It Don’t mean a Thing, If You Don’t Have That Swing Styling

If you look at a lot of glamour photography in publications like Playboy or Penthouse, or on (adult) websites like Twistys , Digital Desire , and others, you’ll probably notice that they shoot a lot on location. And by location, I mean mansions or other exotic locales.

The reason that they do so is to add an additional element of interest into the photos. It allows the photographer to juxtapose the model’s allure and curves against the background. Dan’s Article, “Seducing Lines”, is a good example of this as well. Now, one might wonder why you need an “additional” element of “interest” besides beautiful, nude models. But when you consider that many of these pay sites publish several sets each week, the same setting, regardless of what it is, starts to get boring. And it’s worse if the setting is a plain background.

Even a monthly magazine starts to get boring after a while when all the photosets start to look the same. But exotic locations cost money and that means, for many of us, that we can’t work the same into our shooting budgets. What to do?

A while ago, in “Spice Up Your Studio Shoot”, I offered a number of ideas how you can change up the studio shooting experience by looking around your studio space to take advantage of physical attributes of the space, or by employing different lighting techniques. Dan’s ebook, Creative Nudes on a Budget, also built on this theme. This article explores another way to add that “special sauce” to your images – through “styling”.

Corsets - Styling for Photoshoot

Ya Gotta Have That Swing Styling

The title of this article, It Don’t Mean a Thing, If You Ain’t Got That Swing Styling, is borrowed from a song written by famous jazz music composer, Duke Ellington. Ellington’s song was about that “special something”, swing, that set American jazz music apart from other contemporary popular music. Without swing, jazz was just another song. I adapted that title to emphasize that “styling” is a way to set your images apart, not only from the work of other photographers, but also from your own, past work. Even though you may use essentially the same lighting with the same plain background, you can convey very different moods or stories through your styling choices.

Let’s take a look at these two images:

Tara Grier & Jen Ho - Men Shirt and Boy Toy - Styling for Photoshoot

They involve virtually the same lighting, on an identical set. Yet the choice of wardrobe invites the viewer to create very different background narratives about the ladies in the images, and thus different moods. The very essence of “glamour” style imagery is presentation of a fantasy, and styling is the heavy lifter of that fantasy, particularly when your background is limited.

The Styling Conundrum

Okay, you might be thinking, if the normal modus operandi for glamour photographers is to have the model engage in a slow strip tease, working towards complete nudity, how can “styling” be a heavy lifter to keep my shots from being boring once the model gets completely nude? Good question!

The answer is that you don’t have your model get completely nude. Instead, you have your model strip to the point where her alluring features are revealed, yet still remain clothed to some extent.

Tara Grier - Fashion Nude - Styling for Photoshoot

In the images above, Tara is wearing sheer panty hose and a coat with an interesting geometric pattern. If Tara buttons the coat, she can show a bit of cleavage, but still be completely covered. But by unbuttoning the coat, she can reveal all of her feminine allure without actually removing the coat or taking off the pantyhose. Herein lies the secret of styling. You need to pick wardrobe that will allow the model to reveal her feminine charms without being completely removed.

Making the Right Wardrobe Choices

Putting styling front and center of your glamour photography does require more effort on the part of you, the photographer. You have to develop your own sense of style, and how to put a wardrobe together. To that end, looking through fashion magazines to get an idea of female fashion trends is very helpful. Once you get a sense of the wardrobe style you are going for, make sure that this is part of your booking conversation with your model. Tell her what you want the images to look like, and ascertain that she has the wardrobe you want for the look you are going for. And, above all, make sure that she understands what wardrobe that you want her to bring to the shoot.

A simple rule of thumb to follow in styling:

  • If your background is complex, keep the styling complimentary, but simple.
  • But if your background is plain, then you need to make your model more complex, and the styling plays a more important role. Moreover, since you want to keep your model at least partially clothed, you need to make styling choices that will allow the model to reveal her feminine charms, without completely disrobing.

To get you started, here are a few ideas for wardrobe items that will help you put outfits together. This is by no means a comprehensive dissertation on styling or women’s fashion. Rather it is intended to get you started in thinking about how you can use fashion and styling choices to convey different looks and moods, and thus inject some variation into your images without the necessity and added expense of utilizing exotic locations.

Wardrobe Options

Sheer tops and dresses

Women often have wardrobe items that are at least partially, if not completely, sheer. In the real world, these items often are worn over other garments that provide coverage. By incorporating these items into your wardrobe choices allows your model to remain clothed, yet still reveal enough skin to tease the viewer. You can either have the model wear the sheer items without underclothing from the beginning, or do an inverse strip tease – remove the undergarments instead of the outer garments as the shoot progresses.

Sheer tops and dresses - Styling for Photoshoot
Sheer tops and dresses - Styling for Photoshoot

Pantyhose, stockings, and garter belts

Hosiery can add color, pattern, and/or texture to the image, yet a model wearing only those items will be substantially nude. My only caution about pantyhose is to select the type that does not have a reinforced crotch. Even if you are not going for a more explicit look, if the reinforced part shows a little, it tends to interfere with the fantasy you are selling. Garter belts also add a touch of fetish into the image.

Pantyhose, stockings, and garter belts - Styling for Photoshoot
Pantyhose, stockings, and garter belts - Styling for Photoshoot

Button down or zipper tops

Buttons allow the model to slowly reveal her charms as she unbuttons or unzips the garment, and allows her to keep it on during the entire shoot.

Button Shirts, Tied Shirts, Zipper - Styling for Photoshoot

Crop tops and tank tops and low neck tops

Crop tops and tank tops are usually form-fitting and thus show off a model’s curves very well. Further, those kinds of tops can usually be pulled up to show the model’s breasts, without fully taking the top off. Female fashion often seeks to accentuate the breasts, and tops often have plunging necklines to show off the cleavage of the breasts. It’s not too hard to adjust the garment to expose the breasts while still on. In addition, you can use the top to add an element of color or pattern into the shot.

Crop tops and tank tops and low neck tops - Styling for Photoshoot


Shrugs are garments that cover the shoulders of the model, but aren’t designed to cover her breasts. They are perfect to add a bit of color or texture to the shot, while not covering anything “of interest” to the viewer.

Shrugs - Styling for Photoshoot
Shrugs - Styling for Photoshoot


Jackets and other outer-garments are meant to be worn over other garments. But as they either button or zip closed, the wearer can opt to leave it open.

Jackets - Styling for Photoshoot

Scarves and hats

Scarves and hats may not be obvious options, but they are actually quite versatile. Scarves can often be used to completely cover a model who is otherwise completely nude. They can be stylishly folded in a number of ways to morph into tops or skirts. They can be sheer or opaque and can add color, shape and pattern. Hats offer a touch of color, shape and pattern too. A particularly interesting hat, along with a nice pair of shoes, could be all the wardrobe you need.

Scarfs - Styling for Photoshoot
9 - Hats - Styling for Photoshoot

Shoes and boots

Stylish heels can really set a mood. And women’s shoes come in such a variety of styles, and often can add a splash of color. Moreover, the right boots can dominate an ensemble. Of course, since shoes and boots don’t cover the alluring parts of your model, they offer an element of style to an otherwise naked form.

Boots & Shoes - Styling for Photoshoot


Jewelry offers a lot of possibilities. Long strands of pearls or gold chains can almost substitute for a top, with, of course, the benefit that it offers quite a bit of skin exposure. It offers a nice accent to other garments, while furnishing an accent and point of interest for a model who is almost completely nude.

11 - Jewelry - Styling for Photoshoot

Put that Swing into Your Shoot

As you may have noticed from some of the accompanying images, the idea is to combine different articles of clothing into a “look” that the model can convey even while revealing all of her feminine charm and allure. How many of these things you combine is up to you and the look that you want to convey. You can convey sophistication, a punk rock look, the look of a college coed, or anything in between, through the styling choices you make. You can convey differing moods and give completely different looks from essentially the same lighting patterns and basic backgrounds.

Putting it all together: A Dedicated Shoot With Jeana Turner

To give you a more complete idea of what I’m trying to convey, I’ve included images from two sets that I shot with Playboy model Jeana Turner . They were both shot on a white seamless background. Both sets were styled by me with items that I picked up on sales at low budget stores. Jeana provided the Jeans and her own shoes. This should give you an idea of how the styling changes up the look. It should also give you an idea how I had Jeana keep something on, even while revealing all of her alluring features.

Jeana Turner - 'Jeans' Composite - Styling for Photoshoot

Jeana Turner - Lighting Diagrams - Styling for Photoshoot

Jeana Turner - 'T Shirt' Composite- Styling for Photoshoot

At the end of the day, Glamour Photography is selling a fantasy. The allure of beautiful women is only one part of the equation. Exotic locations and styling both contribute to the creation of mood and message. For those of us who don’t have access to, for one reason or another, the exotic locales that we see in top notch publications or websites, glamour photography is still possible. It just means that we have to place more emphasis on the styling aspect to add variety to our shoots and carry the fantasy forward.

Hopefully I’ve offered some insights into how you can use styling to “do the heavy lifting” and “sell” the fantasy. I certainly don’t pretend to have all the answers. Feel free to ask questions or add your own ideas in the comments below.

Thanks for reading!

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