Here is my list of priorities in building a nude image. These are specific to me and vary widely based on individual photographers. However, there are many photographers with a similar background to mine that follow this general hierarchy of steps for building an image. I have a parent who is an artist, a sibling who is a university art professor, and I have an art degree where I studied more than just photography. I grew up overseas and have been to museums in dozens of countries. Since my exposure to art, from childhood through college has been mainly non-photographic art, it has influenced my thinking on building an image.
#1: Composition. Any image is perceived by viewers as an abstract composition first. Before you can process what an image is (context) you see how it is composed. We’re hard-wired to do this and it’s not just my opinion. Without a solid composition, the viewer’s attention will go elsewhere quickly. Quick test: convert your image to black and white and reduce it to about 200 pixels wide, if it’s a strong composition it will still look interesting.
#2. Context (mood): What is the image about? Context tells you what the mood of the image is, not necessarily a story (context is the what not the how). The mood is not always beauty. Sometimes an image can be intentionally jarring to communicate the context.
#3. Beauty. Context and content can feed into beauty, but do not have to. Beauty can be flattering to the subject in traditional ways, but is more about intriguing the viewer — sometimes with an unusual approach. Don’t underestimate the power of beauty; my mediocre shots of extremely beautiful models win more appreciation that the most meticulous shot of a just slightly beautiful model. Capitalize on the innate beauty of your subject; don’t try to put her in the role of something she’s not.
#4. Illustration. I’m not talking about pen and ink here, but story telling through images. This is not essential to a good nude photo, but most good nudes tell some sort of story. Not surprisingly, the story is often somewhat ambiguous and thus open to interpretation.
#5. Technical aspects. A favorite Ansel Adams quote goes “Nothing is worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.” I’m not saying that technique isn’t important. It is very important, but it comes after good form. A poorly executed image can be distracting and sabotage a good concept.
Just following the above doesn’t make an image successful. Nor am I recommending anyone could use this as a recipe for success. This is food for thought; an insight into my process.