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How to Photograph Nude Models

Learn the secrets masters like Terry Richardson use to photograph nude models.

In my limited experiences as both a photographer and a roue, I have found it generally to be more difficult to persuade an attractive young woman to remove her clothing for purposes of art photography than for purposes of engaging in an illicit tussle in the hay. Such persuasion is definitely an art, but is not impossible. Masters such as Terry Richardson have made careers of it. With one of his first campaigns featuring women in short skirts with public hair showing, few would argue that Richardson didn't master this skill set early on. So how does he do it? How can an aspiring photographer entice women to pose for him as if she were posing for Terry Richardson? 

While the degree of relative difficulty may vary according to regional, ethnic, and personal considerations, the fact remains that a man who invites a girl to his studio is immediately more suspect of nefarious purpose than one who proposes a post-midnight drive in a suburban park on a moonless night; and if any statistics on the subject exist, I'll wager my 43mm lens cap they prove that the latter is infinitely more successful in accomplishing his objectives than the former. The internet, with its countless anonymous accusations against Richardson and other erotic photographers, does not help this cause. Any woman who regrets putting her assets out for the world to see can cry wolf on her photographer and it will all go away.

Why does such a situation exist? Why are women more likely to accept an invitation for an illicit affair than to model for a photographer? And why, on the rare occasion that they accept the latter, are they so likely to allege the former? I have two personal theories and a suggestion of a third: that lighting, the nature of photography as an act, or perhaps the permanence of a photograph contribute to women’s hesitance to be photographed. 

Lighting

The first suggestion is that seduction, under ordinary circumstances, is carried on in the dark; and women seem to feel that invisibility is the next thing to non-existence that if they can’t see themselves doing anything improper, it's more than likely they aren’t. Put them in the spotlight and their indiscretions are exposed to the world. 

The Act of Photography

My next suggestion is that photography cannot be considered a natural act. If caught in the middle of a time exposure, the nude model can’t say, even with misty-eyed regret, "After all, we're only human. We just couldn't go on, night after night, with nothing between us but a 36-exposure roll of Plus-X. Something had to snap."

Photography is Permanent

Seldom have I seen evidence to give validity to the possible third theory, that a photograph remains a permanent record of what could have been considered an act of indiscretion. Despite many model's fears it has, in fact, it’s been just the opposite—nude photographs of themselves have paved the way to fame for more than a few of today’s popular entertainers, whose greatest talents might otherwise have gone undiscovered. These peccadilloes, it seems, were committed to earn a few pennies in modeling fees while staving off abject starvation. Paradoxically enough, it was only their appearance of well-fed well-being that made them suitable for photography of that nature.

Finding Girls to Photograph

Anyway, what’s to be done for the photographer who can't hire a professional model? How does one go from begging every female he meets to come to his studio to living among the Terry Richardsons of the world, who have a selection of models constantly at the ready, despite many allegations of abuse throughout the years?

Is there a method or technique in existence that will permit the aspiring photographer to pursue his art? As a matter of fact, extensive research into the various variations common in front of cameras across the country discloses there are, in reality, four major methods, and for purposes of discussion we can label them, Subversion, Flattery, Jealousy, and Seduction. Which of these methods Richardson chooses to use can only be answered by the artist himself.

Subversion

Subversion is one of the easiest methods to begin, but has the highest rate of failures. You start by inviting the girl to pose for a portrait. Once you have her in front of the camera, you suggest, while peering professionally into the viewfinder, that she open her top button. After a few snaps of the shutter, with or without film in the camera, you ask her to help you try for a more casual effect by opening a few more buttons. Then, checking the viewfinder, you notice that a bit of her brassiere is showing in the opening left by the opened buttons.

Turn away, disinterestedly, while she removes the brassiere and replaces the blouse. When you turn back, you'll learn whether or not you want to go on with what you have in mind. If not, take her picture and send her packing. If you do, shoot the casual one and then try for a more formal bare-shouldered pose. This is followed by a bare back, from which point you're on your own.

Flattery

Flattery, as a method, depends on a previous friendship with the prospective model. It involves, over a period of several meetings, admiring her in a succession of outfits; i.e., bathing suit, sweater, evening gown, negligee, house dress, or (if it comes to that) a potato sack. But you remember to point out that the outfit, whatever it happens to be, does not really do her justice.

"When I photograph you," you say, "it’s going to be for yourself alone. None of these man-made fashions to detract from your natural beauty."

This may work. On the other hand, it could be construed to be a proposal of marriage. Therefore, extreme caution is advised when using this method.

Jealousy

Jealousy, as it happens, also has its dangers. This method is put into action by your showing her a stack of photographs of other nudes—taken by you or anyone else. Don’t get too close when handing her the pictures. She might take offense and punch you right in the eye. If she doesn't, chances are she’s hooked. No woman is going to admire, unequivocally, nude photographs of any other woman. As soon as she starts to criticize, suggest that good models are almost impossible to find. She might suggest, on her own, that she'd make a better model than the bunch of slobs depicted in the pictures you've shown her. Don't hesitate. Haul in your line, the fish has bit.

"Would you?" you ask, with a mixture of awe and admiration in your voice.

The slightest hesitation on her part can be construed to mean consent.

Seduction

Seduction is a method you use only as a last resort. It means what it says, you seduce her, according to your own techniques. You carry on a love affair with her for as many weeks or months as it takes for her to lose her inhibitions about nudity in your presence. When the morning comes that she gets out of bed and doesn't hustle into a convenient dressing gown (or other attire); but walks over to the hot plate and starts making coffee while wearing nothing more than a pair of mules and the cold light of day, she's ready for the big question.

If she still refuses to pose nude, chances are the few lousy pictures aren't worth raising a stink about chances are the relationship you've been having with her is worth continuing for its own purposes. Remember, there are a hell of a lot of other photogenic girls, and three other methods to use on them.

Explore Terryworld

What better way to learn the tips and tricks of erotic photography than from a true master? Terry Richardson's Terryworld delves into the eccentric world of an expert master photographer, who has had far more women accept invites to his studio than many can dream of.

Terryworld by Dian Hanson & Terry Richardson

In Terryworld, porn stars, supermodels, transsexuals, hillbillies, friends, pets, and celebrities do for Terry Richardson what they do for no other. Fashion and sex come together perfectly in a world where taboos are null and void.

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