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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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Getting Started Shooting Nudes: Essential Gear – Lenses

Once you’ve settled on a camera body, the next must-have purchase before you can get started shooting is a lens. There’s a lot to know about lenses,  so buckle up and I’ll try and make some sense out of it for you.

Focal Length

Lenses come in a wide variety of “focal lengths”, which is an indication of the field of view that you can capture with the lens. Focal length is specified in millimeters, and is a measure of the distance between the lens and the image sensor or film plate when the subject is in focus.

Lower focal lengths are referred to as “wide angle” lenses because they let you take pictures that includes more of a scene, while high numbers are called “telephoto”, and let you take clear pictures of things that are some distance away. A lens that has a greater focal length than wide angle but less than telephoto is considered a “normal” or “standard” lens, since they are (roughly) equivalent to the field of view of the human eye.

The actual field of view for a lens is determined by both its focal length and the size of the sensor or film frame it’s being used with, which means that a 50mm lens on a full frame camera gives a different field of view than a 50mm lens on a crop sensor camera which gives a different field of view than a 50mm lens on a medium format camera.

The following table gives the approximate ranges of focal distances for wide angle and telephoto lenses for several common sensor sizes.

Sensor SizeWide AngleTelephoto
CX<= 13mm>= 31mm
Micro 4/3<=17.5mm>= 42.5mm
APS-C<= 20mm>= 65 mm
APS-H<= 27mm>= 50mm
Full Frame / 35mm<= 35mm>= 85mm
Medium Format (645)<= 56mm>= 137mm
Medium Format (Hasselblad)<= 64mm>= 245mm

To keep things simple, I’m going to express focal lengths in “full-frame equivalents”  in rest of this post. If I refer to a “50mm” lens, I mean “50mm on a full frame camera or an equivalent lens on another body, such as a 38mm lens on an APS-H camera (1.7 crop factor), or 29mm lens on an APS-C camera (1.3 crop factor)”.

Prime vs. Zoom

There are two types of lenses available: prime and zoom. A prime lens has a single, fixed focal length, like 50mm, or 85mm. With prime lenses, if you want to include more or less of the scene in your image, you have to physically move further from or closer to your subject. The other type of lens is the zoom lens, which covers a selectable range of focal lengths such as 24-70mm, or 70-200mm. Zoom lenses give you a lot more options to frame your photo without having to physically move to a new location.

Traditional logic said that prime lenses are higher quality and that zoom lenses are a compromise for convenience, with the trade-off  being that the images aren’t as sharp and are more prone to various forms of distortion.  That traditional logic doesn’t really have much value these days, however. The majority of lenses made and sold now are zoom lenses because we reached a point several years ago where the image quality from a good zoom lenses became virtually indistinguishable from that of prime lenses.

If that’s true, you might be wondering why prime lenses are still made. The primary reason is that prime lenses are less expensive for comparable quality and focal distance, especially for “fast” lenses with an ƒ rating of 2.8 or less. While a professional grade 24-70mm ƒ2.8  lens might run you upwards of $1600, you can get a professional-grade 50mm ƒ1.8 lens for about $150.

A “faster” lens has a lower ƒ-rating and handles low light situations better.

Consumer vs. Professional

The cost of a lens is influenced by many factors, including the focal length and ƒ-rating, but the biggest impact on the price of a lens is the distinction between lenses targeted at consumers, and those targeted for professional use. There’s also a group of lenses that fall in between the two that are sometimes referred to as “prosumer” lenses.

Most professional-grade lenses are designed for full-frame or medium-format bodies, while nearly all consumer lenses are built for smaller “crop” sensor bodies. As smaller sensors have gotten better, we’ve started to see more professional quality glass being made for crop-sensor bodies, but it’s still pretty uncommon to find consumer-grade lenses made for full-frame and medium-format bodies, so if you opt for a larger sensor, expect to pay more (probably considerably more) for your lenses.

To give an example of just how much of a difference in price you can expect to see between consumer and professional lenses, let’s look at a common workhorse, “normal” zoom lens that runs from slightly wide angle to slightly telephoto, such as a 24-70mm or 24-85mm lens.

Note: the field of view on an 18-55mm APS-C lens is roughly equivalent to 24-70mm with a full frame lens

Here is a selection of DSLR lenses, all from the same manufacturer (Nikon), all with roughly the same focal length. The range of prices and features you see here is similar to other manufacturers’ lens lineups for both DSLR and mirrorless cameras:

Lens TypeLensSensorMSRP (7/2020)
ProAF-S Nikkor 24-70mm ƒ2.8 ED VRFull Frame (FX)$2099.95
ProAF-S Nikkor 24-70mm ƒ2.8 EDFull Frame (FX)$1599.95
ProsumerAF-S Nikkor 24-85mm ƒ2.8-4 IFFull Frame (FX)$744.95
ProsumerAF-S Nikkor 24-85mm ƒ3.5-4.5G ED VRFull Frame (FX)$499.95
ConsumerAF-P DX Nikkor 18-55mm ƒ2.5-5.6G VRAPS-C (DX)$249.95
ConsumerAF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor ED 18-55mm ƒ3.5-5.6GAPS-C (DX)$199.95
ConsumerAF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor 18-55mm ƒ/3.5-5.6G ED IIAPS-C (DX)$119.95

That’s a pretty substantial range of prices for lenses with about the same basic field of view and functionality! The most expensive lens on the list is 17 times more expensive than the least.

If you’re looking to get started on a budget, the lower prices of the consumer lenses are going to be really appealing. The most expensive lens in the list for a crop sensor is $249.95, about a tenth of the price of the most expensive. Going back to my previous post in this series, crop sensor cameras aren’t just less expensive when initially buying the body. The lenses and some of the other accessories are also considerably less expensive, meaning you can often get a lot more bang for your buck with a crop-sensor camera, but your lens selection is going to be more limited, and most of the available lenses will be consumer grade.

You’re probably wondering what you’re going to miss out on if you buy less expensive consumer-grade lenses.

The main differences between professional and consumer lenses are as follows:

  • Construction & Repairability: Professional lenses are designed for full-time working photographers, so they’re made to take a beating and keep on working. They feature metal structural components and high-quality ground glass lens elements. Treated well, these lenses will work literally for decades. Consumer lenses, on the other hand, use more plastic components and lower-end consumer lenses may use polycarbonate lens elements rather than glass. Professional lenses are often repairable, but with consumer lenses, it’s usually more cost-effective to replace a lens if it breaks or gets damaged.
  • Optics: Consumer lenses are more likely to use plastic or lower quality glass for the optical elements, whereas professional lenses almost always use high-grade ground glass lenses that use extra-low dispersion glass. This means professional lenses will tend to be sharper across all ƒ-stop values, but the difference will be most noticeable in low light situations where the aperture is wide open. Professional lenses also are also far less likely to suffer noticeably from problems such as chromatic aberration, ghosting, and flaring.
  • Aperture: In large part because they use better optical components, professional lenses tend to be “faster” lenses with a lower ƒ-stop rating, meaning they let in more light and allow you to get better pictures with less light. If you look at the chart above, all the professional grade lenses have a fixed ƒ-rating of 2.8, meaning they can shoot at that value at all focal lengths. The prosumer lenses have ƒ-ratings that come in a range, meaning the camera’s ƒ-rating increases as you zoom out to longer focal lengths. The consumer lenses also give their ƒ-rating as a range, and a larger range at that, meaning as you zoom out, your lens becomes “slower”, and requires even more light to get good shots.
  • Weather Resistance: The higher quality construction often means that professional lenses can handle significantly harsher weather conditions without experiencing problems like condensation on the internal lens elements. It should be noted, however, that just because a lens is professional grade, does not mean it is weather proof or water proof, and you should take precautions to protect your gear whenever you shoot in inclement weather..
  • Size & Weight: This is something I didn’t realize before I bought my first professional grade lens, but professional lenses—especially zoom lenses—are much bigger and much heavier than comparable consumer lenses. The cheapest lens in the chart above weighs 7.4 oz, is 2.4 inches in diameter, and 2.9 inches long. The most expensive lens in the list is 38.4 oz, 3.4 inches in diameter, and 6 inches long. That means the most expensive lens is literally five times as heavy and over twice as long as the cheapest, despite having nearly identical focal lengths. The size difference is so dramatic that a lot of professional photographers will buy less expensive “vacation lenses” or “walking-around lenses” so they have something lighter and smaller to use in situations where they don’t need professional-grade glass.

Are these benefits worth the much higher price? That depends on your needs and your budget. For most working professionals and many serious enthusiasts who can afford them, the answer is a resounding yes. While they are expensive, they tend to last a long time. Often, you can use them for years on different camera bodies, with the lens retaining significant resale value even after years of use. If you ever have to shoot in difficult lighting situations, the lower ƒ-rating and better optics are really valuable, and if you ever shoot in tough weather conditions, it’s nice not having to worry quite as much about whether your equipment will survive and your pictures will come out well.

The fact that consumer lenses are “slower” than professional lenses is far less of an issue than it used to be in the film and early digital days where a few ƒ-stops could be the difference between being able to get a good shot and not. With a modern digital camera, you can often compensate for those few extra ƒ-stops by simply adjusting your camera’s ISO rating. You will degrade the quality of your images a bit, but increasing ISO by one or two stops won’t usually be noticeable unless you blow up your photos super large, and you can often compensate for some of that quality loss using a variety of post processing techniques.

You can get amazing images with consumer or prosumer equipment (or, hell, even your phone), so if you’re shooting for yourself, it’s really a matter of how much you’re willing and able to spend and whether you’ll ever be shooting in conditions where the benefits of a professional lens will even matter.  In bright daylight, or in a studio with strobes, you’ll barely notice a difference, and if your intention isn’t to shoot professionally, the additional cost of professional gear may very well not be worth it for you, even if you can afford it.

Buying Used

Just like with camera bodies, you can get used gear at a lower price than new, sometimes substantially less. A lot of people get into photography, and then don’t find time for it and end up selling their equipment. Other times, people decide to switch systems, upgrade their gear, or just find that they don’t use certain lenses very often.

As with camera bodies, I wouldn’t generally recommend buying used consumer-grade lenses, but professional lenses and some prosumer lenses are built solidly enough that buying used can be a great option, just make sure you get to test the lens before buying it to make sure there are no scratches or other problems with the optics. Unlike camera bodies, the age of the lens really doesn’t matter all that much as long as the lens has been cared for and maintained and has the right mount for your camera body. An older lens with good optics and no damage to the focus or zoom mechanisms will take just as good pictures as a new lens.

First vs. Third Party

Every camera manufacturer produces (or partners with another company to produce), a line of lenses for their cameras. These “first party” lenses are not the only option. There are companies out there, such as Sigma, Zeiss, and Tamron, that produce lenses for other manufacturer’s cameras.

First party lenses are typically very high quality, and they’re often the only lenses that people look at. However, when buying lenses from your camera’s manufacturer, you usually pay at least some premium. Third party lenses come in a wide variety of price points and quality, so you have to be careful when comparing lenses from different manufacturers, but it is often possible to get a comparable quality lens for less money by going with a third party option.

To give an example, the Sigma ART 24-70mm ƒ/2.8 lens is very highly regarded as a fast, sharp professional lens, in the same ballpark in terms of image and build quality as the AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm ƒ2.8 ED lens from the list above. The Nikkor lens has an MSRP of $1,599.95 with a street price of around $1,450, while the Sigma has an MSRP of $1,299.00 and a street price of about $1,000, which amounts to about a 1/3 savings.

Which Lens or Lenses to Buy

So… the $64 question: which lens or lenses should you buy?

Among photographers I’ve met, there seems to be two schools of thought when it comes to buying lenses. One school of thought is that every lens has a use, and you should buy all the lenses your budget can handle as you have a need for them. The other school of thought says that zoom lenses have gotten so good, there really are only three lenses most photographers will ever need: a good ultrawide-angle zoom, like a 14-24mm, a “normal” zoom, such as a 24-70mm, and a telephoto zoom, such as a 70-200mm.

If you’re not shooting large groups of people, architectural interiors, or landscape panoramas, I would even argue that the ultrawide-angle zoom is only rarely necessary.

A picture of a young naked woman on a tree swing.
A wide-angle lens can be useful in certain kinds of nude photography, such as landscape nudes, but most nudes are shot with normal or slightly telephoto lenses.

Personally, I subscribe  to the “most photographers only need a few lenses” school of thought. But… I also think that having a few high quality prime lenses in addition, can be a great investment. Probably 60% of what I shoot is with a 24-70mm lens, with maybe another 30% being shot with a 70-200mm. The remaining 10% are shot with a prime lens like a 50mm ƒ1.4, (aka the “nifty fifty”) or an 85mm ƒ/1.8 (sometimes called a “portrait prime”). Using a fast prime lens allows you to shoot below ƒ2.0, which can make it easier to achieve a desirable effect for portraits and head shots called “bokeh”.

A nude woman with long brown hair against an out-of-focus background.
This image, shot at 180mm, ƒ/2.8 demonstrates the bokeh effect you can get from using a fast and/or long lens. Notice how the background is out of focus, drawing the viewer’s attention to the subject.

I’ll talk about bokeh in great detail in a later post, but you don’t have to have a super fast prime lens to get a nice bokeh effect. You do need either a fast normal or wide angle lens, or a moderately fast telephoto lens, however, so if you can’t afford a fast zoom like a 24-70mm ƒ/2.8, then a fast 50mm or 85mm prime lens can be a great, and relatively inexpensive option for shooting portraits.

For shooting nudes, you’ll only need an ultra wide-angle lens if you’re going be shooting nudes as a small part of a larger scene, where your subject just one part of the overall landscape, or to shoot full body images in cramped spaces. For most photographer, an ultra wide is not a good choice for a first lens.

Similarly, while telephoto lenses can yield lovely portraits, they make it difficult to shoot in many common situations. Even in a good size studio, it may not be possible to shoot full length photos using a telephoto lens.

Most of the time, if you’ll be focusing on one person, or a few people, and maybe not even shooting full body shots, the best choice for a first lens is going to be either a zoom lens that includes the “normal” range such as a 24-70mm or 24-85mm, or a standard prime lens like a 50mm or 85mm.


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Getting Started Shooting Nudes: Essential Gear – Choosing Your Camera

A nude woman lies on a cement floor with rainbow reflections

The single most important piece of gear you need to get started with nude photography—or any type of photography, for that matter—is a camera. You must have some device capable of recording an image. Though there are many other items that most photographers would consider “essential”, the reality is, pretty much everything else beyond the camera (and a lens) is optional.

If you already own a camera, start with what you already have unless you know, with certainty, that it isn’t sufficient for your needs. After you’ve done a handful of shoots with the gear you own, you’ll have a much better idea about what you need and will be better equipped to decide what, if anything, you should buy.

If you don’t have a camera, but you do have a recent, high-end mobile phone, you actually have a good enough camera for doing available-light photography, though you may find models skeptical about working with a “photographer” whose only gear is their phone. That won’t be an issue if your first models are yourself, a spouse, significant other, or friends, however.

Buying a Camera

At some point, if you get serious, you’ll probably want to buy a better camera. Choosing what camera model to buy is a very subjective and personal decision and the most important factor in determining what camera to buy will most likely be how much money you have to spend.

Getting the very best camera on the market does you no good if the purchase doesn’t leave you enough money to buy lenses and accessories, pay for models, or cover your rent and other living expenses. The “very best” camera on the market is also likely to be overkill for your needs. High-end “flagship” camera models can run $4k, $6k, $8k, $10k or even much more. These models have features that really target professional photographers who are shooting every day and which really aren’t worth paying money for, for most hobbyists.

So, before you do anything else, figure out how much you can realistically afford to invest in a camera system, keeping in mind that you’ll need at least one lens in addition to a camera body (unless you buy a camera with an integrated lens, which I generally don’t recommend). You’ll also need at least one storage card (SF, CF, etc.) to store the pictures you take.

Most photographers will steer you away from what are called “kit lenses”– which are the lenses that are sold together with a camera body as a package. Kits often also include other accessories that you probably don’t already have if you’re buying your first serious camera: things like blower bulbs, lint-free cleaning cloths, storage cards, filters, a flash, a camera bag, or a remote camera trigger. Although there are exceptions, kit lenses tend to not be very good, so most serious photographers prefer to buy their body and lenses separately. I take a more muted view on this. While I buy bodies and lenses separately, I recognize that a kit can often be a great choice for someone just getting started who’se on a budget. While a kit lens will rarely be great, if you’re going to be shooting mostly outside at high ƒ-stops, you can get really good results with them.

We’ll talk about what ƒ-stops are more in later posts, but a “high” ƒ-stop means the aperture of your lens is closed down very small so it lets less light in. When you shoot outside during the day under a cloudless sky, you can easily shoot at ƒ16 or higher. At these high ƒ-stop ratings, the difference between a really good lens and a “just okay” lens won’t be very noticeable at all. If you’re planning to primarily shoot outdoors to start, a good camera body with a kit lens might be the best option in your price range, just realize that you’ll probably want to buy a better lens (or lenses) at some point in the future as you gain more experience and become more demanding.

Digital vs. Film

For most working professional photographers, the digital vs. film debate was settled long ago and—spoiler alert—digital won. That being said, film is very much alive and has been seeing quite a resurgence of late. A lot of photographers are once again enjoying the challenges of shooting film.

Honestly, anything that motivates you to shoot is good, so for many people, film is good. But… I’m going to put a stake in the ground and say: if you’re just getting started, start with digital.

Digital photography borrows most of its terminology and paradigms from film cameras, so most of the skills you’ll learn using a digital camera will transfer directly over to film. But, digital is much more forgiving, so you’ll likely find it far less frustrating.  Once you’ve got a good grasp on the fundamentals of photography, switching to film will be much easier and less painful than trying to learn the fundamentals of photography at the same time that you’re learning the nuances of film.

Interchangeable vs. Integrated Lens

If you buy a camera with an integrated lens, you will be limited to the focal length and apertures of that lens. I’ll discuss when and why you might use different lenses in future posts, but getting a body that uses interchangeable lenses will give you a lot more flexibility and freedom to grow as a photographer. Even if you only plan to buy a single lens at first, choosing an interchangeable lens body will give you the option to grow your collection of lenses (aka “glass”) over time.

Additionally, good glass treated well, will likely outlive your camera body (several camera bodies, in fact), meaning you can buy the latest, greatest, newest body in the future without having to re-invest in new lenses, as long as you stay with the same vendor and system type (e.g. Nikon FX or Canon EF-S³). If you buy a camera with an integrated lens, when you outgrow it, you have to replace everything.

Sensor Size

One choice you have to make when buying your first camera is what size sensor will my camera have? The size of the sensor is one of the primary factors in the cost of a digital camera, with smaller sensors generally costing less, but also having comparably lower image quality. A larger sensor typically give images that are sharper, have a greater dynamic range, and contain less noise. Larger sensors also tend to have better low light performance.

But… sensor technology has been advancing at a breakneck pace over the last decade, so a larger but older sensor will often be inferior to a newer small one.

Here are the names of common sensor sizes you’ll often see thrown around, in descending order of size:

  • Medium Format Sensor (e.g. 43.8 x 32.8mm, 53.4 x 40mm): Generally only found in very expensive, high-end professional cameras, these are the largest sensors you’ll find in mass-produced cameras. The name “medium format” comes from the film days, when 2¼ roll film was called “medium format” because it was larger than 35mm, but smaller than traditional plate cameras that used 4×5 or 8×10 sheets of film or glass. Medium format sensors are nearly (but in most cases, not quite) as large as a traditional 2¼ medium format film frame. Today, the name “medium format” is used to describe a handful of different size sensors that are larger than a traditional 35mm negative.
  • Full Frame (35mm x 24mm): The most common sensor size used in professional-grade digital cameras, this sensor is almost exactly the same size as a 35mm negative. Since the earliest professional digital cameras were built from 35mm SLRs, the traits of other sensors are often specified relative to this one.
  • APS-H (≈29mm by ≈19mm): A slightly smaller sensor used in a lot of “prosumer” and enthusiast DSLRs, there are several slightly different versions of this sensor with slightly different sizes. Sensors of this size (and the next size down: APS-C) are often referred to as “crop sensors” because many of the bodies with these types of sensors can use lenses designed for full frame cameras, but the sensors only capture a portion of the image from the lens, resulting in the image being cropped. APS-H has a crop factor, compared to full frame cameras, of 1.3.
  • APS-C (23.6mm by 15.8mm): A little bit smaller sensor used in many smaller consumer DSLRs, this sensor has a crop factor of 1.7.
  • Micro 4/3 (17.3mm by 13mm): About a quarter the size of a full frame sensor, this size sensor is used in many mirrorless cameras, especially smaller, consumer-targeted ones.
  • CX (13.2mm by 8mm): A sensor used primarily in higher-end point and shoot cameras.
  • Small Sensors: There are a whole bunch of even smaller sensors whose sizes are generally given as a fraction of one inch on the long edge. Some of the small sensor sizes you may see are: 1/1.7, 1/2.5, 1/2.3, 2/3, 1/3.2, 1/1.2, and 1/1.8. These small sensors are primarily used in consumer cameras, webcams, security cameras, and mobile phones.
A display showing various comparative sensor sizes.
Relative size of many common camera sensors.

While larger sensors are generally “better” than smaller sensors, going with a less-than-full-frame sensor is one of the best ways to keep your costs down when buying your first camera. Full frame cameras are mostly targeted at working professionals and very experienced hobbyists, so they tend to have the most cutting-edge features. As a result, they cost quite a lot, with very few current-generation full-frame camera bodies starting at under $2000.

When shooting under bright daylight, or with studio strobes, many of the benefits of a larger sensor are far less evident, and the cost savings from a camera with a smaller sensor can be significant. At the time I’m writing this, there are some very capable crop-sensor cameras available for under $500.

The reality is, modern camera sensors are amazing pieces of technology and they’re only going to keep getting better. You can great results with any modern sensor and the benefits of a full frame or medium format sensor more often than not will be lost on someone who is just getting started.

In most respects, once you’ve selected your camera body, you don’t really have to worry about the size of the sensor any more. There is, however, one thing you need to know about cameras with different sized sensors: the lens focal lengths are different, and often the length specified is “full frame equivalent”.

What that means, is the stated focal length isn’t necessarily the focal length for your camera. A 50mm lens on a full frame camera does not give the same field of view as a 50mm lens on an APS-H camera. The “full frame equivalent” focal length for a camera with an APS-H sensor is roughly 38mm. To calculate that, divide the full frame focal length by the crop factor of the sensor you’re converting to. APS-H has a crop factor of about 1.3, so if we divide 50 by 1.3, we get 38.46. Since focal lengths usually only come in whole number values, we round down to 38mm, and that tells us that a 38mm lens on an APS-H camera will have roughly the same field of view as a 50mm lens on a full-frame camera.

Must Have Features

When you start researching cameras, you might get a little overwhelmed by all the available models and features. Sometimes, two models from the same manufacturer will seem so similar, thatit’s hard to even understand why they both exist. There are a few absolute must-have features you should look for, though.

Adjustable ISO

ISO a measure of the camera sensor’s sensitivity to light. The higher the ISO, the less light you’ll need to get a correctly-exposed picture, but the trade off is a lower quality final image. The term is a holdover from the film days, when different film stock had different sensitivity to light and you would pick your film based on the lighting situation you were planning to photograph. Nowadays, it’s rare for cameras not to have an adjustable ISO, though some consumer cameras and most phone cameras hide this setting away and adjust the ISO automatically by default. If you’re going to get seriously into photography, you need to be able to control the ISO, and it’s best if the controls to change ISO are easily accessible while shooting. You don’t want to miss the perfect shot because you had to take the camera away from your eye to adjust ISO.

Manual Mode

Many consumer-targeted cameras either don’t have a fully manual mode, or are designed in such a way that using full manual mode is difficult. You want to make sure that the camera you’re looking at has full manual mode, and that shutter speed and aperture are easy to change without taking your eye away from the viewfinder.

The three settings I’ve mentioned – aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, make up what photographers call the “exposure triangle”, because they are the three values that primarily affect whether your image is properly exposed. Being able to adjust all three of these settings without taking your eye away from the viewfinder will make your life so much easier when shooting.

I’ll talk about the exposure triangle in great detail in a future post.

Hot Shoe and/or PC Sync Socket

Many models of camera, regardless of style, will have a hot shoe, which is the little metal doohicky on the top of the camera body that you can use to attach an external flash. That hot shoe is also used to trigger studio strobes using wireless transmitters. As you start looking at more expensive “prosumer” and professional models, you’ll also start to see something called a PC sync socket somewhere on the camera body, which is used to trigger studio strobes with a hard wire. Most cameras with a PC sync socket will also have a hot shoe, though there are some high-end medium format cameras that have a PC sync socket, but no hot shoe.

A close up image of a hot shoe and a PC socket.
Two ways of triggering external flashes and studio strobes: the hot shoe (left) and the PC sync socket (right)

Even if you think you only want to shoot with natural or existing light, getting a camera with at least one of these two items is a good idea, because you may reach a point where the limitations of natural light start to frustrate you. Fortunately, most prosumer and pro cameras have both, and even the majority of consumer cameras at least have a hot shoe.

Raw File Support

Internally, all digital cameras use a “raw” file format that represents the image data exactly as it was recorded by the sensor. Cameras are capable of converting that raw file format into a standard image format such as JPEG, and some cameras default to this behavior and hide the raw file from you. Most serious photographers keep and edit only the raw file, which functions sort of like a digital negative, giving you a lot more latitude to make adjustments to your image without losing image quality.

A Camera that Fits You

One “feature” that rarely gets talked about when purchasing a camera is a really important one: how the camera feels in your hand, and whether the controls on the camera make sense and are easy for you to use. If you get serious about photography, you will spend a lot of time holding your camera. If it doesn’t feel good to you or the control placement doesn’t feel natural, then it’s not a good camera for you, no matter how nice the specs are³.

In general, it’s not a good idea to buy a camera you haven’t had a chance to hold in your hand. There are times when you can break this rule–such as when moving to an upgraded version of the same camera you already have—but generally speaking, you don’t want to buy a camera unless you know it feels good in your hand, isn’t too light or heavy, and has controls that make sense for you.

Mechanism Type

Digital cameras these days come primarily in two different styles that use different internal mechanisms: DSLR and mirrorless.


DSLR stands for digital single-lens reflex, and is a style of digital camera that evolved out of film-based SLR (single lens reflex) cameras. In all single-lens reflex cameras, the image is reflected up to the viewfinder using a mirror and a pentaprism, so when you look into the viewfinder, you’re seeing the actual image that will be recorded when you press the shutter button. Prior to the SLR, when you looked through the viewfinder of a camera, you were usually seeing an approximation of what would be recorded on film, not the actual image through the same lens.

When you press the shutter button to take a picture with a DSLR, the mirror that bounces the image up to the rangefinder very quickly moves out of the way to allow the image to pass through to the shutter and onto the sensor.

Until recently, nearly all professional and prosumer digital cameras were DSLRs. While the mirror-and-pentaprism combination was revolutionary in the days of film, today, they are largely an artifact of the past because digital cameras can pull the image directly from the sensor and display that in the viewfinder or camera screen with just a few wires.  The mirror mechanism adds quite a bit of size and weight to the camera and adds a potential mechanical point of failure. It also limits the speed at which pictures can be taken. Even the highest-end professional DSLRs can’t exceed about 14 frames per second because of the time required to physically move the mirror out of the way and then back down.


Several camera manufacturers started replacing the mirror and pentaprism mechanism in their cameras with a simpler system that pulls the image directly from the camera sensor and displays on an LED screen in the viewfinder,. By removing the large physical mirror mechanism that redirects the light away from the camera sensor, and the pentaprism that directs the image to your eye, mirrorless cameras can pack identical functionality into a smaller, lighter package that’s less prone to mechanical failure, or into a camera the same size that has much longer battery life.

The earliest commercial mirrorless cameras—such as the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1—used a micro 4/3 sensor and were primarily designed to compete with consumer DSLRs. It didn’t take long for the advantages of mirrorless to become obvious, however, and many more manufacturers started designing mirrorless cameras across all price and feature points. Eventually even Canon and Nikon—the two big dogs in the DSLR market—started releasing mirrorless bodies.

Digital Rangefinder

You may see the term “digital rangefinder” used for some types of cameras. A digital rangefinder is really just a mirrorless camera. Back in the days of film, a rangefinder was a type of camera where you looked through a device (also) called a rangefinder, which used one of a variety of mechanisms to approximate the view through the camera’s lens. The best-known brand of traditional rangefinder cameras is Leica.

While there have been a few digital cameras released that were true mechanical rangefinders, such as the Pixii A1112, the vast majority of so-called “digital rangefinders” produced today use a digital viewfinder that displays the image directly from the camera sensor. That means they are really just mirrorless cameras that have been styled to look like classic rangefinders.

Buying Used

One option to consider, if you’re interested in buying professional or prosumer gear, but just don’t have the budget for it, is buying a camera body used. I wouldn’t generally opt for buying a camera that’s more than four or five years old, but a lot of people do upgrade their equipment pretty regularly, and professional grade equipment is built to last, so if you can find someone who is unloading professional gear that’s just a few years old, you can often get a great deal. It’s better to buy local, as there are  a lot of scams out there. Many camera shops will also have used gear for sale. It’ll usually be a bit more expensive than buying directly from a consumer, but will usually have been cleaned and may have some kind of warranty.

If you’re considering buying used, see if the seller will let you take a few pictures with it. If they won’t, that’s a red flag. Among the pictures you should take, is one that’s just of a clean white sheet of paper, which will allow you to see if there are any problems, such as dust on the sensor or dead pixels.

Choosing Between Mirrorless and DSLR

We are clearly in a period of transitions, and mirrorless is the future. That being said, the DSLR is far from dead. While mirrorless cameras have several clear advantages, DSLRs have been around longer and are far more mature systems with larger ecosystems. The current Canon and Nikon lens systems, for example, have been made for decades, because they evolved from the lens systems used in 35mm film SLR cameras. There are literally dozens (maybe hundreds) of different lenses (from multiple manufacturers) that can be used with these cameras. Sony’s e-mount system (probably the largest mirrorless ecosystem at the time of writing), has about two dozen lenses… if you count adapters and converters.

There are also a lot of photographers who already have large investments in their DSLR system. While there are adapters that allow you to use some DSLR lenses and accessories on some mirrorless cameras, they are imperfect, and often require you to give up certain advantages of moving to mirrorless, such as faster focusing. That means a lot of photographers have a disincentive to move to mirrorless.

Although this is starting to change, traditionally, the ergonomics and control layout on mirrorless cameras have been inferior to those on DSLRs, which kind of makes sense, since modern DSLRs are literally the result of over fifty years of design evolution⁴. Mirrorless cameras have been around about fifteen years, but took off less than a decade ago.

If you’re just starting today and are not already invested in any specific system, I would almost certainly steer you toward mirrorless systems, since they are clearly the future of photography. That being said, one of my two main cameras is a DLSR and probably will for quite some time. While I love my mirrorless body, I have more glass for my DSLR and the downsides of DSLRs are rarely an issue for me. I honestly like the heft and feel of a larger camera in my hand and, in fact, my mirrorless Z9 is actually bigger and heavier than than my D850 DSLR. With the battery pack on the DSLR, they’re nearly identical.


There is no one right answer to the question, “which camera should I buy”. All the major manufacturers (and several minor manufacturers) make capable cameras across a wide price and feature range. A camera purchase is a highly personal decision, so your best best is to try out the cameras you’re interested in before buying anything. That way, you can be sure it works for you. We’ve honestly reached a point where you can get great results with the majority of digital cameras on the market, including less-expensive consumer-targeted cameras, so you need to figure out what features are important to you and what your budget is, then let that guide your purchasing decision.

1- When shooting with the sun, consider shooting during the first or last hour of sunlight. Because the sun passes through so much more atmosphere, it is a softer, warmer light that’s generally more flattering than the harsh, direct sunlight you get in the middle of the day. Photographer’s refer to the first hour of sunlight after the sun rises and the last hour before it sets as the “golden hour”, because the light is so flattering.

2- Lenses designed for crop sensor and full-frame cameras often use the same mount and are, technically speaking, interchangeable, but generally, you want to stick with the correct lens type for your body to avoid missing part of the image or getting vignetting.

3- My father, my wife, and I all have cameras bodies with similar capabilities. My father shoots Canon, I shoot Nikon, and my wife shoots Sony. All three are great cameras, and the only significant difference between them is the layout of the controls and the shape of the body. Don’t worry about what camera other people use; find what works for you.

4- The earliest DSLRs were actually built using film SLR bodies.

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Getting Started Shooting Nudes: Ground Rules & Etiquette

This is the first of my Getting Started posts, designed to help aspiring nude photographers. In this series, I’ll cover a wide variety of topics, including choosing equipment, scouting locations, finding and working with models, using both studio lighting and natural light, post-processing images, and promoting yourself. But, before I do anything else, I want to talk about some ground rules for working with models,  especially models you don’t know.

Most of what I’m going to say here will seem like a mix of common sense and common decency to many of you. Unfortunately, nearly every model I’ve ever worked with has told me at least one story about a photographer being inappropriate during a shoot. Because of that, I feel it’s important to talk about this before I help anybody get started.

In Their Shoes

Let’s try something. Spend a moment right now imagining how it might feel for a model who is shooting with you for the very first time. They’re probably at a studio or location of your choosing, and it might be a remote location. They’re naked, or wearing very little, and there’s a pretty good chance you’re physically larger and stronger than them. They have no reason to trust you yet and they have plenty of reasons to be wary.

If it’s a paid shoot, the money you’re going to pay them is part of their paycheck. They’ll use that money to pay their rent and put food on the table, so they might be hesitant to tell you when you’ve done something to make them uncomfortable for fear that you’ll get mad and refuse to pay.

Imagined it? Good. Now think back to that feeling any time you’re making decisions about what to do, what to say, or how to say it when working with a model. Sometimes a subtle change in phrasing can make a huge difference. The better you are at making a model feel comfortable, respected, safe, and valued, the more likely they’re going to be to want to work with you again and the better the photos you’re going to be able to get.

Tell Them Everything Important Up Front

It’s a bit of a cliché, but it’s still true that communication is the single most important factor in the success of any relationship, including the relationship between a photographer and a model. In the context of a shoot—especially a nude shoot—communication is extra important. It is almost always better to over-communicate than to under-communicate.

The fact that you’re expecting a model to pose nude should—of course—be discussed beforehand, but agreeing to a “nude shoot” really isn’t enough. There are a lot of different kinds of nude shoots and not all models are comfortable with every type. If you arrive at a shoot expecting to shoot images that are more on the erotic side, and the model arrives expecting to do a classic figure shoot or implied nudes, you’re going to end up wasting valuable shooting time figuring out how to re-work your concept.

And yes, in that situation, the burden is on you to adapt. Do not ever attempt to cajole, trick, or pressure a model into doing something they’ve said they’re not comfortable doing. If you failed to properly communicate what you want to do ahead of time, that’s on you, not the model.

Anything that you want to shoot that’s likely to make some people uncomfortable needs to be fully communicated to the model before you agree to shoot together. Whether it involves nudity, physical discomfort, sexual content, fetish-related material, kink, gore, or politically or ideologically sensitive concepts, you need to lay everything out on the table right up front so there are no surprises on the day of the shoot. Do everything you can to make absolutely sure your model is on board with what you want to do and stay flexible so you can adjust as needed if there’s a miscommunication.

Informed Consent is King

At some point, it’s very likely that you will need to break one or more of these rules to get an image you want. In fact, there are many types of photography that these rules would seem to make impossible. Rest assured, you can shoot most anything you want if you’re willing to have the hard and sometimes uncomfortable discussions needed to get fully informed consent ahead of time.

As long as you’re completely transparent about what you plan to do and the model is an adult and agrees to it, you can ignore any of the rules that follow. Just make sure you have fully communicated what you intend to do and keep in mind that consent can be retracted at any time.

Don’t Touch

I really can’t stress this point enough: do not touch the model if you haven’t discussed it in advance. Even an innocent touch from a stranger can be extremely uncomfortable for some people when they’re naked or near-naked. Casual touches that would barely be noticed in many other situations can come across as hostile, even if you don’t intend them that way.

Instead, use words and gestures to communicate what you want your model to do. If you need to, show them what you want by taking the pose yourself or showing them images of similar poses.

When the model initiates or suggests contact, then of course that’s fine. You don’t have to refuse a handshake or a hug or tell the model “no” if they ask you to help them with a piece of clothing or jewelry, but don’t ever presume it’s okay to touch them unless you’ve discussed it before the shoot or the model initiates or invites the contact.

Avoid Terms of Endearment

Most people use terms of endearment like “dear”, “honey”, or “sweetheart” only with people they already have a well-established and pretty close relationship with. There are people, however, who use these words more casually, even with people they’ve just met.

If you’re one of those people, try really hard not to do it during a shoot with a model you don’t know. Regardless of how you intend it, there’s a pretty good chance of it coming across as creepy and inappropriate.

Watch Your Language

Even if you’re a hobbyist photographer, you should approach every shoot as if it was your profession. Treat the studio or other shoot location like it’s your workplace and treat the model (and anyone else there, such as a makeup artist or stylist) the way you would a respected co-worker.

Of course, you need to use common sense. If, you’re doing a bondage themed shoot or some other kind of shoot with erotic content, there are going to be words you’ll need to use to communicate effectively that you wouldn’t use in a corporate setting. If a word is appropriate to the situation, use it. Just be sure that the word is appropriate, and always favor formal words over slang (especially with anatomical terms) unless you’re absolutely sure the model is comfortable with the slang term. When in doubt, err on the side of caution.

Ask About and Respect Boundaries

While some models are completely comfortable with any part of their body being photographed, quite a few are not. A great many models, for example, do not wish to be photographed in open-leg or other sexually suggestive poses and don’t wish to have their genitals photographed up-close. Make an effort to find out what the model’s boundaries are and then make sure to respect those boundaries. If you can’t get an image you want while respecting the model’s boundaries, find another model or change your concept.

Discovering boundaries can be challenging. People aren’t always comfortable talking about their bodies—especially with a stranger—and asking can sometimes make a model wary of your intentions if you don’t phrase the question carefully. Despite that, it’s worth the effort to find out, since that knowledge can help you avoid asking your model to do something they’re not okay with.

No Sneak Shots

I kind of can’t believe I even have to say this one, but I know from talking with models that I do, indeed, have to say this one. When a model is “offstage”… in other words, then they’re getting dressed, when they’re getting makeup done, when they’re relaxing or checking their phone on a break… do not take their picture without asking first and never, ever try to intentionally take a picture that goes beyond their stated boundaries.

Compliment Wisely

Letting your model know that you’re happy with what they’re doing is really important. It’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing on the technical aspects of photography and forgetting to engage with your model as you shoot. Communicating with your model is just as important as framing, composition, and lighting. In fact, I would argue that it’s more important, so try really hard to remember to talk with and compliment your model so they know what you want and also know that you’re happy with what they’re doing.

But… not all compliments are created equal. Generally, it’s best to focus on the things a model is doing that are making for good pictures and less on the things they can’t control, like the shape of their body.

Saying things along the lines of “hey, that’s a great pose”, or “oh, I really like what you just did there” is great. It communicates to the model that you like what they’re doing with very little chance of making them uncomfortable.

Telling them, in very general terms, that they look good can be great, too. However, telling a model that they’re “hot” or “sexy”, or that they have a “nice ass” or “great breasts” is really just not appropriate at most shoots. You might intend it as a compliment, and some models will take it as one, but many others will be uncomfortable with these types of compliments because it can feel like you’re hitting on them.

Never Insult

While compliments, used well, are a great tool, insults and non-constructive criticism are not. Don’t insult your model. Don’t make negative comments about their weight, their appearance, or their ability to pose, and don’t give them any criticism that they can’t act on.

Asking a model to change something to get a better shot is fine. Telling a model that something they are doing is “bad”, especially without telling them specifically how they can correct it, is useless. You’ll make the model feel terrible without improving your pictures in any way. In fact, you’ll probably end up with worse pictures.

There is almost never a good reason to insult your model, and any criticism or negative feedback you must give them should be immediately actionable to improve the shot. Even if your critique is valid and is something the model can address, take a second to think about your phrasing. In terms of your model’s mood and motivation, there’s a world of difference between something like, “okay, that’s good, but could you try moving your hand a couple inches to your left” and something like, “Jesus, that looks terrible, umm… just… I dunno… move your hand over a bit.”

In that latter example, you might not be intending to direct your negativity at the model. You might be frustrated and thinking that what’s “terrible” is you, but the model can’t read your mind and is almost certainly going to interpret those kinds of negative comments as criticism of them.

Listen and Watch

Communication is a two-way street and an ongoing process. You need to make sure you’re listening to your model not just before the shoot, but during the shoot as well. If they tell you they’re uncomfortable with something, don’t just continue shooting. Put your camera down, listen, and talk with them to figure out what you can do to address their concerns.

Also keep in mind that, for a number of different reasons, a model may not actually tell you when you’re making them uncomfortable, so keep an eye out for signs of discomfort, concern, or anxiety. A furrowed brow, a concerned expression, or uncharacteristically stiff poses can all potentially be signs that something is going on that they are not telling you. If you notice something like that, stop shooting and ask if they’re okay. Give them a chance to take a break, reassure them that you’re happy with their work, and reiterate that you really do want to know if something is wrong.

Take Your Time

Photography is not a race. Modern cameras can take pictures at an astounding pace, with some high-end cameras able to take 10, 15, or even 24 full resolution shots every second. This fast pace is fantastic for sports photography and photojournalism, but it’s only rarely a true benefit when shooting models.

Unless you’re intentionally doing high speed captures, such as when working with a dancer or acrobat, it’s usually better to shoot at a slower pace and give the model time to move from one pose to the next. It can be disconcerting for a model to hear constant shutter clicks even when they are moving from pose to pose. Taking pictures at a fast pace also ends up creating a lot more work for yourself later when it’s time to sort through your library and find the good shots from your shoot.

Do What You’ve Promised

Make sure you follow through on anything you’ve agreed to do with regards to a shoot. If it’s a paid shoot, pay the model the amount you agreed to pay, and pay it immediately. Never try to re-negotiate a rate on the day of the shoot or after the shoot is over. If it’s a collaboration or TFP shoot, try hard to send edits in a timely manner and communicate to the model if you’re not able to for any reason. I know it can be hard. Edits take time and it’s easy to find yourself overwhelmed and behind, but not sending images from a TFP or Collab shoot is basically the same thing as not paying a model, so don’t do it.

Don’t Actually Hit On the Model

A number of the things I’ve talked about are designed to help you avoid inadvertently looking like you’re hitting on your model. I would hope it doesn’t need to be said, but don’t actually hit on a model during a shoot, either. The dynamics of the situation makes it inappropriate.

The Blacklist

Striving to treat another human being decently should be enough motivation for you to follow these guidelines or get informed consent in advance, but I’ll give you another very practical reason to follow the advice in this post: models talk to each other.

In this digital age, models who have never even met in person are able to easily and quickly communicate on social media and, believe me, they do. While some models will tell you when you’ve done something to make them uncomfortable, many won’t; they’ll just grit their teeth, get through the shoot, then add you to their list of people to never work with again. They may also tell other models not to work with you. It won’t take that many shoots to find yourself blacklisted and unable to reliably find models if you make people uncomfortable or behave inappropriately. If your behavior is particularly egregious, you’re likely to find yourself (justifiably) “named and shamed” on social media, which can have devastating consequences, both personal and professional.

Okay. Now that we’ve got that all out of the way, we can move on to the fun stuff starting with the next Getting Started post!