After receiving several emails asking me for advice on how to start photographing male nudes, I thought I would give it a shot. And since both recent requests were from men that hardly knew how to operate a camera, I decided to start from scratch, as if you knew nothing about how a camera works. So here goes:
1. BUY A CAMERA
Seems simple enough right? No, I do not encourage using an iPhone to be your chosen camera. It just won’t do. Plus, any model that you approach is not going to look at you seriously. Get yourself a DSLR with manual functions. That means you will need to learn the 3 basics of photography: aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Think of it like a balancing act to get what they call ‘proper exposure’ so that it’s not too dark nor too light for the given situation. It is technical stuff; it is not hard to learn, especially since we have digital cameras these days to review immediately after taking the shot.
2. CAMERA RECOMMENDATIONS
I will make the following suggestions based on my limited knowledge of what is out there in the market. Basically, you don’t want the most expensive camera, and you don’t want something like a compact camera if you are serious about taking nudes. I use Nikon cameras so I will only give recommendation for them; however that does NOT mean the other camera manufacturers don’t make excellent cameras — they do, but I am not that knowledgable on operation and their functions:
Suggested Camera & Lens Combo:
a) Nikon D3400 or D5600
Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM (for Nikon)
or if you spend more on your first system and want to go full frame, then I suggest:
b) Nikon D750
Nikon F2.8 24-70mm lens
The above pairing of camera and lens I suggest is because I have something similar to the above arrangement. The focal length is perfect for shooting portraits to full-length body. No, you don’t need to get any other lens for shooting guys (or girls for the matter).
Some of you may notice that I do not mention buying the kit lens that may be offered with camera (as a package). The reason why I do not recommend those lenses, although they may be from the manufacturer, is because those lenses are typically inferior products and the results will be very meh! That means very unsatisfactory. The suggested lenses, in particular the Sigma lens for the DX cameras has delivered to me very good results, plus it has macro. It is not expensive and simple to use. The Nikon 24-70 lens on my Nikon is the one I use 90% of the time for my shoots of guys. I used to own the 28 – 70 version, which lasted me for 10 or more years of operation before the motor died.
For some very good recommendations of the different cameras for the serious beginner, please take a look at this article by Techradar. They offer some valuable advice on the pros and cons of each, but in all, any of the cameras will be more than sufficient for your needs.
3. IF YOU DON’T KNOW HOW YOUR CAMERA WORKS, TAKE LESSONS
As much as digital has make it easy to begin taking photographs, they have equally become more complex in how they operate. The multitude of settings on the back and front with all the little finicky settings would drive anyone crazy. That is why for me, I only have one chosen camera manufacturer to work with (which happens to be Nikon) because the settings don’t change dramatically from one model to the next. Take lessons if you don’t know how the camera operates. You MUST learn how to use MANUAL SETTINGS.
So where can you find lessons on photography classes? Best solution is to Google for photography classes in your city. Most further education institutions have photography basics classes. You can simply ask around on facebook (hopefully you have a few friends that are photography buffs) and can point you in the right direction. So do a bit of homework by using the normal channels of research before asking a professional for advice (oh, but that is a different article!).
4. LIGHTING EQUIPMENT
So you have chosen camera gear and you have taken some lessons on how to operate you camera. Now you might consider getting some lighting equipment. I bought cheap (really cheap) lighting equipment when I first started. They were simple screw-in tungsten 1000W bulbs that fitted onto a basic metal housing with an attachable tripod. I then built a 7 x 3.5 feet high wood frame and stretched a thin white cloth over it to become my soft-box. It worked like a charm. The following photograph of Nelson & Han was the result of that first photography session taken in the days of film. Today, I have a more professional lighting strobe and tungsten system with a large soft-box.
Nelson & Han, 1999
5. FIND WILLING FRIENDS TO POSE FOR YOU (NO, NOT NUDE/NAKED!)
Let’s say you have taken your first few lessons at a community college or photographer’s workshop. Learn the basics and know your camera. You may have had a chance to photograph someone in the workshop and that is great. Start somewhere. Now you need to practice shooting with someone. No, I don’t mean go and shoot landscapes or flowers. You need a physical person in front of you. Within this environment, you will be forced to think about technical issues: shutter speed, aperture and ISO. Add to that white balance and learning how to focus. Why focus? Because cameras allow you to focus differently, so you will get to understand how the camera is choosing the focus point. You will also be forced into thinking of where to shoot in a given location. Let’s say you are shooting outdoors in a park. You will need to find a location to shoot and direct your model in addition to knowing the technical side of your camera.
I do NOT recommend that you take photographs of your friend nude or naked on your first go. You should be practicing shooting with your model fully dressed. It is terribly embarrassing to be fiddling around with simple technical issues while they are naked (unless of course, they like that). You should develop a very good sense of how your camera works with your given system. Practice zooming in and out, try different angles and different lighting techniques.
6. BUT WAIT NORM, HOW DO I ASK FRIENDS TO POSE FOR ME NUDE?
Okay, that is a legitimate question. I think that is probably where you are afraid to ask. This was my situation. I had no portfolio whatsoever when I first asked friends to pose for me. I already knew at the time how to take photographs and I understood the basics of camera operation. So what I did was print out several images of other photographer’s work and show them what I was trying to achieve with the shoot. Luckily, my friends agreed and that was it. It was NOT hard to do. In fact, the couple I approached was very amicable and the shoot turned out to be better than expected.
7. LEGAL MATTERS: MODEL RELEASES
Yes, I did my research before the shoot and obtained very simple model releases that I found online. Here is a basic model release from the American Society for Media Photographers, but you should really modify it to suit your situation. My own version basically stated that I owned the copyright to the images and that they were over the age of 18. There are many model released online. Normally, I have the model sign the release on the day of the shoot. It will save you having to chase for one later.
8. SHOULD YOU PAY THE MODEL?
It all depends on your negotiation skills, your portfolio, your reputation, and what you offer back to the model. It also depends on the model. For instance, the model may be looking for free photographs of themselves, since they don’t want to pay. So then you have a deal. TFP or TFT is what is is commonly called. TFP is trade for print; TFT is trade for time. So you both don’t pay each other with compensation, but for prints (usually high resolution digital files) in lieu of money. You might indicate how many images you will provide for them in the model release. Normally, the model does not get to decide which images they take home. It is up to you to choose the best images for them to have at the end of the day.
9. WHERE TO FIND MODELS
There are so many sources to finding potential models these days. The first place to start looking for models is on Instagram. It seems that all the guys are there with hundreds/thousands of followers. They are all looking for good photographers to work with, to build their own portfolio. Message the ones that you find interesting and state to them that you are interested in photographing them for free if possible in trade for images. If they agree to the deal, then great. If not, then you may need to offer them compensation for their time. If you do hire them, you are technically not required to give them any photographs, since you are paying for them to model for you. I do however suggest that you have them sign the model release.
10. SOCIAL NETWORKING AND IDEALLY A WEBSITE
You would be crazy for not creating your own Instagram account and facebook account. These are 2 absolute givens. The TFP and TFT is just the starter plan and you will need to go deeper into exchanging and sharing through social networks to help each other out. After all, you want the model to be pleased with the images and you want them to recommend you to other friends.
Instagram: You will need to be rather Smartphone savvy and learn to tag, hashtag and share. I won’t go into detail on this since there are many articles on the web.
Facebook: The same goes for facebook. Learn to tag the other person and say nice things about them because they have helped you, so return the favour and be sincere.
Website: If you have a website, it makes it all the more professional. Mind you, you will have to find a hosting company that allows for nudity. Not all do. [Shameless PLUG: If you are in need of a website, I actually offer services in creating WordPress websites, such as the one you are looking at. Contact me through my HELYX STUDIO website.]
CAUTION: Both facebook and Instagram are run by the same company. Their policy is that no nudity or pornography is allowed. Don’t try to post any fully nude photographs, or choose photographs that have their private parts covered. If they flag you or someone reports you, you may be logged out, thereby forcing you to log back in. You will be asked to answer questions indicating that you understand their policies on nudity, or you may be frozen from any activity for 7 days.
11. SHOW YOUR WORK THROUGH AS MANY CHANNELS AS POSSIBLE
Some of the photographs that I took from those first few attempts got some recognition. My first tap on the back occurred when I was asked to submit some photographs in a special edition of Australia’s now defunct publication BLUE called Dreamboys 2, spear-headed by Marcello Grand. The image they chose was one of Korean hottie Jeffrey, who also appears in my first book The Asian Male – 1.AM. That recognition helped give me the added boost to continue along my journey to becoming well recognised in the Asian community for shooting men. So my suggestion is for you to keep shooting and keep posting the best images possible in your Instagram and facebook, and submit your work to different magazines in hopes of being interviewed along with your stupendous images.
Dreamboys 2, Blue Magazine
Jeffrey, 2001 in Dreamboys 2
12. THE REAL TIPS (to be continued….)
Have any comments? Just put them down below and I’ll try to answer as best I can.
Founder of MOXIE
To see more of my photography, please go to the following websites or Instagram feeds:
The Asian Male Project
Norm Yip Photography