In the world of fashion photography, there are three basic types of imagery: (1) line sheets ; (2) catalog/lookbook ; and (3) editorial. A case could be made for lookbook photography as bridging a gap (if one exists at all) between catalog and editorial. The first two types tend to be rather humdrum and somewhat technical (especially line sheets), so for this article we will ignore them.

The real fun is found in editorial fashion photography where creative output is highly valued. This is especially true of fashion nude photography, which is found only in the editorial realm – except for a very few specialized lingerie brands (e.g. LolaLuna or Bracli ).

So with having fun in mind, Brittnie and I teamed up for a dress rehearsal (or more accurately, an undress rehearsal!) for an upcoming SWP article series on fashion nude photography of lingerie. For this session, we concentrated our styling efforts on panties. And we did it in studio, rather than on location as we did with bras in our “900 Nanometers” article featuring infrared photography.

For the panties series, I wanted to present the garments using a lighting style I call “museum lighting”; the key light is directly overhead, producing a light similar to what you might see in a museum display case with an overhead lamp. This design tends to be very contrasty, so I augmented it with a touch of fill from the side at about 45 degrees from camera axis (see diagram at the end of this article). Museum lighting can be very moody, almost dramatic. This gave Brittnie an opportunity to try poses she hadn’t used before, and her work displayed spectacularly.

Erotic Mirror Nudes Photography - Fashion Nude Photography
Erotic Mirror Nudes Photography - Fashion Nude Photography

Mirror: A Tool for Self-Assessment

We do a fair amount of new-model training at our studio. A model coach I work with suggested I provide our model students a full-length mirror with which they could observe themselves as they moved through various posing routines. Rather than buy an off-the-shelf product – none of which was large enough for our purposes without being obscenely expensive – I decided to build one in our set construction workshop. Starting with a standard 4’ x 8’ sheet of plywood (122 cm x 244 cm) and several boxes of glass mirror tiles, by the time I built a frame around it and a support dolly with casters for rolling it around, the beast ended up being 9 feet tall (2.74 meters)! Even the tallest of our students have no trouble viewing their entire bodies on stage. As a model instruction tool, the trick is to position it so she can see herself without getting in the way of the photography process. In the majority of my studio work with models, I am positioned between 6 feet and 10 feet from the model (1.8 m to 3 m); I have found that setting the mirror slightly to the right or left of where I am working works just fine. The casters are a life saver since the whole setup weighs about 200 lbs (91 kg).

A World Turned Upside Down

Beyond being an instructional tool, I have found the Giant Mirror to be an ideal central element in set design for a number of different themes. In a session with the lovely Keira Grant, I discovered quite by accident that the introduction of a second mirror can yield some interesting, even otherworldly, effects when the images are rotated. If M.C. Escher had been a photographer, he might have produced something like these (in this series, the equally lovely Diane Noir was Keira’s co-model):

Erotic Mirror Nudes Photography - Fashion Nude Photography

The Forrest Gump Principle

It was with this technique in mind that Brittnie and I went to the studio to photograph lingerie with both our minds thinking clearly outside the box. Readers of this column may remember in a previous episode that I have a penchant for including the Forrest Gump Principle into my fashion nude photography: “Life is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get.” In other words, out of the ordinary surprises.

For set design, we started with a basic bed (lingerie – what else, right?). I then added a full length mirror as a headboard. To complete the set, I placed another full-length mirror along one side of the bed at a right angle to the headboard mirror. This arrangement gave me the ability to compose multiple views of the model in a single image.

The Thing About Mirrors: A Cautionary Tale

Working with mirrors as a set design element presents a set of challenges unlike straight-on photography. Firstly, the mirrors have to be kept scrupulously clean, lest dust or other detritus show in the final image. Studio lights tends to create highly visible specular highlights with anything on the mirror’s surface. I keep a bottle of glass cleaner, a roll of paper towels, and a soft brush to remove paper towel lint on hand at all times.

Another thing to remember is that mirrors tend to reflect anything in the field of view (fancy that!). When composing an image, you have to pay close attention to what you see through the viewfinder to avoid accidentally including yourself. Seems like a no-brainer, right? Trust me, when all your attention is focused on the model, it is very easy to forget this simple principle. Adding a second mirror to the equation only increases the difficulty of keeping yourself out of the frame.

The Concept’s “Keyword”

Before we went on set, Brittnie and I sat down for a pre-shoot conference. Both of us knew that she was about to embark upon an experience unlike anything she had done in her modeling career. When photographing fashion nude material, I prefer to keep model direction to a minimum. I want the model to develop her own flow as a session progresses and express herself through her body positioning and facial expressions. For this reason, I rely heavily on a concept Dan covered nicely in his article series on keywording (see My “Keyword Tool” Approach). I wanted to make sure Brittnie understood we were working for two very different audiences here. For Brittnie’s part, her audience is women. I asked Brittnie to present the lingerie as to entice women to buy the lingerie in order to feel like she did wearing the garments, using the keyword “pleasure.”

For my part, my audience is you, the photographer. I want to show you how to capture the model’s inner feelings as she projects her keyword concept. It is very important to create an on-set mood that matches the keyword being used. For me and the majority of models I work with, appropriate music helps establish the mood.

Both Brittnie and I knew going in that we were would present lingerie in a setting appropriate for these types of garments (a boudoir feel involving a bed), and that the style of panties chosen would take us squarely into the realm of erotic photography.

The First Look: Keeping It Simple

Our first panty choice was a simple lace hipster brief – not quite a thong – that has a nice symmetry; the sides ride high on the hips and are approximately the same width as the front panel. The effect is a nice “Y” shape that enhances a woman’s hip lines. In this series, we used a generic cotton jersey top to complement the brief without distracting from it.

Erotic Mirror Nudes Photography - Fashion Nude Photography

As Brittnie relaxed and began to internalize the feeling of pleasure, the way she presented the garment became more open and forthright.

Erotic Mirror Nudes Photography - Fashion Nude Photography

In this sequence, her reflection serves both as a composition element and to display a secondary view of the garment and her figure.

Erotic Mirror Nudes Photography - Fashion Nude Photography

You might notice that the reflected images are out of focus. This was intentional, as I wanted to keep the focus on the foreground image, allowing the reflected background images to serve mainly as composition elements.

Erotic Mirror Nudes Photography - Fashion Nude Photography

By this time, Brittnie was very much into her feelings and started to work with the top to reveal her breasts, eventually dispensing with it altogether.

Erotic Mirror Nudes Photography - Fashion Nude Photography

When working with a mirrored set, the mirrors need not always be part of the composition. To mix things up, I like to bring the camera closer for a more intimate portrait.

Erotic Mirror Nudes Photography - Fashion Nude Photography

The Second Look: A Walk on the Wild Side

Our second outfit featured an open thong. Since it was paired with a bra, we presented it as a set. The openness of the thong was likewise complemented by that of the bra. A strategically placed opening in the bra allowed Brittnie’s nipples to…get some air. Thongs (or anything with “spaghetti straps,” for that matter) can be tricky to photograph. In commercial fashion photography, especially in catalog or lookbook, but even in editorial images, twisted straps are a definite no-no. Your client will rightfully consider you an amateur if you allow a twisted strap to be seen. This is one reason I like to have an experienced wardrobe stylist on set – part of her or his job is to monitor how the garment lays on the model’s body and correct things like twists and wrinkles on the spot. Seeing such small details through the viewfinder, especially with a moving model, is next to impossible.

Erotic Mirror Nudes Photography - Fashion Nude Photography

In our session here, since it was a rehearsal for an upcoming shoot, I didn’t worry about twisted straps. Just be aware that the thinner the strap, the more likely it is to twist at some point.

This particular thong is not what we would consider “open crotch.” Indeed, the opening reveals only the mons pubis area; Brittnie’s labia are discreetly concealed by the bottom panel.

Erotic Mirror Nudes Photography - Fashion Nude Photography
Erotic Mirror Nudes Photography - Fashion Nude Photography
Erotic Mirror Nudes Photography - Fashion Nude Photography

Of course, when Brittnie wanted to project pleasure (her job), the thong took on new dimensions that were a bit more revealing.

Erotic Mirror Nudes Photography - Fashion Nude Photography

A wider “kaleidoscope” view of the set really pulls in multiple views of Brittnie’s stunning figure. The reflections, being secondary to the foreground image, provide views that taken alone would serve no useful purpose in fashion photography, but provide a pleasing balance to the overall composition.

Erotic Mirror Nudes Photography - Fashion Nude Photography

The Third Look: An Erotic Experience

Our final outfit, a pearl thong, has – in my opinion – only one purpose: to create an erotic experience. The question is – for whom? With a pearl thong, the model’s most intimate area is completely exposed; a string of pearls runs from the front panel to the rear band, right through her labia. The theory, according to manufacturers of this style, is that the pearls create an erotic massaging sensation each time the woman moves, especially since the leading pearls are nestled right next to her clitoris. Continuous stimulation, they say. This style of thong was most likely designed by a man with limited knowledge of female anatomy; when I asked Brittnie if she felt the “erotic massaging sensation” as she moved around on the bed, she replied, “Feels like something is stuck in my ass!” So much for theory.

Erotic Mirror Nudes Photography - Fashion Nude Photography

In practical terms, though, a pearl thong can provide a woman an opportunity to experience her “Inner Exhibitionist”, even if it is never seen by anyone else. While wearing this garment, Brittnie really hit her stride in projecting pleasure.

Erotic Mirror Nudes Photography - Fashion Nude Photography

The wider view including the multiple reflections clearly showed that Brittnie was thoroughly enjoying the exhibitionist feelings that a pearl thong can produce under the right circumstances.

Erotic Mirror Nudes Photography - Fashion Nude Photography

As has become somewhat the norm for collaborations between Brittnie and me, we shot some video sequences featuring the pearl thong. Here is a short teaser clip:

“What if you added a third mirror to the set,” I can hear you thinking? Ah, glad you asked! As a session with my good friend and model Augusta demonstrates, a third mirror provides…well, infinite possibilities. But that’s a subject for another article.

Stay tuned and #ShootBold!

Erotic Mirror Nudes Photography - Fashion Nude Photography

The Back Story

For all still images and video, I used a Sony A7ii full frame mirrorless with a Zeiss 24-70/f 2.8 – my go-to lens for most fashion photography. When using strobe lighting, I will generally shoot with shutter speed 1/160 second, ISO 100 and f/8 or so. I am currently making major changes to my video lighting setup, so to provide you with the settings I used for the video sequences here would, I believe, be misleading for video work going forward.

The basic set and lighting design:

Lighting Diagram - Erotic Mirror Nudes Photography - Fashion Nude Photography

Cam specs:

  • f/5.6-8
  • 1/125
  • ISO 100
  • 24-70mm
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