Nude Photography: Why Do People Do It? [NSFW]

Nude Photography: Why Do People Do It? [NSFW]

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Nude photography is a very complex subject, one that can be viewed from thousands and thousands of points of view. The final product can range from what most would consider straight-up porn to what many would think to be fine art. But why do people on both sides of the camera do it?

Before diving into the article, let me make some statements of my own beliefs on the subject of nude photography, so I don’t have to reply time and time again in the comments section. First and foremost, I have absolutely no issues with nude photography of any sort when it is done freely between two or more adults, that being the photographer and the person or people being photographed. Let me be even clearer on another part of the subject. If the images involve minors or any person of any age that is forced to be photographed, then that act and the resulting image are totally and completely unacceptable. I don’t shoot nudes myself, not because of any moral or principal issues, but rather because I don’t have an interest photographing nudes.

I started to think about this subject one day as I was scrolling through galleries and I noticed a fair amount of images that included nude or at least semi-nude subjects. This started me to wonder, especially for the model, why were they willing to post these nude images? They are certainly not being paid by these portfolio sites to have their pictures posted, and I imagine for a good portion of the photos, the photographer did not pay the subject. Of course, this is only speculation on my part. I would like to hear from the people who have posted nude images here on Fstoppers if the model was compensated for modeling or if the photographer was paid to produce the photographs.

As I stated earlier, I have no issues with the nude images. And I don’t mean to insult any of the photographers and models who have posted such pictures, but I noticed there seems to be a significant number of images that were merely nothing more than a nice photo that also included a nude person. The picture would have been a nice image without the nudity, and I’m not so sure the nudity added to the image. I also noticed images that seemed to convey a sense of freedom, and the nudity appeared to complement the theme or the point of the image. Then, just as there were numerous images expressing freedom, there seemed to be just as many that implied a sense of being trapped. Of all the various images I saw, I would say that almost all of them were tastefully done. However, there were more than a few — in fact, lots — that were so cliche. For example, images of a pretty woman in front of an exotic car showing some portion of her body not typically seen in public. 

So at this point, having more questions than when I started thinking about this topic, I decided to do a little research on the subject. Luckily for me, our very own Fstoppers writers community not only has a person who has photographed but has also modeled. I reached out to the multi-talented Anete Lusina to ask a few of the questions I had. Not only was Lusina kind enough to answer my questions, but she was also kind enough to share these beautiful images that are scattered throughout the article. Please be sure to check out more of her work at Anete Lusina.

I, of course, started with the first question anyone would ask, what is your motivation for shooting nudes? “Initially, being a nude model for me meant experimentation, breaking away from the box I was placed in and rebelling,” Lusina said. She continued, “Nudity itself to me is quite unimportant, but I feel more free that way instead of wearing tight pieces of clothing or overly sexualized or glamorous ones. Being nude isn’t actually erotic, it’s more primal and raw. My motivation has generally been to gain my own acceptance of who I am, but equally, it also has helped me celebrate my body by looking past the flaws or the pain… and instead focus on the beauty it brings, such as the strength, speed, or either feminine or strong shapes.” I find Lusina's statement about it not being erotic to be very true. It doesn’t have to be; however, I believe too many people fall into that easy trap of creating a sexual aspect in their nude photography that in the end detracts from the image. As Joan Smith wrote in The Guardian: “Nude pictures, in other words, are not always or not only about sex.” So the motivation for many is not about being sexy or erotic. For many, the motivation is, while sounding like the 1960s, about expression. Smith stated she too posed nude: “I first posed nude in my 20s, when it seemed important to me to explore the meaning for nakedness.”

For many, shooting nudes either as the photographer or the model is an artistic motivation, a motivation to express feelings of angst or perhaps the complete opposite by conveying confidence and contentment with one’s self. Again, Smith captures these feelings when she addresses being photographed nude later in life: “I was a lot older, and it raised different questions; I’m a size 12, but the body gets less elastic over time… It was about being comfortable in my skin as an older woman,” The photographer needs to understand these motivations so they can capture and convey them accurately in their images, “instead of a mere snap,” as Lusina told me.

Even with an artistic motivation, pursuing the first nude photo shoot, either as a model or as a photographer can be intimidating and nerve-racking. We all know or should know the camera can be a wall between the photographer and the talent. Add in the uncertainty of nudity, and this wall can become an iron curtain. But it doesn’t have to be. As mentioned earlier, Lusina has worked on both sides of the camera and said the first time behind the camera was actually harder for her than the first time in front of the camera. Both instances were not planned. For her first nude in front of the camera, it came about naturally and by her own choice when she decided to remove her top and didn’t bat an eye. But when it came to working on the other side of the camera, it wasn’t so easy. She was tagging along with a friend of hers who was doing a shoot, and she felt nervous because it was his shoot. He helped her ease into shooting, but she can still fill a bit uneasy, because she ends up worrying about her models too much.

This article only addresses a couple of people’s thought concerning nude photography. I’m sure there are thousands more reasons people both in front and behind the camera create nude images. If you are one of these people, why not add to the conversation in the comments below. I’m sure others would like to hear your reasons; I know I would.

All images provided by and with permission to use by Anete Lusina.

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86 Comments

Robert Nurse's picture

"but I noticed there seems to be a significant number of images that were merely nothing more than a nice photo that also included a nude person. The picture would have been a nice image without the nudity, and I’m not so sure the nudity added to the image."

I've noticed similar images on IG particularly. I wouldn't label myself a nude photographer either and don't have a problem with other photographers engaging in it. But, like most things, less is more. It all depends on how, when what and why. I've only done two nude shoots. Even on those occasions, the nudity wasn't the star of the show. The model and composition were. Right now, I'm collaborating with a woman who's a body builder. Actually, being nude might lead to a less sexualized tone because nothing is left to imagine. You'll see a beautiful woman, of course. But, you'll also see muscle, dedication, hard work and sacrifice. If I think nudity will work, I provide samples in a mood board and let the model decide. We then discuss my motivations and warn them that posing nude can be artistically pleasing but with risks.

Lorretta Clarke's picture

I agree with everything u said. The less tasteful imo r the scantily dressed suggestive poses one sees. However i also do think there r few photographers skilled in artistic nudity that can produce thought provoking images. If however like said above if a client wants a particular image of themselves then go for it

Rob Mitchell's picture

Because it's better than guns and violence?

Douglas Turney's picture

Yeah, a lot of things are. Buffalo chicken wings are much better than guns and violence.

SEAN SHEPHERD's picture

I have no problem with gun photography

Marcin Świostek's picture

I have no problem with Buffalo chicken wings. ;)

Nothing wrong with eating hot wings while admiring your gun collection.

Trevor Lowe's picture

Man, now I want to photograph my gums and violins...

Jon Winkleman's picture

I took my first figure drawing class with nude models at a weekend program for local grade school students run by Rhode Island School of Design. Every art student works from the human form at some point in any structured art training. Art history has celebrated the nude male and female form going back to the earliest depictions of humans. The nude in art is a deep part of our psyche, culture, history and iconography. Art including photography explores our experience as humans. Art portraying human subjects explores who we are including our emotions, experiences, beliefs, culture and our physical bodies. Though most classical nudes are about beauty some were sexually. Sex is a part of the human experience and all forms of art explore sexuality amongst other subjects. Many photographic nudes are not about sex however it is normal for sexuality to be explored by an artist photographer as much as any other subject. There are some incredibly erotic photos where all models are clothed.

My own experience from my first day at 16 sitting in my first life drawing class is that in spite of my nervousness and preconceptions of what a life drawing class would be like, once I put charcoal to paper was a completely non sexual experience and I was focused on the work. When I shoot nudes today it is the same. My brain is focused on creating the image I want and not hooking up with the model, even if it is a sexier shoot. The lifelong experience has been a positive thing in my adult development. I do not see human bodies as dirty or shameful. As the models I have had have spanned all ages, types and genders, I am able to appreciate beauty in a wide rage of people and not just in 20 year olds who are a size zero and meet fashion beauty standards.

Like artists who use models for other genres, some are paid some are not. Obviously nude models are comfortable in their own skin, otherwise they have thousands of different motivations. Some are strictly looking to make money. Others have a creative side and want to participate in an art project. Others want professional looking art images of themselves. Others are narcissists who want people paying attention to them. Others who have struggled with self image find it empowering. Yes some get off sexually as exhibitionists. Many are simply friends of the artist willing to do a favor. Others simply want to have a new and different experience. In film and modeling the industry frequently pressures emerging talent (especially female talent) to disrobe before the camera. I personally do not support pressuring an unwilling subject, some choose to do nudity for opportunities to advance their career.

For photographers looking to sell nude images, sometimes market consideration influence choices regarding how a nude is shot. For example does female model groom or shave her public hair or is she natural? Collectors today prefer male nudes that do not look like they just took an ice bath. Collectors, book/ magazine editors and commercial clients also shape nude imagery through market demands.

I found reading the article odd and off putting. Though the author states he is non-judgmental, he states some photographs would be better or just as good without the nude figure in them, though the artist's vision was a single unified image of which the nude was as integral of a part as the other elements. I'm sure Turney's images would be really lovely landscape images if he removed those distracting sports cyclists. Think about it. His tone seems to imply that there would be an expectation of shame or judgement on a shooter or model so they should have a special motivation beyond a photographer who shoots motocross like himself or a fashion model. I read Fstoppers for interesting articles written by people who have experience or expertise on a subject. Why would an article about nude photography be written by someone who has never shot nudes and does not seem comfortable or at least like nudes in art themselves?

Unlike what the author states, nude photography is no more or less complex than any other form of photography and art. I see a lot of landscape, macro, fashion and sports photos that are cliche. I see a lot of non nude images whose creator was getting themselves off on a subject they were fixated on. there're photographers in all genres that are amateur, crude, harsh, of little artistic value and cliche. Some of us make interesting art. Others make porn. However some porn is artistically beautiful and shows great skill while others is crude and cheap.

Nudity in any art form is not for everyone. However the long history and vast cultural canon of art nudes demands respect from everyone in the arts. Every aspiring artist working in photography should study the work of famous photographers which inevitably will include nudes.

user-156929's picture

Well, I can certainly agree it's not for everyone.

Douglas Turney's picture

"Why would an article about nude photography be written by someone who has never shot nudes and does not seem comfortable or at least like nudes in art themselves?" First I don't have one bit of an issue with nudity or nude images. When my wife read your comment she couldn't stop laughing. My 22-year-old son just home from college started laughing at your comment. I wish I could point you to some images right here on Fstoppers that are far from art. But I can't and wouldn't. But just as an example, one is simply a nude person on a motorcycle. Even if the person was clothed the image still sucks because there is no purpose of the person laying all over the motorcycle the way they are. They tried to improve the image by throwing a nude girl on the motorcycle in some odd position. This is my point - People think that if you put a nude person in the image it automatically becomes art. That is complete BS. Put a nude person on railroad tracks and its art? No requires more than that.

Now there are tons of images right here on Fstoppers that involve nudity and I think they are wonderful images. Images that I would have no problem hanging in my house. Just look at some of the fine work that was included in this very article. Did I not say they were beautiful?

You obviously have an issue with people attacking nude photography and instead of reading all the words of my article, you chose to read the words that irritated you into writing one of the longest comments I have ever seen. Read the other words I wrote like " I have absolutely no issues with nude photography of any sort", or "share these beautiful images".

You are free to comment on my photography. I post my images here, on my website, on IG, and the numerous publications that pay me to travel the country to capture these images. Just because you have a degree from RISD doesn't disqualify others from being able to comment on images and art, or the lack thereof. Tell me, Jon, what is the art and the meaning of a naked guy lying on railroad tracks? What is the art here? What are you attempting to convey with this image? Also, don't you know it is extremely irresponsible to put people on railroad tracks? But I guess that's OK in the pursuit of art. How many stories have we read of this going horribly wrong?

Because the article is titled "Why do people do it?"
It would be nonsensical for a nude photographer to write such an article.
Why do people ask such a foolish question as yours(Why would an article about nude photography be written by someone who has never shot nudes)?

Eric Grapher's picture

Ah, you wrote an article for F-stoppers and were given the royal baton to say what is or is not art. Whatever you deem "far from art" is likely to be artistic to others. Your approval is not required.

The motorcycle with or without the naked female is still art. It may be a poorly exposed image, irt may not fit your desires for a well composed image, but the photographer made their decisions on making that image. Your narrow-minded view of their artwork is of little matter if they enjoy the image. Maybe I should upload some nudes on motorcycles? I read in other comment where you think little of nudes on a rock, so don't bother opening my portfolio, as I have several matching that description. Do I care of your opinion? No. I care what I think of my images. I consider the opinion of the models, too. If others like them, wonderful. If they don't, no worries to me.

Douglas Turney's picture

Perhaps you should read my articles

https://fstoppers.com/critiques/why-do-you-care-if-anyone-likes-your-pho...

Where I state: "First, we all should be shooting for our enjoyment. Yes, I understand that for some of us, I included, need to shoot for the satisfaction of our clients, but we also need to shoot for ourselves"
Or

https://fstoppers.com/originals/your-photos-need-more-life-and-less-phot...

Where I state: "Perhaps the photo only speaks to you, and if so, I feel you have accomplished the most important aspect of a photograph."

Eric Grapher's picture

You keep protesting, yet you also keep denigrating some that chose to have a nude in the landscapes or on motorcycles, as if some of these choices were no longer qualifying as art in your limited opinion. (re-read that sentence, highlight the word "some")

You seem to want it both ways: no problems with nudes, but also thinking some simply insert a nude to call it art. Whether you, personally, find their images artful or not is of zero consequence. But methinks you protest too much on the subject. That is the problem your article and comments HERE convey.

Douglas Turney's picture

One other thing Jon. Last year I proposed a project for a non-profit that aids injured athletes. The idea was to do an implied nude of the top athletes in the sports I photograph for a calendar. The proceeds would help the injured athletes. Due to coordination issues, it didn't work out for 2019. Perhaps for next year. I promise it will be art and not just some naked person on a motorcycle though motorcycles would be involved in some shots.

John Dawson's picture

(deleted)

Eric Grapher's picture

Well stated Jon! I do wonder why Douglas insisted on having all those noisy and polluting motorcross bikes cluttering his landscape scenes. He seems to be promoting noise and air pollution with his images. Why? Did he pay these bikers to pose for him? Or did he steal their likenesses for his own profits? Full discourse: I like the portrait of Fenway, and perhaps the best artwork in his portfolio.

written tongue-in-cheek.

Michał Suski's picture

One of this rare situations when a comment should replace original article.

Rob Davis's picture

My experience as the photographer is that it's simply another form of portraiture. There is something quite special about a nude portrait because all of the ways we tell people how to treat us and differentiate ourselves socioeconomically through dress is gone. It may well be the purest form of portraiture.

Based on my experience from the subjects I've photographed, it's empowering IF the photographer facilitates an empowering environment.

At the end of the day they should feel empowered and life affirmed and you should have made an authentic portrait. And nothing else.

Fuck Terry Richardson and all of his wannabes.

user-156929's picture

Regarding your first paragraph, I think your argument is much more applicable to headshots. And that, not based on the subject's looks but their expression. Body language isn't as telling and more easily obscured by an individual's shape.
I've never understood the empowering argument in any situation. The entire concept makes no sense to me.
I googled Terry Richardson but don't understand your reference.

Rob Davis's picture

I've shot both and my first paragraph is accurate to my experience.

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/oct/24/terry-richardson-ph...

user-156929's picture

Thanks for the link but in this case, maybe ignorance would have been more blissful. :-/

Robert Nurse's picture

"There is something quite special about a nude portrait ..."

Indeed! I found that doing nudes with someone who wasn't a nude model per se, the level of trust for pretty much any project, thereafter, grew exponentially especially when the nude session was strictly professional.

Przemek Lodej's picture

Simple: because nudity sells like hot cakes. No amount of philosophical deliberation is going to explain this better than that. Looking back at artwork from the early Renaissance to today nudity was and is sought after because it was and always will be controversial, provocative and, especially today, generate money. Look at Instagram. All I see there is borderline nudity, sometimes so vulgar, so demeaning to females that it absolutely blows my mind. Nudity has become so normal, so acceptable and so in your face that it hardly generates any excitement these days, maybe some shock value, but only if it is really shocking.
I refuse to shoot even implied nudity for this very reason. I'm sick of all young girls that insist on needing nude shots in their feed or portfolio in order to "exist" in the modeling world. Not my cup of cheesecake.

Jon Winkleman's picture

all artists and models make adult consensual choices regarding their work. Nude depictions in classical art goes back to ancient Egypt and Mesopotamis with nude figurines going back to pre-historic civilization. That means nudity has been ubiquitous in more than 3000 years of recorded human civilization and probably goes back much earlier. It is found in devout Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Buddist cultures. If you don't like it, don't shoot it. However do not judge adult models or photographers who do. There are thousands of years of scholars, critics and historians who disagree.

Przemek Lodej's picture

I am not judging anyone in my post. I am merely stating my opinion based on my experience. The fact is that 3000 years ago nudity was surely ubiquitous, but it wasn't looked upon as it is today. I'm having difficulty believing that a Neanderthal to whom naked body was nothing out of the ordinary would look upon a female body as we do today. I am equally unconvinced that there are thousands of years of academic research on the topic of nudity and it's influence on human behavior.

Robert Nurse's picture

"Look at Instagram. All I see there is borderline nudity..."

Some of the nudity on IG seems to be a shortcut for likes. However, I have seen some work where the lighting and shadow was just so jaw dropping that nudity played second fiddle.

David Pavlich's picture

I belong to View Bug which allows nudity. Much of it is done artistically, but there are a few that I'm quite convinced post shots that are meant to shock, shots that would be more in sync with Hustler and that's fine if it makes them happy.

Lorretta Clarke's picture

Yes I agree that some people try to shock - I was in a women's photography group once, where one woman stated that she wanted to photograph vagina's as a project. Yes I was shocked, but I think that was her intention. Personally, if you have to resort to bizarre projects, you don't have much talent.

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