Nude Photography: The Art of the Human Body

Throughout the century-plus time frame in which photography has been widely available to the public, nude photography has been one of the most popular and yet most misunderstood genres of the art. Contrary to the beliefs of many people unfamiliar with the form, nude photography is neither erotic nor overtly sexual in nature. Instead, this genre provides a balanced and artistic study of the human body in one of the world’s most realistic art forms.

One of the chief defining factors in nude photography is its lack of sexual undertones. While many people consider the naked human body to be sexual by nature, the nude photographer looks at the body as yet another collection of potentially attractive forms and shapes. He or she seeks to study different aspects of these forms using the camera. The model in this case is not the main subject; rather, their collection of body parts is the subject of study.

History

The human body has been a source of artistic and creative fascination for millennia. Ancient Greeks, Romans, and other cultures routinely use nudes as a subject of art. If you walk into any museum today, you are likely to see examples of nudes in classical art. This is not because people were once more erotic than they are now (quite the opposite, it appears),  but because they appreciated the human form for its combination of unique shapes and forms.

People have been painting and sculpting nudes for as far back as history allows us to look, but photography is a much newer art form. The camera allows a more realistic capture of shapes and forms. Artists can accurately portray texture and light contrasts. In many ways, the camera is the medium most suited to nude art. Early nude photographers were careful to avoid being labeled pornography and used terminology and techniques common in nude painting and sculpture.

Poses and Techniques

Because the models themselves are not the object, many nude photographs do not even show their face. Although poses may be somewhat sensual, care is taken to avoid overt sexuality. Further, poses are selected to show off the different angles, shapes, and muscle groups that comprise the human body.

The techniques used are carefully selected to compliment the body parts being highlighted. Balances of light and dark may be used for a chiaroscuro effect or to create shadows that accent the human form. Often, extremes of both are used for emphasis. Photographers may oil, powder, or use highlighting makeup to sculpt the body they are photographing and bring out certain aspects. Techniques and poses combine to accentuate the structures and textures that the photographer is focused on.

Related Genres

Perhaps nude photography is not exactly the genre that you are looking for. If so, you will be happy to know that there are many similar types of photography that have a slightly different focus. Glamour photography is inherently more suggestive but focuses on the model as a subject, acting more as a portrait than a nude art form. Erotic photography is similar to nude photography in that it focuses on the human body, although it highlights sexuality more than form or figure. Further, erotic photography does not need to be entirely nude and often involves clothing or cover in some form.

Working with the Nude Subject

While your subject is not the actual object of your nude photographs, you will need to make them feel comfortable in order to get the poses and quality of shots that you are seeking. First, make sure that you have the model sign a release. This will not only give you the agreed upon rights to the image, it will assure the model that you are a legitimate photographer and artist, rather than someone looking to exploit them. Second, make sure they are a legal adult and check identification. It is not legal in any way to take nude pictures of a minor, even with parental permission. Last, think of ways to make your subject feel comfortable, whether it is small talk, music, or even a glass of champagne. New models especially are prone to feeling self-conscious or even a little naughty at first. Many nude photographers find that working with a model over several sessions helps them to be more relaxed because they begin to understand what to expect and to develop trust with the photographer.

Location, Location, Location…

While your location is not critical to the quality of your finished work, there are a few things to consider. First, if you are outdoors or in any non-private area, you will want to have a lookout to keep people from inadvertently disturbing your photo shoot. Not only will disruptions break the ‘flow’ of your shoot and make your model uncomfortable, they may lead to legal problems if the wrong person happens upon your photo shoot and misunderstands your intentions. Another thing to consider is whether you can adequately light the area and control the temperature. Good light is essential to artistic nude photography, and a comfortable temperature essential to the comfort and ease of your subject.

Examine Your Own Prejudices

Many photographers have trouble with nude photography because they themselves are uncomfortable with the subject. If this is the case with you, you may need to examine your own attitudes toward the genre and the people who work in it. There is no reason to feel embarrassed or ashamed; this is a type of art like any other. Often, perusing the work of famous nude photographers will give you the insight and the confidence that you need to get started in this field.

As you can see, there is nothing dirty or forbidden about nude photography. It is hard to imagine a subject more interesting or varied than the human form, and the nude photographer captures this form at its very best. With the right attitude and the right subject, you will find that your photographs are pieces of art to be cherished.