Stripped Down: The Nude Shoot
model: Tippsy Cupps - Dallas, TX
When I was in high school and still just learning my camera, my then-friend wanted me to take sexy photos of her for her boyfriend. We were sixteen, and she had bought some skimpy lingerie at Hot Topic. I stumbled across the photos the other day when cleaning out an old box; they're awful. Bad focus, terrible lighting, and I had no idea how to coach her in posing. However, it was my first foray into any kind of erotic photography. Over the next thirteen years I've shot everything from burlesque girls twirling their pasties to guy friends naked in the shower in a hotel in Vegas, and it's funny, I have seen and heard it all... but I still blush a little when someone drops trou for the first time in my presence. So this blog will address that--- the ins and outs, the nitty-gritty, and maybe we'll all learn something along the way. Let's get sexy!
01. Everyone is sexy. This is a very important thing to get into your head, and trust me, I'm as guilty as everyone else. I topped out at 348 pounds. My body is a web of stretch marks and cellulite, and I only like about five features total on my entire physical being. I completely understand why people are self-conscious and why they tell themselves and others "Oh, I'd love to a boudoir shoot if I lose another ten pounds" or "I'm going to book a lingerie session with you as soon as I can fit back in my corset!". Here's the thing--- there's no 'right body' for nude photos. There's only your body.
I've shot people of all sizes, genders, orientations and ethnic background. I've shot pregnant women, people with massive self-harm scars, people with skin conditions, and people with bodies like Greek gods. The trick for me is two-fold; finding what angles and look and tone work for each particular client, and then getting that client comfortable enough to really 'let go' in front of the lens. You can absolutely see when a model is closed-off even if their makeup, hair, outfit and pose are on-point. There's a tenseness, and there's no sex in their eyes. So you have to find a way to get the person in front of the camera out of their headspace--- they cannot be focused on themselves and what they think they look like.
02. Let go. This goes hand in hand with the first thought, and it goes for both the photographer and the model. I've had a ton of models, mostly women, come to me with pictures they found on Pinterest or similar sites and they want to look 'like that'. But here's the thing... you may not look like that. You're not that model, and that particular angle she's pulling off might not be your best pose. Don't come into a shoot with a lot of preconceived notions of what you're going to look like. Always be willing to try new things. I've had people say "Oh, that's not my good side" or "There's no way I look good from that angle". Trust your photographer (and if you have hired someone you don't have faith in... why?) to find what works for you. It may be trial and error; they may adjust lighting, or ask you to try new poses, or take a shot and then quickly move on to another pose because that one isn't translating the way they imagined it would. Everyone has a different method for getting 'comfy'. Some of my friends walk into a room, strip naked and just dive in front of the camera with no issue. Others bring a robe, stay completely covered until we're ready to shoot, and snatch their robe back the minute we're finished. One technique that usually seems to help is putting on a playlist. I always have my iPod on me, and I've made several themed playlists. One is a definite 'sexy' mix, with Portishead, Type O Negative, Puscifer, Depeche Mode, similar bands that bring about kind of a slinky, dirty vibe. One is a rocker mix, stuff you might sing along to in the car (Poison, Twisted Sister, The Cure)--- it's fun for uninhibited, silly shoots where people are going to be running around crazy. I always invite the models to create or bring their own playlist, but if they don't, mine are always on hand. Usually music will help people loosen up. Some photographers are serious and quiet while they work; I am always joking, laughing, talking if I sense that it's putting the other person at ease. Most of my models are also my friends, so I've found that even if they aren't used to being naked on camera, getting their mind off it is the best thing to do. Once they realize that being naked is no big deal, things happen organically.
03. Know thyself. This can be interpreted in lots of ways but here are a few tips. Know your own body. Know your strongest points (amazing boobs, great legs, pretty feet, etc) and focus on those. Know which things you want to downplay and pose accordingly (if you have a flat butt for example, try lying on your belly, propped up on your elbows, and draw one knee up beneath yourself. It will 'pop' your butt and elongate your torso for the pic, making your butt look rounder in almost all cases). If you're particularly self-conscious about something, communicate with your photographer those concerns. Sometimes I have someone who has a scar they want hidden; others are proud of their scars. Beyond the physical, know what you're comfortable with. Posing naked is not just about being physically vulnerable. Even if the photos are just for your eyes only, there is ALWAYS the possibility that someone else may find out about them or see them somewhere down the road. If you're in a career or position in your life where that would be detrimental, or you think you could be in that position in the future... think carefully about your choices. While I wish that we lived in a world that more fully embraced and understood the harmlessness of artistic nudity, unfortunately there's still quite a bit of stigma around it in many fields. Sex workers of any kind are often vilified years down the line for their involvement in the industry. So if you have a distinct tattoo, consider if you want to conceal it for the shoot. If you don't want your face shown, consider a mask or discuss framing and cropping with your photographer; I've done erotic body studies where you never see the model's face at all. I encourage everyone to fly free and do whatever they're comfortable with, but I also see a lot of young, very eager models who are quick to get nude and don't know the photographer well. There've been plenty of reports of photographers either using the photos for personal purposes ("pic collectors"--- they often offer free or deeply discounted photoshoots to help new models "build or expand their portfolios", but the models only receive 3-5 edited images at the end of the shoot... So where do the rest of the images go? And some girls never receive the photos at all, the photographers keep them for their own personal collections), or showing the photos to third parties without permission. That's another thing--- make sure you're clear with your photographer what's going to happen with these photos. If possible, get it in writing, with a copy signed by both of you and one copy given to each of you. If you're posing for the photographer, establish whether you're comfortable having your photos used in their portfolio / promotional materials / social media. If the photos are meant as a private gift for a special someone, make sure the photographer agrees not to use them for anything else.
Which leads me to my next point...
04. Know thy photographer. In this day and age, unfortunately for those of us who pursue this as more than a hobby, anyone who can afford a nice camera can call themselves a photographer (although in one noteworthy case, a friend of mine showed up for a 'professional' photoshoot only to find that the shoot was being done entirely via iPad...) and offer up their services. That doesn't mean they actually know how to use their equipment properly, and it certainly doesn't mean that they know how to use proper etiquette with clients. Here are some things you should look for (just a few to get you started):
REFERENCES. If you're going to get naked with someone, you want to know their references if possible for a few reasons. One is a safety thing; if you can talk to people who can actually vouch for them, you'll get firsthand insight into how they behaved around other models. Have your friends worked with them? Are they well-known in your area? Do they have a reputation? Do other people recommend them? Also, you want to see their final products. We live in an age where people can easily steal a photo from Instagram, Google, etc and claim it as their own work. Unless you know the people involved, it's hard to verify. So make sure your photographer is someone you can trust before you ever get in front of their lens!
PAPERWORK. Some photographers don't do this, but many do. This isn't a complete deal breaker but it's something to consider. Some photographers provide releases, NDAs (non-disclosure agreements), or waivers upon shooting a model. If they do, make sure you read it carefully before signing. Some of these are general and just to cover their butts, but others are much more specific and outline what they intend to do with the pictures (for example, maybe they want to sell your nude photos in an upcoming art gallery exhibit they're doing, and if you sign that, you're giving them permission to do so). Of course you want to know where your naked butt is going to end up, so make sure you read carefully and if there's anything you need to clarify or aren't comfortable with, SPEAK UP BEFORE SIGNING. Also, make sure you get a copy as well, with both yours and theirs signatures and dates on it. Cover your own butt, figuratively speaking of course, as much as possible. Also, an NDA is important if the shoot is being considered for publication. A lot of magazines and websites now won't print photos if they have already made the rounds on social media, etc. They want 'first look' rights basically. So if you sign an NDA, you're saying that you acknowledge that privacy is key and you will be discreet about the shoot. You won't post info about it, behind-the-scenes 'peeks', etc. without permission from your photographer.
VIBES. This one's important. If the photographer gives you 'weird' vibes, listen to those. If it's your first time meeting, you SHOULD bring an escort with you. Bring a friend, partner, whoever. If the photographer says 'no', that's a big red flag. If you don't have anyone available, make sure you have a texting buddy. Give them the photographer's full name (and photo/phone number/etc if you have it), the address of where the shoot will be, what time you're starting and what time (approximately) you'll be done. Make sure your friend knows that if you don't check in by a certain time they should call you to make sure things are okay. Always have a plan in place; if you drive your own car, that's best, but if you have a ride, make sure they're nearby and ready to pick you up (not like an hour from the studio, etc) when you need them. If you're taking a subway, train, bus, etc, make sure you know the schedule, the closest station/stop, and if you need to, take a cab or Uber to get there. Your safety is ALWAYS the most important. The photographer's job is to make you feel safe and secure in their company. If they make sexual innuendos, ask you to remove more clothing than previously discussed or pose in ways you're uncomfortable with, or they try to actually physically touch you while 'guiding' you in poses, make sure you're firm and clear about where your lines are drawn. This does NOT make you rude, 'difficult', etc. It makes you smart and in control of your surroundings. You are a model, not a piece of meat, and there's a level of professionalism that must ALWAYS be there.
05. Treat yo'self! This is a BIG one. People have all kinds of reasons for doing nude photo shoots. Some of them just love the naked body and think it has a lot of artistic merit, which of course it does. Some people do it as self-empowerment, a way to celebrate or come to terms with their own body. Some people do it as a gift for a special someone (or themselves!), or just to prove that they 'can', or because they think it'll be fun. Whatever your reason, it should feel fun and liberating and positive. Before the shoot, think about what kind of vibe and tone you want to convey. Make sure you take care of basic grooming needs--- brows, body hair, nails, everything should be groomed to the level of your utmost comfort and aesthetics. If you'll be barefoot at any time, make sure your feet are nicely kept (trust me, those callused heels will show up on film) and if possible, bring wet wipes to keep the soles of your feet clean; I recently did a shoot where a girl danced barefoot on a hardwood floor in a rented studio, and by the end of it, her feet were as black as if she'd walked through charcoal. Put on lotion (if you're not being body painted or something similar, of course). These are basic things that sometimes get overlooked in the panic of someone getting ready for a shoot. You never know what kind of poses you'll be asked to do, so the best policy is to be prepared for anything (you don't want a photographer to say they're going to focus on your legs for a tilt-shift shot and you realize, oops, you forgot to shave and your calves are really stubbly at that close-range!).
Here's a list of things that are helpful to bring with you to nude shoots, by the way---
Baby wipes / wet wipes! These are useful for everything from wiping off stray makeup, freshening up underarms/removing deodorant traces, wiping off the bottom of your feet, etc!
Hairspray, to tame flyaways. If there's a hairstylist on set then don't worry about this, but make sure they keep an eye out for your hair getting frizzy as the shoot goes on and you're having your hands in it, moving around a lot, etc.
Body butter or lotion. Probably nothing with 'shimmer' since that can look like cheap glitter in the wrong lighting, but it does give your skin a nice luster and brightens up tattoos!
Your lipstick/chapstick (again, if there's a makeup artist ignore this) but you may need touch-ups or a little more 'pop' mid-shoot and you don't want to be stuck without the color on hand!
Never a bad idea to bring a razor and small travel-sized shave cream in case you 'missed a spot' or something needs a cleaner shave when the lens is focused on it!
Some kind of robe or similar cover-up. Even if you are 100% comfortable walking around set naked, it's courteous to have a cover (especially when you're sitting on furniture during setups or breaks), and what if you want to take a quick smoke break, take a phone call in the hall, or something like that?
A cell phone charger--- might as well juice your device if it needs it, since it'll be out of your hands while you shoot. You can just mute it and plug it in somewhere out of sight!
Also, if you're not wearing lingerie for the photos (or if you are, but plan to take it off by the end of the shoot), make sure it isn't too tight. You will have bra/elastic marks on your skin from bras, undies, socks, Spanx, etc. It's best if possible to come to a shoot wearing something loose and comfortable that can easily be slipped on or off, like yoga pants, a sundress, etc.
Above all else, have fun. Don't get caught up in your own head. Don't worry about if you aren't the 'perfect, ideal' size or body type. Let go. Embrace it.
Create something beautiful.