’t know what she’s doing.

It’s important for you, as the photographer, to be prepared to offer assurance and encouragement, but most of all, instruction: you see how the photos are turning out, so you have to offer direction. Show her that you know what you’re doing, and even if you don’t, by all means at least act like a professional :)

nude-5.jpgRemember that she’s your girlfriend, not a porn star, and not a stripper (unless, of course, your girlfriend is a stripper or a pornstar, but in that case you’ll probably not really need this write-up).

If you are respectful and loving, chances are that she will relax and get more into this. Make it about her and about how beautiful you think she is, and she’ll return the appreciation.

Talk about how the photos will be used

A final word of warning: Taking the photos will be a learning experience for both of you, and you may end up with some mighty fine photographs. Nonetheless, take care to talk about how the resulting photographs will be used, and who will see them: Nude photographs might not be something that your girlfriend wants the entire world to see. Before you rush right out and upload them all onto your Facebook or MySpace pages, make sure you defer the control of the photos back to her. The photos are of her, so she should be the one to decide what you can and cannot do with them. Don’t be surprised if this is a private activity that she wants kept between just the two of you.

nude-6.jpgThat means that if she wants the memory card formatted, or requests that you delete certain images that she doesn’t like it’d be rather rude not to.

Once she trusts that you’re really not going to do anything with the photos that she isn’t okay with, the chances are good that the next time you experiment with a camera she’ll be more relaxed and more willing to try different things.

Have fun!

If you’re being tense and worried about the experiment, it isn’t going to work. if you have to, take the memory card out of your camera, and just shoot ‘blanks’ for the fun of it. Get used to seeing nude skin through the viewfinder, and make sure your girl is comfortable with the sound of the shutter, the lights of your flashes, and with taking instructions throughout the shoot.

Basic rule: If you’re not both having fun, someone’s doing something wrong.

Good luck!