If All You Shoot Is Half-Naked Women, Can You Call Yourself a Good Photographer?

The world likes looking at beautiful photographs of beautiful people and photographers are constantly receiving validation for producing them. However, when does it stop being about photography and start being about a preoccupation with female flesh?

Photographer and educator Zack Arias is not someone who’s afraid to ask difficult questions. While this is a potentially provocative subject, he broaches it with supreme tact, recognizing that while the motives of men with cameras can sometimes be questioned, the world of photography repeatedly rewards images of attractive women — and men, for that matter.

I rarely shoot anything resembling glamour or fashion, though perhaps all of those articles and videos on how to boost your social media might want to consider this: Instagram loves photographs of scantily-clad women. Need followers? Post photos of naked women — just be careful of nipples (borderline NSFW).

By pure coincidence, I posted three topless photographs of my wife to my Instagram last week. Having never posted that amount of skin before, I suddenly experienced a massive spike in followers. (I should add: we were out rock climbing together and it was 90 degrees. We both happened to be topless, climbing inside a cave when I noticed that the light looked amazing.) For one shot in particular, Instagram rewarded me with a ton of likes for what I thought was a decent photo. However, how much of that is the photograph and how much of it is the fact that my wife isn't wearing a top?

Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Lead image by Lana Abie.

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Tom Reichner's picture


I have an interesting, and probably unexpected, parallel for you:

In many circles of wildlife photography, there is a fascination with large antlers, or the overall "trophy quality" of many species.

If I post a photo of an average size buck deer to Instagram, and it is a photo with wonderful light and a dynamic composition, I will get a few "likes", and a couple of comments from good friends.

But if I post a photo of a big buck deer with huge antlers, I will get hundreds and hundreds of "likes", even if it is a below average photo, taken in bad midday light and with an oh-so-boring composition (like, centered in the frame).

Sadly, far too many Instagram users are shallow minded, and care only about the subject of a photo. They don't even know or understand the intricacies of fine art, or any of the things that make an image special, from an aesthetic perspective.

I think that what you are discussing about photos of hot women is quite similar to what I have seen happen with wildlife photography.

Kody Cheyne's picture

Sounds very similar and it's hard to not fall down the "instagram likes this so I should shoot more of it" hole.

Tony Northrup's picture

Instead of thinking of Instagram users as shallow, we can just note that the subject of the photo is most important. Composition, lighting, sharpness, all of that is secondary. It seems obvious but many photographers lose sight of this.

Tom Reichner's picture

Yes. I understand that to many folks, especially hunters, the subject itself is most important, and aesthetic considerations are not what they're on Instagram for.

By "shallow", I mean that there is just one predominant reason they have for liking the photo. "Deep" would be the opposite, meaning that there are many reasons that someone has for liking a photo ..... their appreciation for it has many varied layers.

"Shallow" is not a put-down. It is simply an accurate assessment of someone's appreciation for something. There are things that I like on a shallow basis, and other things that I like on a much deeper, multi-faceted basis.

I am shallow myself sometimes, and that is okay! Just like it's okay for others to be shallow at times.

Deleted Account's picture

You are, as always, insightful.

I think we can now rest assured to know those IG accounts, consisting of nothing more than sexualised woman, have massive followings because the majority of members are chasing deeper meaning.

Timothy Leahy's picture

I understand you point but this is his portfolio of his work...his web site. The photos are not posted on his website for likes and ratings.

Tom Reichner's picture

What are you talking about? Whos website? Whos portfolio?

Robert Nurse's picture

I understand your lament. But, look at it this way. Way I visit a museum filled with paintings: pick your genre or era. I know very little about what it actually, soulfully, took to create those works. All I know is how they move me. Perhaps that describes the average IG viewer.

Kody Cheyne's picture

Thank you! So many photographers that only post naked/half naked women and gain followers get big heads thinking they're talented when in reality it's just perversion. Of course there are FANTASTIC images that happen to show skin, but showing skin does not make the photo better.

Bjoern Lubetzki's picture

I partly agree with you.
But what if you have photos with fantastic lighting, cool posing, some interesting angles and every model is nude/partly nude?
Take a look at the photographer Reinhard Scheuregger and his Instagram account. For some people he might be the prime example for the whole post. I personally really like his work, not just for the nude models but as I said, he has some really cool lighting and posing.

Alec Kinnear's picture

I hear what what you are saying Bjoern but there are better examples than Reinhard Scheuregger to illustrate your point. Photographers like Marat Safin or Georgy Chernyadaev


Alex Petsen's picture

fstoppers is not a perfect site in terms of privacy, so be sure to check what you've bookmarked before talking about perversions.

Deleted Account's picture

Made an account just for this because this is hilarious. xD

Alec Kinnear's picture

Checking Kody’s bookmarked photos, I see George Chernyadyev is an active member at fstoppers. Very amusing. In seriousness, George’s works is an example of a photographer starting to lean too hard on nudity for his popularity. George occasionally creates an amazing image with structure and/or soul, but all too often he falls back on superficial and eye candy nudes.

Simon Davies's picture

Think you might need to look up ‘perversion’ in a dictionary mate. Heterosexual men finding women attractive is not ‘perverted’

Karim Hosein's picture

That is not where the “perversion” comes in.

Peter Mueller's picture

I watched Zach's commentary; and considered your question... I believe he's spot on in his advice to the critique subject, and your observations are equally accurate. Maybe there needs to be a genre/name/title just to satisfy this area of photography; concerning the making of it as well as the responding audience (in the case of the video's subject matter). Also, and more to the point, the herd response to images you described on absolutely benign postings. I agree it's true, and can only assume it is the viewer's desire and hope for a titillation experience driving the outcomes.

Ivan Lantsov's picture

Jeff Dunas, Alexas Urba, Stran Malinowski

Matthew Beyer's picture

Great observation Andy. I have had similar thoughts about "praiseworthy" photos of every kind; is it the incredible view that makes the photo impactful? or is it the skill of the photographer?
I think that a mediocre photographer shooting an absolutely beautiful subject will receive far more praise for the subject than the perhaps the composition or technique deserves (as you pointed out Instagram is FULL of those posts). But a truly great photographer can take an objectively "ugly" subject and create something beautiful to look at.
I don't think this conflict is limited to photography; classical painters have dealt with this issue for a long time. Look at Goya's "Saturn Devouring His Son" or Matsys's "A Grotesque Old Woman" for examples.
To me the only remedy for undeserved praise is the work of honest and respected critics and educators. Sometimes all it takes to gain appreciation is an understanding of the subtleties and techniques at play. Is Cartier-Bresson's "A street scene in the southern French town of Hyères in 1932" really impactful to the average person, or does the appreciation of the photo come from a deeper understanding of the image?

Nada Ivanova's picture

i sometime see photo of same landscape made by different people.... believe it or not , they shoot from same place , yet some manage to make out something total different.there is many way to shoot the same stuff , but they are far to be equal in the end

Timothy Roper's picture

Stock quotes and porn are the fundamental basis for the internet.

Tom Reichner's picture

What do you mean by "stock quotes"?

microteck's picture

Why did a photographer get arrested for taking a naked photo?

Indecent exposure!

Marc Bee's picture

The quality of your photography really has nothing to do with subject matter. It's popularity on social media, is a completely different discussion.

Timothy Turner's picture

Interesting observation, I have seen several photographers portfolios one of which is "fashion" upon clicking on the link the first photo is of a young woman in her early 20's naked leaning forward on a dresser, granted the photo is expertly lit however how can this be called fashion when the person the photo is naked, that's not fashion, but I would not go as far as to call it pornography either. Another point is, how much skill and talent does it take to undress and lean on a piece of furniture. It seems that when on the subject of photographing women, a priority is placed on the women wearing as little as possible, and "focusing" on that area between the neck and the knees, I'll bet that in many cases the viewer couldn't remember the color of the person's eyes. some times it gets to be a bit much.

Luke Adams's picture

Pretty sure this article was just bait to get us to check out Andy's instagram. Nice try Andy!

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

That question can be posed for any genre of photography (smooth silky waters, wildlife, bw street invading people's space, etc, etc.)

Just to name a few off the top of my head, I think these photographers are pretty great.


Mike Kelley's picture

Betteridge’s law of headlines is never wrong, let’s say that for starters!

Charles Mercier's picture

Where's Nan Goldin when you need her? Are there any others out there "different" like her?

Daniel Medley's picture

I kind of see where you're going with this. I suspect that some may consider what I predominantly shoot as falling into the category you're talking about in the video. But I personally don't believe that it does. Yes, I photograph mostly young and pretty women; many of them implied to some degree. My bread and butter clients are women 20-45 (some agented models, some not, some not even models at all) who reach out to me and want something done "in your style" and I would like to think that my style is apparent whether the subject is fully clothed, implied, young or middle aged.

Whatever "my style" is, there's a market for it.

There's a vibe that transcends cheap titillation that's impossible for me to describe, but I know it when I see it, and I strive for it.

Mike Ditz's picture

Being a "good photographer" is subjective. Most photographers are pretty good just doing what others do, not anything different or new. We do what sells. So sure, you can be what the title asks.

I looked at your FS portfolio.Your quote about how you absolutely love to photograph people is true as far as I can tell but your portfolio is 100% women. So maybe you love to photograph women or that is who hires you. And that's ok.
There is a style in your work, maybe the consistently similar lighting? (I like your location stuff FWIW)
Pretty people in pretty light, but if they are paying you then you are serving a need. At some point in many women's lives they like the idea of a fun fashiony photo shoot and you can do that for them. You know they are not a model, they know they are not a model but they want to act like one for a while and get some photos to show their friends or S.O. or just to prove something to themselves. Maybe like why a lot of guys buy a motorcycle LoL.
I mostly shoot cars. Regular cars that people buy, I do ok.
The supercars i have shot i can count on one hand but that is what many GWAC shoot, because it is more fun to shoot a friend's Mclaren with smoke bombs than a CX-5 Mazda for Mazda. Sort of like big antlers :)

Daniel Medley's picture

I hear you. Yes, most of my clients are women for sure. I do get hired to photograph men, though; I've done a few MMA fighters for their promotional photos, and I would love to do more of those; male and female.

But in all honesty, for my artistic bent and for my "creative outlet" I very much prefer photographing women.

I've also done a fair number of comp cards or "polaroids" as I've heard them called, for agented models; very plain full length front, profile, and head and shoulders shots that are typically used for the agency's model profile page or for them to give to casting directors. Of all those kinds of shoots I've been hired to do, I've not had one for a male model. Male actors, yes, but not any models. I think that there are just more female models than male models; at least where I'm at.

Fritz Gessler's picture

you only can call yourself a good photographer, if you only shoot fully naked nudes :))
instagram & fakebook &co. are the exact opposite theatres for judging the quality of a photographer, imho.

Jeff Bennion's picture


davidlovephotog's picture

The other side of this is darker. The side where men pretending to be glamour or boudoir photographers use a models lack of experience to coerce her into posing or revealing more than she is comfortable with. I hear all the horror stories. "He didn't say anything, he just kept snapping away" "He kept reaching out and pulling my dress up higher on my thigh" "He kept trying to touch me" "He was pushy or said inappropriate things." Many new models have their whole modeling experience ruined by idiots like this and leave modeling soon after.

If you're in this business to try and pick up women or collect as many nude pics as you can get, you need to find another hobby. If you're a new model thinking about shooting with a photographer, contact other models they have shot with and ask about them. If you're a model that has experienced this then hopefully you're not quiet about this and let others know about this person. People just see the images on the web, we don't know the story behind the photo. It's a real easy trap for people to fall into when they are desperate to try and fulfill a dream.

Warren Verity's picture

So these images have no value? Www.instagram.com/sensual_allure ?

So if it’s valued by a lot of people it therefore by necessity of little quality

Ham Sammich's picture

You're not asking a question, you asked the wrong question, and your argument is inherently flawed.

A photographer's skill is not defined by their subject matter though they are capable of influencing each other. A good photographer can have a hard time shooting something "bad", such as something objectively uninteresting for whatever reason. A poor photographer can appear better than they are if they happen to come across a high-quality opportunity that would normally require planning or setup.

Your actual issue is not with photographers that exclusively shoot less-than-fully clothed women, your issue is with low-effort social media accounts that pander to the lowest common denominator. Posts with attractive subjects get more views than unattractive subjects, even more if they're wearing revealing clothes or not wearing clothes. Posts also get more views if they use colloquialisms popular in the current zeitgeist.

Browse YouTube for a few minutes, videos that have thumbnails with red circles/arrows or people pretending to be shocked with :O faces or holding their hands over their mouths will have exponentially more views than the same sorts of videos with less clickbaity previews. Videos with "...and then this happened", "GONE WRONG!", "honest review", "I went for a walk????", or any kind of superlative will similarly have more views.

People take clips of movies and TV shows and upload them at 60FPS even though the source material is only 24FPS, and they put "60FPS!!!" in the title. It looks like garbage, but people think it's some kind of cool thing so they watch it.

They're good photographers, they just place a higher value on being popular than you do. They want the followers, popularity, notoriety, etc. Maybe for financial gain, maybe for other reasons. Regardless of why, it's what is important to them.

It's really sad that a photo of a half-nude person will get more attention than something which might make the viewer think, re-evaluate things, learn something new. The only real way to combat this is by reducing the deification of attractive people, the female nipple, and the stigma around nudity.

Adam Palmer's picture

Getting likes on instagram is only really vaguely related to being a good photographer. Instagram is such a tiny little window that it kind of rewards simple photography.

Adam Palmer's picture

As a photographer it kills me that IG and other phone apps are the biggest way to get your photos out there. They kind of reward the type of photography that is very obvious.

Deleted Account's picture

I think that's because the audience for IG is regular people and regular people tend to be attracted to the "obvious". By contrast, the type of person who generally goes to an exhibit is not your average person. It's the type of person who likely has some sort of interest in the subject and, as a result, has a bit of education in it. No matter your field of expertise, impressing regular people is relatively easy and if that's your only audience, it makes little sense to focus on nuances that they won't catch anyway. So it's less of a platform thing and more of a society thing.

Bjarne Solvik's picture

Evidently you have followers that liked the pictures of your wife, but those pictures are not even close to anything of what Zack Arias is talking about. Maybe people just found them cool, claiming with so little cloths? ( I did not look comments) But to get any lust experience out of those, you must be rather twisted:)

I would say a discussion of what is acceptable as far as what is good photography, is in deed a topic worth bringing up.

You don’t have to look further then the galleries here on Fstoppers. High rated images of girls half naked.

We might go for canselculture, I don’t because even I am in for good ethics, I am a Christian and believe strongly that forgiveness is crucial.

But before we start criticizing people who obviously crossed the line, what about looking at the culture we share?

I always loved beauty, and I think everything about woman is beautiful. So also images. But does it add to the images that they are half nude. What about taking pictures with unzipped jeans. One naked shoulder? Pictures to shows off the rear end? That’s kind of something you see over and over again, and it’s corny.

Pictures made to create lust is soft porn. Is that something we should be a part of. And if we are, is it valid to criticize others who got trapped by there lust?

Robert Nurse's picture

This was powerful and valuable!

Deleted Account's picture

I'm never going to knock a person for photographing beautiful subjects. I will say that if that's ALL they ever do, however, they're probably not challenging themselves all that much as a photographer. Whether it's a beautiful woman, a beautiful landscape, or a beautiful car, aesthetically pleasing subjects are more forgiving because the audience is naturally inclined to appreciate them. Ironically, however, it's not JUST beauty that attracts people. The polar opposite (extremely ugly people, desolate landscapes, mangled wrecks) can also work in your favor because people tend to be inclined to be fascinated by them. This is why I would say the same of photographers who exclusively shoot "ruin porn". So it's not so much an issue of photographers shooting beautiful women that's a potential crutch, but photographers shooting naturally compelling subjects regardless of their nature.

That being said, there's no need to contrive to put yourself in difficult positions either. While it's always great to see skilled photographers pulling the best out of mundane subjects, selecting a compelling subject is just as much a part of the photographer's skill set as photographing that subject in a compelling fashion. To be fair, sometimes that decision is made for us by the clients, but that's hardly the photographer's fault if clients are always picking pretty people or things for them to photograph, right? Also, don't forget that social media is designed to serve as advertisement for a lot of photographers so it makes sense that they'd curate the experience so that you only see things that would appeal the most to the greatest amount of people. There are a ton of reasons why you may only see certain types of photos from a given photographer so unless you also have information about the unpublished stuff that they do, it's generally best not to assume too much from their public presentation.

Graham Taylor's picture

I guess a lot of it depends upon what metric you define someone as being 'good' - I would imagine for most that something simply being popular on instagram isn't a measure of anything.

Christian Lainesse's picture

If all you shoot Is [this one particularly specific subject], can you call yourself a good photographer?

Mike Ditz's picture


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