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60 Centerfold Models and an Old Bearded Dude

I had a very interesting, and rather amusing situation today. I ended up on a video call with some of the staff of Playboy and 60 models from around the world. It was a bit awkward, but I learned some things from the experience, and probably not what you expect.


Back in January, 2022, a photographer I follow on Instagram started posting about this new social media site that Playboy was starting, called Centerfold. Great name, right? I was intrigued.

In its original form, it felt a lot like an early version of Instagram, only without the censorship or advertisements. Frankly, that sounded pretty amazing to me. I signed up immediately and was approved as one of the early “creators”. It was a new platform, so I knew it would be quiet at first, but the idea of an uncensored social media site for nude photography was (and still is) really exciting to me, and I thought the name recognition and strong brand behind it meant it was likely to succeed at least at some level.

I’ve been posting uncensored versions of my Instagram posts there pretty religiously. As time went on, though, they started adding more features, and the site started veering away from “early Instagram” and more toward “current OnlyFans¹”. The emphasis is clearly on the way model creators make money, and photographer accounts are a lower priority. That didn’t bother me. Most of the newer features they were adding didn’t really benefit me, but they didn’t hurt me, either, so I kept posting. After a while, I did stop cross-promoting Centerfold on my other socials because I wasn’t getting enough crossover followers to make it worth the effort I was putting into it.

The Invitation

About a week ago, Playboy sent me an invitation to a “Playboy Creator Conference Call”. I thought that sounded interesting. I wasn’t sure they had really intended to send it to me, but I signed up anyway. A couple hours later, they cancelled my reserved spot, which made me a little mad. I mean, they had invited me, and then cancelled me without comment or explanation? How rude!

But, it wasn’t just me – they had accidentally cancelled the whole session. A new invitation arrived a little bit later.

A Rough Start

When the time came for the call, I logged in and, as you might imagine, the call was almost all gorgeous models. Just as I was taking it all in… they kicked me out of the call. They didn’t say anything, and I hadn’t said or done anything, so I couldn’t have violated any rules. Nonetheless, I was unceremoniously booted from the call. My guess was they saw this old bearded guy and figured he really didn’t belong.

A smarter man would’ve taken a hint, but I had been invited, dammit, so I was going to join, just as a matter of principle. So, I called back in, and they let me stay this time, though they ignored me, didn’t answer my questions, or even acknowledge anything I said or did.

The Presentation

After some introductions, the staff from Playboy began their pitch. As I was expecting by this point, it was all about how model creators could increase their engagement and earning. They also presented a couple of promotional opportunities to work with Playboy that they didn’t explicitly say was for models only, but it was pretty clear they were for models only. There really wasn’t a lot of information that was at all helpful to a photographer on the platform, and my questions and comments were ignored, even my question about how I could improve engagement for the Centerfold models I’ve collaborated with (there’s currently no way to tag or mention another creator). Hell, they didn’t even send me the chat transcript they said they were going to send to all participants. It became pretty clear they had no use for me and didn’t really want me there.

So, it was a frustrating waste of time?

Actually, no. I’m really glad I called in despite the annoyances and less-than-welcoming reception.

It Wasn’t About Me… and that’s Okay

Despite everything, I was honestly really impressed with the Playboy staff. First, they were all women. Every single one. And they all seemed genuinely excited to be creating a platform focused on helping (mostly women) creators make money.

Playboy was my first exposure to nude photography way back in the late ’70s, so it’ll always have a special place in my heart. But even from a fairly early age, I recognized that the “Playboy Lifestyle” the magazine promoted was deeply problematic. Everything about the magazine was mired in patriarchal arrogance. Of course, I wasn’t about to let any of that interfere with my appreciation for their pictures of naked women.

But, that problematic Playboy I grew up with? That’s not the Playboy I witnessed on that call. Not remotely. What I saw was a company led by women and focused on enabling women to profit from their own beauty and sexuality, which is pretty much the opposite of the old Playboy where men profited off the beauty and sexuality of women. Playboy is still a for-profit company, and much of their consumer base is made up of men, so I don’t want to idealize what they’re doing too much, but… it was honestly nice to see. I loved the clear focus and genuine enthusiasm from both the staff and the creators.

The Verdict

Although I plan to keep posting to Centerfold, the jury is still out as to whether it will become a good platform for photographers. It lacks tools for cross-promotion, has no mechanism for encouraging public discussions, and you only get one line of text to describe your image. As a photographer, people don’t come to my social media accounts primarily to interact with me, at least, not in the way they do when they come to a model’s account. They come to mine to see the pictures of the various models I’ve shot and to hear behind-the-scenes anecdotes about the model or the shoot. It’s a very different dynamic, and it’s a dynamic that Centerfold isn’t building tools to support.

But, for model creators, it’s shaping up to be a terrific platform. From what I’ve seen, it’s a far better choice for many people currently using OnlyFans or Fansly, and I expect it to keep getting better.

I’m excited to see where they take the platform, even though they appear to be taking it in a direction that doesn’t benefit me that much, personally.

1 – Just to be clear, Centerfold doesn’t look or feel like OnlyFans. It’s not a copy or a clone, but development does seem to be driven by a similar motivation.

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Etsy and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Prohibited Items Policy

I’ve had an Etsy store for a few months. Overall, I’d been very happy with the platform. I’ve sold a lot more through my Etsy store than I have through the store here on my own website. In fact, most months, I made more than ten times as much from Etsy than I did from my own web store.

This week, Etsy closed my store for violating their prohibited items policy.

Needless to say, it’s upsetting to lose a good source of revenue. What’s really frustrating, though, is that they deleted my store because it contained several items that they claim violated the “Nudity and Mature Content” section of their policy. Here’s what that says:

It specifically says they allow nudity, but they prohibit “pornography, illegal or exploitive items, and used intimate items”. Nothing I sold was even arguably illegal or exploitive, nor did I sell anything used, let alone used “intimate items”. By process of elimination, that means they took down my store for selling “pornography”.

The word “pornography” is incredibly vague and means very different things to different people. Etsy is saying there’s a whole class of stuff that is not allowed and can get your store closed, but they won’t specifically define what those things are. They do provide a little more guidance, but it’s not very helpful:

None of the images in my Etsy store involved sex acts or “other erotic behavior for the purpose of sexual arousal or stimulation”. I was always very careful not to use images that were explicit or erotic. So, it appears that they took down my store because some of my products displayed “sex organs”.

But earlier in the policy, they specifically say nudity is allowed! By definition, if a picture contains nudity, sex organs are going to be visible. If they’re not, we usually call it “implied nudity”. Not only is the policy vague, it’s self-contradictory!

From looking at the items they deactivated before closing my entire store, I still don’t know which other items I should have removed to prevent it from happening. For example, this is a product they had a problem with:

Yes, you can see “sex organs” in the actual product (the listing photos were censored). Even so, there’s nothing sexual about this image. It’s a nude woman in a pose where you can see genitals. Her hands are nowhere near them. She’s not touching them. She’s not spreading her labia. She’s not doing anything remotely sexual. Apparently, female genitals aren’t allowed if… what? She happens to be bent at the waist at all?

Here’s another one they deactivated before closing my store:

Again, it’s just a nude. She’s not doing anything sexual. She’s literally just sitting. Here’s another one they felt was just too lascivious to have on their site:

There’s nothing inherently sexual about any of these shots. I was always careful not to use more explicit or erotic images there. They’re literally all just pictures of nude woman, and like most nude women, they have genitals. Which you can see. Because they’re nude. Which they say is allowed. They’re not touching their genitals. They’re not doing anything sexual at all. These are literally just nude photos where you can see labia.

Setting a rule that’s so inherently subjective and vague that nobody could possibly define what’s allowed is incredibly unfair and hostile. You can (as I did) invest a huge amount of time, effort, and money setting up and running a store, but if some random Etsy employee thinks you’re selling “pornography”, you get closed down. They don’t even refund your listing fees, and though they claim you can appeal, I never even got a response when I submitted one.

But, at least they must enforce this policy consistently, right? They must have some internal guidelines about what’s okay, right?

It sure doesn’t look like it. Here are some listings that are currently being sold there:

Whatever could that blue paper be hiding?
I’m sure I have no idea what’s going on behind those post-it notes.
Perfectly safe for work!!
Ah, yes. The wholesome, family magazine, “Cum”.
It’s just a “naked woman and man” so it’s totally fine with Etsy. Definitely not pornography, no sir.

And if you think those are isolated listings I cherry picked, they weren’t. These are literally all from the first page of one search. Just pick any random NSFW term and type it into the Etsy search box. I guarantee you’ll find many, many more.

Why were my fairly innocuous nudes taken down and my store closed when Etsy is rife with hardcore pornography? I have no fucking clue, but I’m pretty fucking pissed off about it, and if you’re running an Etsy store that contains nudity, you need to be aware of how they work.

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Goodies Issue 11

A few days ago, Goodies Issue 11 was published. I’ve been a fan of this magazine for a while. I first became aware of Goodies when they started shooting a few models that I’ve worked with. As stuff about Goodies started showing up in my feed, I couldn’t help but notice that their photography was stunning. I bought a couple of issues and was further impressed by the quality of the printed magazine. I mean, it’s just beautiful; it’s thick, high quality, beautifully designed, and filled with gorgeous nude photography and interesting articles.

What it doesn’t have, though, is ads.

I try to promote models I’ve worked with when I have an opportunity. So, when I noticed Goodies had shot Becca and Soukey, I started promoting the magazine on my social media accounts. At some point, I guess the Goodies people noticed, and that led to some conversations with Alen, their ridiculously talented head photographer. Over time, those conversations led to discussions with the rest of the Goodies team, and those conversations eventually resulted in me getting an incredible opportunity: to shoot a pictorial for Issue 11.

They gave me a lot of freedom when it came to choosing a model, location, and theme, though I obviously had to work within certain parameters to keep with the magazine’s look and feel. There were a whole bunch of models who came to mind for the shoot, but I had to rule many out for various reasons. Working with the editor and creative director, I eventually whittled the list down to just two names: Lia and Zöe.

Since I had last worked with her, Lia had moved down to Los Angeles, so that actually left me, in reality, with a list of just one. I had been wanting to work with Zöe again ever since I first shot with her about a year earlier, so I was super excited with how it worked out. After some more discussions with the editorial team, I set up a shoot with Zoe.

We shot on April 25, 2022 in a treehouse, of all places. The shoot went great… and then I spent the next five months anxiously awaiting publication of the issue*. And now it’s… finally… out!

A promo shot of Zöe from the Goodie’s website.

Goodies is based out of Orange County (just South of LA), and in a happy set of circumstances, I introduced Lia to Alen, and that led to both Lia and Zöe being featured in Issue 11.

Goodies features multiple covers per issue. The featured image for this post is Zöe’s cover. This one above is Lia’s cover, shot by Alen. I know, right?

I’m still a little bit in shock that such an amazing magazine chose to publish my work. Check the issue out. I think you’ll be as impressed with Goodies as I am.

Note: There are actually two Zöes in Issue 11. I shot the one with no last name listed.

* As I’m writing this, I still haven’t actually seen the issue. My copy should be here any day. 🤞

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And, we’re live!

Last night, I took down my old site and redirected to point here. I soft-launched this new website several weeks back, and everything seems to be working pretty well. I’ve made multiple sales on the store with no major hiccups, and I spent some time increasing the security of the site after noticing a bunch of failed attempts to log in as me. I feel pretty good about where this site is now, so it seemed like the right time to launch.

I’ll be working over the next few months to bring more and more of my photo archives into downloadable image packs and finding more shots to sell as prints. I’m also going to be on the lookout for new, affordable merchandise I can offer.

I’m also starting to plan some new shoots, so I’ll hopefully have some brand new content to post before too long. Plus, around the end of the month, I should finally be able to show you some pictures from that shoot in April and explain why I couldn’t share them earlier.

Thanks so much for checking out the new site. I’m always open to feedback and suggestions for new content and can’t wait to bring you more of my work!

Banner photo by Viktor Forgacs on Unsplash

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Blog Migration

You may noticed that things have changed a little bit around here. I’ve migrated my website to a different software platform that will allow me to do more than I could with the old site, including set up a shop to sell digital images, prints, and merchandise.

I chose not to migrate every post from the old blog, but I did bring over many of the tutorials and other long-form articles that seemed like they might continue to be of interest. I was able to automate moving my old blog posts to this new site, but I do need to do a little work to get old posts clean up and published, so additional older posts may pop up now and again as I have time to go through them.

Banner image by Markus Spiske from Unsplash.

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Getting Started with Nude Photography: Inspiration, Motivation & Confidence

A woman wearing nothing but heels sits on a red couch.

In my original outline for this series of posts, I had intended to dive right into talking about light and lighting equipment and then finding models. After some recent conversations with some other photographers, I realized there’s another subject I want to tackle first, which are some of the the mental challenges around doing creative photography.

Anyone Can Shoot

Photography is at an interesting place right now. For most of the time that it has existed, there has been a huge difference in quality between the pictures that a professional photographer could take, and what most people using consumer equipment could take. The combination of knowledge and experience combined with much more sophisticated equipment meant there was a huge value in hiring a professional for most types of photography. Film was far less forgiving than modern digital cameras, and there was plenty of work for photographers with some domain knowledge, good equipment, and a decent eye.

It’s actually still true that there’s a difference in quality between the images an experienced photographer with professional gear can produce and the images an amateur using consumer gear can create, but it’s far less of a difference than it once was. That, combined with the just massive amount of pictures being taken and posted to social media has led to a de-valuing of technical photography skills. And that’s not actually a bad thing, unless you want to gatekeep. Also, please don’t.

Our reality today is that anyone with a relatively recent mobile phone can capture good quality images (and movies), and they can do it by just taking their phone out, pointing it at something, and tapping a button. The most sophisticated phones even give good results in ridiculously bad lighting situations that would have been virtually impossible to shoot in the film days, and even the editing tools on phones have gotten fairly sophisticated. The built-in editing tools on today’s phones can do a lot more than early version of Photoshop could.

Are the photographs taken today by an experienced photographer with professional gear better than a phone shot of the same thing taken by an amateur? Most of the time, probably. But for many people, for many types of photographs, they won’t be enough better to justify the expense of hiring a photographer. As sensor technology and computational photography algorithms continue to get better, the difference will only shrink.

That means, as a photographer, technical skills are less valuable than they’ve ever been, and if you want to establish yourself, you need to focus on more than that. Nobody cares if you know what the inverse square property of light is or how an ƒ-stop is calculated. They care that your pictures stand out.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn the technical skills. It just means that they’re no longer enough. Honestly, some of the most memorable and exciting pictures I’ve seen recently, were created by people who probably have far less technical knowledge about photography than I do, but they know enough to create their vision and in doing so, they produce images that stand out from the constant stream of photos that barrage us on social media.

Gauging Improvement

With many types of art, it’s easy to see when you’re making progress. You can look at a recent piece you’ve created and compare it to one you created in the past, and see your progress. Because computers today remove so much of the mental overhead of getting a properly exposed image, even brand new photographer can get really great photos. The difference between an experienced photographer and an amateur one isn’t so much the quality of any individual photograph as it is their consistency and the percentage of their shots that are good.

Even in my earliest shoots — some of which, I readily admit were not great — there are good shots. My more recent shoots have a much higher percentage of good shots and the good shots are overall better. But… comparing the best shot from a shoot five years ago to the best shot from my most recent shoot doesn’t give a true measure of my improvement over the years. When I look at all the raw images from both shoots, it becomes much clearer to me that I actually have made tremendous progress. That’s easy to miss that when you’re only looking at individual photos.


The technical aspects of photography are fairly easy to judge. Even an inexperienced eye can see when a photo is not properly exposed, has a color cast, or is out of focus. The problem is, sometimes technical aspects need to take a back seat to what you’re trying to achieve. You might, for example, miss focus or overexpose intentionally to say something, or color grade to evoke a specific emotional response. You also might do one of those things just because you think it looks good, without any particular reason or justification.

And then there’s what Bob Ross called the  “happy accidents” – where you got something wrong unintentionally, but it looks good or better communicates what you were trying to say than it would have without that mistake. Nobody else knows it wasn’t intentional, but you sure do, and that will color your opinion of it.

This inherent subjectivity can make it hard to be confident in your work, but without confidence, it’s easy to lose motivation and without motivation, you’ll shoot less and improve more slowly.


One of the oddest phenomena when it comes to judging your own work is that your perception of it changes over time. There are two basic reasons for this:

  • As you shoot and edit more images, your eye improves, and you become a harsher critic of your own work. Often, your eye improves faster than your skill as a photographer, which can make it feel like you’re not improving, or even getting worse, at times.
  • As more time passes, your memories of the actual shoot and your interactions with the model fade, and they color your perception of the images less, meaning you’re able to view them more objectively.

I’m always excited to share images after a shoot and often post at least one image the day of the shoot. But honestly, one of the best things I do (sometimes) is to sit on the images for a while. I feel like my judgment becomes clearer after some time has passed, and I’m better able to evaluate whether the images are good or not.

Imposter Syndrome

In software development and other similar technical disciplines, you’ll often hear about something called “imposter syndrome”, which is where someone doubts their own ability or even feels like a fraud because they perceive that others around them are better, smarter, and struggle less than they do with the complex tasks those jobs require. It’s usually not true, but it is something a lot of people feel when working in those fields.

In all honesty, I’ve struggled more with imposter syndrome with my photography than I have with technical disciplines because of the inherent subjectivity. There are no benchmarks or tests you can run to tell you that an image is good. Often the images I like the best are less popular on social media than ones I think are only so-so. When somebody says something nice about one of my images, I sometimes have trouble accepting that it’s offered sincerely because I often feel like my images don’t live up to their compliment.

Staying Motivated

Given how hard it is to judge your work, how do you stay motivated when you start doubting yourself? First of all, some amount of self-doubt and self-criticism is valuable. You need to learn to see things in your images that can be improved if you’re going to improve as photographer. Overconfidence and arrogance can be just as big of a problem as being too hard on yourself. There’s no silver bullet here, but there are some things you can do when you start doubting yourself.

Avoid Black and White Thinking

First, realize that something can be good — even great — yet still have room for improvement. Just because your composition can be improved, doesn’t mean you composed the image badly. Just because your lighting can be improved, doesn’t mean your lighting is bad. This is true for all aspects of photography.

If you can’t get out of the trap of thinking that your images are either great, or else they’re trash, you’re really going to struggle. You need to embrace the fact that not only is image quality a spectrum, it’s a different spectrum for each viewer. Almost nobody will judge your image the same way you do. Nobody else knows what went into creating it. Nobody else knows the challenges you faced. Nobody else knows what you were trying to say unless you tell them, and often you won’t have a chance to tell them (and they might not listen even if you do).

Do it Because You Enjoy it

With any creative pursuit, if you don’t love the act of creation, it will significantly limit your ability to improve. You need to love photography, not the idea of being a photographer or the adoration of followers. If there’s any one factor I could point to that can predict whether somebody will become a really good photographer, it’s whether they love planning shoots, shooting, and editing their images more than they love the serotonin hit from getting likes and compliments on social media.

I know this one seems obvious, but it requires some serious self-honesty. Kudos and compliments from others are nice, but they’re not going to be enough to stay motivated if you don’t truly love both the creative process and the images you create. With model photography, that also means you need to love interacting with your models.

And by “interacting”, I don’t mean “being in the same room as them when they’re naked”. Who doesn’t enjoy being in a room with a naked person they find attractive? I certainly do. But, if that’s the primary (or only) thing you love about photography, you’re destined for mediocrity. At best, and there are better, cheaper ways to do that.

Honestly, one of my biggest red flags when it comes to other photographers (and I see it more often than I’d like), is when I hear photographer’s bad-mouth models, or make comments like “you know how models are”. I do know how models are. They’re creative, interesting, amazing, often unconventional people who enrich my life. They’re a large part of why I keep doing this. They’re people who enable what I do and contribute to the creative process. They’re also individuals with feelings and other stresses and priorities in their lives besides shooting with me. Don’t stereotype the models you work with. View them as fully-fledged individuals. Treat them as equals in the creative process. Interact with them respectfully, and think hard before you say anything negative about a model to another model or another photographer.

Find Your People

As you develop a following on social media, it’s likely that most people you’re reaching after a while won’t be photographers and models. This is especially true if you’re shooting nude or erotic images. Followers are awesome, but you also need to surround yourself with photographers, models, and other types of creative people, preferably ones who encourage you and help you get better.  Those are the people who understand your struggles. Those are the people who can help you when you’re stuck or who can offer a second opinion when you don’t trust your own.

On the other side of that, you should also give back by being that positive peer that helps other photographers — especially less experienced ones — reach their potential. Think about criticism before you say it. Don’t only focus on the negative. Phrase things so they don’t sound like an insult. Help others see the good things in their work as well as the things that can be improved. Encourage them and like their posts even if you see obvious problems with them, because at some point, those problems might not have been obvious to you.

Offer criticism using private channels if you can, and only if you know they want it. Offer compliments on public channels. Help people feel good about what they’re doing, because nobody benefits when we chase people away from the things we love. Many of us have a tendency to view everything as a competition, but you shouldn’t treat photography or other creative pursuits that way. Another photographer can be amazing and that’s completely orthogonal to your abilities. You can both be great and you can both help each other be better if you’re not focused on being “better” than them.

If you can find an in-person meetup group to join or find some local photographers to hang out with occasionally, consider doing it. Having peers both in real life and online can be tremendously helpful.

Ignore the Hate

For all the good things about social media, there are downsides to it. One of those, is that there are people who seem to get off from insulting or hating other people’s creative output. I’ve never understood why people do this, but it’s an undeniable fact of the internet. It even has a name: the online disinhibition effect, also known as the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory.

As soon as your following on a social media platform goes much beyond your friends, family, and peers, you will inevitably get negative comments from these internet fuckwads. Rarely, these comments are useful critiques just phrased badly or insensitively, but more often than not, they’re made only to put you down and make the fuckwad feel better about themselves.

You will be tempted to respond to defend yourself and to “set the record straight”. That’s usually the worst possible idea. The more you interact with a troll, the more engagement you create, and the more people who will see their negative comments. Doing so also gives them a chance to make more disparaging comments as they respond to your comments. Those type of people almost will almost always try and get the last word in, creating a downward spiral for you.

Arguing with someone who’s not arguing in good faith is always a bad idea. Delete the comment, block the follower, and move on with your life. Spend your online time interacting with people who value you and your work, not with those who delight in knocking you down.

I’m making this sound easy. It most certainly is not. There are few feelings worse than somebody delightfully shitting on something you invested time, energy, and passion into creating. The most effective troll comments feel like a gut punch and it’s hard not to let them get to you.


As I stated near the beginning of the article, there are no silver bullets. The human brain is complex and not alway as rational as we like to think. You will doubt yourself. Others may too. You will get frustrated. You might, at times, convince yourself that you’re not good. You will, at least, feel like you’re not getting better fast enough sometimes.

Try and remind yourself that it’s a process, and remember that you enjoy the process. Creating is what’s important. The output is a bonus. Take breaks if you need to. If you get overwhelmed, get offline and put your camera away for a week. You won’t forget anything in that time, and the internet won’t forget you.

And don’t expect too much of yourself. Really finding your creative voice and mastering the technical skills of photography both take time.

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10K Mystery Packs

Since getting back into photography, I haven’t spent a huge amount time or effort on getting more followers on social media. As a result, until recently, my follower counts have stayed pretty modest. I am, however, slowly approaching an important milestone. On Instagram, I should hit 10,000 followers sometime in the next month if all goes well. This milestone is important because it opens up a bunch of new creator tools and features, such as the ability to post links in stories, so I’m pretty excited about getting there.

I’ve been toying with the idea of doing some kind of giveaway for quite a while, and this seemed like a good opportunity to finally do it. I’ve come up with — and discarded — several ideas. Most involved raffling off different types of mounted prints or producing some kind of publication. But with what’s going on with shipping and logistics right now, larger items are very expensive to ship and are much more prone to getting damaged or lost than in times past. The reality is that I could only afford to do gifts like those for a couple of people.

I really want to do something unique but also inexpensive enough that I can afford to send them to quite a few people. Ideally, it should be something that’s kind of silly and fun, too.

I was recently at the game and comic store where one of my kids works. I noticed that they sell mystery packs of dice at the main counter. They’re sealed, opaque mylar bag with a set of gaming dice inside. You know they’re dice, but you don’t know the color, the style, or whether they’re opaque, translucent, or transparent until you open the bag. These bags are so popular that they have trouble keeping them in stock. I even bought one myself, even though I had absolutely no need for any more dice.

As I walked around the store, I noticed that there were several other types of items sold in similar ways: miniatures, cards, artwork, and even comics. I think they’re popular for the same reason that collectible card games are. Sure, you’re buying cards, dice, miniatures, or whatever, but you’re also buying a moment of excitement and anticipation at the possibility of getting something you really like or something rare or unusual.

I’ve been thinking about ways to make that idea work as a giveaway. I’ve been prototyping sealed packages of 3×4 archival photographs. Each pack has four uncensored prints of my images, mostly shots that I’ve posted (censored) to Instagram over the years. Several of the photos, however, aren’t available online and won’t ever be.

I realized pretty quickly that I can make and ship these pretty inexpensively, so I can afford to give away a bunch of them, rather than having to choose just a couple people, so I’m moving forward with making them in anticipation of crossing over 10k.

Here’s a bit about how I’m making them.


The first order of business was to find some kind of packaging I could use for the mystery packs. The only real requirements I had is that the packages need to be sealable and that you can’t tell what’s inside once they’re sealed. Mystery bags don’t need to be fancy. I’ve seen them created using paper bags with black sharpie writing on them, but I didn’t want to go quite that DIY for this.

The mystery bags of dice come in heat-sealed mylar zip bags. They look nice, so that seemed like a possible contender if it wasn’t too expensive. Turns out: it isn’t.

Heat-seal mylar bags are a surprisingly inexpensive form of packaging that can look pretty professional. You can find decent heat sealers for about $25 on Amazon, like this one that I bought:

The heat sealer I picked up. It’s not exactly industrial grade, but it works well.

You could also use something like a Foodsaver to seal the bags if you happen to already have one of those in your kitchen.  The individual bags are also fairly cheap. I ordered a sampling of different bags that seemed like they might work, and they ranged from about 5¢ to about 15¢ each in small quantities, depending on style and size.

After creating several prototype packs using different options, I settled on these 15cm×10cm bags which cost 7¢ each. They fit the prints well. They’re not snug, but also don’t have too much extra space, either. The prints are easy to put in, and to take out after opening. They’re fully opaque, so you can’t see what’s inside, and once sealed, the only way to find out what’s inside is to tear it open.

Creating an Insert

Some of the bag options I played with had a clear front panel, so I designed an insert to go inside those to act as a label and to obscure wht prints behind it. I made the inserts in Affinity Publisher (a really good, but very affordable desktop publishing program). Unlike the prints, which are going to be archival and high-quality, I just printed these 4-up on my color laser printer. Even though I eventually settled on a fully opaque bag, I decided to keep the inserts.

Since my laser printer can print double-sided, I also wrote a little thank-you note for the back that has details about the edition and links to all of my photography-related social media accounts.

Printing Labels

For the exterior label, I went looking for pre-cut laser printer labels that are not quite as big as the 10cm × 15cm bags. The best option I found were these labels that print 6-up. I kept the labels fairly simple and graphic. After a few rounds of experimenting, I settled on this design.

Making the Prints

If you’ve followed this blog at all, you know I love  printing. I currently use a Canon PIXMA PRO-100 printer with archival dyes and paper. It’ll do borderless prints up to 13″x19″, but I initially decided to do these prints 4-up on letter-size paper. Photo paper gets exponentially more expensive as you move to larger sizes so, while it would be more convenient to be able to print a whole bunch of 3×4 prints on a couple of 13″x19″ sheets, it ended up being considerably more cost-effective to print on smaller sheets of paper. The smaller paper is also easier to work with when cutting out the prints.

One of the 12 different sheets of common prints..

This worked well, but still involved a lot of cutting, which I wasn’t thrilled about, since I’m creating four sets of 60 prints, and this approach requires 6 separate cuts per sheet of four images. I realized that I have a lot of 4×6 archival photo paper and that two 3×4 prints exactly fit on one 4×6 sheet of paper. Since my printer can do borderless 4×6 printing, that means I only have to make one cut for every two prints. That’s a lot less cutting, so moving to 4×6 paper was a no-brainer.

Here’s what the finished packs look like:

The first 30 mystery packs completed and ready to go.

All in, these cost me less than 60¢ to make each pack. The four 3×4 prints cost me about 12¢ each to make (for a total of 40¢ per pack), the packaging costs about 7¢ per, and the label adds maybe another couple of cents.  That doesn’t include my time or the cost of the heat sealer, though. Because these packs are small and light, I can send them using first class mail for $0.58 or $1.30 international. That’s pretty affordable for a physical giveaway.

My plan is to create 45 packs to give to Instagram followers on a first-come-first-served basis once I reach 10k followers. I’m not planning to sell any packs, nor am I planning to re-print the edition. I may create additional series when I hit other milestones (25k maybe?), and I’m contemplating creating a single “XL” version of the set made up of  larger prints, but haven’t made a decision about that yet.

Release Date

I have no release date yet. I won’t send out any mystery bags until I have more than 10k followers on Instagram. Most likely, I will start sending them out about a week or two after crossing over, but it will depend on what’s going on in my life when I reach the milestone. I have a trip planned toward the end of the month, so if I cross over while I’m out of town, it will be a little while before I’m able to start sending them out.

Getting a Mystery Pack

Follow me on Instagram if you’re interested in getting one of the mystery packs. I will announce how to sign up to get them over there, on a first-come-first-served basis. They will be completely free, and there will only be three requirements to get one:

  • You must be following me when I reach 10k. The 10,001st follower will have to wait for the next milestone.
  • You must be over the age of 18 and must also be a legal adult where you live if the age of majority there is higher than 18.
  • You must not live in somewhere where censorship laws make fully nude photographs illegal to own or to import.

Please don’t DM me about getting a pack before I cross 10k followers. I’m not accepting sign-ups until I’ve gotten there.

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18 USC §2257 & 28 CFR Part 75

Let’s talk about a somewhat obscure bit of US Law that you might not be familiar with, but if you’re involved with creating any kind of NSFW content, you should be very aware of it. It’s a law that establishes recordkeeping requirements for creators of adult content. It was designed (in theory) to prevent sexual imagery of children from getting produced or sold.

The law is called the “Child Protection and Obscenity Enforcement Act”, 18 USC §2257 and dates back to the 1980s. Like many US Laws, the law itself is actually pretty vague; Congress left it up to the executive branch to promulgate detailed regulations to actually implement the law. This is a common approach to certain types of legislation because the executive branch can move more quickly and respond to changing circumstances faster than Congress can (though, in this case, they haven’t). The implementing regulations for 18 USC §2257 can be found at 28 CFR Part 75.

This law—though at least partially well-intentioned—is deeply problematic for a number of reasons and—as I’ll discuss—it may be impossible for many content creators to fully comply with the law at all, or at least without sacrificing their personal safety.

Important: Since I’m discussing legal stuff here, I need to point out that I am not your attorney, I am no longer a practicing lawyer at all, and the information in this article should not be treated as legal advice. If you are a content creator concerned about your liability under the laws I’m discussing, I would suggest talking with an Attorney. If you can’t afford one, consider reaching out to your local Legal Aid Society.

The Basics

If you’re creating “visual depictions of actual sexually explicit content” in the US (or plan to distribute such works to the US), this law creates certain documentation requirements you must follow. Failing to comply with these requirements can result in a fine and up to five years of prison time per violation and up to 10 years (with a minimum of 2)  if you’ve been previously convicted under the same law. Those penalties apply per published image for which you don’t have the required documentation, so the stakes are high here.

Now, you might be thinking, “I don’t shoot sexually explicit content, just nudes, so I’m okay”, but “actual sexually explicit content” is a term of art defined by the law and it doesn’t mean what a rational reader might assume it means. You can be on the hook even if you’re shooting content that’s not actually sexually explicit.

Isn’t legal terminology great? 🙄

In photography forums and on social media, you’ll sometimes encounter people claiming that 18 USC §2257 has been ruled unconstitutional and does not need to be followed any more. That is absolutely not the case. One Circuit Court of Appeals did rule the recordkeeping requirements unconstitutional, but in an en banc re-hearing, that decision was reversed, and the case was never granted certiorari by the Supreme Court, meaning the statute, under current law, should be considered valid and enforceable. Until or unless one of these challenges makes it all the way to the Supreme Court and is successful, you would be foolish to disregard the record-keeping requirements unless you’re ready and willing to be a legal test case.

When You Need to Follow USC §2257

Technically speaking, you don’t need to follow the §2257 record-keeping requirements for straightforward art or figure nude shoots. Non-sexual nudity is constitutionally protected speech and 18 USC §2257 never even actually mentions the word “nudity”. That being said, some photographers choose to create the required records even for straightforward, non-sexual nude images just to be safe.

So when is §2257 actually required?

When you’re creating depictions of “actually sexually explicit content”, which is defined in 18 USC §2256, as follows:

  1. sexual intercourse, including genital-genital, oral-genital, anal-genital, or oral-anal contact, whether between persons of the same or opposite sex;
  2. bestiality;
  3. masturbation;
  4. sadistic or masochistic abuse; or
  5. lascivious exhibition of the anus, genitals, or pubic area of any person;

Now, at first glance, this seems pretty straightforward.

It is not.

For starters, there’s a contradiction between §2256 and §2257 (which incorporates 2256 by reference).  §2256 says “actual or simulated”, but §2257 specifies “actual sexually explicit”. This means the status of simulated sexual activity is unclear.

Unfortunately, the enabling regulations double-down on the inclusion of simulated content by including the following paragraph:

(o)Simulated sexually explicit conduct means conduct engaged in by performers that is depicted in a manner that would cause a reasonable viewer to believe that the performers engaged in actual sexually explicit conduct, even if they did not in fact do so. It does not mean sexually explicit conduct that is merely suggested.

So, basically, if you simulate it believably enough, it’s covered.

Let’s go back to the specific acts outlined above, #1 and #3 are pretty much what you would expect when you hear the term “sexually explicit”. If you’re photographing people having sex or masturbating, you need to follow the §2257 requirements. No surprise there, but there is a bit of nuance you might have missed. The definitions do not require penetration, only “contact”¹.

I’ll skip #2. Bestiality is illegal in every state except Wyoming, New Mexico, and West Virginia and really doesn’t warrant further discussion. I hope.

The last two items on the list are not so straightforward.

Sadistic or Masochistic Abuse

“Sadistic or masochistic abuse” is an extremely vague description. A plain-language interpretation would seem to indicate that even fully clothed bondage-themed shoots require keeping §2257 records. If your shoot will include any BDSM or S&M content, it’s probably worth your time to create the records, though I suspect light or fully clothed bondage images are unlikely to ever result in prosecution. If you’re creating more explicit BDSM imagery, you should create the records to be safe.

Lascivious Exhibition Clause

Finally, we have the “lascivious exhibition” clause that extends the documentation requirements to any imagery featuring “lascivious exhibition of the anus, genitals, or pubic area”. This is the part of the law that really throws a monkey wrench into everything. We know that nudity in art, in and of itself, is Constitutionally protected expression, but at what point, does nudity become “lascivious”, and does “lasciviousness” actually cause its Constitutional protections to disappear²?

The OED definition of lascivious is “feeling or revealing an overt sexual interest or desire”, which doesn’t provide any clarity at all, because it describes a wholly subjective thing. The inclusion of “pubic area” in addition to genitals and anus means images don’t even need to be that explicit for this clause to apply. Arguably, an image of a model suggestively pulling down their bikini bottom to reveal nothing more than a bit of their upper mons pubis, could be interpreted as a “lascivious exhibition” of “the pubic area”. It probably wouldn’t be, but it could the way the law is written (though that interpretation would almost certainly give grounds for a Constitutional challenge).

The huge gray area created by this clause is why many photographers and content creators opt to follow §2257 even when shooting non-sexual nudity. It’s not that hard to imagine why someone might prefer filling out a little extra paperwork to facing potential jail time in a federal penitentiary.

I wish I could give you more concrete guidance about where the line of lascivity is, but the law is vague and the meaning has never been clarified by an appeals court as far as I can tell.

Up until recently, I would have argued that it’s highly likely that the entire “lascivious exhibition” clause would fail a Constitutional challenge. Unfortunately, we now have an extremely conservative and ideologically-driven Supreme Court, and I don’t have any confidence that they would respect precedent (or even rule rationally) on this issue.

If I had to guess how this would be interpreted, it almost certaintly applies to close-up images of genitals, especially images that include an erect penis, a vagina with labia spread or pulled apart, or of the anus with butt cheeks pulled apart. It’s not impossible, however, that much tamer depictions, such as Hustler-style open-leg nudes, or even less explicit types of nudes where genitals are visible could fall under this vague clause.

When in doubt, it’s safer to comply… if you can. For many creators, it simply isn’t possible to fully comply. Let’s talk about why.

Roles Under §2257

Before we get into that, let’s talk about the “roles” that come into play, because the requirements under the law apply to people based on their role or roles relative to the shoot:

  • Producer: The person paying to create the images and who is legally responsible for making sure the record-keeping requirements are met.
  • Talent (or sometimes Model or Actor): This is any person who will appear on camera during scenes containing “actually sexually explicit” conduct. All talent must provide government-issued photo identification that is not expired and shows that they are at least eighteen years old. The way it’s worded, this requirement applies even if they are not directly involved in sexually explicit activity.
  • Document Checker: This is the person who inspects the talent’s identification to ensure they are a legal adult, that the identification is not expired, and has not been been tampered with or altered.
  • Crew / Photographer / Director: The people behind the camera involved with the technical details of actually producing the images or video.
  • Custodian of Record: The person, designated by the Producer, who is responsible for keeping the records and making them available to the Attorney General if they are requested.

In many cases, the photographer or content creator will also be the Document Checker, the Custodian of Record, and the Producer. On larger productions, these roles are more often filled by several different people. A Producer, for example, might hire a photographer and/or video crew, and designate their attorney or an employee to be the Custodian of Records. A photographer’s assistant or production assistant will often be responsible for checking and taking a copy of the identification documents.

Complying with §2257

The records that you MUST keep to be compliant with §2257 are:

  • An unsworn statement³ under penalty of perjury signed by all on-screen talent that declares the following:
    • they are over the age of 18;
    • they have disclosed their full and correct legal name;
    • they have disclosed all other names that they have ever been known by;
    • they have produced a legal form of government identification;
    • they have not provided any false or misleading information;
    • each of the identification documents they provided were lawfully obtained by them and have not been forged or altered;
  • A copy of the identification documents the model provided, including at least one that is government-issued, unexpired, and contains a photograph. The copy may be digital, photographic, or photostatic.

You can download an empty form for creating the unsworn statement here.

These documents should be kept separate and apart from your model release and any other contracts or agreements. 18 USC §2257 gives the U.S. Attorney General the right to access these documents without a warrant, so it’s best to keep them separate from your other business records; combining them means that the government must be granted access to the entirety of the combined documents upon request and without a warrant.

In addition, if the document checker and custodian of records are not the same person, it’s a good idea to have your document checker create an unsworn statement under penalty of perjury or affidavit stating that they personally checked the identification, the model was of legal age, and there were no signs of tampering or alteration of the documents they checked. This is not required by §2257, but if at some point in the future, the document checker can’t be reached, having that document will mean you can still provide admissible proof that the ID verification happened and was compliant with the law.

The final requirement under §2257 is that when the producer publishes the “actual sexually explicit” material, they must “affix” a statement “to every copy” that identifies who the Custodian of Record is, including a street address which can’t be a post office box. If you’ve ever watched any professionally produced porn created in the last thirty years, you’ve probably noticed the wall of legal text at the beginning or end.

Publishing to Social Media

Compliance with §2257 is tricky if you’re primarily publishing to social media or other websites that you don’t fully control. The law was designed back in the days of porn primarily being produced and sold on physical media through traditional distribution channels like adult stores and catalog orders. The regulations had their last substantive update in the early days of the web before social media took off, so has never been changed to reflect the modern reality of adult content production. As a result, it’s nearly impossible to comply with the letter of the law when posting to social media because the regulations require that “every copy” have the Custodian of Records information “affixed” to it.  Good luck fitting all that into 240 characters.

Additionally, the requirement that a physical address be provided for the Custodian of Records is problematic for small and individual creators who don’t have a separate business address or an attorney. This is especially true for women creators, many of whom already receive a lot of hateful and inappropriate messages simply because they choose to publish images of themselves online. For most content creators, including their physical address on their content would mean putting their physical safety in jeopardy, which is an unfair thing for the law to require.

Applicability to Self-Published Content

18 USC §2257 was written back in the 1980s in response to a handful of specific, high-profile situations, including the career of then-underage porn star Traci Lords⁴. The law was also written in an age when porn was distributed on physical media like VCR tape and distribution was handled by a small number of increasingly large production and distribution companies. It’s very obvious that none of the people involved with drafting this law were imagining a day when millions of people would be self-publishing adult content on a daily basis.

Although the enabling regulations were significantly revised and clarified in 1995, they have been largely unchanged since then other than small clarifications in 2005 and 2008. There have been zero substantive changes to the regulations since the advent of OnlyFans or Twitter, and the regulations, as written, are impractical or impossible for most small-scale content producers who distribute through social media to comply with.

So, where does that leave the individual content creator distributing images and videos online? In a bit of a pickle, honestly.

It is virtually impossible to comply with the regulations if you’re self-publishing explicit content either using a site like OnlyFans, or on forms of social media that allow explicit content like Twitter, Mastodon, or PixelFed (a federated Instagram-clone that allows nudity and explicit content).

As an individual content creator publishing images of just yourself, you are technically a “Producer” under this law, but there’s a weird catch-22 at play, in that if you are actually underage, you’d be tried as a minor, and if you’re not underage, the content is completely legal (though the record keeping requirements still apply.  Checking your own ID and signing your own unsworn statement seems kinda silly since you know your age and it’s relatively trivial for you to prove it if it ever becomes an issue. This is clearly not the situation the law was intending to address and I would hope that a federal prosecutor wouldn’t ever bother going after an individual content creator for posting images of themselves… but they would appear to have the authority under the law to do so if they wished.

Where things get even more problematic is if you’re collaborating with other content-creators. In those situations, you definitely are a “Producer” under this law and technically are on the hook for the required documentation.

The Current State of Things

In short, the situation sucks. The law was designed to create accountability under a publishing model that largely doesn’t exist any more and the regulations haven’t been updated to reflect the modern reality of the home-grown porn creation. For many content creators, the law can’t actually be complied with when publishing to the most common platforms because the wording of the regulations is hopelessly out of date.

The good news is, there are so many individual content creators now that it’s very unlikely that federal prosecutors would waste their limited resources going after them except in truly egregious situations. “Unlikely” is not “impossible”, though, and even outside of §2257, publishing content that includes underage people is a very serious offense that can be prosecuted either Federally or at the state level and can potentially result in having to register as a sex offender… even if you had a good faith belief that all the people involved were adults.

Even though you may not be able to fully comply the letter of the law, at very least you do need to be making absolutely sure that everybody involved is a legal adult and keeping records that proves it.

Until and unless the implementing regulations are revised, individual adult content creators are in a bit of a no-win situation and the only saving grace is that there are so many adult content creators now that the chances of any individual creator being asked for documentation or charged under this law is pretty miniscule.

  1. Curiously, #1 does not specifically list hand-genital contact, meaning one reasonable intepretation is that even though someone touching their own genitals is specifically covered because of #3, touching somebody else’s genitals is not covered by the law at all. I would not expect that interpretation to be very successful in court, however.
  2. Technically speaking, a work must be “obscene”, not just “lascivious”, for it to lose First Amendment protection. However, since this law just requires records to be kept and does not actually prohibit production of the images, there may not be a Constitutional issue as a result.
  3. An “unsworn statement” or “unsworn declaration” is a legal document similar, in some ways, to an affidavit, but is not made under oath. The document also doesn’t have have to be notarized or witnessed, but it is still made under penalty of perjury, which means that it is a crime to lie on it. These declarations are admissable as evidence in court in certain situations, such as when they are required by law or regulation, as is the case here, or when the person who made the declaration has died or is otherwise unavailable to appear in court.
  4. The ironic, but not unusual thing, is that this law would not have prevented the Traci Lords situation at all. She had convincing fake ID which was checked by several of the production companies that hired her. In the Traci Lords situation, all this law would have done is provide legal cover for the big porn production companies as long as they had documented the fact that they did, in fact, check her ID, but it would have done absolutely nothing to stop her underage porn from being produced in the first place.

Banner photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm from Unsplash.

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The “Magazine”

A few decades back, I worked in magazine production. That was back when digital tools were just starting to displace traditional paste-up techniques. Even though digital tools were shaking up the publishing industry, much of the process back then was still using old technology. You’d run film, and then make plates from the film, and then go do a press check before they started printing to make sure everything looked right. Even if you calibrated your monitors, it often took a few tries to get everything looking right.

Digital presses were just starting to become a thing when I was in that field, but back then, they were basically glorified laser printers. There were better technologies being developed, but they weren’t widely available yet and the on-demand technology tht was widely available just couldn’t match the quality or finish of traditional printing. Unfortunately, traditional printing methods have a significant up-front cost, which meant it usually wasn’t practical for small print runs, let alone individual one-offs.

Given that my knowledge of the field was was more than two decades out of date, I assumed that on-demand printing had become cheaper and higher quality, but I just didn’t know.

I have a few projects rattling around the old brain that are only practical if on-demand printing has achieved the same level of quality as traditional offset printing, so I threw together a 48-page “magazine” using a bunch of my outdoor nude images and printed it using Blurb to see where things are.

It arrived today.

The first impression from the packaging was very positive. The custom cardboard sleeve kept the magazine in great shape. The turnaround was also quick: This arrived exactly one week after I ordered it, and less than two weeks from when I decided to create it.

I have no plans to sell this, but if I were going to, I’d only have to make a few minor tweaks to a handful of images. Probably not more than five of them need adjustments, and those only need very minor tweaks… which is kind of crazy to me, since I’m comparing it to press-checks I would go to back in the 90s. Despite always sending out to service bureaus for proofs multiple times, we almost always had to re-do at least a few of the plates.

To have the images be so close to what was on my screen with so little work is just mind blowing to me.

It’s amazing to me that one person spending a few hours on a couple of evenings can produce something of this quality. My cost to produce this, including shipping, was about ten bucks. The quality of the paper and the printing are excellent. The only issues are things I could easily fix by tweaking my images or my Affinity Publisher file.

Here’s a short video where I flip through the pages.

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Reflection Shot Process

I posted this picture of Rose to social media recently and got a few questions about how it was accomplished. This seemed like a better venue to discuss it than trying to cover it using a bunch of tweets or Instagram posts.

The reflection in the shot is provided by highly reflective mylar foil designed for  grow-houses and hydroponics. I taped it down on the floor in front of the model. There are many options for doing reflections, including plexiglass, water, and actual mirrors, but I didn’t want a perfect reflection. The flexible mylar provided exactly the amount of softness and subtle distortion I was looking for without the potential mess or problems of using water in the studio.

This is what the studio looked like when we were shooting:

The studio setup. A fourth strobe is just off the right of this view.

The overhead softbox is the key light in this setup. I metered it for ISO 200 at ƒ8 then underexposed slightly by shooting at ƒ9. The strip lights shine on the model from behind and provide separation from the background and were also metered at ƒ8.  There’s a fourth light in this setup that isn’t visible in the shot above.

The fourth was a gelled strobe with a 5″ zoom reflector that I pointed down at the foil, angled so it threw blue water-like caustic reflections onto the model. You can see those reflections on the model’s torso, left arm, and right leg.

Most of this shot was achieved in-camera, but I did do a little bit of post work to get to the final image. The strip lights and their reflections were in-frame, so I Photoshopped those out to give myself some breathing room around the model. I didn’t want to crop in too tightly, but also didn’t want the strip lights in the shot.

There was also a slightly noticeable seam where the two pieces of foil came together, which I removed in Photoshop, and I cropped it in just a little bit to bring it to a 4:5 aspect ratio. Here’s what the image looked like coming out of the camera.

The unedited shot.