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Tips on Nude Photography

written by: Mayflor Markusic•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 5/19/2009

Few photographers would consider nude photography; it is not an easy niche. But if you wanted to try your hand at taking tasteful nude photos, here are some helpful tips and tricks.

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    What nude photography means

    Nude photography is illuminating the beauty of the naked female or male body. It celebrates the form of the human body. It may focus on the sexuality of the human form but it is not pornography. The process is an art but may sometimes involve scientific-like precision. It is emotional rather than explicit. It is symbolic and not risqué. And it is not as easy as simply taking snapshots of the unclothed body. In fact, approaching the niche of naked photography should be well planned. Here are some helpful tips on nude photography...

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    Some photographers like to approach nude photography in a spontaneous manner, taking on the role of a curious observer and allowing the models freedom to move. This is similar to how the great E.J. Bellocq photographed the prostitutes of Storyville, a small town in New Orleans. Other photographers, however, approach nude photography like a stage director, instructing the models to strike particular poses, similar to the works of Julian Mandel.

    (Click on any image for a larger view)

    Two different approaches by two different photographers 

    Whichever style you would eventually adopt, it is always best to prepare. There are four major elements that require preparation when taking nude photographs. These are the model, the studio or location, the camera, and the initial poses.

    Model – The model need not be sexually alluring. In fact, there are only two physical requirements and one emotional requirement. The two physical requirements are good skin and a well-proportioned figure. Since photography is an art, it might also be good to have a woman with a not-so-perfect body. Leonard Nimoy experimented with this.

    Photography of Nimoy. Imperfect bodies to the left, a perfect body to the right. 

    The emotional requirement is trust. The model should feel comfortable with you as a photographer. This is why male photographers who are new to nude photography normally choose their wives or girlfriends as models.

    Studio – The studio should be warm. The photographer may not feel the cold because he or she is wearing clothes, but the model may end up shivering. Shivering and posing do not go well together. There should be nearby sheets and blankets that will be available to the model. And finally, many nude photographers prefer a dark background. It would be recommended to begin with this background before exploring others.

    Ekstase by Mandel 

    Camera – The model, due to the nature of the photography, would appreciate space. Thus, it is best to have longer focal lengths, such as the 70-200 mm lenses.

    Initial poses – When dealing with amateur models or women who have never posed before, it is best to have a few initial poses in mind. This will take away nervousness on the part of the model and will help the photographer decide the next poses that will produce good pictures. Classic poses are sitting, reclining, and standing. You may also want to check out Mark Edward Smith’s book, “The Nude Female Figure: A Visual Reference for the Artist" or Joel Gilgoff’s “Artistic Nude Poses".

    Some reference books 

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    Nude Photography Tips & Tricks

    When you are already shooting the pictures, you transform into an artist, seeking beauty out of the subject before you. To maximize the beauty of the subject, here are a few tricks that you may want to try:

    Black and white – Skin imperfections of the model can be easily hidden by using black and white. Besides this, black and white adds drama to the picture.

    Black and White Photo by Nimoy 

    Soft light – Direct daytime light leads to harsh images. Thus it is best to use soft studio lights. Of course, if you and your model feel adventurous and the weather is cooperative, you may use the natural early morning or early evening light and shoot outdoors. This means that you need to find a place where there are no people. With light, you can show a contrast or a unity between the female body and nature.

    Nude in stream by Mandel 

    Add mystery – Some of the most attractive nude pictures are those that keep the model’s identity a mystery. This can be done by using covers to partially obscure the face or by keeping the face of the model turned away.

    TheBorgheseSeries by Nimoy  TheShekhinaProject by Nimoy  Photography by Mandel  Photography by Gilgoff  Another photo by Gilgoff 

    Besides the above preparation and nude photography tips, simply follow the conventional rules of traditional photography: composition, focus, and a story to tell.