In all of my portrait photo shoots, I love it when the subjects are candid and behave as naturally as possible. Many clients are happy to work this way and generally it is easier when shooting couples. They are used to interacting together, and the photographer can become an external body photographing that interaction. Limited direction is usually necessary.
On occasions, clients will request some shots of them being intimate together. Being unused to this intimacy in front of an outsider behind a camera lens will normally develop a degree of awkwardness with the couple. So, how can the photographer assist in obtaining more natural looking shots?
Being familiar with the photographer from previous photo shoots or through friendship may be of assistance. However, friendship with the couple may also be an inhibiting factor for intimate photo shoots. When nude or semi-nude, they may in fact feel more comfortable in front of a complete stranger.
Shooting some casual shots with the couple fully clothed before taking any intimate shots may help the couple to relax. Also, before any intimate shooting, discuss with the couple why they want the shots and who the future audience of the shots may be.
As a photographer, at all times behave in a professional manner. This includes allowing the couple complete privacy whilst they are undressing. Ensure some robes, towels, or something similar are available for each of them to cover up except for the times that the shots are actually being taken.
With all portrait shooting, there is of course the need to follow the tried and tested (rules) of photography. The word (rules) I have placed in parentheses, because on occasions these rules can be broken with some great effects achieved. However, it would be wise to firstly follow the rules before you begin to experiment.
The rule of thirds is one rule every photographer should know and understand. Divide the length and breadth of the photo into thirds, as in the children’s game noughts-and-crosses, and at one point where these lines intersect should be the main subject of the shot you are taking.
Fill the frame of your photograph with the models. Avoid excess spaces, especially above their heads.
Keep your lens aperture between about f/8 to f/16. The aperture will determine the sharpness and depth of field of your photographs. This range will allow for the model’s faces to be in sharp focus and the rest of their bodies in reasonable focus, whilst providing a slight blur for the background.
Talking of background, ensure that you have removed all clutter from your background. The viewer’s attention should be drawn to the models in the photograph, not to what ever is behind them.
Direct your models to keep their chins up. This will avoid the double chin look as well as making the models appear more confident.
When composing your shot, remember that body parts in the foreground will look bigger than the rest. Also, shooting down on the models is more flattering than shooting up.
More direction from the photographer will be required than with normal casual couple photo shooting.
As still photographers, we can learn a lot from from movie producers who have nude, or semi-nude, scenes in their productions. In the majority of these films you will find sheets or body parts such as arms or legs strategically covering intimate body parts such as genitals and breasts. You can do the same as a still photographer, but try to make the posing look as natural as possible.
Another consideration is the location for the shoot. The shoot can be in a studio, either a permanent or a temporarily set up studio. Or, it can be an outdoors shoot. There are of course pros and cons for each option.
Given the choice, my preference will always be to shoot outdoors. My main reason being that everything concerning an outdoors shoot is more natural including the scenery and the lighting. And, this can be conducive to having a more natural and relaxed photo shoot.
An advantage of shooting in a studio is there will not be a need to find a quiet spot free of prying eyes. Also, the photographer will have the opportunity to set up for any special lighting effects or arrange props and backgrounds.
When photographing nude or semi-nude models, there can be a fine line between producing fine art photographs, and photographs which could be seen as being sleazy. This risk is greater with studio shoots than it is with outdoor shoots. Once more I shall reiterate, the more natural the setting, the more natural and relaxed looking the final photographs should be.