Photographing Nudes Is Hard Work
25 Mar 2012
My first nude was shot around 1990. I was a part time freelancer in Maryland, and found myself wanting to photograph more complex artistic images. I began photographing my wife out in the wooded areas in Virginia and Maryland. I had been taking photographs for quite awhile and I took a night school class on beginning photography, mainly to use the darkroom. We had assignments to shoot, develop, print and present to the class. While I did have the rusting car, the decaying tobacco barn, the rocks on the Patuxent River,etc. what got me the grade was a nude I took of my wife on the bed in my Maryland apartment (the main image). I knew it would be something the other students were probably afraid to do.
Fast forward many many years and my daughter has grown up and I began again wanting something that stretched my photography limits. I signed up for OneModelPlace and ModelMayhem to find models who would work with me to create images. I had a studio at this time for portraiture, and began shooting some glamour work. Many friends would see the resulting nudes and leer "hey I'll be your assistant!" But what they don't know is that the work is intense and very non-erotic.
Models will sometimes work for free, also called "TFP" (time for print). If you are just starting out you should hire an experienced model for pay because they are able to give you excellent posing without your direction (something that takes awhile to be comfortable doing).
Once you have found a model and have determined when to shoot, you have to prepare the set. Depending on how elaborate you attempt to be, you may need to go fabric shopping, buy props or other things to complete the set design. Often this multiple days work. Then you have to have a makeup artist who handles hair engaged to get your model ready to photograph. While makeup is prepared, the lighting gets setup. If you are doing something complex, you have to keep light on the subject but possibly off other things like the background so you'll be testing flash output, etc.
Finally the model is ready to shoot and you begin posing and photographing her. The intensity here is quite high for me because I'm looking at all these elements at once; her eyes, her face, her hands, where her legs are, is the light hitting the background?? gotta move the hair-light...hold your position until I move that light!!!
I can usually only handle about two hours of shooting because I'm like a madman trying to control all these elements at once (I don't typically use an assistant with nudes) while keeping the model comfortable, engaged and participating with her best looks. It is exhausting work, and drains me. After I shoot I dump the images and walk away.
After I come back I pore through the images and then begin the work of retouching skin, blemishes, etc. from cropped "keepers".
There's very little erotic about this process actually. However, I can see how a photographer with his muse might wind up with very steamy stuff....but not with six lights, a set and backgrounds :-)