Test Drive: Photography for Perverts by Charles Gatewood

Part One: Photographing a Lover

Charles Gatewood has written a truly wonderful book called Photography for Perverts — a book that covers a topic heretofore ignored in photography books. Photography for Perverts is a fun exploration of Gatewood’s life work and what he’s learned with it, including many sexy photos from the author’s portfolio. A renowned photographer, Charles has now proved that he is also an effective and engaging writer. Photography for Perverts is a quick, fun read and an invaluable guide to getting started taking erotic photographs.

Gatewood’s book is so much fun, in fact, that it finally gave me the impetus to buy a digital camera — or perhaps it was simply the right time in my life to take up a new hobby. Regardless, Photography for Perverts served as a useful guide to the process.

I’ve wanted a decent digital camera for some time, one that would allow me to make photo-quality enlargements. Gatewood’s book focuses almost entirely on film photography, since that’s mostly what he does. There is a brief section on digital photography, but as Gatewood correctly observes, the field of digital photography develops so quickly that any concrete suggestions he offered would quickly be out of date. I chatted with other photographers I know who work in the digital arena, and finally decided on the new Fujifilm Finepix s7000, which seems — after years of using a disposable camera to take mediocre shots — the Cadillac of consumer-grade digital cameras.

I selected the s7000 first and foremost because it offers 6.3 megapixels. A megapixel is a measurement of digital photo resolution. Consumer digital cameras nowadays range from about one to five megapixels, with a few, like the s7000, offering a bit more. For twice the price (about $1,000), you can get a semi-professional or “prosumer” camera like the Canon Digital Rebel, but the s7000 offers the same number of megapixels as that esteemed device. Being a complete beginner when it comes to cameras, I decided a semi-pro camera wasn’t what I needed, and picked up the s7000, a tripod, a remote shutter release and an external flash.

In Photography for Perverts, Gatewood covers such topics as creating a photo studio, shooting on location, and shooting candid photos at public events. He also talks about backgrounds, props, context and “telling a story” with photographs. It’s all fascinating reading, especially for someone like me who’s spent his life working in a different erotic arena. I absorbed as much as I could of Gatewood’s book and prepared to take my first nude photos.

After taking a few candid (non-nude) snapshots of friends to get the feel of the camera, I gave my out-of-town girlfriend Brie, who was due for a visit, fair warning that I wanted to photograph her. This was not news to her, since I’d been looking for a camera for three months — and she agreed graciously, though she doesn’t consider herself an exhibitionist and was more than a little nervous about undressing for my camera.

Given that Brie is my lover, I got started by simply incorporating the camera into our erotic play. While we were fooling around, I seized the camera and snapped some shots of Brie and I in flagrante delicto. This initially put a bit of a damper on our play, since Brie tends to be shy. But soon she’d gotten used to the camera and was enjoying herself while I snapped photographs of her doing exactly that.

However, I discovered upon looking at the photos after the fact that they were what you might expect from snapshots taken while I was doing something else. They might have nostalgic value in 10 years, but they weren’t anything with much artistry.

That fact noted, I convinced Brie to let me spend a little more time photographing her. Arranging her on a white sheet spread across on my bed, I instructed her to pose for the camera as I first shot bed-level photos, then stood on a chair to photograph her from above, Marilyn Monroe style.

Brie has wonderfully creamy, olive-toned skin, but the flash still made her look somewhat washed out. I had purchased an external flash, so I was able to swivel it to bounce the light off the walls and the ceiling, but it definitely took some doing. Though Brie doesn’t really consider herself an exhibitionist, she found herself relaxing into the role of erotic model, and went from lying on the bed staring at me with a blank, bored expression (which can be sexy in its own way) to touching herself with some ease as I snapped photographs of her. Willingly performing for the camera, Brie accessed her inner exhibitionist, and before long I forgot all about the camera. The two of us enjoyed a heated encounter fueled by the thrill of doing something truly naughty.

Which was lovely, but still didn’t teach me much about erotic photography. I had learned that a digital camera can be a great sex toy, and shooting dirty pictures a wonderful form of foreplay. And though Gatewood certainly acknowledges that there is erotic energy between photographer and model, Photography for Perverts isn’t just for perverts — it’s for perverts who want to take good photographs. I found my digital photos of my encounter with Brie to be a wonderful kind of memento, but they weren’t yet the artful nudes I was interested in. In fact, they had a bit of a garish quality, like I would expect to see them on alt.kinky.snapshots or something.

My first photo shoot, coupled with Gatewood’s book, taught me a few important things about how to take erotic photographs.

* Tell the model s/he is gorgeous, breathtaking, sexy, seductive. Who doesn’t love to hear that? The positive strokes they receive (pun intended) will show through in the photos.
* Take your time. Especially with people who are not professional models, it takes quite a bit of time to get relaxed in front of the camera. A relaxed model = better photos.
* Lighting is key. Gatewood touches on these issues throughout his book, and you should pay attention. It is amazing how awful most people look in the glaring light of a flash. Especially with light-skinned people (and especially with naked light-skinned people), a carelessly used flash can make every blemish on the skin look painfully obvious. Invest in an external flash — one that can be tipped toward the ceiling to take the glare off your subject. Better yet, if you can afford it, invest in some professional-grade photofloods so you don’t have to use a flash.

With Brie, to my sadness, on the plane back home, I resolved to put some more energy into taking artful erotic photos. In Part Two, I’ll describe my first shoot with a professional model and let you know what I learned.

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