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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.


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.


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.


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

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How to Get a Release for Nude Photographs

Marketing your work can be one of the most gratifying aspects of your photography experience, but it can also be labor intensive. In nude photography, it is especially important you have the appropriate permission from your models in the form of a model release that states how the photographs may be published.

A release is an agreement between a model and a photographer. The release can protect the photographer from claims of libel, slander, defamation, or invasion of privacy. It can also help avoid basic misunderstandings and give a comfort level to the use of a model’s photos, especially in the case of nudes.

  1. Make sure you choose a model release that is appropriate for nude photography. See links at the bottom for samples.
  2. As part of agreeing to a shoot, make sure the model understands your intended use for the photos.
  3. Have the release ready after the shoot. Some photographers have the release signed before shooting, but I’m told this can put the legality of the release into question because the content of the shoot has not yet occurred at the time of signing, and therefore the model cannot take it into consideration.
  4. Before presenting the release to the model, ask the model if she’s signed model releases in the past. If she has not, explain to her that a release is a permission form that allows you to use the images in the way you described when you arranged the shoot with her.
  5. Present the release to the model.
  6. Let the model know that she needs to fill in all blanks unless they are marked as optional.
  7. If she has questions, do what you can to address them. It is rare that the model is not comfortable signing the release because permission to use the photos is something that should be discussed before the shoot.
  8. Ask the model for government issued photo identification for proof of identity and age; make a digital copy of the ID with your camera.
  9. Pay the model after she has signed the release. The payment is in exchange for her time and permission to use the photographs for the agreed purposes.

Here is a link to a sample of a basic nude model release suitable for printing and use as a basic agreement between you and a nude model. It is also a good idea to get a photograph of the model’s driver’s license for proof of identity and age. This release is provided “as is” without any warranty as to its usefulness for commercial work, completeness or appropriateness to your situation or location. Check with a legal expert regarding the laws of your particular location, especially as it pertains to nude photography.

Some photographers prefer to have the release signed before shooting, while others do it after. There is a chance that a release signed before a shoot may be not be legally enforceable since the model may not be able to consider exactly what photos she is releasing. I have the model sign the release after the shoot, and have not had a problem with a model release.

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10 Tips to Avoid No-Show Nude Models

If you shoot models, you hate no-shows. Nude photography is no exception. Here are a few tips to help avoid wasting a bunch of time setting up for a model that flakes. Just one yellow flag doesn’t mean you shouldn’t book a model, but as you start to notice warning signs you’ll be able to get that “no-show” feeling before you actually commit to the shoot.
  1. Look for models who have been shooting regularly and recently. You should see recent photos, from various shoots, over the last six months.
  2. If the model hasn’t already done the kind of shots you’re planning to do, she may back out.
  3. Get a phone number; confirm via phone 48 hours in advance – if you get no call back 24 hours before the shoot, don’t bother setting up.
  4. If you’re booking really far in advance, make sure to touch base about a week or ten days before the shoot; people do forget things.
  5. Avoid booking for times that are already hectic: holidays, finals week, when models may have other things planned or when things may unexpectedly come up.
  6. Be wary of models who ask about money and nothing else; they may be booking several gigs and showing up to only the highest bidder.
  7. Pay market rates. If the model finds out you’re giving her a raw deal, she may back out.
  8. Try to size up how “together” your model is before booking the shoot. For example, if she plans to drive all night and sleep in her car to be ready for the shoot – you might expect a no-show.
  9. Make sure the models see your work, and know how it will be used before booking the shoot. Having a killer portfolio doesn’t hurt either.
  10. Be picky in selecting your models; choose them don’t let them choose you.

Be patient, sometimes legitimate problems come up; car troubles, love life, family, work, weather, health, monthly cycles, breakouts, etc. Even following these, you’re going to occasionally be frustrated by no-show models.



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Reduce Your Flake Rate by 90%

Not all models flake. In fact, most don’t. But the flake rate with nudes can be higher than most, especially if you’re recruiting your models online. Sometimes it’s the photographer’s fault, for instance, for not giving enough details about the shoot until the last minute.

No matter where you recruit your models, a significant number of photographers complain about no-show models. I used to have the same problem, but not in the last several years.

In my experience, the following nine yellow flags precede 90% of all flaky models. By avoiding these situations you can avoid waiting for a model that never shows up. It’s been ages since I’ve had a no-show; more than 95% of my models show up.

  1. No phone contact. Attempt a phone interview as soon as possible. If you can’t make a phone call happen, chances are a shoot is not going to happen either. Reduce flake risk by 15%
  2. Model doesn’t have any photos from the last 6 months. If she hasn’t shot anything recently, good luck with that changing. Reduce flake risk by 15% Continue reading Reduce Your Flake Rate by 90%
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Nude Model Booking Etiquette

Here are a few tips I have on nude model booking etiquette that I’ve compiled. They apply pretty equally well to models and photographers. There are tons more, but this is what comes to mind right now.

  1. Treat others as you’d want to be treated
  2. Be upfront about your expectations
  3. Be realistic about your expectations — don’t think you’re going to get everything you want out of every shoot
  4. Don’t apply for a job if you don’t meet the published qualifications
  5. Don’t take any flack; if someone is a jerk, politely retreat.
  6. If you have to cancel, call ASAP and be honest.
  7. Show up on time.
  8. Don’t get upset if things aren’t going well. Either take it in stride or end the shoot if you can’t talk it out.

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Review of “Lights, Camera… Nude!” by Jack Gilbert

This is a re-posting of a glowing review of Lights, Camera… Nude! written by editor Jack Gilbert. I can only hope that you enjoy the book to the same degree that he did.

Nicholas has hit another home run here. Much like in his previous book, True Confessions of Nude Photography, he presents what might be seen as a difficult subject and shows how simply things can be. The subject matter of this new book is lighting techniques for shooting nudes. He goes over general concepts at first, but then dives into explaining what the various lighting devices are and even provides what different lighting kits and equipment configurations can do for you. Studio and location settings are explained in a very-easy-to-understand manner. It’s refreshing in that Nicholas does not try to overwhelm the reader with too much information or impress them with his wealth of knowledge and experience. He just lays it out simply and concisely.

All but the most advanced professionals will benefit from reading this book, and the best part is that it won’t take that long before you’re lighting your models like a true professional.