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how to: outdoor nude shoots

Brian Grossman , Feb 20, 2009; 12:35 a.m.

the following is an essay i originally wrote for jpgmag, which is facing its eminent demise. i am reposting it here so it won't just get lost in the ether. comments welcome.

I've been having a blast this summer shooting nude models outdoors in public. It's not as hard as it sounds. And it's not like I had a bunch of girls begging me to shoot them nekkid around town. It's just something I decided I wanted to do so I set about to do it. Here's what I've learned so far.
FINDING LOCATIONS. The first step is to find locaitons. This will take some time and legwork. You should start with a place you're familiar with like your hometown. Spend some time just walking around public parks with your camera. My hometown probably has a dozen parks. Some are more popular than others. Go to the least popular parks and scout 'em out. Old cemeteries are also good potential locations. Many are seldom visited but are open to the public. Look for railroad tracks. They're often out of general view and easily accessible and they make great backdrops for a nude shoot.
Open your mind to possibilites in your area. Look for places that are accessible but have few visitors. Then scout them out. Spend an hour or so just walking around with a camera. Take test shots. Notice where the access points are. What sort of people visit? cops? couples with children? Avoid those. Backpacking hippies? No problem.
FINDING MODELS. Don't be a cheesball with a camera approaching coeds at the local comminity college to get nekkid in front of your camera. Look for women who want to take their clothes off for you. Where? Modelmayhem.com, that's where. It's like myspace for models and photographers. Create a profile. Do a search for models in your area. Before sending a friend request leave a picture comment. "Nice eyes" or "great concept" are almost always appropriate. Wait a few days to see how many friends you get. Then message your new friends asking if they'd like to shoot sometime.
All nude models will want to be paid. Around my area the going rate is fifty to one hundred dollars per hour.
THE SHOOT. Nearly all nude models will want to bring a boyfriend or male chaperone to the shoot with them. This is a good thing and should be encouraged. When shooting in public you will need a good lookout. Welcome the male friend with open arms and make him part of the team.
When you arrive at a location you should outline your concept for the model and point out potential access points and visibility vulnerabilities to her friend. Ask her if she's comfortable. The model can always veto any given location in which case you simply move on to the next one. Don't argue or whine. If she's not comfortable the pictures will suck anyway.
The model will expect you as the photographer to know what you want and tell her what to do. One of the most common complaints voiced by models is arrivng at a shoot only to have the photographer ask her what she wants to do. Take charge. Be decisive. If you suffer a brainfart just give her any direction at all: "Go stand by that tree. OK now do a quater turn clockwise. Good. Hands above your head. Great. Now down by your sides." You'll develop a natural rhythm and the ideas will start to flow once you're into it.
AFTER THE SHOOT. Return to your meet location where you will have the model sign a release form and then you will pay her. That's the order of how things work: meet up at a prearranged location; do the shoot; she signs a release; you pay her cash.
If the model wants copies of her pictures you should do your best to provide them as quickly as you can in the format she wants. I post all my stuff on deviantart.com and models can simply right-click on the full size picture and save a web-appropriate copy that way. One model was having trouble with her internet and asked for a CD so I burned one and mailed it to her ASAP.
If you prefer to work with film like me bring a digital camera too and take two sets of each pose, one digital and one film. Models want their pictures immediately and providing a set of digitals will placate them while you develop and scan your film.
LEGAL ISSUES. The two legal issues you'll have to deal with are public nudity and tespassing. Our public nudity statues in Virginia define "public" pretty broadly to include any area visible to passersby such that one could be convicted of public nudity standing on her own front porch. In reality you're not likely to have a problem if you do your homework beforehand and scout your locations properly and have a good lookout. While you'll probably have to do some trespassing on private property (like railroad tracks or abandoned buildings) most cops won't arrest you unless you refuse to leave if told to do so.
Make no mistake. There are legal risks involved in doing nude shoots in public. Think of it as a challenge. It's part of the adventure.
WHY BOTHER? It's all about freedom. I consider my nude work to be an expression of personal liberty. It's also a fun challenge and something most people have no clue how to do. But it can be done. Anywhere. If I can do it in sleeply conservative little Richmond, Virginia then you can do it in your hometown, too.

Do it now. There's no time like the present. We live in a society obsessed with security to the point of paranoia. Refuse to succumb. Be free. Make a statement.

Responses


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Michael Axel , Feb 20, 2009; 12:49 a.m.

Hi Brian, It's nice of you to take the time to write this. I'm in the middle of shooting my own semi-nude series and running into many of the issues you've noted. My images are in more public areas, pushing things to the extreme. The speed with which I must shoot is quite frantic. I hadn't really spent much time thinking of the legal ramifications of public nudity though, and will consider it through the rest of the series. Thanks again.

Nathan Stiles , Feb 20, 2009; 07:15 a.m.

Thanks for taking time and posting Brian. I have done this, and would like to add some points if I may.

1. Location: definitly want to scout out the location, and do it during the time you plan on shooting. You don't want to go to a dead park, only to find out that on Saturdays the Boy Scout troup 211 takes a hike through your area.

2. Legal: Don't think of it as a challenge. It is so much more than than. In addition of public nudity, if your model is seen by a minor, both of you may have a more serious issue. I'm not going to go into details, b/c I'm not a lawyer; but know that you are not receiving _any_ expert legal advice on PN, and each state varies it laws, and each county how aggresive they are w/ them.

3. Finding Models: I've yet to pay a model, nude or otherwise. In fact, I've had models agree to pay me for nudes when I was too busy for TFP or uninterested. Going rate around here is also the same: note that if you are paying the model, they are not doing a TFP and not implied any usage rights to the pictures. Don't train "models" that if they get paid, they will get pictures. If you want to negotiate a cheaper rate in return for pictures, by all means, do so. But they should know that it's part of the negotiation, and not a granted right.

Strip clubs seem like a good place to find nude models, colleagues have told me this is not a good idea. Evidently, they are often no shows, sometimes not sober, and sometimes w/ a kid in tow. I've worked w/ a few girls that were strippers, but w/ one exception I had no idea prior to the shoot. All of those shoots went fine.

4. The Shoot: having an escort does give a good look out. Though, most of my escorts that came along were other females. I often have the TFP Agreement and Release assigned prior to going out and shooting, which I recommend over the above. If there's something there that the model doesn't like, I don't want to waste my time shooting first and then finding out it's a no-go.

I've also shot both digital and film during a shoot, and from my experience, I don't recommend it. It was the worst shoot I ever did, though I did have other things go wrong.

Joseph Braun , Feb 20, 2009; 10:58 a.m.

thanks for that.

Craig Shearman , Feb 20, 2009; 01:00 p.m.

Haven't shot nudes in a long time but did some photography classes many years ago. We are always on private property, usually a farm with wooded areas, streams, old barns, etc. We had permission to be there, the owners knew we were there and we were far enough from public roads that no passers-by or police were going to come along to interrupt. Models were solicited via the photography school back then, mostly acquaintenances of photographers or instructors. I suppose Craig's List might be a good way to find them today. I think posting on a site called "deviantart" really undermines your credibility that you're shooting fine art rather than porn, especially if you should get arrested for public nudity and have to explain yourself. And trying to solicit strippers as models might seem logical but how to they distinguish you from some guy just trying to get lucky? Nothing wrong with photographing nudes, even in public places, but you have to look at how some of these pieces of the puzzle add up. Do you really want to see a headline in your local newspaper that reads "Local 'Deviant Art' Photographer Arrested in Graveyard with Stripper"?

Nathan Stiles , Feb 20, 2009; 01:24 p.m.

*ROFL* Craig, that last line has made my day. Thanks :-)

Brian Grossman , Feb 20, 2009; 09:59 p.m.

we should all follow craig's advice and let fear of ridicule determine our artistic agenda

Nathan Stiles , Feb 21, 2009; 02:10 p.m.

Brian, your retort is actually a Straw Man argument. Craig never said "not to do" this, nor had the chance to expand upon it further and say it was out of fear. You may have been offended by his comment about your association w/ the website. I think he was pointing out that the name means something to a lot of people who have no association w/ it otherwise. I certainly wasn't offended by the stripper remark, but all and all maybe it could have been worded better.

However, he had a good point-- you need to think about all the aspects of what you are doing and possible repercussions. If you would not be bothered by that possible headline, then you have nothing to worry about.

As an aside: I don't believe in the whole "nudity is for personal freedom" mantra. I believe you should have the freedom to shoot nude art, but I don't believe that doing so expresses "freedom". I'm also free to make coffee, but I don't feel that my morning cup of joe is an expression of that freedom, I believe it's a product of that freedom. I shoot my nudes, b/c the female form is a work of art.

However, I did not attack your belief. Give the same curtiousy to Craig, and don't assume that if he doesn't shoot nudes now, it's b/c he's living in fear of redicule.

Craig Shearman , Feb 23, 2009; 12:35 p.m.

I think Brian was making a well-intended effort to offer advice on how to find models, where to shoot and what to do with the results for those interested in shooting outdoor nudes. I thank him for doing that, and if others have suggestions they should offer them as well. In addition to being a photographer, I spent 15 years as a newspaper reporter and editor, so looking at his recommendations, I was able to quickly pick up on the elements it would take for a newspaper (or the police) to make it look its worst if there was a shoot that went bad because of interfering passersby or overzealous police. Shooting with permission on private property with models who are only models and displaying the work at a gallery or web site with a non-pejorative name takes those elements away from the editor looking for a juicy headline or cop looking to build a case out of nothing. I haven't shot nudes for about 15 years but it's not because I'm afraid of ridicule, arrest or anything else. I only shoot part-time or personally today and simply have far more demands on my time to shoot family portraits, landscapes, PR work and other subjects.

Dave Quinn , Mar 11, 2009; 02:42 p.m.

Interesting debate. I have a info site on boudoir/nude photography and I must confess I haven't touched on these issues yet. I've had to deal with an inquisitive public, but never the police!
Brian, its a really good article - I'd be happy to reproduce it on my site: http://www.better-boudoir-photography.com as it is in the same spirit of information sharing as the rest of the site.
Dave


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