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.

Log in or register to post comments


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?

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"?

Cool Cat'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?

More comments