Firstly, starting off this tutorial it’s important to state that nude photography isn’t pornography. When done correctly and respectfully nude photography is empowering, beautifying and a celebration of the human body.
Our nude photography tutorial will walk you through everything you need to know to capture stunning and graceful photos.
Nude photography which you may also hear as fine art nudes or bodyscapes is the art of capturing naked forms of the human body. This isn’t just a female-only discipline, there are many male nude models as well as many incredible female photographers shooting nudes.
That old-school notion of old men photographing young naked women has really altered over the years. Nude photography (as well as boudoir and glamour which are different areas) have become a growing part of the industry.
Nude photography focuses less on the idea of expression and personality of the model but more about their form, construction and shape as a human being. With that said they are still a person and thus needed to be treated that way – which we’ll come to later.
To give you a clear understanding in this nude photography tutorial we’ve got some perfect examples of the style. Boudoir and glamour photography is different from nude.
Use these examples to give you an idea of what a good nude photographer can capture with the right lighting, setting and camera kit.
Before you even turn on your camera and start shooting a good nude photography session begins with a piece of paper (or a computer). You should make a clear plan of what you want to achieve in your shoot – which is why we’ve given you some examples already to get your mind thinking.
Collect a range of images you find online (Pinterest is a great place to start) and make a mood board of shots you’d like to recreate. It’s not cheating trying to recreate a photo when you’re starting out in nude photography – we all need to get inspiration from somewhere.
Look at the photos and consider the following aspects;
● What props you might need (chairs, blankets, flowers).
● How has the shot been lit? Is it flash or natural?
● Is it a wide or close shot? This will help you with lens choices later.
● Does the model require any accessories? (jewelry etc).
● What kind of pose is the model doing? Make some rough sketches to be able to show your model later – they don’t have to be perfect.
● What are the hands and feet doing in the shot? It’s important to pose limbs that may not be fully visible as they change the form of the body overall.
Choosing a location for your nude photo shoot is important to get right. Not only has it got to look right but you need to set the right tone with your model. Asking a model to let you do a nude photoshoot in your bedroom (when they’ve never met you) may seem uncomfortable.
Instead, why not invest a little and hire a studio for a few hours to make the whole shoot look more professional. Plus it gives you more space for angles, lighting and potentially new spaces you hadn’t considered shooting in. A photography studio won’t be surprised by accepting nude photoshoots so don’t feel awkward by enquiring.
Some photographers hire hotel rooms to do nude photoshoots but considering you’ll only be using it for a few hours to pay for an overnight rate may seem excessive if you’re on a budget.
Finally, once you’ve got a plan on what you’d like to shoot and where you can stage it all you just need a model. Finding a model isn’t that hard once you start an internet search. The most popular networks for models and photographers to collaborate listed below;
1. Purple Port
2. Model Mayhem
3. Net Models
Have a look on Facebook for local groups that offer model & photographer collaborations.
When looking for a model take into consideration their level of experience. If you are hiring a model who hasn’t done nude photography before then you’ll need to factor that into how much time you’ll need as they may be very nervous. Plus it’ll require you to direct them more in terms of poses etc so you’ll need to be confident to do that.
We would recommend that you look for a model with at least some experience in doing nude photography so it takes the pressure off you initially.
With the plan all sorted it’s time to sort out the camera equipment. Any DSLR or Mirrorless camera will carry enough of the typical features you’ll need for nude photography.
You don’t need a high megapixel camera (unless you’re intending on printing out the photos big). What you will need is a fast lens – with a widest aperture of around F/1.4 – F/1.8.
The reason for a fast lens is to create a shallow depth of field in a small space. Nude photography relies on the enhancement of skin texture and making the body look smooth and alluring – a shallow depth of field will help to blur the skin in parts and the background.
As well as the shallow DoF a fast lens will also help with shooting in low light conditions. While nude photography doesn’t have to be staged in a dark room, to create that teasing atmosphere and using shadows to disguise certain parts of the body means you’ll need a wide aperture to pick up on the light where needed.
The best focal length for nude photography falls somewhere between 35mm-85mm (full frame) depending upon the space you have and the type of shots you want to take.
Anything wider than 35mm will distort the body shape and anything longer than 85mm means you’ll be so close to your subject it could be hard to tell what you’re looking at.
● You probably won’t need a tripod as you’ll want control over the angles and tripods can be restrictive in this way.
● Packing a gold/white reflector is a good idea as a backup.
● Leave your flashes at home, they’ll be too harsh for this type of photography (unless you intend to diffuse/bounce the light off a surface).
Before your model arrives you need to get the room ready. Whether it’s a home studio, hotel room or studio space it needs to be set up and pre-tested to make sure you’re not wasting time when your model is ready.
1. Pick out a couple of props for them to sit or lie on or lean against. Test them out yourself to make sure it’s comfortable as they may be there for a little while – this connects further to respecting your model, which we’ll talk about later.
2. Make sure the room isn’t freezing cold – they are going to be naked after all! If you’ve got multiple layers on then it’ll probably be too cold for them so bring in a fan heater or turn the central heating on.
3. Look out for reflections – mirrors and glass surfaces can show up objects you don’t want in your images so just make sure everything looks considered. Take a few test shots of the scene beforehand to make sure the light falls where you want it.
When deciding on how to light your nude photographs, think about what type of light quality looks best on the skin – the answer is generally soft light.
Soft light shows off more texture and depth on a curved surface and is a little more forgiving in the shadows too. Natural sunlight will be the best option for most nude photos. Set up close to a big window and shoot on a cloudy day when the light is diffused or place some net curtains or bed sheets over the window to soften the light.
You could instead purchase a set of continuous LED panels to do the same if you won’t have enough natural light. You can change the colour temperature on these lights to give you the effect of daylight. Plus having more than one light means you can get more creative with designing a 2-3 point lighting setup.
Based on whether you’re using 1, 2 or 3 lights here are some diagrams to give you an idea of the best positions to set up your lighting.
Should you shoot your nude photography in colour or black & white? Well, that choice is yours but here’s what we’d advise.
● Shoot in RAW regardless. This gives you choice later on but there’ll be more image data to edit with if you need to brighten the shot up.
● If you do shoot RAW you can still (on some cameras) apply a B&W virtual filter over the shot to give you an idea of what it would look like. It’s not a permanent filter as the RAW will always still be in colour.
● If you can only shoot in JPEG format then any filters you apply would be permanent. It’s best to shoot in colour with no filters applied and decide when editing.
● Black & White nude photos look classic and timeless which is why you’ll see a lot of them. Skin, in colour, can look blotchy and not one tone. While you can edit this out black & white solves this issue quicker.
● If you do decide to stick with a colour slightly desaturate the shot by 5-10% to soften the appearance of blotchy skin.
Some pro nude photographers hire a body make up artist to help cover up these types of blemishes in advance if the shoot is for a magazine. But this somewhat goes against the ethic of celebrating the human body in its natural form.
Remember to refer back to your moodboard to keep your mind on capturing the shots you want. By all means it’s fun to experiment if you get a light-bulb moment during the shoot, but don’t go too far off track or you’ll kick yourself later for not getting everything you wanted.
Nude photography doesn’t mean you should be directly shooting the private areas of the body. There are other areas you could capture the create a similar sexual feeling.
Think of yourself as a tease to the viewer, giving them a little hint, but not showing everything leaves a tantilising thought in the audience’s mind of wanting to know more. There is more skill and artistry in this approach than being obvious and explicit.
While there are many fans of nude photography, some are put off when the images are more explicit and pornographic. Glamour photography touches more on these elements, but not fine art nudes.
Tilt the camera to show off the curves of the body. Your job is to make every model look as amazing as the last. We said earlier that nude photography is about empowering the model and they may feel quite nervous about stripping off in front of a stranger so give them confidence in what you can do by showing them some of your favourite shots mid-shoot.
A few times already we’ve talked about respecting your model. It’s vital that you create a friendly rapport as soon as you can without being overwhelming.
Think about how you would feel getting naked in front of a stranger – the same feeling applies to your model (even if they’ve done it before). Don’t stand and stare at them, it’ll only make them self conscious and close off to you.
Just treat them as if they were clothed and talk to them normally. You can chat about how long they’ve been modelling, what they enjoy about it, what they want to do in the future etc. Conversations will naturally develop during the shoot and hopefully you get a few laughs to relax everyone.
● Never touch a model without their permission and only if it’s something they can’t do themselves.
● Don’t use crude/explicit words about private areas. Be a little more graceful.
● Demonstrate poses yourself if the model isn’t understanding your directions.
● Don’t ask your model to do something they aren’t comfortable with. Establish boundaries when hiring them and never cross them.
● Ask them during the shoot, ‘is everything ok?’, ‘do you want to take a break?’, ‘are you warm enough?’. Keep their wellbeing in mind throughout.
● Show them some of your favourite shots during the shoot – this will buoy their confidence.
● Compliment them on their poses and thank them for their patience if they are waiting for you.
To make sure there are no legal or awkward ramifications after your photoshoot ask your model to sign a model release form. It’s standard practice and we’ve got a template one for you to download here to use as a guide.
The model release form protects you and them from problems in the future arising from public use of the images and ownership. Most commonly the photographer will retain 100% copyright ownership of the photos from that shoot, with the allowance of them to do what they need (publication, online sharing, portfolio purposes etc).
But there will be a clause to all the model licenses on the final edited images provided to again be used in a similar way (but with no financial benefits being allowed).
Make sure the model release states roughly how many edited images you expect to be able to give them and how long that will take. Obviously until you see all the photos back it’s impossible to give an exact number so it’s best to dramatically underestimate to cover your back. Quoting something like 10 photos would be fine.
As a general point, model release forms need to be co-signed by a parent/guardian if the model is under 18.
BUT you should never be shooting nude photography with anyone under 18 anyway.
By now you’ll be packed with information and understanding from this nude photography tutorial on how to go forward and capture some incredible shots.
There is much more to learn about nude photography which you’ll only discover while you’re shooting. Here is a great guide about posing men and women which you could apply elements of to your nude photoshoot.
1. Make a plan before anything else – write down what you want to achieve and build yourself a mood board of ideas.
2. Find a model with some experience of nude modelling if it’s your first time and share your plans with them.
3. Set up the room and lighting in advance. Take a few test shots so you’re not wasting time when you’re on the clock.
4. Talk to your model and make a good impression. Praise and direct them where necessary throughout.
5. Both parties should sign a model release form after the shoot to protect each person from legal complications.