I make the art that I want to make the way I want to do it and encourage everyone else to do the same. There is no “right” way, only the way that works for you in achieving your vision. This article will share my thoughts, philosophies and work flows that have served me well in my figure photography. I’ve been shooting nudes for over ten years and have spent hours and days practicing and working hard. Yeah, this is hard work and if you expect to achieve anything you have to work hard for it.
I believe that it’s important to be true to yourself and your art. I like to think of myself as an artist with photography being my medium and the nude figure my canvas. There are many different genres of figure photography with categories, labels and names. I’m not big on categorizing the work. That said there are differences in these genres that one should be aware of. To many the nude figure presents a connotation of sexuality regardless of how it’s presented. This is unfortunate as the human form is one of the most beautiful things in nature. The varying genres do present nudes in ways that range from beautiful art works that live in our most prestigious museums to the plethora of porn found on the Internet. Choose your genre carefully for it represents who you are and how you think and feel about the work. What ever you choose to do, do it with passion and pour you heart and soul into it. It’s easy to approach and blur the lines between artistic and sexually arousing images. I think the important thing is to be honest with yourself and don’t try to claim the work to be something that it’s not. People will see right through it and you’ll loose credibility. As artists we put our soul out there when displaying our work. I once had a tenth grad High School student tell me to never apologize for my work. This is some of the best advice I’ve ever received and I owe her for sharing it with me. If you feel that you have to apologize for it then don’t show it to anyone. You should be proud of your work.
I’m going to attempt to organize this article in such a way as to take you through a progression of how I make my photographs.
There are all different types of models available who posses a variety of skills and creative abilities. When I first started doing figure work I’d shoot anyone who was available and would work with me without much thought as to my style or vision. I had no vision and honestly didn’t give it much thought. I used to write a detailed script as to exactly what I wanted to shoot complete with examples to show the models. And I was terrified for the first few months to enter a studio with a nude woman. I was incredibly fortunate to work with experienced and talented models in the beginning who really helped me. I asked a good friend of mine for one word of advice in working with figure models. This was to be honest with them. Again, another valuable piece of advice. Are you seeing a trend here? Good advice and help from others. A big reason why I have no problem sharing my experiences and knowledge with others. It’s also important to choose a model that has the capabilities to achieve your vision. Not every model can do everything so spend some time looking at their work and ask yourself if it fits your style and vision. I’ll often discuss ideas, concepts and my approach to collaboration with the model in advance.
All of us seek and draw inspiration in many different ways and from many different sources. I find it from looking at photography, reading and studying about it. I also spend a lot of time with my own images, both the good and the bad for we can learn much from both. Some teachers will recommend not looking at other’s work. I spend hours looking at other’s work. This practice works well for me and provides learning, growth as an artist and inspiration. The important thing is to do what works for you.
Color vs Black and White
Humans respond emotionally to color with different emotions surfacing for different colors. Removal of color strips the image of these emotions but allows the image to communicate emotion and mood using light, shadow, composition, tone and texture. Black and white or monochrome speaks more to the essence and soul of the image. I’ve always felt stronger responses to black and white photographs. These are of course my thoughts and philosophies and how I approach my work. I’ve seen tremendous color photography and if color is your preference and choice then by all means, study it, practice it and enjoy it. One is not better than the other.
Visual language are the components of an image that allow it to communicate to the viewer. These elements include the subject, lines, shapes, composition, light, shadow and both visual and tonal contrast. The challenge is to bring all of these together in harmony. For me this only came after a lot of practice and hard work.
I always shoot RAW which provides the maximum amount of data in the image. I consider a RAW file the negative from which the final vision is achieved. In film photography the quality of the negative and the information available in it is critical to the the final print. Beginning with the most amount of information possible speaks to achieving both technical quality as well as vision quality. What I mean by vision quality is successfully communicating your story or message using visual language.
Like working hard printing a negative in the darkroom, digital post processing is as important. I follow a fairly simple digital workflow allowing for variations and experimentation. I don’t want to be locked into a single process or path that may impose limitations. I’ll also follow slightly different work flows based on the genre of photograph, i.e. figure work requires work that’s different from what landscape requires. Post processing is a critical component to image making and should be taken seriously. The visual language comes to life in post processing. Some images require more work that others just like some negatives require more work than others.
My philosophy on critiques is that I like them and will listen to everything that anyone has to say about my work, give it careful consideration and hopefully learn from it. I’m a believer that we all can learn from each other and that everyone has something to offer. One of the dangers with critiques is that the person providing it will offer advice slanted towards how they would make the images. Critique should not be about style but about visual language and how it’s used. It’s also extremely important to spend a lot of time with your own work. I spend countless hours critiquing both the good and bad images. Both teach me valuable lessons. I’ll rarely send an image out for public consumption immediate after processing it. I like to give it a few days to breathe and return to it on different days. I see things differently when in different moods so this extra time will often allow me to see things that I missed on the first view.
This is one of the most critical components in image making in that it’s the final view that my audience will see. The presentation must be exhibition quality and not a distraction to the actual image. Most workshops I’ve attended speak about presentation and I’ve spent a lot of time in museums and fine art galleries studying the presentation. I use white matte board and a simple black frame.