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Act Photography

“I got my mojo workin’..
But it just don’t work on you”

-Muddy Waters

What it is

Defining what "act" is is far from easy, but the common denominator is that someone in the picture is nude.

The problem with the definition is that people seem to attribute different things to act. The most important part of an act photograph, is that the fact that the person(s) in the picture is naked – and that this nakedness has a purpose.

Have a look here: http://www.photocritic.org/photos/index.php?TopicID=act

This is a mini-gallery of my act photos. One of the images has no nipples in it - in general; nothing you wouldn’t see on your average day out on the beach. The picture is of a girl who has her hands cuffed behind her back. Why is it still an act photograph? Because it is about sexual tension, would be my guess.

Pictures with naked people don't necessarily have to be act photographs. The piles of naked dead people in Auschwitz (famous TV footage and pictures) are definitely not act. Also, in several portraits I have seen the model is naked, but it is the sort of casual nakedness where you wouldn't expect anything else - hard to explain.

Act photography / Pornography

This line is very thin, and is often crossed either way. I guess the easiest way to tell the difference is if a picture has artistic merit, it is an act portrait. Often this means that the more intimate parts of the anatomy are hidden – frequently either by light or a prop. (and no, prop does not mean dildo in this case). Of course, "artistic merit" is an subjective viewpoint.

Most professional photographers (and a fair number of serious amateurs, I would assume) do act photography as a part of their portfolio, but go to great length to not cross the line to pornography.

Why, you might ask? Well, by the majority of photographers, porn is regarded as a no-no. Compare someone painting a house or someone painting a picture; The house painter does a job, while the artist is an.. er.. artist.

I have not seen an awful lot of pornography in my life, but the images I have seen are generally both of really bad quality, of no artistic merit when it comes to lighting, and they are unsexy.

Unsexy? Pornography? Yes. And this is where Act becomes fun – part of the art of taking a good act photograph is to set peoples’ fantasies going. Whereas act photography has playfulness with light and shadows, exploring the human body both as an object of desire and as a personality at the same time, porn usually lacks this.

How to take good act shots

Get a model

This is probably going to be your biggest problem. It is difficult to take good act self portraits (Trust me, I have tried and failed miserably, with very few exceptions), so you will have to find a model. A wife or girlfriend (or husband / boyfriend) might be able to help you out, but the problem here is that you are likely to know this body well already.

One of the few exceptions to this Petter Hegre (see the links section below), who has taken an extensive (and very intimate) act series of his wife – titled “my wife”. However, if you had the eye for pictures that Hegre has, you would probably not be here on E2 in the first place :)

My point is that it would be better to take shots of somebody you have never seen naked before. That way, the picture taking process will be as much as an exploration for you (the photographer) as for me (the person later seeing the pictures)

As for finding a model – this can be difficult, especially if you do not have a photo studio or a professional business card (Neither those mean anything, as even people owning both can be assholes, but it helps when talking people into act modelling). You could, of course, call a professional modelling agency, and offer to do a few act shoots for new models who need a portfolio, but this is not likely to be cheap.

Take somebody who has features that intrigue you. Don’t fall in the trap of picking somebody with a supermodel body – the pictures invariably turn out crap – you want somebody who is different than average (making somebody who is not automatically associated with "pretty" look gorgeous is a lot more of a challenge than taking pictures of head-turners). A few pounds too much or too little is great.

Get a friend to model for you. Get a guy to model (wearing his underwear, if he wants) and just concentrate on “painting with light” (that is what photography means, remember), to make the shots look nice.

You can also just ask some of your other models – the ones you use for portraits – if they would like to do act*

*) If you don’t have any models you work with – then go and read another node first. Act photography is definitely advanced photography, and if you don’t have a regular set of models, you are not very likely to be on the proficiency level to start dabbling into act photography yet.

Get confident.

The next step – after you have a model – is important. Make a contract that states who owns the pictures (prints and negatives), and what they will be used for. Never – ever – abuse this contract. If you do, you can bet your ass on that you will never do a decent photo job again.

Talk to the person. Is there something about their body they aren’t happy with? Try avoiding it on the pictures. Are they less-than-confident? Take it easy. For the first roll or so of film, leave the underwear on – it is a *lot* easier to relax if your most private bits are hidden away.

Get a place

When working with act photography – no matter how much time you spend getting the pictures to look nice, and hiding away everything you would prefer not to show – the models will be moving, and everything will show, to put it that way. What you want to do is to find a reasonably secluded spot to take the pictures. A photo studio is ideal, but outdoors or on location somewhere makes for great pictures.

Make sure that the temperature wherever the pictures will be taken is good though, because remember; Somebody will be naked, and being cold definitely does not help to make people relax!

A few words on equipment

no pun intended - teeheee

Anything will do, really, but you probably want an SLR to get a decent chance of getting any good pictures. Also, because not using a flash helps a lot to get nice moods, a fairly bright lens would be a good idea. If you have to use a compact camera, at least read the tips :)

Take the pictures

Before you take the pictures, you will have to have thought about what you will want to do. Make some sketches, or have the model go through some poses with clothing on, to get some ideas as to where the shoot is going. Let the model have some ideas or set a theme to get going (a big black leather couch and a pale model or vice-versa can be very exciting)

When taking the pictures, take lots of pictures. This goes for any style of photographs, but particularly act. If you believe you got a shot right – take two more just to make sure.

This also means that you will run out of film fast. Great. That means you can take frequent breaks while you load new film. Have a chat, take it easy, have a glass of wine (if the model is nervous, this can help LOTS)


Try new stuff. Combine strange things. Have you seen the picture of Atlas? Recreate this with a big beach ball, or a TV receiver set or something. Use candles as light sources. Take black and white or colour shots (whatever you normally don’t). Use an overhead projector or a slide projector to project shapes onto your model.

Get developed

This is slightly tricky – you definitely don’t want to go to your local Piggly Wiggly where your aunt sees the pictures (always sort the pictures before you let ANYBODY see them). Go to a proper photo store, but know that employees in photo stores are known to make extra copies of extra raunchy pictures, so the best thing would be to either develop yourself, to send them off to a professional lab (more expensive, but the service is also likely to be more professional) or to take the pictures digitally in the first place.

Some links to good act photography, and why it is good.

www.bodyscapes.com - bodyscapes – On this page, Allan Teger has made a set of photographs where bodies are seen as landscapes. Very clever, very sexy, but not rude.

www.petterhegre.no - Famous Norwegian photographer who specializes in act. A few great art shots, and a few that go to – and beyond – the line of pornography. But the sheer quality of the shots still make them worth seeing.

www.nerve.com - A magazine with an amazingly clear view of what sex is and can be. A few stunning act shots scattered around the pages.

www.playground.de/erotikart/ - A fairly large series in different categories - Lots of mediocre shots, a few really good ones.

(if you have tips for other sites, please do /msg me!)

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