How to Talk to a Naked Woman: Portraiture Tips from a Model

Dylan_Final Image
courtesy of Dylan Strickland

I don’t get naked for just any photographer. Even as a professional model, nude portraiture is a sensitive, intimate experience. To ensure a successful and comfortable shoot, there needs to be a delicate rapport between artist and model on set. Communication is an artform, a powerful connection that most photographers have yet to comprehend.

Esther Perel says, “Sex is not something you have, it is a place that you go.” Photographers should approach nude photography in the same way – in order to work with a naked model, there’s a different place you have to access in your own psyche. You, as the photographer, need to create an “artist gaze” – a lens through which you can view the world free of personal bias, sexuality, or body shame. In this state, the model – and rest of the frame – become nothing more than light, color, curve, motion and the elements that comprise any great photograph. This is not objectification, it’s reconceptualization. If you engage her this way, she will intuit your confidence and feel at ease, giving you the perfect shoot environment.

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Establishing this environment is easier said than done. In our post-Puritan society, nudity has been given two socially acceptable places: the shower and the bedroom. You can wash up and get intimate naked but anything else – even sleeping – can potentially raise a disapproving eyebrow. Transcending this cultural restraint isn’t easy. It is important to remind yourself before your shoot that you are capturing art and not only is it okay, it’s healthy. When the clothes come off, you need to be in control. Here are a few activities you can perform to ensure that you, the photographer, will not only be comfortable come shoot day, but also connect with your models like never before:

Get naked!

Take a task from your daily routine around the house and do it naked. Start simple: read a chapter in a book, watch one episode of a favorite show, make a cup of tea. Chances are good that you’re going to feel very self conscious, perhaps like you are doing something wrong. You’re not. Get confrontational with your fear! It will learn to back down.

Take a nude self portrait

You’re a photographer – don’t take one of those high angle selfies in the bathroom mirror. Set up your tripod, get your remote, and take a few honest self portraits. Don’t worry, no one else has to see them – but you need to. You’ll learn what works (and doesn’t) technically, so your model doesn’t become your lab-rat. You’ll also be confronted with the extreme vulnerability your model will face on shoot day. Remember that feeling when your model is in your frame. There’s a certain level of respect only achieved by those of have stood where you stand. Even if it’s never discussed, you will subconsciously treat her better having been in her place.

Know your style – Look at nude art. Go to museums, local galleries, get in a online photography community. Learn what you like, don’t like, and why. As you expand your knowledge of fine art nudes, your familiarity with it will rise, as will your confidence.

When the day of your photo shoot finally does arrive, remember the following:

Be confident – It’s go time. Do not be apologetic or self deprecating. Your model thinks highly enough of you/your work to show up and strip down. Honor that by being at your best.

Be polite – “Please” and “Thank you” go a long way.

Be aware – What are the environmental elements of your shoot? Is there direct sun on her, air conditioning, water? Whatever it is, for a nude model multiple it by two for level of discomfort. Don’t leave her there too long or her energy will drain. If you need a long shooting session, let her take breaks. Not sure how she’s doing? Ask her.

Be stocked up – Bathrobe, towels, water, hot tea/coffee, and snacks. Have these things. Even if you are shooting “trade service” – this is needs to always be in your budget.

Be normal – at this point, you should be comfortable with naked bodies (others’ and your own.) You should be able to look at any part of her without getting flustered. Honestly, you should be able to have a conversation with her as if there clothes were there. If you start weirding out, don’t panic. Just know you need to do more prep work before your next nude shoot.

Be happy – Seriously. You set the tone for your set. If you’re excited to be there, she will be too.
In closing, shooting fine art nudes takes great courage on both sides of the camera. You’re in it together, so talk to your model like she’s your partner not something pretty out of which to coax a performance. You’ll be glad you did.

RSVPs are now open for December 1st! Don’t Miss out on CreativeLive’s FIRST Fine Art Nude Photography class. 

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Katie Johnson is a Los Angeles based Fine Art Model, Actress, & Writer. She's been called everything from “magic” and “fearless” to “dependable, bendable” and even “the balliest f***ing model I’ve ever worked with!” Connect with her at:, on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram