7 essential steps to begin art nude photography

Are you a photographer looking to branch out and expand the services you offer to your clients? Landscape or street photographers at this point in their career often look towards shooting artistic nudes, or boudoir images either to spice things up or they believe there is big money to be had in the boudoir game. I started out in photography shooting black & white film in 1986, and I have always been in love with landscape imagery. I have a multitude of photographer friends who took this standard photography to nude photography path, and over the years I have watched their progression and learned a lot.

I myself have an abstract art nude project (it is non-explicit and safe for work) called Landscapes of the Body that can be found at: https://www.bodyscapes.photography/ My interest in art nudes took a very different path than most, and you can feel free to read about it on my website. So, after all these years, I decided to put together a comprehensive list of suggestions to get any aspiring photographer into he art nude game… Let’s talk about it.

Definitive steps to becoming a successful art nude photographer:

Step oneStop. Yes, you read that right. Don’t start shooting art nudes until you are ready.

This is the biggest mistake I see. Sure, its all fun and games to photograph a naked person, but the impression you give if you are unsure of yourself and inexperienced will leave your model feeling uncomfortable and awkward.

Step two: Learn your camera inside and out. Learn how your camera works, how white balance affects the colors in your images, and the exposure triangle. Tackle and overcome the challenge of shooting in low light situations without a flash. Read everything you can on photography. Look at the work of others, nude and not. Really look, ignore the model and look at the way the model is posed, and the environment they are in. When you find work you are drawn to, examine the lines in the photo, how the photographer used the body to lead your eye through the image. 

Step three: Learn to see light, and work with artificial light sources. Whether you are starting out with a speedlight or a professional studio setup, learn how light works in a photographic environment. Don’t skimp on the boring stuff like the inverse square law of light – this can make a huge difference when shooting with artificial light. Understanding how light falls off a subject and how light source distance from your subject affects your exposure can help you to create more creative and interesting images. Understand how proximity of light affects the softness and spread of that light on your subject and the environment. 

The mistake many make is setting up two softboxes at 45 degree angles from the subject and firing away. While this can produce pleasing images, they tend to be flat. Learning to sculpt your subject with light will take the images you can offer your clients to the next level – and make you look like you know what you are doing. This will lead to more relaxed models and result in better images.

Step four: Learn to take great photos with a clothed model first. This can be the longest step depending on where you are with your photographic skillset. Working with clothed models relieves a ton of stress from the photographer and the model during the shoot. Take this time to learn the art of posing your model and focus on finding pleasing light without worrying about nudity. Above all, shooting clothed models will allow you time to learn to professionally talk to and work with your models. Once the clothes come off, people on both sides of the camera can get shy and uncomfortable, so having the skill of being able to talk to and interface with your model is invaluable. All too often, photographers without the ability to professionally work with a model reinforce the stereotype of the perv with a camera. It is the unprofessional photographer that leads models who say they:  “don’t trust photographers” or “think photographers are just peeping-toms and pervs“.

Step five: Look at photography – really look at it. Find an image that you like and examine how the photographer placed the model relative to the light source. Look at the shadows, look at the direction of light in the image. We see light every day, and are inherent experts, we just need to teach ourselves to see the way the light is hitting the scene. Look at the quality of light, are the shadows sharp or are they soft? Learn how a larger light source can give more wrap to the light on your subject – and how to control it.

Step six: Build your portfolio of great images. Choose your best ten images and get them printed. Make sure they are all of different models and shot in different locations with different types of light. You aren’t going to build a portfolio with one model on a single shoot. If you can’t show great images of clothed models how can someone trust you to shoot them nude? you to take their photo?

Step seven: Learn post-processing. Rather than buying into one of those one-click portrait retouching programs, why not take the time to really learn to use photoshop. If you rely on the one-click solutions, there will be many times where you will want to accomplish a specific goal in terms of retouching, but you won’t have the skill because you rely on someone else’s program and idea of what the portrait you are working on should look like. Consider this as well: when you rely totally on a one-click solution, you are using the same program that countless other photographers use. How can you expect your work to stand out from the crowd when everyone is using the same retouching methods? Learning how to retouch in photoshop will give opportunities to have your work look unique, making it more valuable to the client. 

One of the best ways to get better at retouching images is to look at glamour magazines. Buy the latest issues at the grocery store and really take some time to look at the way they retouch skin and eyes. Do their models look like porcelain dolls? Does their skin look like plastic? Likely not. Do the eyes look so over-brightened that they appear to be popping out of the model’s head? I am betting they don’t. Offering an amateur looking retouch method is as bad as offering poor lighting to your clients.

Bonus tip: Learn Lightroom and put together a plan for archiving your images. The photography subscription from Adobe costs less than a cup of good coffee a month, there is no reason not to take the plunge subscribe and learn how to use Photoshop and Lightroom. Backing up your images on an external drive sitting on your desk is not a viable backup plan.  To be safe, you need to follow the 3-2-1 plan. Have three copies of your data in on two different media types with one located offsite.  Believe me, I have lost data and since I have adopted this strategy I have slept better at night. 

There you have it, if there is one word of advice that you take away from this article is this: do follow your dreams of shooting art nudes, but make sure you take the time to build the photographic skillset you need before you start. If you don’t, you will just be another pervert with a camera, and nobody wants to work with that guy.

I love to hear from my readers! Feel free to contact me on any of my websites or on social media.

My Photography site: http://www.tahquechi.com/

My Bodyscapes project: https://www.bodyscapes.photography/

Follow me on Twitter and Instagram: @nedskee I will happily follow you back.