How to Not Be a Creepy Photographer

This is a post for all the dude photographers out there. I really don't want to be writing this, because I don't think it should have to be said, but apparently it does. This post is simply a call and reminder to treat your models with the respect that they deserve. I want to talk about respecting your subject's boundaries in general, but I also want to address the psychological part within men's minds that makes them want to see women naked.

It's probably always been this way -- male photographers trying to get their female subjects to take their clothes off -- but I think it's gotten way worse in the last few years. I see a lot (A LOT) of Instagram accounts of male photographers whose sole subject matter is nude women, which isn't at all a bad thing, don't get me wrong. The female body is something to be admired and has been used as a subject of all art forms for thousands of years.

But if you study art history at all, you'll quickly learn the difference between nudity and nakedness. It was common practice for painters to depict their nude subjects as being fully nude, and not in a state of undress. This was because depicting a model undressing was seen as being voyeuristic, inappropriate and inherently sexual, whereas painting a model fully nude was seen as appreciating the body for its artistically pleasing qualities. I think the same can be said today.

But I think it's the method in which some of these guys get these girls to take their clothes off that is so inappropriate; so I want to take a minute to talk about that.

It seems that there are some photographers out there that get into the industry just so they can be around attractive women.

I know this to be true from personal conversations with some of these guys as well as through stories from some of my model friends. This isn't a witch hunt, so I won't be naming names, but I know several guys whose sole purpose for their photography is to see hot girls naked.

Here are a couple true stories.

Story 1: Male photographer reaches out to a model and invites her over to "watch a movie and maybe cuddle" at his place. She refuses, naturally, but shoots with him anyway at a later date. Male photographer makes several more sexual advances after the shoot and then threatens to hold the photos he took hostage until she sleeps with him. 

Story 2: This is more of a quote than a story, but I've witnessed a photographer post as a caption on more than one of his photos: "Yes, I touch my models... (Winky face)."

And it doesn't end there. A lot of my guy friends have admitted to me that, "It must be nice to hang out with all those beautiful women all the time," and, "Do you ever get any of them naked?"

I saw a friend post this recently. The first guy tries to blackmail who he thinks is a woman into sending him nudes after seeing "her" post a nude photo of "herself" on Instagram. It doesn't go as planned.

So... It's a problem. 

Let me take a moment to say that, while I am not in the business of shooting nudes, boudoir, or really anything sexual or provocative, most of my clients are female; so I have a pretty good grip on how to act around the opposite sex on set.

Here are a few tips on how to shoot women. 

1. Open communication: Always be up front with your intentions before, during, and after a shoot. If you want to shoot something racy, ask. Never pressure them after you've already started shooting. Never post any of those photos online without permission from the model, either. 

2. Don't touch: Holy crap -- just don't touch a model. Do I even have to explain this one?

3. Be considerate: Just be a decent human being. If your model is changing, walk away. If she's adjusting her wardrobe on set, look away. Don't gawk at her like a pervert. EYE CONTACT, MAN.

4. Watch your mouth: Compliments are great, but when you tell a model she's got a nice butt, you're being a douche bag. 

5. No means no: Manipulation isn't cool. If you want to shoot a boudoir session, a swimsuit series, artistic nudes, etc., and the model you had in mind says, "No," then that's the end of the discussion -- period. 

So that's my two cents on the matter.  Whatever your niche is as a photographer, your intentions will show in your work. If your intentions are to objectify women, it'll be apparent. If your intention is to make beautiful art, people will be able to tell.

 

I’m a commercial music, portrait and lifestyle photographer based in Nashville, Tennessee. If you’d like to see more of my work, head over to my website.

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58 Comments

Alex Cooke's picture

It seems like anyone who has a modicum of decency and common sense follows these guidelines without thought and anyone who doesn't probably falls into the category of people who are only in photography for "hot girls." It's a shame this even has to be said, but thank you for pointing it out.

Justin Haugen's picture

Don't mistake your client pool for your dating pool. Cliche anyway.

Spy Black's picture

I think that if you're a creep, guidelines aren't going to be of much help.;-)

Amir Kaljikovic's picture

Nice article.
Sadly many people think if you are working with beautiful woman you´re implicitly dating them and more.
But beside this cliches it is possible to become a really reputable photographer and well known for beeing a nice and professional one if you follow this rules. I think the reputation is build mostly on word of mouth and here your behavior is key.

Eric Lefebvre's picture

I was approached by a model who wanted to submit some nudes to a "Suicide Girls" type clone site.

Looked at the site and knew it wouldn't be around for more than 3 months and told her so but she wanted to shoot anyways (btw, I was right site is long gone).

After the shoot, we started talking a bit and some of the stories she told me about some of the photographers she shot with (or almost shot with in some cases).

One of the photographers wanted to be in the photos with her. I don't even do those stupid "selfies with a model" shots I see some photographers post I can't imagine telling a model I would be nude in the shoot with her as well.

Eric Lefebvre's picture

Can you send a copy of this article to Terry Richardson?

Eric Mazzone's picture

ROTFLMAO! HA!

Michael J Buongiorne's picture

That instagram conversation is hilarious, just made my day.

Jeff P.'s picture

Hard to believe this article was necessary but sadly it is :( I don't do portraits but if I did, I'd be more concentrated on lighting than peeping.

Percy Ortiz's picture

Good article and I agree with most of it but I take offence at you calling some this individuals "photographers" I think the majority of the people you refer to in your article can be called without any form of doubt a "Guy With Camera"
For one I seriously doubt they make an income out of photography. I know we can get into the whole argument of who do we call a photographer but to me I think it is time we professionals start to own that term and give it some value.
I am an awesome cook. I do not call myself a "chef". I have done amazing wooden toys and furniture for my son, I do not call myself a "carpenter". If i happen to take some decent shots of family and friends every once in a while or get some nice wedding images of cousin Lara's wedding I wouldn't call myself a photographer let alone a professional one. I am a profession photographer because i make my living out of it. I work hard to improve my craft and invest time and money in it to make sure I provide the best I can for my clients. Most of my clients know the difference because i try and educate them about this.

Emily McGonigle's picture

I totally get what you're saying, however unfortunately it's *not* just what we traditionally know to be a "guy with camera" that is doing this. I personally know several pro photographers who make an income with photography who behave this way.

It really is a problem on both the amateur and on the professional level. It's sad.

Eric Lefebvre's picture

Terry Richardson ... just saying.
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jun/17/terry-richardson-ne...

This quote FROM RICHARDSON ... this ... wow...

His shoots could get wild, and he made no secret of that. In 2002, he told Vice about his forthcoming calendar for street-style brand Supreme, the goal being “to put together a calendar you could jerk off to.” The shoot, he revealed, “got a bit out of hand by the end. The woman producing the shoot got freaked out and had to leave. I think every person there fucked someone. It was intense.”

http://nymag.com/thecut/2014/06/terry-richardson-interview.html

Mike Robison's picture

"I don't like reading" version; Agency models deal with at least as much sexual harassment from professionals as freelance models do from hobbyists.

"I am willing to read' version; Several years of photography, and about 400 shoots with models, most of them including nudes, have given me plenty of first hand data, to complement reading various sources. One of the key points models make, all over the spectrum, is the photographic ability, and commercial / professional success, have little to nothing to do with willingness to treat models with respect. Some of the worst offenders are highly successful in the fashion world (and, certainly, not just photographers). Top fashion photographers have FAR more leverage to manipulate and exploit models than do amateur freelance hobbyists. Not surprisingly, although very sadly, some can't resist taking advantage of that leverage.

Jason Ranalli's picture

I'm really concerned about coming across as creepy in any way but I see so many guys just making the situation worse.

Anyone took a browse through Model Mayhem? Pretty much every naked photo I've seen on model mayhem looks like it was done in the creepiest way possible with the least possible regard for actual art, tasteful posing, retouching, thought to lighting(or any lighting at all!!!) , etc.

I can't fathom why the women on there are shooting with these "photographers" then posting the photos that show them in such a trashy light. I also see a lot of models on there saying "I DON'T SHOOT NUDES" then you look in their portfolio and they have the most tasteless nudes ever.

For me...I think there's plenty to still explore in the clothed realm of shooting....guys that inspire me (Dani Diamond, Clay Cook, etc) have mesmerizing, captivating, sexy, and alluring shots with plenty of clothes on the models shot in a very professional way.

David Vaughn's picture

This. This so much. I've seen...a lot...of generic soft-core porn from photographers that could be considered...technically and conceptually...lacking..

There's nothing wrong with nudes, and I actually enjoy them if they're well done, but...I just get weird vibes from some portfolios...

Jason Ranalli's picture

Yeah, I'm not anti-nude...I do have a sorta-nude shot in my own port here but I really tried to make it as tasteful as I could with the lighting and pose. I didn't want it to look cheap.

Adam Cross's picture

really, you're going to blame the models for the results of photographers work? ok then...

Jennifer Kelley's picture

Ordinarily I'd agree with you if we were talking about victim blaming. BUT, I am somewhat social with a bunch of stay at home mom types (I hesitate to call them friends but we know each other) and many will want some sexy photos taken for themselves or husband or whatever. They call a very inexperienced photographer because he is cheap but has no idea how to direct a shoot or pose people. The photos come back all sorts of awful because when someone lays spread eagle on their kitchen floor there is just no way for that to be tasteful.

On personal level, I've had models who I constantly had to reign in on the overt sexuality, ask them repeatedly to keep their clothes where they were made to be, etc. In my city we have a lot of music videos shot here so you get some interesting types. I had a male model take his pants off in the middle of downtown last year.

In other words, it takes 2 willing participants to make trashy pictures.

Mike Robison's picture

Jason, I've been on Model Mayhem for seven years, and shooting nudes for all but the first few weeks of that. I feel that, whatever my skill level, the photos are done with artistic intention, and that it shows. And I've seen at least hundreds, probably thousands, of portfolios where that is the case.

Tim Caisley's picture

Yeah, that road goes both ways, I've had a female model attempt to do me for sexual harassment, what was all sorts of entertaining considering I'm gay.

J D's picture

I've heard horror stories like that before. Now, if I am doing a shoot that has any kind of topless/nudity, there is always someone else there, usually my wife, who is very helpful and is great with the models.

Eric Lefebvre's picture

I set my phone to do audio recording the whole shoot.

Jeff P.'s picture

Smart!
Everyone, especially models, should do the same.

David Vaughn's picture

Somebody posted this one another article.

Bruce Testones, fashion photographer.

"It's not you, it's your clothes."
"I could change."
"No, it's the fact that you're wearing them at all - all these colors. It's just throwing me off."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OaqaaCCj13c

Christopher Sztybel's picture

Glad to see this article and ALSO glad to see the top "popular photos & videos" are no longer 9 women in lingerie in a row. It's about time!

Eric Lefebvre's picture

You probably have worksafe on. :)

Andrew Bowness's picture

I think this is the first time I've seen 3 men on there, and one of the shots isn't even a model at all, it's an apple!

J D's picture

Its sad that for whatever reason, the word "photographer" has become synonymous with "pervert". Sure there are creeps out there that are photogs but not all of us are. Its not only insulting to me personally but its insulting to me as my choice of work. I remember showing someone some shoots I had done and the only thing I got back from him was "the blond is hot, did you sleep with her?" Besides on a shoot, I have way too many things to worry about such as lights, wardrobe, etc. to worry about being a creep.

RJ Barnes's picture

After reading that I have to tell a quick story,.... Last month I did my first shoot with a model. Going pretty well, but at one point she had a tag from the back of her shirt sticking up. I stopped and told her that the tag was sticking up ( I even turned and to point at my own tag trying to show her) . She thanked me for not trying to fix her tag/touching her/it. I was rather shocked. Really???? So then I had to ask and yep, she said it happens all the time from all "levels" as she put it of photographers......crazy...

Adam Cross's picture

always makes me laugh when you call out photographers for certain things, nudity for example, and their response is something "I like to appreciate the human form". But there isn't a single male nude anywhere to be seen in their portfolio. If all you do is concentrate on naked women you are not trying to produce any kind of art, more your own personal masturbation library.

Eric Lefebvre's picture

I hate it when I tell friends I'm doing a boudoir or nude shoot and they go "You lucky bastard. Do you need an assistant? Ha, ha, ha."

Not with that kind of attitude dude, I;d like to get repeat clients.

I also had a few guys approach me to do nudes / sexy calendar shoots for their GF (kind of the male version of a boudoir shoot) and when I told some friends about it they were all "Why would you do THAT?!" ... uhm cause my business is photography and they are clients?

They don't realize that this is an actual business and that I don't just do this to see pretty girls in various states of undress.

If all I wanted was to see naked women, I'd head to a nudie bar ... that or there' this new thing called the internet ... 80% of it is porn. It'd be a whole lot less work.

FFS.

J D's picture

That's usually the type of response I get. I will shoot a nice looking model and get asked if I slept with her or them.

Mike Robison's picture

I'm not sure why, but I don't recall *ever* being asked that. And I've shot about 300 models, the vast majority of them nude. Sex, or anything along that line, isn't a subject that comes up.

Jose Luis's picture

art shouldn't be just based on content- but rather execution and intention matter

Mike Robison's picture

The idea that you have to shoot males to "appreciate the human form" is simply nonsense. I shoot what I find beautiful. Usually portraits of women, and nude women. I used to shoot sunsets and interesting old buildings. Visually, new buildings, males, and a huge array of other things, including fruit, don't appeal to me.

Mike Robison's picture

Just out of curiosity, why would you be "calling out" photographers for nudity?

Kale Platzer's picture

I'm extremely offended that this article only mentions male photographers. Men are not the only gender than can be "creepy." Women can be just as creepy as men.

Yes, I do understand that a lot of uneducated morons do still perceive men in general as the gender that is more likely to be creepy, however, we should not be adding fuel to that fire. This article would be much much better if it was written in a gender-neutral fashion. Especially considering that the author of this story is a man. He should know exactly how male photographers are treated and not want to write a story that could continue this ridiculous thought process.

David Meyer's picture

I haven't heard about a female photographer asking a model to sleep with her, nor asking her to take off her clothes out of the blue, nor raping a model. I have, on the other hand, heard about male "photographers" guilty of all of those and more. So there's the statistics to support the point of view of uneducated morons, like me. But, if you have some facts to prove your point or some stories regarding female photographer to share, feel free to do it. I like keeping my mind open to different points of view.
I'm not saying that female photographers are not human, that they are some otherworldly creatures without human instincts and desires. But they seem to control themselves far better than blokes with cameras. And yes, partly you do not hear such stories because it is more natural and generally accepted for a female photographer to adjust clothes of her model and probably a female model will also feel more comfortable being naked or semi-naked in front of another woman than in front of a man. And this is what makes so important for a male photographer to make sure they do behave in a professional manner and don't create any ambivalent situations during the shoots.
Men do not have to be creepy. You are totally right. But many of them are. Many see the way they behave as a typical, blokish way to behave.
I guess this makes me an uneducated moron though and I guess you are not going to share many stories regarding creepy female photographers. Or are you?

Graham Marley's picture

Any opportunity to show that you're a considerate, respectful professional in front of a client is a huge win. Even when I'm in the same room as brides when they are changing, it's a the perfect time to casually walk over to my bag and arbitrarily re-arrange the batteries in one of my strobe lights instead of just standing there inviting the potential for even a whiff of a mixed message.

I had a bride who preferred me to step out of the room while she changed, which obviously I was more than happy to do, but her mother insisted that I take pictures of her getting out of her robe and into her dress. The bride looked immediately horrified, but the mother was a pretty intimidating woman and she basically issued a command. I looked at the bride and subtly took a lens cap out of my pocket and put it on the lens, which she saw and understood. So I could keep my back to mom, and keep the camera between my eyes and the bride and everyone was happy. I don't know what the bride told her mother later on, but I kinda felt like a hero.

Dylan Borgman's picture

As a male staff photographer at the web site Suicidegirls.com, I’ve heard all sorts of terrifying stories from the models I work with.

Almost universally, the thing they all have in common is that model had a bad feeling about the shoot before they arrived. So the advice I give all the women I work with is that if they have a bad feeling about a photographer, even if their work is incredible, even if it’s for a reputable company and it promises money and fame, pay attention to that voice in the back of your head.

To the male photographers out there who shoot nudes, my best piece of advice I can give is to encourage the model to bring a trusted friend, significant other or some other escort to the shoot. Not only will it help the model relax and can break tension but escorts frequently become my photo assistants, helping bounce reflectors and so forth.

Second thing I like to do is invite the model out to meet at a public space like a coffee shop before the shoot occurs. This gives them the ability to get to know me and feel more at ease me before we go to shoot. I also take that as an opportunity to answer any questions, go over my model release and get their ID scanned, so I don’t forget it later.

I echo the sentiment in this article to take the initiative to give the model privacy. If she has to change, offer her a private space to do so. Changing clothes before a shoot and getting naked during the shoot are different situations and should be treated differently.

I understand where you’re coming from but disagree with you that you can’t compliment a woman’s body parts, I think encouragement is a good thing. Many women are the most insecure about their bodies so I try to compliment them as much as possible. You just have to be careful not to do it in a not-creepy or sexual way. I don’t really know how to explain how to do this, you just have to know what’s appropriate and what isn’t.

Great article, thanks for posting!

David Meyer's picture

I guess telling the model she looks great is acceptable. Yelling "nice tits" at her from behind the camera is likely not going to be the right way to make her comfortable...
As for the meeting with a model, I try to do a meeting with people involved beforehand, sometimes it's not possible though. I also make sure the model gets information about the shoot location and also all people involved, so she can check everything out and start communication with the team on her own.

Tim Foster's picture

I hate these self-righteous "I'm a PROFESSIONAL!" posts. There are a lot of gray areas in art. Taste and propriety are optional.

David Meyer's picture

There is always going to be some degree of discussion about what "professional" means. Or what art means. However, there is less of a doubt when it comes to defining behaviours as creepy.

Anonymous's picture

I've heard some horrible stories from girls about the creepiest dudes imaginable. Thank you for posting this. That being said, I did meet my girlfriend at a shoot but she hit on me so I guess I'm in the clear?

Jose Luis's picture

Didnt you know Greg? Photographers are the only profession in the world where you are absolutely forbidden from meeting someone at the workplace. The international order of puritanical photographers may revoke your photographers vest now. :-)

David Meyer's picture

Shame on you Greg. You should immediately break up with her and apologize. And then punish yourself with a pilgrimage to Rome or Jerusalem or something.
But seriously, life is life, various situations may happen. If you got along and it happened to be during a shoot, I guess there's not much you can do about it.

Peter Timmer's picture

I've had a model once say is it easier if i take my bra off?
It kinda put me off guard, and i said to her i'd shop away the straps which were in the way of what i was doing.
The reason for my reaction was because i absolutely did not want to be that kind of "guy with a camera" i don't even call those guy's photographers to be honest.

Maybe someday i will shoot a nude because the picture or concept is asking for it, but i refuse to be that facebook like loving photographer who uses insecure woman to gain confidence for themselves.

David Meyer's picture

I ask them to bring a tube top or strapless bra to a shoot or some similar garment without straps. Also, on some bras straps can be removed independently. This being said, I would never photoshop out the bra straps from the shot. I don't like wasting time in post on things that can be done during the shoot. But I am clear with the models about it and there are simple ways of handling the problem without getting a girl topless in front of camera.

Jose Luis's picture

My two cents ... focus on produce amazing images as that is the highest form of respect you can show your clients and models- to not waste their time. If you do that- the rest will handle itself. If you are not getting arrested, sued, doing anything that might get you arrested or sued, and your clients and models love you and keep coming back- you are not a creeper no matter what anyone says! Keep it simple.

David Meyer's picture

If somebody is creepy, they are not going to stop because they see an article somewhere. They are not being creepy by accident or because they don't know how they should behave, they are creepy because they are creeps by nature.
I regularly hear stories from my models about various "photographers" they encountered. Dudes asking them for sex. Or dudes bragging about the last model they shagged. Or dudes being overly close and personal with them. Or dudes looking for strange angles to shoot from during workshops...
The problem is that camera and lens make for a perfect cover for the creeps. And the only thing one can do to battle that is to have proper professional standards and educate the models about them. Some of the girls simply do not have much experience and do not know what the photographer should behave like.

Because of my specialization (beauty) I shoot mostly with female models. Other than fashion shows I probably saw male models through my lens just a handful of time in the last 5 years. Not that I mind shooting with blokes, it just the way it is. And I do love working with women, I find discussing shade of a lipstick or texture on the fabric quite interesting. Usually I shoot with a team or at least a MUA and if I see something's wrong with clothing, I ask that person to step in (I haven't shot with a male MUA so far, so this works). If I happen to work just with a model, I will ask her to make the adjustment herself. Rule number one: you do not touch the models. Rule number two: you do not make the model to do anything she wouldn't be comfortable with. Rule number three: you do not shag the models. Rule number four: look your models in the eyes.

It's not like I'm a prude, but I'm a pretty old fashioned guy. Want to pull some chick? Go and pull some chick. You're interested in a girl? Take her out for a date, have a conversation, go see a film, go out for dinner, buy flowers, that sort of stuff. Photo shoot is not a date. A girl in front of your lens is not a sexual object, no matter if she wears clothes or not, no matter if her pose is sensual or not. I'm straight and like every straight bloke I do like hot girls. I do like them being nude. But there is time and place.

I also shoot nudes, although I've not been doing this for a long time and still have to decide how to incorporate them into my portfolio. And I absolutely love doing that, I find it relaxing to work at a slower and more relaxed pace than during a typical beauty shoot. For me it's fairly similar to shooting still life, with a difference that you can have a nice conversation with the person in front of the camera. But still, this doesn't mean any of the rules mentioned before can be forgotten.

It all boils down to respecting other people and not being a douche-bag. Unfortunately, not all people around the world are interesting in respecting others and not being douche-bags.

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