A Lingerie Photographer Takes us Back to the Basics (NSFW)

A Lingerie Photographer Takes us Back to the Basics (NSFW)

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Too often people view lingerie or nude photography superficially and fail to see the photographic beauty behind it. While this stereotype is unjust, it’s also understandable. Too many photos of this genre forego the beauty and focus solely on tasteless sensuality. By sticking to the basics of what makes a compelling image, fellow Toronto based photographer Billie Chiasson reminds us just how tasteful and beautiful lingerie photography can be. Having spent some time getting to know her and seeing her in action, there are a few lessons that I’d like to share that will benefit you regardless of what sort of people photography you do.

Focus on the Person and Emotion First

As we comb through various social media or photo sharing sites, our eyes are flooded with photos of scantily clad women, many of which are popular by virtue of the male dominated audience. If we really take the time to stop and consider what we’re looking at, it becomes clear that the majority of these images rely too heavily on sensuality and not enough on substance. Many photographers fall into the trap of letting a lack of clothing play the starring role and assume it’s enough to make a photograph. Billie prescribes a solution to this problem, “when I think of lingerie, I never think of the lingerie itself but rather the person wearing it. The lingerie comes after.” This approach comes across immediately in her work and it’s what grabs the viewer well beyond the point at which the superficial fascination has worn off. Even in fashion photography where the emphasis is often on the clothing or theme, the best images tend to be the ones that contain a certain mood and bring an extra personal element from the model. Although seemingly obvious, this is hardly easy in practice. It takes work to create mood and extract emotion, so it’s easy to see why so many photos lack it. “I think the greatest challenge is pulling emotion from the muse I am working with. There are times where I have to do a lot of instructing to get the end product. I ask them to breathe in and out and start shooting. It helps the body, mind and emotions relax and translates into the images.” A good way to start is to show your subject that you view them as a person, not just a photographic subject. “I like to get to know a bit about the person I’m photographing, even if it’s just a short session. I also like to try to get them talking about themselves and something they love. All the while I’m walking around them and watching the way the light is hitting their face, the emotion and characteristics they have and how I will approach the session. Everyone is unique and it’s important to recognize that.”

Building Trust is a Process

Shooting a person wearing little or nothing puts the need for trust into overdrive. If it’s a genre that you want to pursue it’s certainly within anyone’s reach - male or female - but the trust required doesn’t happen overnight. Trust has to be earned and that only occurs with time, experience and reputation. “I think it’s important to recognize the fact that despite your impartialness to seeing women in lingerie, the individual you are photographing may have never done lingerie before. Be humble, kind considerate and encouraging. If they are uncomfortable, talk them through it and show them how beautiful they look in the images. Building a strong and clean portfolio helps as well, your work always speaks for itself, but having a likeable personality goes a long way too.” These principles apply no matter what your model is wearing. A good result requires a rapport between the model and photographer and that rapport begins with trust. The comfort level that your model feels begins well before they enter your studio. It’s in the way you market yourself and present yourself online and the reputation you have in photographic circles. Be respectful and positive and share a little bit about yourself in what you post online. Remember that people don’t just look at the work you produce but also the person you are. Any time I ask an agent, make-up artist or stylist about Billie, I hear nothing but praise and can personally say that she is one of the nicest people you can come across. Her personality undoubtedly plays a large part in her success and ensures that her models feel comfortable around her at their most vulnerable. Your subject needs to believe that you’ll not only make them look great in the final images but also make them feel great as the images are being taken.

There’s Beauty in Simplicity

Billie’s kit consists of a Canon 5D Mark II, a couple of affordable Canon prime lenses, a window and some V-Flats. She spends little time in Photoshop and has almost no interest in talking about gear. In a nutshell, she’s pretty much the opposite of me. Despite these opposing views and approaches to photography, she creates images that appeal to me and inspire me as a viewer. Viewers don't care how the image was created but rather whether it speaks to them or not. While her style is defined by natural light, she’s hardly one-sided. “Don’t get me wrong, there are some incredibly talented photographers that do body work with artificial light. I prefer the softness of natural light and in my personal journey as an artist I always had a really nice window. The truth is that, I couldn’t afford artificial light and worked with what I had. I also spend a great deal of my time watching light. I love that with available light you can see and watch it everywhere. As you move, it moves with you and your perception changes. I have learned to control it at its most chaotic and softest moments and translate it into an image.” While it’s unlikely that I’ll move to natural light only at any time soon, following my observation of Billie at work has inspired me to start working more with a single light source again. This has allowed me to spend less time on technicals and more time with the model. More importantly I’ve enjoyed myself more while shooting and the results feel more natural and raw. Simplicity can be a win-win, and as you can see from Billie’s images, produce beautiful results too.

“The human form is incredibly beautiful and I loved the concept of being able to create lines with shadows on skin with light. I also fell in love with the overall emotion of it. Lingerie for me is meant to be vulnerable, beautiful and sensual.”

To see more of Billie’s work, check out her Website or Facebook page

All images used with permission

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8 Comments

Tobias van Schalkwyk's picture

Simple yet Elegant - Interesting article

Adam Cross's picture

this article makes no sense. It opens by talking about images too focused on " tasteless sensuality" and then the first paragraph is titled "Focus on the Person and Emotion" .. ? and worse still we are given this quote “when I think of lingerie, I never think of the lingerie itself but rather the person wearing it. The lingerie comes after." There just seems to be a huge conflict of interests, trying to separate oneself from the mass of nude/lingerie stuff out there and yet having the same attitude as every other photographer who shoots the stuff

Edward Porter's picture

I believe this points out how subjective 'tasteless' actually means. There's always a photographer down the hall that's raunchier, so therefore you have taste. The meanwhile everyone completely ignores that they reside in the hall of seduction and sexuality. Maybe Michael was just trying to say how long and dark the hallway gets and it's best not to step too far in.

I've only done a couple of lingerie shoots because it really just isn't for me. It did take me back to my art school days of understanding the body so that I understand better with more clothing on. The issue I had was reeling the girls in so it didn't get too raunchy. Ultimately I told them to pretend they were wearing a couture gown instead of lingerie.

Kalyan Yasaswi's picture

I guess the trick is to take what you can learn from her style and ignore the rest. Honestly, I was more interested in her talking about natural light and how it interacts with the human figure than the rest of the article.

Talking and getting to know the model is something you can find in every beginners tutorial for fashion photography.

Sean Seymour's picture

What I take away from this is that you don't need a big fancy studio to get nice shots. All the distracting background items are cleaned up with a little cropping and the lighting is simple. Seems that most lingerie shots are shot 3/4 anyway. Agree?

Robert Johannesson's picture

Hi and Thank you for the article! It is good and helpful. There is (should be) an equal amount of human relations, understanding, respect as there is photographic technicalities.

article is good. rambles a little but OK. What makes your case is your website. You definitely have some beautiful shots of some beautiful ladies. I vote that you are an proven outstanding photographer and that is all that counts.