Can a photographer without experience do erotic shoots?
As you can imagine, I’m an advocate of erotic photography and I don’t like it when people treat this genre any differently than, let’s say, fashion. I also don’t like it when people put it up on a pedestal and there is a “bar for entry” to this genre, so that only the good photographers have the “right” to start shooting erotic content. These are arguments you hear, in an effort to bar amateur photographers who want to start shooting erotic content for all the wrong reasons.
However … allow me to nuance that. While I don’t believe only professional photographers should do erotic photography, there are some other factors that come into play that aren’t always easy to define and do come from years of experience as a photographer. And I think these are applicable to most genres, but especially for erotic photography.
Over the years I have seen some outrageous behavior by photographers. And I’m not talking about obvious #metoo behavior, but just downright “assholery” and even “good guys”, who just don’t know how to communicate with a model.
You have to realize that there are two extremes. On the one side you have the bad behavior that we all know: improper comments, flirting, touching without permission, … What most people forget is that there is an extreme on the other side as well. I’m talking about photographers who treat their models as if they are made of glass. When they need to reposition a piece of hair, they go in the other room to find a pair of sticks to move the hair. Or people who behave “too” professional. Cold people who don’t engage the model, who say “I’m a professional” and use that as a reason to be apathetic towards the model.
These are mostly well-meaning personas, but they are also the photographers who are going to give the model a bad time. And you could say that this has nothing to do with the genre, but I would say you can do more damage in an erotic shoot than in a fashion shoot this way. An erotic shoot is a lot more intense for the model and if you don’t have the social aptness to put the model at ease and make sure she has a good time, then don’t start shooting erotic photography.
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Focus during a shoot
When you start out as a photographer, the only thing you know is how to aim the camera and press the button. This leaves a lot of bandwidth for your mind. It’s tempting to see a naked woman in front of you, instead of a subject that needs to be photographed. And I’m not saying that every starting photographer has this problem, but it’s harder for a “new” photographer to keep their focus where they need to be focussed.
When you progress as a photographer, all kinds of other factors come into play when taking an image. Shutter speed, aperture, ISO, framing, composition, perspective, light, white balance, … It becomes easy to focus on the shoot, because your mind is filled with all kinds of technical stuff. There is no more bandwidth left to focus on other things.
Now, even an experienced photographer can still get aroused during a shoot. The goal of an erotic shoot is to create an atmosphere of intimacy and story and as a photographer, you are walking a tight rope there. But because of the years of experience, you can identify moments of arousal, be aware of them, and shut them down, focussing on what is important: capturing the right moment with the right technique.
An inexperienced photographer might not have that reflex yet and only shoot crap images, not even learning from the experience. It’s not the best path in becoming a good photographer.
It depends on the person
You might conclude that it’s not advisable for an inexperienced photographer to start shooting erotic themes. Well, I don’t like living in a world of absolutes. Some inexperienced photographers might be amazing social creatures with a talent for guiding the model through a positive experience. They might be able to shut off the “male brain” during a shoot, or even use their arousal to create some amazing images, without any inappropriate behavior.
So in the end, it really depends on the person. In general, I would recommend against it, and not just out of a misplaced sense of “protecting the models”, but you have to think long term. Photographers who start out with erotic themes are generally approached with suspicion. You don’t want to be known as “the pornographer”. Make sure you have some credentials. Again, your portfolio and reputation are your currency. Build on that before you start doing erotic photography. But if you start out doing erotic photography right out of the box, I wish you good luck.