Abstracting the Nude: High Contrast Studio

I love photographing nudes. While I love shooting nudes in nature on location, I have recently discovered a great love for photographing abstract nudes in the studio. What is so great about nude photography is that there is no right answer, and really  no 'wrong answer'. You can shoot abstracts, nudes in nature, erotic, high-fashion and all are legitimate forms of photography (and art).

For me, I love bringing nudes into the studio and taking the 'nakedness' out of the equation. They are no longer naked, but instead are nudes that I can shape, contort, bend and light into stunning abstract shapes. I love when the viewer's eye must explore the shapes, highlights and shadows... and barely notice the nudity. Nudity is secondary to the composition and impact of the photograph.

For example, when the viewer looks at the image above I want them to be deeply intrigued by the gorgeous shapes that the female form can be bent into. I want their eyes to dance around the image, exploring each tonality and elegant line of the image. To further emphasize the importance of the tonalities, I usually turn my images to black and white so that the flesh tones of are eliminates and only light/form remains.

For those of you out there interested in shooting abstract studio nude photography, I have a couple key tips to provide you (especially applicable to novices):

  • Inspiration: Look at the work of other nude photographers to get ideas for poses. There are practically a million different ways to pose a nude, and looking at inspiration will really get your creativity flowing. Furthermore, it is much easier to direct a nude model if you have a samples of the poses to provide them for inspiration. You are not copying an image, but giving yourself a starting point to work off of.

  • Direction of Light: Don't light from the front. When shooting nudes in the studio, front lighting is often boring and too realistic. If you light from the side or back you add drama to your images and use highlights and shadows to emphasize the form of the nude. Front lighting is flat, and does not provide the flexibility to carve out the gorgeous shapes of your subject. In most of these images I am lighting from a 45 degree angle (total side light) or even lighting slightly from behind the model.

  • Light modifiers: If you are trying to achieve this high drama abstract approach seen in this blog post, I suggest using a harsher light source to rake across the body. I would suggest that you avoid umbrellas and softboxes and instead opt for barn doors or plain strobes with silver dishes. I sometimes will use a beauty dish, but most of the time when seeking this abstract effect I am using a strobe with barn doors. The barn doors allow me to control the beam of light... I can make the beam more narrow and focused, or open up the doors to allow a bit more spill of light to wrap around the model.

  • Keep it simple: You don't need to have a very complicated set up. You really just need a black background and a single light. Move the light around and watch how it plays on the model's form. If you add additional lights you will effect the simplicity of the image and also make your job more complicated. If you are just starting, keep it simple. All the images in this blog post were taken with a single light source.

Click images to enlarge