Thomas Holm is a former advertising and commercial photographer, having made a living photographing pretty much everything for about 20 years. Around the year 2000, he transitioned into color management and has been working full time in this field ever since.
Over the last decade, Thomas found a way to make his beloved photography a hobby again.
Thomas loves to surround himself with beauty, be it paintings, sculptures, great architecture, objects or elegant landscapes. He describes himself as being very visually oriented.
Thomas strives to create pictures which are not only beautiful but also interesting to watch – ideally without the viewer really understanding why. He’s intrigued with watching the different impacts of light fall in various environments and especially on the human body.
The variety is almost infinite and this is a factor he really strives to capture with his pictures.
Interview by Dan Hostettler
Where are you living now and for how long have you been a photographer?
I’m based in Copenhagen, Denmark and have basically photographed most of my life. I started shooting at the age of 14 but don’t really know what fueled the interest. A couple of years later I started developing B/W film by myself and I was sold on the magic.
Did you go to school to study photography?
Yes. I ended up with a formal education as a commercial photographer in 1988 after working as an apprentice for 4 years. Since then I’ve been doing everything from shooting images for supermarket freesheets over clothing to global campaigns for silverware and beer.
What was the first photograph that meant something special to you (by you or anyone else), and why?
When I was about 15 or 16 years old I saw a black and white art nude image by David Hamilton, with a couple of stamps from exhibitions that I just couldn’t keep my eyes from in a poster shop. I saved up for about 2 month until I had enough money to purchase this image framed, and hung it on my wall where it stayed for years. It somehow conveyed innocence, sensuality and beauty at the same time.
What is the fascination that got you started shooting nude-oriented photos?
Well obviously I love women and think the naked body is (can be) perfect in the many different shapes it takes. I’ve always liked classic art including both paintings and sculptures both which habitually picture naked women in particular. Some sculptures have the ability to seem alive and convey emotion, which for a piece of rock is pretty amazing to my mind.
I think artistic nudes can approach a beautiful sculpture in that it becomes something more than the raw pieces the picture elements consist of. Along with lighting and setting, it can provoke an emotional response. Also since it is a photograph it has the one element that all the other art mediums are missing: What you see actually “happened” at some point in time. Therefore it seems more real or realistic, than the other art-forms.
Do you prefer a certain style (like NudeArt, glamNudes) and what is your idea/vision behind it all?
Definitely art nudes, glam isn’t really my ball game. I shoot nudes as a way to express my creative sparks, and to me it is a tribute to women and to show others the beauty I see in these amazing creatures. I like beautiful things in general and I love to find the beauty in any object be it a stone on a beach or a women with a particular collarbone, exquisite curvaceous body or elegant long limbs.
I see beauty everywhere and I love to share this with others.
Are there any photographers that you consider to be a creative, artistic or stylistic influence on your work?
There has been so many. Some of my current favorites who come to mind (on different merits and in no particular order) are Mark Lagrange, Ian Rankin, Albert Watson, Anne Leibovich, Herb Ritts, Patrick Demarchelier, Andreas Bitesnich, Greg Gorman, Peter Beard and Kenro Izu. But you can add to that many of the old masters like Man Ray, Horst P Horst, Lucien Clergue, Helmut Newton, William Mortensen and many, many others.
How do you find/cast models to work on your projects?
These days I mostly find models through Facebook or one of the model sites (Model Mayhem, Purple Port etc.) be it amateurs or professionals. I’m lucky enough that I’m contacted by a lot of models who would like to work with me so I’m rarely out of models to work with (time is the real challenge).
When I go traveling I try and research some local modeling sites in advance and see if anyone interesting is there that I can work with and set up an appointment. About 80% of the women I work with are amateur models and quite a few have never done nude work before at all.
Do you normally pay the models for a shoot or do you negotiate other deals like e.g. TFP (Time for Photo)?
Most of the shoots I do are TF as they are non-commercial jobs with amateur models however I also work with pro models now and then most of which are paid. I always make sure the models are compensated generously in good images (and publicity) though and I always take good care of them before, throughout and after the shoot. In my mind there should be something in it for the model when spending time modeling for a photographer (and fixing hair, nails, makeup and getting clothes – although clothes isn’t the most expensive when shooting with me). I’d love dearly to pay all the models I work with, unfortunately this is not possible.
Where and how do you present and publish your work (e.g. competitions, online magazines, guest blogs, real galleries)?
I’m only just starting to enter various competitions (and I’m planning to publish a book later this year) but other than that it’s mainly on places like my website commandoart.com , 500px.com/tholm and some similar places.
How do you – in today’s digital world – earn money with your fine art nude photography?
I don’t. Art nudes are purely a hobby for me and I prefer for it to stay that way. I used to make a living making commercial pictures and it killed my creativity. I teach workshops which generate a little bit of income which partly finance the cost, but I only do this because I love to teach and share knowledge with other like-minded people. I also on occasion make private paid shoots. My day job and thus source of income is color management consulting.
Do you prefer shooting indoors, in a studio or rather outdoor work?
I generally prefer location. Whether it’s indoor or outdoor doesn’t matter but I like to have the environment and available light to relate to (I almost always only use available light) and I’m inspired by beautiful environments. It makes photography more challenging, and impossible to reproduce an image from day to day or even from hours to hour.
I find the limitations, including the limitation of not using clothes on models, fuel my creativity and make it much more rewarding when I create something stunningly beautiful. I prefer studio for figure shoots (Sculpture work) as this need very careful control over lighting.
Many aspiring photographers would like to explore nude work but just don’t know how to get started. Do you have some advice for taking the first steps?
- First find out WHY you want to shoot nudes. Is it the rendition of beauty? Naturalness, the ability to watch naked women, making images that touch people, or just creating beautiful images? There can be many reasons, but you need to know why YOU are attracted to this genre. It’s very hard to create something good unless you know what your goal is.
In addition many men loose the usage of half their brain in company with a naked woman, so realize you really need to focus and plan on what you want to do.
- Learn Composition (William Mortensen’s “The command to look” is one of the best books ever written on the subject). Start to study lighting. Watch how light falls on everyone. The angle, direction and quality and consider how to recreate what you see.
- Collect a bunch of images of the type you would like to make (50+) print them out, sort and group them. You’ll quickly discover you are attracted to a certain genre. Start with this genre and dissect the images. Look at them and analyze WHY you like them (Emotion, composition, lighting, model, hair, location, contrast, emotion). Look at them upside down too and see if they still work.
Then be realistic and find out which of them you can recreate and what it takes (the model standing on the stern of a yacht at sunrise in the Caribbean may be beautiful, but few have the means to make this image so concentrate on what is realistically possible for you).
- Then find a model (and trust me you will be better off paying €200-500 for a good model than using an inexperienced amateur) and try to create an image similar to your favorite one. Try to create this one image perfectly and since you know in advance what you want to do you should prepare carefully. Don’t expect to do anything else that day! First make that ONE good image that really works, and make absolutely sure you have it – and THEN start experimenting. And even if you need to shoot 1000 pictures to get the one perfect image who cares as long as the picture is really good and carries across the feel you were looking for. After this you have proved to yourself that you are capable or making a really good image… From there you are on your way.
- There are three typical places most aspirating nude photographers go wrong:
1). They use inexperienced models while being inexperienced themselves (which is like trying to compete in the Le Mans in an everyday car without being a race driver).
2). They try to do too much rather than to do just one thing right. That means ending up with 15 mediocre/bad images instead of 1-3 good ones.
3). They forget everything they had planned when they are in the company of a naked woman. The easiest cure is to get an experienced model who is not shy, and then focus on your task, the technique and not the nakedness. Those that fail to plan, plan to fail…
What are your next photography goals?
Publishing a book with some of my best photographs. It’s a huge task, it’s very expensive and takes a lot of work but I expect to accomplish this later in the year. Do drop by my website commandoart.com and have a look after summer if you are interested in a copy (it’ll be fabulous).
Behind the Scenes Glimpse: Thomas at Work
Tech QNA: Thomas’ Gear DNA
Do you work solely digital or also analog these days?
These days purely digital, but ask me in a year or so and the printing part may end up being analogue. I’m fascinated by some of the old printing techniques, which I feel lend some additional texture and depth not to mention uniqueness to the images I do. I’m talking about techniques like cyanotypes, bromoil process, Platinum/Palladium printing…
What type of camera(s) & lenses do you shoot with?
These days I shoot exclusively with a Sony NEX-7, a Sony 50mm, a couple of Zeiss lenses a Jena Biogon from around 1940 as well as a Lomo Petzval.
What lighting equipment do you set up for a shoot?
As little as possible. If I can get away with ambient light (Daylight) only I will. Most important possibly are some huge black and white plates to reflect and block the light so I can get direction and shape. In the studio I also use daylight if possible but other than that I prefer flash on the lowest possible output (which often means speedlight) to get a very shallow depth of field, either directly through a diffuser or in a silver or white umbrella. I love Fresnel spots as well. I’m not a big fan of softboxes in general though.
How important is Photoshop for your final images?
Very. I retouch all images, remove blemishes, smooth skin and perfect contrast and shape of skin just like I did in the darkroom in the old days – and some things you couldn’t do in the darkroom of course. Other than being professional inclined to make “perfect” images I’m generally not interested in picturing models as they are, I’m interested in creating images that convey emotion and touch the viewer. This also means removing undesirable elements that attract unwanted attention and take away from the image as a whole.
Are you rather a Mac or a PC lover?
I use Mac but the only reason is it allows me to run both Mac OS X and Windows on the same computer.
Thomas, thanks a lot for joining me and the time you dedicated to my readers!