Considerations To Make Before Committing To Your First Nude Photo Shoot (Models)
It has been my genuine honour to be asked to shoot a number of models’ first nude photos. In my experience, there is a wide range of consideration that has gone in to the models’ decisions. Poorly thought out decisions to do a nude shoot can lead to regrets and frustrations down the road for both the model and photographer. For the model, there may be substantial social and even employment consequences. For the photographer, or at least for me, there is very little more frustrating and disheartening to spend a great deal of time and effort on a shoot only to be asked to delete them because aunt Edna is not happy you modeled for them.
The following are considerations I would suggest every model should make prior to shooting nudes (specifically, nudes with the aim of publishing the images), both because it could save you a lot of grief down the road, but also out of respect for the photographer. Many of these recommendations apply to non-nude shoots as well, and the application to photographers is pretty clear.
1) What are my goals (motivations) as a model, and is this shoot congruent with these goals?
An important question, and one many models and photographers don’t seem to ask themselves early on. Do you want to model for extra money? To become famous? To start a career? If you are you looking to be an agency-signed model or a spokesperson for a big company, nudes in your portfolio, or on the internet in general, could be a problem for these folks.
Are you modeling for fun? To become comfortable with your own body? To capture your youthful beauty? Do your research. Some photographers are not so fun to shoot with. Some may make you feel uncomfortable or be critical of your physique. A quick reference check should tell you what you need to know, but so very few people do these.
2) What is my comfort level?
Seems a pretty obvious thing to consider. Yet, in my experience, it is not always considered prior to a shoot. Being a fan of nude art does not mean you will be comfortable with your own nude pictures or with being nude on a set. If you are not comfortable, it will probably come across both in how you pose and in your expressions. Can you comfortably stand in front of the mirror nude, practice poses, and like what you see? If no, are you likely to be comfortable in the buff, in front of a photographer and perhaps others (e.g., make-up artist, assistant), taking images that may be seen by a million people?
Plan accordingly. If you are possibly going to be very nervous, anonymous shots, implied shots, and so forth may be a better way to start (have a contract – see below). “Chickening out” at the last minute and flaking, cancelling, or suggesting a change to a lingerie shoot is not respectful to the photographer and rest of the team. Don’t get me wrong – certainly you should not follow through with any shoot where you are made to feel uncomfortable, for example, because of a photographer’s behaviour. However, becoming suddenly too shy at the last minute because you didn’t research your photographer, didn’t practice poses, or it didn’t really sink in that you would have to be undressed in front of others, are not good reasons to break plans or an agreement.
(As an aside, offering/expecting to shoot in your lingerie instead of nude is not likely to be an ok compromise for a nude-art photographer any more than a baby photographer is going to be ok with an 80 year old stand-in last minute. (Why not?? They are both humans!) Nude art is a genre in itself, and for many artists it does not fall on the continuum of “sexy fashion”.)
3) How will my friends and family react if they see my images (and how much do I care)?
Regardless of how open minded you are, the reality is that you may have to deal with family, friends, or co-workers who do not approve of nudity – particularly yours. Even taking steps to stay anonymous (such as the considerations below), there is a chance that your family, friends, and co-workers will see your images. Facial recognition software seems to be an increasingly big part of image indexing programs, so even using a model name may not keep your images from being tied to you now or in the future. Furthermore, it may only take one “friend” to find your images online and circulate them around your whole social network. Are you prepared to handle their reactions?
4) Who is the photographer?
Obviously, you will want a photographer who is likely to take shots of you that you will be proud of. The obvious place to start your research is the photographer’s portfolio – so take a look at it! Keep in mind, these are the photographer’s best shots. Can you see yourself being happy with shots like these?
I would not recommend selecting the photographer solely based on his/her portfolio. You also want to consider the following:
- What is the photographer’s reputation? A photographer’s reputation can transfer over to you to some degree, especially if you are early in your career or it is your only nude shoot. For example, irrespective of how tasteful your pictures may be, shooting with someone with the reputation of producing tasteless work may “corrupt” how others will look at your shots. Fair or not, it happens.
- On a related note- who are the photographer’s fans? If you are posing for a pornographer your images are likely to viewed by fans of pornography. These fans may find it appropriate to talk about you like a sexual object, discuss/rate your body parts as if they are connoisseurs, talk about how aroused they are looking at your photos, how they would like to have sex with you, and so on. Some photographers do not market themselves to this kind of audience, and do not tolerate these kinds of comments on their photos. Others do. Some photographers may post your photos along with comments about how hot and sexy you are, how lucky they were to get to see you naked, and how a click over to their website promises to show even more of your nakedness! Sounds like praise, kind of. Do you find this respectful praise? Your reasons for posing nude are your own business, and maybe you would appreciate this kind of “flattery”. You and I would probably not be a good match. A segue to the next point…
- Do your goals match those of the photographer? Do they understand what you want? Are you interested in what they want? I find this point often overlooked in a number of ways. If a photographer is interested in capturing something really sexy or explicit, but you like the implied and conservative shots in their portfolio, you may find you don’t work very well together – unless you’ve discussed things beforehand and come to an agreement.
- Furthermore, if your intentions are to have a secret, sexy shoot that your friends and family don’t find out about, you are likely going to find yourself in conflict with the photographer’s aims, which are, in all likelihood (except, perhaps, in the case of paid shoots), to promote the pictures as much as possible. Doing a shoot and then asking for the photos not to be published on site X, Y, or Z to limit the likelihood that your friends will see it: 1) probably breaks the spirit of the agreement that the photographers will assume they are working under (i.e., that they’ll be able to promote the shots wherever they feel is most appropriate), 2) is usually unrealistic – that is, viewers can often share your pictures on facebook, pinterest, etc (even from unrelated sites) with one button click. And, although they shouldn’t, people can always copy a picture and post it some other place if they are inclined. Once the picture is published, despite the copyright holder’s best efforts, you cannot be guaranteed your picture will not circulate all around the internet.
- Does the photographer have clear policies re: how they handle the pictures? What happens to the rejected files? Are they encrypted? How will they send them to you? Will the first time you see them be on facebook? Their organization and thoughtfulness around these topics are indicative of their experience and professionalism.
- Does the photographer take the time to meet and/or discuss the shoot in advance with you? Pre-shoot behaviour is likely to be very indicative of how they will behave after the shoot. Some photographers may balk at pre-shoot meetings because they are too busy and so forth. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. May just be a matter of dropping in at the studio for a few minutes when it’s convenient for them. You may need to go out of your way, but it will probably be worth it. However, if they are not even willing to accommodate a meeting at all, in my mind, it would be a big red flag and I would go somewhere else. What kind of time will they make for you after the shoot, or to answer questions, or address concerns?
- Are you comfortable with the photographer when you meet, and can you openly talk about the limits in your shoot? A respectful nude art photographer will not have any problems discussing your limits. It may be an awkward conversation, but discussing if it will be ok if your genitals are the shots… it’s kind of important! You don’t want to be on different pages the day of the shoot!
- Does the photographer have an established portfolio? If not, are they upfront about it? If they cannot even demonstrate decent skills photographing anything, don’t expect even remotely half-decent pictures. Be prepared for unflattering, unfocussed, poorly edited pictures, if you get any at all.
- Will the photographer provide references? A couple kinds of photographers won’t provide references: 1) ones that are so bad they don’t have a good reference to give you, 2) ones that are too busy or have too big an ego to provide you references. I wouldn’t recommend working with either.
- Misrepresentation – Personally, I’ve shot all around the world, including the big fashion meccas: New York, Rome, Milan… I am also an internationally acclaimed photographer! Impressive right! Why don’t I have this in my bio? Well, the real story: I have a selfie buying a hotdog in Times Square from years ago; I can’t even find the 4×6’s (shot with a fully automatic $9 disposable 35 mm with the wrong kind of film – who knew?) mostly taken out an airplane window during a stopover in Milan 15 years before I was even interested in photography; I’m pretty sure I took a picture of my buddy by a statue some place in Rome… The fact that people from around the world have “liked” my pictures that I put up on facebook does not really count as “internationally acclaimed” in my books. If a bio seems grandiose, and the pictures are not good, it’s a double red flag to stay the hell away. They are not misunderstood contemporary geniuses. They are delusional, and you will regret shooting with them no matter how well they pitch themselves.
5) Contracts – Do you know your legal rights? What should you include in a contract?
I don’t know a single experienced model or photographer who doesn’t feel they have been betrayed by people they have worked with. You don’t want this to happen with your first nude shoot.
Contracts promote clear communication. They clarify what can be expected of each other. They will also help ensure both parties live up to the agreements. Contracts do not have to be full of legal mumbo-jumbo. Consider what are the deal-breakers for you. Write them down as clearly as you can, using your best grammar, and both of you should sign it and keep a copy.
Your contract should probably include:
- If the pictures will be published or not.
- How you want to be credited, if at all.
- Will you get to preview/veto the pictures before they are published?
- How much money or other goods/services will change hands.
- How many pictures (at least roughly) will be provided and a rough timeline.
- Anything else that matters to you.
Some contracts (the ones that are pages long and barely understandable) can give blanket permission to one party to do what they want with whatever pictures they want. If this is a personal or sensitive shoot for you, this may not sit well with you. It is your right to insist that certain conditions are agreed to before shooting. However, consider that you can’t have your cake and eat it too. That is, you can’t expect to be paid a bunch, expect a bunch of shots to be edited for you immediately, while declining all of them from being published, and so on. It is the photographer’s prerogative to not agree to your terms. Better to hammer this out before anyone’s time is wasted and before the shots are already published somewhere!
6) Should I use a model name or my real name? Should I ask for a model credit at all? Am I ready (portfolio-wise) for fans?
This section is a bit lengthy. Synopsis: in my opinion, 1) use a model name, and 2) have a separate facebook page and email for your modeling work. Here’s why…
- If working with a decent photographer, especially with nudes, you can get a great deal of fans quickly, including some less-desirable ones. If you use your real name, you can lose a lot of privacy. The issue is both if you want your friends, co-workers, and family members to see your modeling work, but also if you want your modeling fans to be able to easily find your personal stuff. Your fans will certainly Google your name to see more pictures of you and, if you use your real name, your personal info will come up in these searches as well.
- You can always let your friends and whomever you want to know what your model name is and let them see your shots. You can post any of your shots on your personal websites if you want your personal network to see them. In this way, you don’t really lose out on the possibility of people seeing your shots – but you can control who sees what a little better.
- Many photographers may publish images of you before you approve them. Indeed, depending on the contract you use (or don’t use) they may not care if you approve of them or not, nor have any obligation to run them by you first. It is reassuring to know ones you might not like are not going to end up on your personal facebook page for all your friends and family to see.
- Even if you are really proud of the shots and don’t mind everyone seeing any/all of them, you may not want your real name associated with them because you may want to have different things come up in web searches when people Google you. For example, if you were to start up a new Real Estate business you might rather your business sites come up first when people Google your name – not your photo shoots.
- Related to this, you are effectively “branding” your name (model name or real name) when you promote yourself as a model. You can’t really brand it two ways at the same time very effectively (e.g., as the most awesome model around, and as the best Real Estate agent in town).
- If you are promoting yourself as a model (e.g., to get more work/shoots), you’ll want to come across as professional as possible. Good photographers won’t have time to play hide and seek with your portfolio on a website full of personal stuff, and will probably assume you are not very professional or serious if they can’t find it right away. A “fan page” may help keep your modeling work separate from your personal stuff, but a unique model name makes it even easier. Use one name only for your modeling (websites, communications, etc) to market yourself most effectively. Set up a separate email with your model name and tie it to the websites and fan pages. This keeps things very clear for the fans and photographers and helps brand you better for SEO (search-engine optimization). It also keeps you better organized, especially if you start getting really popular, to not have people emailing you to multiple email accounts and/or under different names or to different profile pages.
- Future employers. Some employers will object to nude photos. If you are using a model name for your photos, your employer may be less concerned about them (same reason as #4 above). As an employee, your name could be associated with the company, and the company may not be comfortable with the nude images that come along with your name.
- Further, many companies admit to Googling their applicants before hiring them. If they don’t like your pictures, they can find some reason not to hire you and you would never know your nude photos were the real reason you didn’t get the job.
- Maybe you’ve worked hard in the gym, your pictures are beautiful, and you deserve to get the credit, and it’s BS to feel like you have to “hide” them with a model name. True. However, you will identify with your model name. All the credit Blue Muse gets is still mine (Blue Muse is not my birth name for anyone that was wondering J). I’m proud of every “like” and compliment Blue Muse gets.
On the bright side, respect and good communication solves 99% of problems you might experience on set and leads to really positive, enjoyable experiences.
In summary, my strong recommendations for your first nude shoot:
- Do not shoot with a photographer that cannot produce a portfolio. (Well shot bowls of fruit may be sufficient.)
- Do not shoot with a photographer that cannot readily provide you with references, or acts like it is some huge inconvenience to do so.
- Only work with a photographer who has a portfolio and reputation that you can respect – you will become associated with both if you work together.
- Make sure significant others know and support you – or that you are prepared to disagree with them about it (boyfriends, family members maybe – anyone whose opinion matters to you).
- Don’t expect to be able to hide shots you will publish.
- Check references.
- Meet the photographer ahead of time if possible. Make sure you are comfortable with them personally, and have a clear sense of their goals for the shoot.
- Have a good sense of what you want to get out of the shoot and the likelihood it will be realized.
- Discuss your boundaries in detail before the shoot.
- Have a contract that makes you comfortable. Read and understand contracts you are asked to sign (ideally before the shoot so as not to waste precious shooting time).
- Consider using a model name.
- Practice in the mirror prior to the shoot.
- Practice some more.
- Have fun.