Womanly Curves

I have enjoyed photographing landscapes, abstract objects and nudes for many years. Only landscapes and abstract objects have been discussed in this blog so far but the making of a nude (or semi-nude) photograph will be discussed today.

Composition

My goal was to photograph the classic hourglass shape which characterizes femininity and I thought the image should communicate the power associated with this shape. That led to the idea of exaggerating the model’s hip curvature. Since power is a somewhat abstract thing, I thought it also would be appropriate to develop abstractness in the image. The first step toward achieving that was to position the model in front of a black cloth and illuminate her plainly with two incandescent lights. Those actions increased the abstract nature of the image and placed emphasis squarely on the model.

The next technique employed to exaggerate the hourglass shape and develop abstractness involved opening the camera shutter for a relatively long exposure as the model moved. She was asked to shift her hips slowly and steadily from left to right while trying to keep areas above and below her hips as stationary as possible. Since a hip was pushed outward on one side to start the movement and her other hip was pushed outward on the other side to end movement, hip curvature on both sides would be exaggerated. I thought this movement would increase “hip power” as well as develop abstractness in the image.

Movement during film exposure can be visualized by noting the two nearly straight and bright areas that span vertically from the knees through the hips. One bright area is a nearly straight hip at the start of exposure when the other hip was pushed outward. The other bright area is the previously curved hip which became nearly straightened when the other hip was pushed outward at the end of exposure.

The model’s movement during exposure created blur and that was advantageous for the image since blur increased abstractness. Blur also had the important effect of softening the image to further emphasize feminine character.

I didn’t possess an adequate technical understanding of photography to acquire this photograph knowledgeably since I did not understand how movement would affect image tones. In particular, I lacked understanding about how movement would affect image contrast so I didn’t know how to develop the negative to achieve proper contrast. By default, I simply specified a normal (N) development time for the negative. If I were to shoot the image again, I would develop the negative longer (N+1) to increase contrast one zone to compensate for the loss of tonal strength resulting from the model’s movement.

The model and I rehearsed image acquisition until we thought our actions were coordinated suitably and a shutter speed of 1 sec was thought to be best for capturing hip movement. The flood lights were turned on and the light meter provided me with the f-stop that was required to produce a middle gray (Zone V) for the model’s skin when Kodak Tri-X sheet film (ASA 320) was exposed for 1 sec.

I worried that the model’s movement occurred through so much space that her hips would not be recorded with enough density on the negative. That is, the length of time that her skin directed light onto any particular area of the negative would be less than the full 1 sec exposure time. This problem was especially serious for the shadowed areas of the model’s hips since they moved the greatest distance and shadowed areas direct the least amount of light onto the negative. This could be fatal to image quality and I fretted that inadequate tonal strength might be produced in important areas of the negative so a high-quality image would not be obtained.

This uncertainty could have been resolved quickly with a digital camera that was operated manually to obtain information about the affect of f-stop on image tones while the model moved. I did not have a digital camera, however, so I simply made a guess based on experience and opened the lens aperture an additional 1.5 f-stops to direct more light onto the negative. Fortunately, the guess turned out pretty good because negative tones were strong enough to make a print of high quality. If the lens aperture had remained at the value dictated by the light meter, shadowed areas of the model’s hips would have been too weak to be useable.

Scanning/Editing/Printing

As usual, I previewed the 4inch x 5inch negative on the drum scanner before recording a high-resolution scan and saw that the image was flat. That would not have occurred if the film had been developed N+1 but the negative was developed N because I didn’t have enough technical understanding to handle the scene.

One of the major advantages of a Howtek drum scanner with Digital PhotoLab software is the ability to control scanner hardware. This allows hardware adjustments to be specified before scanning so proper image tones are acquired during scanning as opposed to acquiring an image with poor tones and then trying to fix them with software during or after the scan has been completed. I instructed the scanner to increase image contrast during scanning and a high resolution digital file was recorded at my usual resolution of 5,000 dpi and 16-bit pixel depth. Shadowed tones of the model’s hips were plenty strong in the digital file.

Viewing the digital file on a computer monitor with PhotoShop revealed that the image from the scanner looked pretty good. A minor levels adjustment and a small curve adjustment were needed to increase image contrast a bit more. A moderate amount of local dodging (brightening) was applied to shadowed areas of the hips to direct viewer attention to hip curvature more strongly.

Different photographers work in a wide variety of different styles. My general philosophy for editing photographs is to strengthen content that is already present as opposed to changing image content to produce something that was not present in the original scene. I may subtract a small distracting item such as a little twig but I would not add a whole tree to an image.

As I studied the photograph, it became clear that the image was far from being perfectly symmetrical and I considered abandoning my general editing rule to “fix” the image. Perfect symmetry could be achieved by copying the right half of the image, flipping the copy horizontally and then pasting the copy over the left half of the image. I decided not to do that, however, since a perfectly symmetrical image clearly would detract from the feeling of a real photograph of a real woman.

Most of my photographs look best to me when printed large. However, the image discussed in this post did not “feel right” when printed large. The photograph looks better to me when printed at moderate size (e.g. 19 inch x 20 inch).

Summary

Black and white photographs are sometimes said to be more abstract than color photographs and the abstractness of black & white was suitable for today’s image. Model movement during exposure was quite effective since it increased abstractness, exaggerated hip curvature, added power to the feminine shape and softened the image. Any comments you might have about the image, the photographic approach used for it, its composition or image workup will be appreciated. For a larger view of this photograph, visit here.

Randall R Bresee

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