There may well come a time when you end up shooting with a nude model. Whether male or female does not matter – nor does it matter whether the shoot is commercial, for portfolio purposes, or as part of a personal project. No matter what the case may be, it can be awkward for those who are inexperienced in dealing with this kind of situation. You may have to work hard to make sure you deal with it in a mature, professional, and appropriate way. Here are some tips on how to get the job done.
Keep calm and carry on
This is sound advice in any and all photoshoot situations, but even more so when it comes to something that could leave you flustered. Seeing someone naked for the first time can be very awkward, especially when you are trying to work with them.
The best way to approach it is a bit of a reverse of a common trick you may have heard of. If you are nervous about speaking in front of people, you are often told to picture them naked in order to help you relax. Well, in this situation it is the nudity which is stressing you out – so look at it from the opposite direction! Picture them fully clothed and act as if everything is normal. Once you get into the swing of things you are likely to find that you actually ignore the nudity naturally, as you are too busy concentrating on framing up and adjusting your shoot.
Plan things out
In order to avoid awkwardness on the day – and to ensure that you maintain a professional image – you should plan things out as much as possible. For example, if you have specific poses that you wish to capture, you should make a moodboard or storyboard which details these poses one by one. You can then go over this with the model, either beforehand or on the day, to help you progress from one to the next easily.
This takes out any confusion or embarrassment which may be caused by trying to get the model to try new poses. It also means you can both focus on the job at hand. Remember that your model may also feel awkward – unless they are very experienced or comfortable with nude shoots, they may be self-conscious or anxious, so keeping everything simple and straightforward will really help them too. It also ensures that in the panic, you do not end up forgetting something that you really wanted to get crossed off the list.
Another part of planning is looking at your studio or set and how you can protect your model. You should not be shooting in a place where just anyone can wander in. Locked doors and covered windows will keep the shoot private, and you can also have an assistant who keeps a lookout for you if you are shooting outdoors. Try to provide a robe or towel for your model so that they can cover themselves up in-between shots, such as when you are changing your settings or taking a break.
The most important thing of all is that you are always respectful of your model. The fact that they are posing nude for you does not change your relationship, nor does it mean that you have permission to access their body in a special way. What this means is that you are not expected to stare at them for long periods of time or in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable; eye contact is just as important on a nude shoot as it is on any set. You also need to be very careful about touching them. If you ask their permission first, they may be comfortable with you repositioning their limbs or moving their hair back from their face. You absolutely should not be touching them in an inappropriate nature or taking advantage of their nakedness.
Some models are comfortable to strip off right in front of a photographer, while others will want to go to a private area to undress and then come back to the studio with a coat, towel, or robe on. Respect their decision and allow them to do whatever feels comfortable for them. Likewise, they may wish to bring a chaperone, or operate on a closed set (which means just you, the model, and perhaps one assistant with no one else allowed in). You have to make sure that they feel comfortable, otherwise you will not get great images – and they may also talk to other models about how bad their experience with you was, leading to a lack of willing models in your area.
It is a strong position of trust which a photographer finds themselves in when a model agrees to appear nude in front of them. Do not break that trust. There are stories all over the internet about photographers who have turned into perverts during the shoot or propositioned a model to do something inappropriate because of their position of power. Don’t be that person. If you can’t trust yourself to hold back, then don’t do nude shoots – it’s as simple as that.
If it can be avoided, it’s usually a good idea to keep nudity out of the equation. This makes a much more comfortable experience for everyone, and also means that you are going to be able to get a wider range of models to agree to work with you. Known as implied nude, shooting an image which appears to show a naked model but actually does not is a really good technique for keeping it clean.
One way to do this is to shoot the model in skimpy underwear which can be removed in post-production. For example, shooting from behind, a thong can easily be removed in order to create the illusion of nakedness. This is often done with celebrities who appear “nude” in magazines, as it allows them to maintain their modesty while still getting a photograph which is going to sell lots of issues. It’s very easy to create this effect in Photoshop. Once you have removed all trace of the hidden clothing, you can then go back over the skin with Photoshop actions to smooth it out and make it just about impossible to know whether or not the model really was nude on set.