Fine art nude photography is an exacting discipline and one where expert training and direction really matters. Irrespective of where we sit on the photographic learning curve, we should always strive to move forward. I believe this should be the case for all of us, whether or not we are new to the profession or whether we’re already established in business with a string of credentials. This is the beauty of photography, it offers us a bottomless pit of self-discovery. I am always thinking about the genres I want to explore and learn and just lately I’ve been seeking opportunities to study the human form under the tutelage of a master. And this is key – training comes in many forms but before you part with either your time or your cash you will need to consider exactly what you hope to achieve. I’ve been on shoots with some very big names and on occasion I’ve come away feeling I’ve learned very little, often because the speaker’s ego has dominated the room or else because the event has consisted of little more than demonstrations. Most people “learn by doing” and while this can be daunting whenever you’re trying something different, it really is the only way to benefit. I’ve been on shoots and courses where there have been some equally big names in the audience as there have been on the stage and this is what I mean by continual self-development, no matter how prominent you might become. For this reason I think it’s a great idea to blog about your training or the opportunities you’ve had to work or shoot alongside a photographer you particularly admire. I believe clients find it greatly reassuring to see continued investment in new techniques and new thought processes, all of which will ultimately benefit your business and of course your customers.
And so I found myself at my friend and fellow photographer Derek Pether’s studio in Hampshire in sub zero temperatures over a weekend here in the UK. But the weather did absolutely nothing to affect the spirits of the small tight group who had been fortunate enough to gain a place on this very special workshop. Before I go on, Derek’s studio is absolutely lovely and is available to hire (the rates are very reasonable, too) so if Hampshire is part of your manor do check out Rivendell Studios. Our model is the unspeakably beautiful Jennifer Dickinson.
Master photographer John Denton is one of my favourite photographers not just because of his visionary work, but also because he is a wonderful teacher. To have value to their students a teacher or mentor needs to instruct, nurture, and inspire in equal measure providing a safe environment free from judgement. I have been on courses in the past where I have felt the urge to sit in the background, because the speaker has managed to instil something akin to a feeling of inadequacy, killing the urge to step forward and actively take part in the shoot. And I can think of many other, often well-qualified photographers who have felt the same way on occasion. If you train with John this will never happen, irrespective of your level of experience.
It should be said at this point that the images I’m about to show you are of course of the nude form. A thing of beauty, as most fine art or people photographers will testify. I am of course here in the UK, where that attitude would generally prevail, but the world is a colourful place and not every jurisdiction will find nudity acceptable. So you will need to bear this in mind before you post your fine art nude imagery on your site or blog. And there is of course a huge difference between artistic nude studies and so-called “glamour” photography which is designed to titillate and arouse – that is NOT what I do. With that in mind the delegates on workshops like this are carefully screened by the lead photographer and it’s vital we’re all working off the same page – someone hoping to get their jollies will be shown the door pretty quickly. As far as posting the finished results go, as I said there may be cultural considerations depending on where you are geographically. I have no reservations whatsoever about posting beautiful fine art figure studies here on my blog under either the Portrait or Boudoir categories. I am a portrait photographer and I photograph human beings extensively, be they business people, or families. If images depicting the nude form were to offend some of my viewers then that would be unusual here in the UK, but if it were the case ultimately I’m of the view that those are not clients who I would necessarily wish to work with anyway. Once you’ve carved your niche in the photographic community, there is some value in staying true to yourself, but once again I stress that if you live in a locality where nude imagery may compromise how you are viewed them good sense dictates that you give careful consideration to whether or not you share your images.
So what is fine art nude photography? The most influential nude photographers include Man Ray, Helmut Newton, Bill Brandt and the more graphic representations of Irving Penn, Richard Avedon and Annie Liebowitz. As far as the modern day is concerned, and the relationship between fine art nude photography and the portrait photographer, there has been and remains an enduring fascination with this genre, most notably because it is a precise and very demanding discipline to explore and will in many ways push you to your creative limits. This became glaringly obvious as the workshop progressed, the slightest change in the positioning of a limb, the merest alteration of the placement of the lights and the image became something completely different. The concept would either evolve into something uniquely gratifying or else would create some frustration when the picture in the mind of the photographer continues to elude them. This is another area where tutors such as John Denton have such value, each photographer is actively encouraged to explore a concept for themselves so that they will see first-hand how the principles of fine art nude photography can be a constant challenge. For me, this was a particularly interesting exercise. A lot of my subjects are either very young (children) or are understandably very inexperienced in front of the camera (that would be most of us) or else I may be photographing pets, domestic animals, or wildlife. In other words I have had to learn the value of contingency, compromise and several game plans in the face of subjects who cannot always be directed. And suddenly I find myself in a situation where every centimetre of movement matters, every instruction must resonate with the subject, and more importantly fine art nude photography is about freeing the mind of both photographer and subject. In that respect, you will see a distinct progression in the images, from the finely controlled and carefully lit figure studies to the more conceptual forms where movement and blur have been introduced. It’s possible to explore the precise refined beauty of your subject, leading them through to imagery which becomes unleashed and almost primitive. I cannot begin to tell you how exhilarating this can be.
Given that I’m always being asked about my kit, I spent the weekend shooting exclusively with my Olympus OMD EM-5 and occasionally with my Fuji X100 whenever I needed a wider field of view (grabbing this little camera is much easier than wasting time swapping lenses, especially if it’s just for a few frames). The images were captured with natural light, reflectors, and multi-light studio setups using Elinchrom Quadra Ranger lights (available from the Flash Centre here in the UK). Inside the studio I found it very useful to be able to re-frame quickly and so I used the cheap but surprisingly good Oly 14-42 pancake zoom lens (this is a variable aperture zoom but that doesn’t matter when you’re using studio lighting, since you’re normally at a tight aperture anyway). The OMD performed absolutely flawlessly and I cannot find fault with its output, and of course I remained free from the usual aches and pains which go hand-in-hand with carrying big heavy DSLRs!
Before I finally get around to the images, the workshop added further value by including a session on practicalities and legalities, which should never be ignored. Where nude fine art nude photography is concerned a trained professional model will be your greatest ally, since she or he will easily interpret your instructions and will also bring a variety of useful ideas into the mix. They’ll also be well versed with the necessity for a Model Release which sets out your mutual obligations. This is vital, and your model will need to understand that by publishing the images in your portfolio, which is of course what both parties are seeking to achieve, the model needs to be comfortable with the fact that their nude form is something their friends, boyfriends and family are likely to encounter. This is never an issue for a fine art model but will require some explaining if your subject is less experienced. A Release is binding, just as your normal photographic Contracts or Terms are, and a model (let alone her boyfriend or father) does not have the right to contact the photographer at a later date and demand that the pictures are removed from that photographer’s portfolio. A jealous boyfriend, husband or disapproving family member is not the photographer’s problem and no professional photographer should be expected to negate parts of their portfolio for this reason. There is also the matter of how you go about arranging and managing nude shoots. Your models will need reassurance that you’re bone fide therefore evidence of previous photographic sessions along similar lines will be helpful, as well as an established presence as a professional photographer. I am a well qualified member of the leading photographic bodies and am bound by a professional code of conduct at all times, so I would include this and links to my various credentials if a prospective model or client requires it. Some photographers prefer that the model is not accompanied during the actual shoot since an audience can inhibit creative expression, others will allow a friend to accompany the subject should they wish it. Still other photographers will prefer that their own assistant is present to protect them from any possibility of unsavoury allegations. For this reason research becomes important on both sides. As a location photographer I will often Google the names of my clients before fully committing to a shoot, even though the likelihood of encountering anybody unsafe is rare in this country.
What of the final form of the photographs? Quite often the images are destined to be part of a professional model’s portfolio and would therefore be produced as prints for his or her book and digital files for web promotion on the model’s site or agency page. However, like boudoir photography (where the subject is normally clothed in tasteful lingerie or drapes) the images may be commissioned for a private collection as either wall presentations or a fine album.