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Lighting Nudes on Location

“Art is not what you see but what you make others see.”
— Edgar Degas

About Locations

On location means away from your normal studio. Shooting on location provides interesting challenges that allow you to break out of the predictability of studio lighting. Among the requirements is a level of physical energy—whether it’s trekking up and down ocean cliffs, chasing the elusive combination of background and natural light, or running up and down stairs of an indoor location to ferry your light heads to the next room. But this energy also translates into enthusiasm that increases creativity. Beyond the obvious appeal of visual variety, the anticipation, excitement, and pressure of going on location compels the photographer to perform more highly. With more invested in arranging the logistics, traveling, and moving equipment around, there is a higher sense of commitment from both the model and the photographer to make the most of a location shoot.

Once you’ve grown accustomed to the studio, with every light aimed exactly where it was last time, try venturing out on location. All the same kinds of problems you solved when you first set up your studio are back again, only in less ideal circumstances. You might deal with too much bounce or a ceiling too low to get the lighting angle you want. In the images on these pages, a bare-tube strobe on a high stand solved the problem of fill lighting for the large background. Overcoming the challenges of lighting on location is part of the fun.

Be prepared for a lower percentage of good shots on location compared to working in-studio, due to the challenges of lighting in unfamiliar surroundings, working with limited equipment, and under time constraints. However, the shots you do get can be amazing in ways that you could not have created in the studio.

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The first consideration for location lighting is whether to use available light or to bring your own lights. Available light typically means less control over the angle and quality of light and less overall brightness. An advantage of available light is that what you see is pretty much what you get. A disadvantage, if the light is limited, is that you may use an aperture and shutter speed that don’t give you as crisp of images as you would like.

With portable studio strobes, you can achieve the action-stopping durations and depth of field that you want. With studio strobes, you will need to decide on a power source. Portable lithium ion battery power can provide standard household voltage to run an plug-in strobe. Another option is a pack-and-head system that uses a dedicated portable battery source. If you plan to rely on plug-in power, bring heavy-duty extension cords; these are less likely to trip breakers than thin cords.

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If you are borrowing or renting equipment for a location shoot, request instructions on using it, and ask questions if any of the controls or labels are unfamiliar. Ask the location owner or manager about the building’s wiring (is there a modern breaker box or is it old?) If you have high-powered lights (1,500WS or more) make sure you know where the breakers are and try to plug each light into it’s own circuit. Whenever possible, test your equipment before heading to a location, and bring spares of anything that is lightweight; this includes batteries, radio transmitters, power cords, and other small cables.

The above is an excerpt from the book, Figure Lighting.

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The Importance of Lighting

Before you jump in and start taking a bunch of nude photographs, take some time to set up your studio lighting to stack the odds in your favor. Lighting is my top consideration in nude photography once I’ve found the right model.

Studio lighting allows ultimate control over illumination, and with most nude photography taking place in the studio, the majority of the examples are indoor lighting.

Location lighting is the most enjoyable for me, combining creative challenges of a non-studio setting with the control of being indoors.

If you intend to use wardrobe and props with your figure photography — you may also want to develop fashion and still life lighting skills.

“Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.”
— George Eastman

Lighting Concepts is a chapter in the book, Figure Lighting, I present the following lighting concepts:

  • Contrast Ratio
  •  Set Up Your Studio for Light
  • Setting Exposure
  • How Many Lights are Needed?
  • Large Close Light
  • The Background
  • Accent and Separation Lights
  • Direction (Angle) of Light
  • Quality of Light (Hard vs. Soft)
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Getting Started in Nude Photography

mw1_3102Nude photography is a celebration of beauty and spirit. Some novices approach it as full-length portrait photography, minus the clothes. However, this is shortsighted. Recognize that nude photography is a discipline in and of itself, and you will be two steps ahead of most beginners. The lighting and posing concepts for nude photography are different from those used for portraiture and fashion. I am not going to tell you to forget everything you know about other types of photography because that knowledge will be beneficial. There are similarities between genres, but the real strength lies in knowing the differences. My suggestion is that you neither forget nor rely entirely upon your general photographic experience. Instead, remain open to learning new things.

When you are getting started, trial and error will be your best friend. Shoot as often as you can, and let your mistakes be stepping stones to greater knowledge. If the process of learning the technical aspects of photography intimidates you, take heart—almost anyone can learn to operate photographic equipment and learn lighting with a few pointers and a lot of practice. Reaching the next level is easier than you think.

In my early years as a photographer, I worked the way many of my readers do—I used my home as a workspace, and worked a day job to pay my bills. I learned that I did not need to have a studio or an established business to build a reputation as a figure photographer and have models who would be eager to pose for me.

The above is an excerpt from the book, True Confessions of Nude Photography.

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Preface: True Confessions of Nude Photography

aj_ss1_7731_columnSince the first edition of True Confessions of Nude Photography, I have been humbled by the number of photographers, from novice to accomplished, who have turned to me for help while embarking on their journey into the world of figure photography. This third edition offers many improvements over its predecessors with updated images and a reorganization. Plenty of information has been updated to reflect my techniques, which have been enhanced over time. Many words have been added to remain current and some have been removed to improve clarity. The reference sections and the bonus materials have also been enhanced over previous editions. Although electronic versions are available, I am surprised and pleased that many people continue to seek out physical copies of the book. That is why I am pleased to offer this new edition on upgraded paper stock and with improved printing quality.

The above is an excerpt from the book, True Confessions of Nude Photography.

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Introduction: True Confessions of Nude Photography

Nude female, Image by Eugene Durieu, 1855
Image by Eugene Durieu, 1855

The female body is a marvel of natural beauty that has inspired artists for thousands of years prior to the invention of photography. Although nudity has gone in and out of vogue over time, it has persevered as a subject for a multitude of artistic undertakings. The earliest nude photos were, unsurprisingly, produced shortly after the refinement of photographic technique, with nude daguerreotypes becoming prominent in the 1800s.

No prior experience with nude photography is needed to benefit from this guide. This book is aimed at novice to intermediate photographers. Although it covers the basics of the genre, this guide assumes that you have a camera that is more advanced than a point-and-shoot, and that you already understand how to operate your camera. Proper technique is an important fundamental, but nude photography entails more than knowledge of equipment. There is a huge interpersonal element—much more so than in any other kind of photography. The guidance people most often ask of me is how to find quality models. Most guides on photographic technique assume you have already found a willing subject. I assume that you are having trouble, or at least are having difficulty finding models that you feel can take your work to the next level. I will provide you with the system I have developed for scouting and recruiting. I also assume that you are unsure how to go about asking models about nude shoots or what to say to them once you have them in the studio. My approach shows you how to connect with models, ask them about nude shoots, how to talk to them, direct them in the studio, and how to work with them long term. Each model who has stepped in front of my camera came to me through one of the techniques that I share in this book.

I will also share what I know about lighting and posing, including 150 example poses. Each lighting setup includes a diagram ranging from basic, low-budget lighting to a full studio system. Finally, you will find some tips on what to do with your images after you shoot them, including post-processing suggestions and marketing ideas (if you are inclined to attempt a commercial venture with nude photography).

I did not fill these pages with general camera information. However, for your convenience, I have assembled a few fundamental tips that are of particular relevance to figure work or otherwise hard-to-find.

The guidance that follows is drawn from my twenty years of experiences with nude photography, some enlightening, and others humbling. I began working with nudes while earning an art degree. Starting with my first shoots, each session has provided valuable lessons. That insight, gained through working with hundreds of models, drives the content. I also draw from my career as a professional photographer, my stint as a photography instructor, and my work as a freelance artist to round out this guide.

I have not only learned from success, but also from my mistakes. My goal is to help you avoid the misconceptions and missteps that are common among novice figure photographers. I promise not to hold anything back on topics that many people are hesitant to talk about.

You cannot expect to improve your photography by the simple act of reading this book. You can only improve your photography skills by repeatedly practicing techniques;  this book describes plenty for you to practice. This guide contains the kind of knowledge I wish I had access to when I first started shooting. I hope it speeds you on your quest to capture the beauty of the body, increasing your technical skills while providing you with a thorough, well-rounded comprehension of the interpersonal side of the art.

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Why to shoot in RAW

A worthy digital camera will allow you to capture in RAW mode, an image file format that contains 100 percent of the data your image sensor captures. RAW images do not lock in a particular white balance or color space but take up much more space than JPEG (JPG) compressed images. When your digital camera creates a JPEG, some of the image details are lost in the process. A JPEG conversion commits to tone and contrast adjustments based on a best guess of what image information is important. This results in lost detail in shadows or highlights, color shifts, and loss of color information. The camera’s conversion to JPEG also makes assumptions about sharpening and noise reduction, both of which alter fine details and cannot be undone. You may be satisfied with the JPEGs your camera produces, especially if it’s a high-end camera and you are careful to light and expose your shots correctly, but you will have more latitude to correct minor imperfections or otherwise improve on an image by shooting RAW.

If you shoot in RAW format, you have some options to control contrast in Camera RAW Import in Photoshop (You can also use Lightroom, GIMP, or other tools).

The above is an excerpt from True Confessions of Nude Photography.

If you are serious about your photography, shoot in RAW format. Your images do not record color data, at least not as you would think of it. They just have the electronic data from the image sensor, three grayscale images of red, green, and blue. Therefore, they are not sRGB or aRGB. There is no color space associated with a RAW file. Color space only comes into play when you open the file in image editing software and a profile is assigned to it.

So what if you do not want to agonize over all of that? Well, many photographers deal with their images in sRGB, ignore other color spaces, and never look back. If you are not much of a perfectionist, you probably will not even notice the difference. What you see is what you will get. Plus, you can always learn color management later when you want to hone your skills.

I recommend that you shoot in RAW mode so the white balance and other settings can be decided later after you finish shooting.

The above is an excerpt from Exquisite Curves.

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Large Close Light

A common mantras is to use as large a diffuser as possible, and to place it as close to the model as
possible. The desired result is for the light “wrap around the model.”  A diffuser is a translucent material placed in
front of a light to soften and reduce its intensity.)

With a small umbrella, the light coverage is narrow and the contrast is a bit harsh. You will see quick light falloff across the torso and the length of the body. With a medium umbrella, the light is a bit softer and coverage is wider. With a large umbrella, the transition from light to shadow is more gradual. This is evident in the floor shadows and on the body. This smooth transition between lit and unlit areas is why it is referred to as wrapping the subject in light.

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The previous is an excerpt from the book, Lights, Camera… Nude!

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Recruiting Nude Models: Tips for Website Design

To recruit figure models, its essential to put your portfolio online. You can create an effective Web presence with
your own domain, a major model-centric networking site, and a signif icant photo-sharing site.

Here are some do’s and don’t for designing your website:

  • Make sure you discuss, in depth, where you are and what you do; this will increase the frequency by which you appear in relevant search engine results.
  • Keep adding interesting content to your site.
  • Keep your model recruiting goal in mind throughout your site design. Some additional information to express your
    personality is wonderful, but make sure it makes sense in the context of recruiting.
  • Keep your site focused. If you also shoot weddings or sell kitchen storage containers, do that through a separate website.
  • Get right to the point with a strong image and overview information. A few strong images are better than tons of mediocre ones.
  • List your unembellished accomplishments
  • Include testimonials from past models.

 

  • Be careful what personally identifiable information (yours or the models’) you place for the world to see. Things like models’ e-mail addresses and last names are a no-no unless models are already publicizing them.
  • Don’t upload images that are larger than necessary to demonstrate your abilities.
  • Don’t try to game or trick the search engines. Search engine companies are extremely savvy to this.
  • Don’t include excessive personal details.
  • Don’t describe yourself as a guru or expert; if you are one it will be obvious in your work.
  • Don’t copy someone elses format. Be original.

The above excerpt is from Up to My Eyeballs in Nude Women. The book is about recruiting and working with models and has 5 pages on creating a web presence.

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Diagram: One Light in Studio

In this photograph, only one strobe (Light #1) is used, fitted with a 17”x54” strip softbox. Fill light is provided by a 48-inch collapsible gold reflector (Reflector #2). The lit model zone allows for moderate movement, as long as the model doesn’t step too close to either light or out of its path.

Advantages: portability and dramatic contrast.
Disadvantages: limited coverage and lack of versatility.

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One light in studio

This is one of 18 lighting diagrams from the book Lights, Camera… Nude!

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Adjust contrast of RAW images in Photoshop

If you shoot in RAW format, you have some options to control contrast in Camera RAW Import in Photoshop (You can also
use Lightroom, GIMP, or other tools). The sliders in the import interface allow you to control the entire image. The other option you have is the Adjustment Brush built into Camera Raw, which allows you to control contrast by painting specific areas darker or lighter. Adobe Lightroom provides similar tools.

Use the histogram to understand contrast
Use the histogram to understand contrast

There are many kinds of contrast, but we are mostly concerned with tonal contrast, the difference between predominantly light and dark areas in a photograph. An image with large amounts of black or near-black areas, as well as large amounts of white or very light area, is said to be high contrast. An image that has mostly middle grays is said to be low contrast, even if it has some minor areas of extreme lights and darks. One of the easiest ways to make your images look pleasing is to increase the contrast. If someone says an image “pops,” contrast is often one of the elements they are talking about. An image with good contrast has plenty of bright highlights and rich dark shadows.

High contrast is only one option, there may be times when you want the effect of contrast that is more subdued.
You affect contrast with your initial exposure. Highlights that are too light to show enough detail are called blown out;
shadows that are too dark to show enough detail are called blocked up.

The above information is from True Confessions of Nude Photography.