Renèe Jacobs started her photography career in the photo journalism business, freelancing for various newspapers and magazines. As her career progressed, she published a book - Slow Burn: A Photodocument of Centralia, Pennsylvania. The book was based on environmental issues and as a result she ended up going to law school and practised for fifteen years. After she gave up law and returned to photography she realised she wasn't interested in shooting photo journalism again and began a new career as a fine art nude photographer.
“As I was working as a lawyer there wasn't a lot of beauty in my life so I started taking photographs of female nudes and realised that, for me, there was nothing more beautiful and restorative to fifteen years of conflict and agony. It was a great way to add beauty back into my life.”
For Renèe, going into female nude photography was an internal exploration. Photo journalism is so much about news events. You're always trying to be objective to show the public what's really happening and Renèe likes the fact that this objectivity isn't needed for nude photography: “You look at what you want to look at and show what you want to show and people can take it or leave it.”
Of course, Renèe has private collectors who just collect the work she produces but she also has individual women, from all aspects of life, go to her for their portraits taking. A woman in her forties wanted reminding how sensual she was, she's had women who want images for anniversaries or partners birthdays and she's had one lady who had undergone stomach bypass surgery and lost an incredible amount of weight. This lady was full of scars but she was really proud of the change and she felt it was something that should be documented.
Women always feel comfortable with Renèe. Now, she doesn't know if this is because she's a woman or because her clients know she's done this so many times before but, for certain, one thing that does help is her focus.
“Everything is about shadows, curves, light and how a model fits into the environment. On some levels it's personal and others it's not at all. Also, the women I photograph know I've done this a lot and it's easy for them to feel very comfortable.”
Two themes which seem to appear in Renèe's work are the use of hair and water. She loves the way hair looks and feels and when she combines this with the natural setting of water it makes for great looking pictures.
“The subject, light and time of day can make a particular shot look great or there could be one part of a model that intrigues me - it really depends on the moment.”
Even though Renèe has and does work in the studio she prefers to work outdoors. A lot of what she shoots is linked to the local landscape of Southern California. She loves the desert, she loves the end of day light Southern California basks in and as a result, her work has become much more organic. So organic that most of the time, unless she's shooting magazine work, she doesn't even use lights or assistants. Her work is a very quiet, intimate process, it's not a big production. It's just her, nature and the model.
“I think this helps with the model and their comfort level. An intimate, one-on-one process makes the best work.”
Her natural surroundings play a very important part in her work and going outdoors always makes her images more dynamic.
“Don't forget that essentially, it's just a background. For the most part, I shoot wide open as I really like a shallow depth of field and you get a great feeling from the background. I always incorporate it into the image but the main focus has to be much more about the woman than the landscape.”
As the woman is the focus, making her look and feel her best is crucial. Some other photographers do this by talking to the model but generally Renèe doesn't.
“A lot of the models I shoot have become good friends and there's no doubt that friendship, overtime, makes better photographs but if it's a model I am just photographing one time I don't do much talking or pre-planning. With some of the models who are my friends we can go off for a couple of nights, spend some time together, have a good time and for me, this is where I like to shoot and where images come most naturally. It's not a 'here's a one hour window and we will try and cram all this light, feeling, emotion and passion into the hour' then you're gone. The shoots that produce the best results are those of my friends, those I have spent time with outside the shoots. I like to spend time with these incredible people and watch things developing – that's where the magical photos are.”
Story boarding and pre-planning isn't something that works or is crucial for Renèe but something that is crucial is a good camera. Renèe shoots on a Canon 5D and also loves her Polaroid camera. She uses a variety of lenses including a 85-180mm and also does a little post production work too.
“Most of what I do is like I would have done in the dark room so I look at contrast, I do burning and dodging. I don't do much body modifications it's really digital darkroom work.”
For more information on Renèe or her book visit her websites: