Sunday, August 11, 2019


Heinz Richter

Historically, the human form has fascinated artists probably more than any other subject. Therefore it should come as no surprise that the same fascination has extended to photography as well.

While photography has generally been accepted as a valid art form, photography of the nude to this day is struggling with that recognition.  In the view of many, it is still looked upon as sleazy and objectionable, even harmful.  No such objections exist when it comes to paintings and sculptures.  People regularly visit art galleries.  No objections are generally voiced to see nude art there.  Public spaces often display nude sculptures, no objections there either.  Yet nude photographic art is still widely rejected.  Why?

Heinz Richter

Marlies Amling

I must emphasize that the key word here is art.  Many of the great photographers have produced fine art nudes like Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, Edward Weston, Man Ray, Helmut Newton…, just to mention a few.  Of course, just as with other art forms, some like Robert Mapplethorpe or Jeff Koonz, for instance, have pushed the envelope by producing images that are questionable to some, but such work should not be generalized and held against other serious photographers.

I often discuss this with my sister who is a successful professional photographer in Germany.  She is often in disbelief of how much more restricted photography of this type is in the US.  For instance, in her studio she has three different display windows for her work, one of which is usually dedicated to fine art nude photography.  That is simply unthinkable in the US.

Marlies Amling

That brings up the question of what constitutes fine art nude photography.  During my 13 years of teaching photography that question regularly came up during class discussions.  Of course the definition of art in general is in the eye of the beholder.  There are no clear cut instructions to be had.

Heinz Richter

Marlies Amling

Heinz Richter

When it comes to fine art nude photography, it is quite easy to take a photograph of a person without any clothes.  That, however, is not art and should not be attempted to be presented as such.  Instead the emphasis should not be so much on nudity but on shape, form, lighting, design and composition.

That adds a considerable amount of difficulty which is further emphasized that in most cases, a similar approach with similar results has been done before.

In an interview, Kim Weston, grandson of Edward Weston, when asked about his photography in comparison to his grandfather’s said that he generally does not think about him.  He went on to say whatever kind of photograph he might attempt, “Edward has done it.”  He said he cannot take a landscape without being told that Edward has done it, he virtually cannot photograph anything without the constant reminder that Edward has done it.

Marlies Amling

The same is the case with fine art nude photography.  Regardless of the outcome, someone most likely has done it before and someone most likely will do it again in the future.

The best approach in my opinion is to carefully plan a fine art nude photography session and then proceed without too much attention to the work of other photographers.  Then careful selection of only the best examples with a healthy dose of self-criticism should give the assurance that the shoot was successful.  And don’t forget, the old adage the practice makes perfect still applies.

Heinz Richter

Rössler-Akt "Renate, 1969": In der DDR erschienen seine Aktfotos in der...
Günter Rössler

Klaus Ender

Heinz Richter

Blaine Schultz

Heinz Richter

Heinz Richter

Heinz Richter

As of late, Photoshop has opened photographic possibilities that previously were impossible or at least very difficult to achieve.  But a lot of what Photoshop has to offer, contrary to what many seem to assume, is not available merely at the push of a button.  Anyone who has ever worked with Photoshop will agree that there is a considerable learning curve; to master it certainly does not come overnight.  However, one does not need to be afraid of it.  Photoshop definitely can be learned to quite an extend simply by trial and error, although professional instructions will definitely speed up the learning process.

Opinions about the system are diverging to quite a degree.  Some see it as nothing more than a means to cover mistakes that occurred during shooting.  While many such mistakes can definitely be corrected with Photoshop, it is not a panacea to everything that might possibly go wrong.  Just as in the past, it is definitely advisable to strive to do everything correctly during a shoot.  That, of course, requires a considerable base knowledge.  As a matter of fact, Photoshop should not al all be considered a means to become a good photographer without knowing photography as such.  Composition, posing, lighting, exposure control, camera operation…., all are still as important today as they were in the past and there is little that Photoshop can do to overcome those shortcomings.

Others criticize images modified with the help of Photoshop as not original photography any longer.  A colleague of mine recently claimed that “real” photographs are only ones that are shown as they come out of the camera.  I find that rather short sighted.  Even in the past we used retouching and a variety of darkroom trickery to alter the images as they came off the negative.  It was quite common to alter the resulting photographs with changes in development, both film and paper.  We used manipulative processes like solarization, bas relief, posterization and a lot more to create images that certainly differed substantially from what the lens put on film.  Thus I find these criticisms quite out of place.

The most important part of creating a photographic image is the end result.  How we arrive at that ultimately is irrelevant.

Following are a number of images that made extensive use of Photoshop, and while the results certainly required a lot of work, it was ultimately a lot easier and less time consuming to create them with the help of Photoshop than what would have been necessary to come up with similar results during the “good old days.”

   From an architectural photography assignment                   Studio shot with very similar lighting

Combining the images rendered a great location shoot

The original image unfortunately is lost.  This image is the result of modifying the original and making three identical copies, one of which was right and left reversed and combining them in the manner shown


The three images above were combined to render this unusual result


The two base images were combined with considerable modification into this result

As I mentioned before, most topics of photography are quite difficult to do if one tries to find a different approach, something that has not been done by other photographers before.  That is especially the case with fine art nude photography.  The nude has always been a very popular theme of the arts, including photography.  Regardless of how one approaches the subject, it probably has been done in one form or another before.

I had been looking for such a different approach for a long time, and finally decided to use Photoshop to reach that goal.  The result is “Photosculptures,” where I use photographs of sculptures and combine them with photographs I have taken of models.

That might not appear to be particularly difficult.  After all, Photoshop is used to alter images in just about any imaginary way.  However, Photosculptures require a lot more than just replacing part of the sculpture with a photograph of a different person.  It is important that the pose of the model and the lighting coincide with that of the sculpture, however, it is not my intention to produce a perfect copy of the original.  Then the two images have to be carefully matched in size.  Finally, the transferred image has to be modified to match the color and texture of the sculpture.  All of this is not an easy process, and it is very time consuming.  But the end results can be quite rewarding.

This is the most difficult sculpture I modified, because it consists of three different individuals

The original, raw images of the three models, all taken with Leica equipment

The original photograph of the three models required considerable modifications.  All had to be right and left reversed.  Then all three had to be matched in size to the size of the sculpture.  In addition, the posing angle of the models was altered to match that of the sculpture. Then, after masking off the background, the images of each model were transferred to the photograph of the sculpture.  Then each model was altered to match the white marble of the sculpture.  That included lowering the contrast of the facial features and the hair to again match the sculpture.

The finished Photosculpture

Original                                                                         Photosculpture

The original is a photograph of the Rolls Royce hood ornament.  Since the pose of the model was not identical to that of the sculpture, it required considerable modification of the hair flowing in the wind.

Original                                                                       Photosculpture

Even though the pose of the original and the model are similar, this example required a considerable amount of detail work.  The right arm of the model had to be lengthened to match up with that of the original sculpture.  The wing of the swan had to be modified a lot to bridge the void that otherwise showed in front of the model’s face.  In addition the head of the swan needed to be moved further from the neck.  Since the position of the left arm of the sculpture and the model are quite different, a fair amount of reconstructive work was necessary to cover the arm of the original sculpture.

Additional Photosculptures:

Accurate posing of the model definitely makes this kind of work considerably easier.  For that reason it is advisable to work with experienced models that are able to strike a great variety of poses and do it accurately once they see a sample of what pose is required.  I have worked with most of the models shown here on several occasions, with some of them even for several years.  That has created a very good working relationship which is also very helpful for this kind of work.

Regardless of what approach one chooses to take with these types of photography, none of it will come easy.  Especially for a novice there is a lot to learn and master.  For that reason I want to invite anyone interested to rely on my experience by asking questions, whatever they might be.  I’ll gladly help.

For other articles on this blog please click on Blog Archive in the column to the right




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