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Nude 101: A Beginners Guide to Nude Photography
Part 3: Finding Models
 More of this Feature
• Part 1: Preparations
• Part 2: Questions
• Part 4: Sessions
• Part 5: Equipment & Materials
 Related Resources
• World Photo Guide
• Directory of Photographers
• Photography Glossary
• Nude photography, 1840-1920
• Nudes 1920-1940
• Science, Nudes & Faces
• Fine Art Nudes
• More Nudes
• Feminist nudes?
• Edward Weston
• Bravo Surrealist?
• Alfred Stieglitz
 Elsewhere on the Web
• Imogen Cunningham
• Self Exposed
• Nude Male Self-Portraits
Links from this feature to sites outside '' may contain explicit nude photography. Please do not use them if you may be offended by such pictures.

Finding Models

There are those who think that photographing the nude means simply photographing the kind of attractive and immaculately groomed women who seem to be rather more common in magazines and on television than in real life. They see photography as giving some kind of entree to a world of the rich and beautiful. I see it more as a way of finding significance in the life around you, wherever that is and with whoever you live with, a journey that starts from where you are, although it may lead to the unexpected.

Expect to have to convince people that you are respectable and honest, and make sure that you behave in a way that reinforces this impression. You should make sure that anyone you want to photograph knows exactly the kind of photographs you want to take - and the best way of doing this is usually to be able to show them a portfolio of your previous work.

It is also useful to have a proper business card for yourself as a photographer, including your name, address and phone number (and email and web site addresses if you have them.) If you have a proper ID card from one of the professional bodies that issue them it will also reassure people. The so-called ID cards that anyone can buy from some internet sites are worthless however, and mark you as an impostor.

Yourself as model

Many photographers - male and female - have made themselves the subject of their nude photography. It can be a good way to make a start, but it is also something that many have dedicated themselves to in the longer term. Among famous photographers of the nude, many including the incomparable Imogen Cunningham started with self-portraiture, although hers was hardly a momentous start.

There are some obvious problems with working with yourself as a model. There are severe limitations to what you can take holding your camera in your hands, and you are likely soon to want to put the camera onto a tripod and use either the self-timer or remote release of some kind. It isn't easy to pose in front of a camera and see exactly what you are doing, although a carefully placed mirror next to the camera can help a lot.

Family models

Many photographers have photographed their partners - male or female - though most of the better-known examples are of men photographing their wives. There are many advantages in such an arrangement, both practical and emotional, as long as both photographer and model are happy with the idea. However it can also lead to arguments, especially if the pictures are unflattering.

If you are intending to publish or exhibit your nude photographs, your subject may not wish to be readily identifiable, as the pictures will in their nature make private facts about them public knowledge. Even in the relatively bohemian atmosphere of Carmel, California in the 1920s and 30s, Edward Weston had to photograph many of his models without showing their faces, and some 75 years on, many communities are less open about such things than Carmel was then.

Many photographers have also photographed other family members in the nude, including their parents, siblings and children. In many places there may be problems about photographing those under 18 in the nude or semi-nude, even with their parent's permission (or if you are the parent.)


Again make sure that any friends you photograph are over 18. Get into the habit of showing friends your portfolio of work, and you may find some of them are prepared to sit for you. Its usually best not to try and pressure people, but worth suggesting the possibility to those you think might make good models.

Professional Models

There are good and bad professional models. In general those who are used to working as 'glamour' or fashion models are likely to be expensive and also probably unused to serious nude modelling. Models who sit for life classes may also be prepared to work for photographers at the same relatively low rates. Life models are generally excellent at holding poses steady for long periods of time, but may be less good at adopting a wide range of poses.

Studio Models

Many hire studios also have models for hire. Check carefully with the studio about the kind of work the models do (they will usually have photographs that will give you a good idea.) The charges are often aimed more at photographers for the glossy magazines.


Local newspapers or other media may be willing to accept small-ads asking for models. Make clear what you are doing and what they are likely to gain from it. Quite a few photographers have got numerous replies from such ads when working on projects, often in return for supplying photographs or minimal payment.

You need to be sure that when people contact you after reading an advert they get a positive and encouraging reception, and can be sure that what you are doing is above board. You also need to be sure that they are taking you seriously.

You need to think carefully about your and their security in arranging any meetings or photographic sessions following your initial contact. If you go to visit people in their homes, make sure that others know where you are.

People You Meet

Your work as a nude photographer may often make an interesting subject of conversation with work colleagues or people you meet at parties and other social occasions. You will probably find it worthwhile to have a postcard printed of one of your best images (or you could do this yourself if you have a good inkjet printer or darkroom) to give to anyone who expresses an interest or who might make a suitable model, with your business details on the back.

Some photographers have had cards like this and given these out to likely looking strangers on the street or elsewhere, asking them to ring if they are interested. Although in general they are careful not to try and pressure anyone, it could be a high risk strategy, and you need to take extreme care to chose a suitable location. It's not an approach I'd be happy to try.

See a full listing of other features from About Photography on the history, theory and applications of photography and on great photographers.

Next page > Sessions > Page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

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