Nude photography entails more than just photographic technique. There is a huge interpersonal element, much more so than in any other kind of people photography. There are many articles on the photographic technique of nude photography, but herein I will address how to talk to a nude model. By learning these verbal techniques, you should be able to direct the action from behind your camera just like an expert.
Begin by introducing yourself or greeting the model if you’ve already met.
Don’t be nervous, it’s contagious. The more natural you are, the better everything will go. Act as if you’ve done it a thousand times – even if you haven’t. Don’t be overly chatty or bold, just keep working.
During the photo shoot, avoid physical contact with the models during posing; it is much more efficient to stay behind your camera and use verbal direction. Touching models can also come off as creepy. New models need to learn to follow verbal direction, and new photographers need to learn how to give verbal direction.
Be professional. Whenever possible, use neutral terms instead of slang for body parts. If you want the model to turn her chest towards you, refer to her chest — not any of the popular vernacular terms for breasts. What you don’t say is as important as what you do say.
One effective technique of verbal direction is to mention a body part and simply describe what the model needs to do to achieve the exact, desired pose.
Keep verbal directions simple and clear. For example, it’s easy to say, “Place your right hand on your right hip, then move your right foot a few inches to your right.”
Once the model has achieved the basic pose, suggest specific, clear refinements as needed in order to perfect the pose. Your choice of approach will be a personal one, but I tend to tell rather than ask. Phrasing instructions as questions can make you seem less experienced and less professional. By making clear and concise statements, you’ll keep the shoot moving with the poses you want and without any confusion.
Models care about more than just money. Certainly, getting paid is important to any professional model. Like anyone else, she has bills to pay and various other needs for cash. First-time or occasional models are going to be enticed by monetary compensation. Even part-time models rely on modeling for income. However, they want more out of a modeling career than just a steady stream of paying jobs.
Models want to be portrayed in a favorable light. They want a comfortable working environment and an amiable photographer. Models want to work with a photographer that they perceive to be an echelon above whoever they’ve worked with previously. Novice models will want to fortify their portfolios with images that are superior to their current ones. Experienced models care about working on projects that are higher profile than they have worked on before.
Certainly a few models seem to only care about money. But even the money-conscious model has more than one dimension. Although some models tell me that they are willing to work with anyone who will pay, I’m willing to bet that they perform better when they admire the photographer.
Offering more money will often bring in more models. But anything significantly above a fair wage will yield diminishing returns. Offering outlandish pay can backfire as models become suspicious of your legitimacy.
Don’t give up if you have trouble finding models. The availability of models can be seasonal, rising and falling in sync with college schedules, weather, economic factors, and a whole array of dynamic elements. Staying motivated is the most important factor in early success.
New to nudes
Some photographers who are new to nudes may jump right in. Others are timid; if this is you, you need to work your way up by shooting other styles of photography. If your photography skills are rudimentary, you may wish to learn the basics with landscape and still life to fill in the times you can’t find a portraiture model. Start with friends and family if you don’t feel comfortable recruiting a stranger. Start with fashion if you don’t feel comfortable hiring a glamour model. Work on a glamour portfolio if you don’t yet feel up to photographing nudes or if you’re having trouble convincing models that you can produce worthy images.
At some point you’ll start working with nudes. A certain degree of apprehension is normal. After hundreds of nude models, I still have concerns about making sure a shoot works to its best potential. I wouldn’t say I experience nervousness any more, but rather a heightened sense of attention that keeps me on my toes. If you wait until you have no uncertainties, you’ll never shoot nudes. Somewhere between self-inflicted paralysis and utter calm lies the photographer who is ready to shoot nudes.
Building your portfolio
You need samples of nude shots in order to book your models. Building credibility is an essential step to recruiting models, and nothing builds credibility better than an astounding portfolio. But how do you get your first nudes? This may seem like a catch-22, but you can get there. You may have to add progressively unclothed shots to your portfolio until you have a portfolio of nudes. Shoot clothed models until your work is competent enough to convince someone to do glamorous bikini or lingerie shots with you. I’ve rarely met an attractive woman who wouldn’t pose in lingerie and for implied nudes. Then you can move on to models who do implied nudes (nude from behind, for example) or topless shots. In many cases your first nude model can be one you’ve already photographed clothed. Each time you work with a model, the two of you will build trust and comfort.
There is a first time for everything, and I’ve hired my fair share of models who are posing nude for the first time. I don’t recommend this for beginning photographers, since neither of you will have much experience with nude shoots. But bear in mind that every model who poses nude had a first time.
Eventually you’ll have no trouble finding your first nude model, especially if you work repeatedly with the same model or hire a model who has a lot of experience modeling nude. Finding your first nude model may seem difficult at first, but it’s really not.
Once you’ve finished your portfolio, complete with everything you need to impress prospective models, know this: you’re not done. You’re never done building your portfolio. Periodically review your portfolio and relentlessly eliminate weak or old photos. Recognize what works and stick with it or update it. Your portfolio should contain only consistently strong, recent work.
Experienced models know the importance of communication. When doing a nude shoot, there are a lot of questions that can come up. It’s important to get these questions answered before the shoot is booked. Less experienced models are not going to know what questions to ask. When recruiting a less experienced or inexperienced model, you need to use your expertise to help educate them. Make sure you explain what kinds of poses you expect. This needs to be established before the two of you agree that you’re going to do a photo shoot. When it comes to recruiting nude models, images communicate better than words. A well planned and executed portfolio is the core of your communication.
There is quite a lot of information available on model releases and there are quite a few people who are still confused about the topic. When it comes to nude photography, there are some aspects that are not often talked about. Many of the principles are exactly the same for nude and non-nude photography, but there are also differences. Many wiki sites and modeling forums have information, some of which is helpful, but some of which is misleading or flat-out wrong when applied to nude photos. There are a couple of good legal books for photographers that I recommend. These appear at the bottom of the post.
Luckily, it is not the norm to end up in a legal dispute regarding your nude photography. The worst thing that I have experienced is having a publisher delay acceptance of nudes until I could get a proper release signed by the model. But you can save yourself time and potential headaches by having a proper release for your images.
Myth #1: I need a model release in order to legally take nude photos. Response: Wrong. Model releases are about permission to use the photos, not permission to take them.
Myth #2: A model release protects my copyright. Response: Wrong. A model release gives permission to use photos and has nothing to do with copyright.
Myth #3: I don’t need a model release if I shoot nudes in a public place such as the great outdoors. Response: Yes, you do. This myth stems from fact that people in public places do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy. However, a claim of invasion of privacy is not the only thing a model release protects you from. If the images are used for advertising, you need a release. If the use could in any way be construed as malicious or scandalous (not hard to imagine with nudes photos, especially years down the road) you have a problem. It’s best to be clear about what you intend to do with nude photos, so put it in writing. Shooting in public doesn’t mean you won’t want a release.
Myth #4: I have a first amendment right to distribute my photos so I don’t need a release. Response: Your first amendment rights are not carte blanche to distribute nude photos when someone else might have a reasonable expectation of privacy, a right to portray others in a false light, etc. There is plenty more going on than first amendment rights when it comes to releases for nudes.
Myth #5: I don’t need a model release if I’m not making money off my photos. Response: See myth #4, above. While it’s true that you can sell photos of people without their permission under some circumstances, there is more at play with nude photos. Even if you’re conducting a gallery show or displaying them on the Internet you could be subject to claims including painting the model in a false light if you didn’t establish intended uses clearly in writing.
Myth #6: A generic model release is fine for nude images. Response: On the contrary, a model release for nude photographs should, at a minimum, state that the model is releasing nude images. This is especially important if any of the images look like they could have been an instance of the model mistakenly revealing more than intended. A good release contains a description of what is being released.
Myth #7: I only need to pay the model $1 or give her a copy of a photo to make the release enforceable. Response: A compensation clause in a release is used to show that both parties have given “consideration”. This is one of the requirements for having a contract. If you do end up in a dispute, it doesn’t look good to have a payment that is well below market rates for services if you are in the business of selling the images. Inequitable compensation is a big red flag especially if the model has little experience and you have much. If the compensation clause is in question, the whole model release is in question. Pay fair rates.
Myth #8: If the model does not read the release, it is not valid or as long as she signs it, it is valid. Response: Both of these are wrong. Most releases are written as contracts. If someone signs a contract without reading it, that fact alone does not invalidate the contract. It is up to everyone to read what they sign. However, just because someone signs something, doesn’t mean you have a contract. If you trick or pressure the model into signing without reading, you definitely don’t have a valid contract. So don’t rush the model and don’t try to fool her with long-winded verbiage in the release. If there is no meeting of the minds, there is no contract.
Myth #9: The release should be signed before the shoot begins. Similar Myth: If I’ve already worked with a model and have a release, I don’t need a release for our second shoot. Response: I can’t think of a good reason to do this and the practice could be very problematic when shooting nudes. Some photographers want to get the release out-of-the-way. If the model is inexperienced or has questions about what kind of permission and uses you’ll be asking for, you can show her the release before you shoot but don’t have her sign it. It’s difficult to enforce a model release that pertains to images that do not yet exist when the release is signed. Court cases involving model releases have been awarded based on the sole fact that it was not clear as to which specific photos were being released. The model could claim that she didn’t know the extent of nudity involved and thus there was no meeting of the minds and no binding contract. If the photos don’t yet exist, you don’t have a very solid release.
Myth #10: A model release provides the photographer better protection if it is long with lots of legal language, especially in the case of nudes. Response: Just about the opposite is true. The release need only be long enough to clearly establish what the agreement is and to account for any contingencies. Unnecessarily complex or repetitive language can actually weaken a release. Remember, a contract documents an agreement and the more complicated the language is the less plausible it is that both people were in agreement.
Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer and laws vary by location. Enjoy the above generalizations, don’t fall for myths, and seek qualified experts for your legal questions.
If you’d like to read more about model releases for nude photography, as well as the interpersonal aspects of working with models, you may enjoy my book Up to My Eyeballs in Nude Women. It covers recruiting models, preparing them for a shoot, getting great results in the studio, and a solid follow through (which includes, of course, an appropriate model release.) This book includes a sample model release that is like what I use.
Many photographers fail to book a model because they try to book too soon in the process. Stay aware of the prospective model’s emotional response to the conversation. Don’t just listen to what she is saying; pay attention to how she is saying it. Never try booking a shoot when a prospect is Continue reading Build a Professional Relationship with Models
I was just reading some advice about nude model release forms and unfortunately, a number of misconceptions are being perpetuated. Here are the most common ones I’ve seen recently and my take on each:
Get the release signed before you shoot.What is wrong with it: The model would be releasing photos that don’t yet exist. A release that is written as an agreement requires both parties to agree on the same thing. Agreeing on the photos you recently created is easier than agreeing on what you might do soon. This practice has been perpetuated by nervous photographers who fear that models will balk at their images being used. As long as you properly built the model’s expectations, you shouldn’t have trouble getting the release signed afterwards.
The release says nothing about nudity.Why you need to change this: Use a release that describes the shoot. That means including the word nudity somewhere. This is especially helpful if your images could be construed as candid rather than posed, such as a model laying nude on a beach.
The release covers more than one shoot.The pitfall: If you ever do have someone contest a release, do you want all the shoots in question or just one? This applies to many publishers too, who won’t want to see a release that specifies more than one shoot. Keep it simple, one release per shoot, per model, per day.
A statement that the model read and understood the release.Why this is unnecessary and counterproductive: These statements seem to be aimed at models who did not read or understand the release. In some places, this practice is discouraged or banned. A better way is a notice (verbal or written) that the model should read and understand the release, and ask any questions before signing it.
There are many forms of model release for various purposes. They may be perpetual or might expire. They can allow for a single publication such as a book or magazine or be unlimited. Many model releases are written as contracts (two-party agreements) but some are written as a grant of permission. The most important thing is that both you and the model have a plan for what you are going to shoot and how it’s going to be used. The two of you should be in agreement on this before you begin shooting. The model release form documents this agreement. Follow through by using the images only as described in the release.
Happy shooting and enjoy good rapport with your models, knowing that both of you are on the same page and everything is clear.
I’m not an attorney and I’m not giving legal advice. I review this topic with legal counsel at least annually. You should consult your own attorney for specifics.
In the 1950’s, more prudish times for America, there existed secretive “camera clubs” in cities like New York. Photographers like Arthur Fellig (a.k.a Weegee,) Gordon Parks, Rudolph Rossi, and James Wong Howe, worked with models like Bettie Page in full nudity. In the New York Post, photographer Dick Heinlein explained that “nudity back then was very unusual”.
Police raided one club in 1952, with guns drawn. They arrested the photographers and charged them with disorderly conduct. Bettie Page was charged with indecent exposure, which was reduced after a legal battle. The cops attempted to confiscate and destroy the film, but some of it survived and can be seen in the 2014 documentary film, “Bettie Page Reveals All” created by Mark Mori.