As photographers, we often put so much emphasis on technique, that we forget to think about a shoot from the perspective of our models and clients. It’s important for us to remember that, for our subjects, the experience of being in front of the camera can be intimidating. But, where nude or semi-nude posing is taking place, it’s a good idea to maintain an awareness and sensitivity where the model is concerned. For this article, I asked several of the subjects I’ve worked with to offer up their views on the topic of posing nude or semi-nude for the camera. As most of the nude photography out there features women in the role of subject, and my experience is primarily with female nudes, I’ve limited the discussion to women and their perspectives.
Differing Views On Nudity
Right or wrong, sometimes the perceived relationship between nudity and sexuality is a source of tension for the subject (even the artist). Certainly, art can depict the human form without the intent of portraying sexuality. But even if that intent is absent, both artist and subject are likely aware that someone might perceive the images they create as being sexual in nature. That in itself wouldn’t be a concern for most, if it weren’t for the fact that even faint depictions of sexuality can elicit ridicule and disapproval from some viewers.
It’s important to remember that women's’ views about posing nude are as varied as their personalities and the experiences that shaped them. But why are some women strongly opposed to the idea of being photographed nude, while others welcome the opportunity?
Janae, who had her first experience posing nude for a boudoir shoot, says she looked forward to the opportunity as a way to express how she felt about herself in an artistic manner. “I feel part of this has to do with self confidence,” she explains. “People who are confident in themselves and with their body have an easier time welcoming the idea of being nude in front of the camera.”
“I think that if someone is uncomfortable with their body and/or their sexuality or have been trained that nudity is wrong, they will be opposed to posing nude in front of a camera,” says Linda, who shared her first experience posing nude for a professional photographer with several female family members watching behind the scenes. Just getting into her 60’s, this adventurous grandmother wanted some images of herself that celebrated her figure and sensuality. It’s unusual for a client or model to have family on such a shoot, but again, it’s all a matter of comfort level and perspective. “If someone has a healthy sexuality and body image and they trust the photographer/artist, then posing nude can be very natural, even freeing,” she says.
“We all have so many images -- too many photographs on digital cameras and up on Facebook -- of our faces to look back on, but not our bodies,” says Elisabeth, who commissioned a set of figure studies for personal wall art, and as a keepsake for future years. “It strikes me as such a shame. That absence seems a function of our American taboos with sex and sensuality, the same reason liquor stores are closed on Sundays and politicians get votes by condemning sexual freedom, and then get impeached for taking sexual freedom themselves.”
Yesenia, a NYC-based model, who enjoys nude work, understands how some people can be hesitant. “There are many reasons why people feel how they feel towards nudity. The way one was raised, morals, comfort level with oneself and others. I think some people feel as if they are going to be judged or they feel that being nude transfers to something sexual, but it doesn’t really.”
The Experience of Posing Nude
Posing for a photographer can be an intimidating experience, even for a subject who is fully clothed. But posing for nude or semi-nude images requires a great amount of trust on the part of the subject, and it’s up to the photographer to try to make sure that she feels as comfortable and confident as possible under the circumstances. If it’s a woman’s first time posing nude in front of the camera, it can be especially nerve-wracking. But if the experience is positive, your model is likely to come away feeling great about herself and her images.
Sarah agrees, “The first time I posed partially nude I was nervous, as I've always been more reserved and this was completely out of character for me. However, for the first time in my life I felt good about my body image and wanted to have photos taken to emulate that. Once into the photo shoot I relaxed, and after seeing the finished product I was able to grasp the idea of it being artistic as opposed to sexual in nature.”
“It was an amazing experience,” says Linda about her first session. “I was apprehensive beforehand but having a photographer who is knowledgeable, professional, and very talented as well as personable put me immediately at ease.”
“Upon walking in I felt at ease and knew that my photographer was there to help me feel confident and relaxed,” adds Janae. “I felt very comfortable and I was able to be myself and not worry about my body or what the photographer thought of me. It was an amazing experience and I would definitely do it again given the opportunity. My first time posing nude went very well due to the fact that I was comfortable with myself and nudity.
As a young model, Yesenia tells us that her first semi-nude shoot was such a positive experience that she decided to do more work in that area. “The first time I exposed a lot of skin was in October of 2009. I had just turned 19 and I posed topless for some portraits for an Italian fashion photographer, Christian Lucidi. He was just marvelous, he was so professional and made me feel so comfortable. He knew it was my first time doing anything like that. I was surprisingly very comfortable and thought to myself, ‘I should do this more often.’”
As for environment, it understandably plays a role, too. Much of my nude work has been done in a home environment rather than in a commercial studio. “The experience was very low-key and mellow,” Elisabeth recounts. “It felt professional and I was not nervous. The studio was a living room -- just your normal living room.”
Few Do Nude Self-Portraits
When asked if they had experimented with any nude or semi-nude self-portraiture, most replied that they had not. Some said they they had attempted some but were not happy with the results or felt very uncomfortable with the process, preferring the expertise and direction of an artist/photographer.
“I’ve never done my own photos,” explains Janae. “To me it seems awkward to set the camera up and pose away for myself. It was very uplifting and encouraging having someone behind the camera telling me ‘great shot’ or ‘give me more attitude!’”
Posing Nude: An Empowering Experience
The experience of being photographed nude has been described by many women as “empowering” and even “life-changing,” but it’s the object, the photograph, that completes the experience. It becomes a memento of the event, a souvenir, and a cherished work of art to keep to oneself, or share.
Sarah, admittedly struggles with the same self-image issues many of us do. But being photographed has given her a different perspective. She was able to voice those concerns to work with her photographer in the creation of the work. This not only allowed her a say in the creation of the finished products, but gave her a sense of ownership of her self-image. “During the photo shoot I was concerned about certain parts of my body I dislike being visible, but I learned that voicing those concerns to the photographer is important, and the end result is more pleasing,” she says. “I wasn't expecting to be blown away the way I was when I saw the finished images. I was very proud of myself for all my hard work to get to that point.”
“I look at my photos and say, ‘WOW I did this, I can’t believe my photographer captured me so naturally’,” says Janae of her finished images. “Every time I look back through my photos I tend to come up with other ideas for future shoots and am excited about posing again.”
Adds Linda, “I was wowed and awed by seeing myself through the eyes of someone who can create rather than just take a picture with a camera.”
Sharing The Images
Many women will commission nudes and figure studies of themselves because they want a record of their bodies before time and motherhood make unalterable changes to them. That was one reason Elisabeth decided to have some nude photographs made. She knew that she and her husband would be embarking on the journey into parenthood at some point, and she wanted a visual keepsake of her pre-baby body. She says it’s unfortunate that more people aren’t doing this.
The photos are beautiful. It was a really cool experience seeing my body as art. Also, it was an important record. In the year after the photography session, I got pregnant and had a baby. My body looks mostly the same, but not exactly, and it feels important to me to have those old images of my body at 30.
Personal and private enjoyment of one’s nude figure depicted as artwork is one thing, but I wondered how many of the respondents actually shared their images with others, and to what degree.
“I have three nudes displayed,” explains Elisabeth. “The black and white Verosky photos in my living room, and a nude pregnant torso in my study. Interestingly, I chose not to hang up face shots. I think it is mostly because I don't want to potentially embarrass visitors. When I am older, though -- maybe 50 or 60 -- and my body has aged and the photographed body is an archive, a memory, I will bring them out, perhaps blow one up and frame it over the sofa. I think it is less embarrassing for people to see art that is dissociated in that way, as opposed to ‘Hey! that's you! You still look like that! I've seen you naked!’”
Similarly, Janae is happy to have her images displayed. “Absolutely! My boyfriend has one of my favorite images of me in pearls framed on his mantle and I have my images posted online. I am proud of the body I worked so hard to get and gladly show off all the hard work! After having two kids I love being able to show my photos to others and hopefully motivate them that if I can do this, anyone can.”
“I have shared the images with others and have hung some in my bedroom,” adds Sarah. “They continue to serve as motivation and a reminder of how good I felt at that time. I was proud of myself for opening up to, and embracing, a new experience. The way the photos were taken -- poses, lighting, textures used -- was tasteful, so I feel comfortable sharing many of them with others.
As a model, Yesenia is also inclined to share her favorites with friends and even strangers, but prefers not to display them in her apartment. “I post a few images here and there on my personal websites. I have a couple of friends that have seen almost every photo taken of me, I love the feedback. I don't put up photos in my apartment of myself. It’s strange, a lot of photographers have given me copies but they are just hidden away collecting dust. I have an online modeling portfolio that I update often. I've been published a few times and I've been up on gallery walls, so quite a handful of strangers have seen me nude.” She does point out that she has no desire to share “naked” images of herself with family members, however, and would not want to see any of them that way. This is probably true of a lot of subjects where a distinction is drawn between the world in general, and the smaller and more intimate family dynamic. Being okay with nudity is often a matter of context.
Linda says she is selective about who she shares her images with. “I have shared the finished product with others but only with those who would appreciate and understand the intent and purpose of producing them in the first place. Everyone I have shared them with has loved them and appreciated the beauty of the product, not just the model.”
Nudity As Art
Although our respondents share an obvious enthusiasm for posing nude, it’s important to remember that many feel its merits hold true only in an artistic context. And that can mean different things to different people. So, it’s a good idea to fully communicate your ideas, and discover boundaries, with your clients and models before a shoot.
“To me, nude photography can be a celebration of the beauty and sexuality and sensuality of the human soul as well as the body,” says Linda. “However, I feel there is some sexually explicit photography taken for the purpose of graphic display only. To lump both in the same category is what I would consider wrong.
“I know I'm uncomfortable with explicit nudity,” explains Yesenia. “I don't need, or wish to see, that. I feel it’s very inappropriate, unnecessary, and disrespectful to the human body. I'll say this much, never did I think I would be so comfortable posing nude for photographers. I think the human body, nude, should be celebrated and admired in a respectful matter.”
If you're interested in Boudoir Photography, Glamour, or Nude Photography, see the Store for eBooks that might interest you. Top image: Yesenia