When Cutting Limbs Works in Nude Photography
- October 2nd, 2010
- Posted in copious drivel . Learn nude modeling . Nude photo how-to
- By A. K. Nicholas
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If you’ve read Internet forums about composition, you’ve undoubtedly seen advice “not to cut off the model’s arms or legs,” or “if you crop a limb, do it between the joints.” You’ve probably also seen in major magazines stunning examples of photos that blatantly violate these so-called rules. And you probably have stumbled upon at least one discussion that asks why these rules exist if so many successful photos obviously disobey them. If you look to works of master artists such as Michelangelo or Degas you will see they sometimes framed their figures with limbs, hands, or feet cut off. Did the master artists goof? No, they just knew how to break the rules and make a successful composition. When done properly, it can make the composition more distinct and interesting.
The reason these rules exist is that they provide a structured framework for creating well-balanced images. If you’ve read my other posts pertaining to “rules of composition,” you know I’m not a fan of static, safe images.
But I don’t shoot portraits. If you’re a portrait photographer it’s usually your job to create what your customer expects; not to mix it up. If you want to create something original, your loyalty should be to creating great images; not to following rules that produce cookie-cutter photographs.
The rules are established for good reasons; they help beginners avoid awkward compositions by sticking to simple arrangements. They also help people who are photographing subjects that are less than model material to showcase the subjects in a flattering way.
(One of my best-selling images has no limbs)
There are tons of rules — but no “rule book” will teach you good design and composition. My advice is that you take a few risks with your composition and learn what works through experimentation. Also search your library for some college or grad-level compositional text books or other instructional materials that are intended for painters and other visual artists (not just photographers). Playing it safe may give you satisfactory, balanced compositions that have few distractions. Truth is, the intersection of a limb or even the body with the image frame can be a powerfully interesting compositional element.
Examine your images as abstract compositions if you want to master the placement of the human body in the camera frame. Forget for a minute that a line is an arm or leg, just look at it as a line. Depending on your lighting and background, a limb may make a strong line or it may blend into the surrounding composition. Try applying some Photoshop filters like cutout paper to reduce the image to its basic elements. Try it in black and white. Does it look interesting? If not, try a different crop. Once you have a good abstract composition, look at it with color, detail and context to determine if you still like it.