I feel a bit ridiculous writing this. See, I’m not a great photographer. I’m not a terrible photographer, but I’m pretty impatient and not very creative. I do have a decent grasp of the theory behind good photography, though, and can offer a few tips to make the sexy self-portrait a little less daunting.
There’s a lot of fancy equipment out there for photography: cameras and lenses, lights and reflectors, backdrops and tripods. I have some of it. Nothing compared to a studio or a semi-pro photographer’s kit, but more equipment than your average person who occasionally wants to take pictures.
You don’t need any of it. To take decent pictures you need two things: a camera and light.
First, light. Light light light. Photography is capturing light and shadow, nothing more. Therefore poor lighting can only result in poor photos. I’m not talking about investing in soft boxes and filters and reflectors. Decent light takes no investment at all. The easiest way to get a pleasant, soft white light is to plant yourself near a window during daylight. If you’re nude (or just self conscious) and people can see inside, I recommend a sheer curtain, which helps soften light anyway. The light should come in from an angle, neither directly head-on with your shot nor completely backlit.*
If you have no access to natural light for some reason,** that’s okay. A floor lamp is a better solution than overhead lighting: light from the side or an angle creates more interesting and more flattering shadows than light from directly above (we all know from holding flashlights under our chins as kids that light from below is just creepy). A shaded lamp will give softer shadows, but a desk lamp with an articulating neck is valid, too, and offers a great deal of control in terms of direction and angle of incidence.
But okay, you don’t own a lamp, and despite its many perks your secret laboratory has prevented you from seeing the sun for many years. You are paler than pale and have only overhead florescent monstrosities to light your home.***Turn them off. Use anything–anything!–but that. If you’re reading this, you’ve got a computer (or are making someone in a library very uncomfortable right now). You can use the light from a computer monitor to light a shot. It’s easy to angle, you can set a background to glow bright white or in a variety of colors, and at least it won’t provide the flattening effect of a flash. This does risk some graininess, but it should be manageable. Light some candles if you have them handy. Bonus points if you take this opportunity to photograph self-inflicted wax play.
Whatever you do, do not use your camera’s flash. It’s never been good for anything.
Next, think about how to pose and frame your shot. You’ll have to frame it first, but that’s easier if you’ve got a plan. Are you going to be standing, sitting on the couch, lying down? Is this a full-body shot, a close up of some portion of anatomy, or something in between? What angle do you want your viewpoint to come from? This needn’t be complicated. I’m lazy and frankly not artistic, so I go for very straightforward shots 90% of the time. The idea (for me, anyway) is to go from “I want to take a sexy picture” to having a set of 10-12 pictures to choose from in just a few minutes. Sometimes they are all disappointing and I start over. Sometimes there are several good ones.
The first thing people seem to want to do, especially with a camera phone, is stand in front of the bathroom mirror (or another large mirror if they’re lucky enough to have one). To all of you: stop it! Unless you’re trying to show off your bathroom, in which case, carry on. It’s unnecessarily limiting, bathroom lighting tends to be unflattering, and your toiletries are distracting. Why not go to a room with a window and/or a non-distracting stretch of wall? All digital cameras and every camera phone I’ve seen have timer settings. Set it to 5-15 seconds (however long it takes you to position yourself), prop the camera up at the height and angle that suits your intended shot, and play around. It looks better and is hands-free. If you use an iPhone, there’s a lens on the screen side so you can even see what your shot is going to look like and adjust during countdown.
Again, no need for a tripod. If I’m taking pictures with my phone, I’ll throw together a stack of books or board games and have at it.
Not sure how to pose? Do you tend to stand or sit stiff and awkward and wonder what to do with your hands whenever a camera comes out? Don’t stress over it. Surely you’ve looked at sexy pictures before? If you have a collection lying around, check out some favorites and look at it from a photographer’s perspective. Where is the light coming from? Is the camera angled up, down, level? How is the model posing? Is it a pose you can emulate? (If your entire nude photo collection is comprised of contortionists, maybe not, but otherwise, surely there are a few.) If you don’t have any pictures of your own gender, just tool around the sexy posing men and women compiled by hardworking persons on the Internet for ideas.
The first few attempts may go slowly. It’s easy to take a few pictures, hate them all, and decide “I’m just not pretty/photogenic/good at this.” Photography is a skill, and you may have to screw up a few times to get the hang of it. If you can look at an unflattering photo and say “this angle is not flattering to my face” or “I need to move to the left or the picture looks weirdly cut off,” Work at giving yourself constructive criticism, you’ll get better fast.
Personally, I take pictures using the Camera+ app for iPhone. When I have a few photos to go through, I open them in the editor and adjust for imperfect lighting using the “scenes” options. Then I often convert the images to black and white. Everybody knows that converting your homemade smut to B&W makes it automatically classy, right?
This was taken with the phone propped on the chair/board games you see above. Normally I’d use a reflector, because it’s a cheap and easy way to reduce shadows. For these two shots, though, nothing but the cameraphone and piles of stuff were used.
For this one I set the phone on the floor, tilted it up with my foot, and hit the shutter. I find the AC vent in the background annoying, but not enough to spend an extra ten seconds to move over a few feet and shoot again. (I did tell you I was lazy.)
Anyway, that’s all I’ve got to offer on the subject. The brief version: no flash, no overhead lights, no bathroom mirrors, think about the sort of image you’re going for, and play around.
*You can use unreflected backlighting to create a silhouette, and good luck to you, but that’s way past my skill level so I have no advice.
**Maybe you live in an underground bunker or are at work basically every daylight hour. Maybe you have a nosy roommate and have to take pictures in a closet. Maybe you’re a vampire and natural light is therefore contraindicated. Or maybe you are trying to document and share your reactions real-time during a conversation, and it’s night.
***Dear God, that’s horrible. Why don’t you move?