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Photographing a nude in front of a open fire

johnnyboy114 9 231 106 United Kingdom
10 Dec 2010 11:38PM
Hi guys

Early in the new year, I am probably going to be shooting a friend who has asked me to get some art nude shots of her, high class, simple light images that are of the arty kind and she has recently moved into a lovely old cottage with a big open fireplace that she loves and wants to incorporate into the image.

Now, I have used off camera flash before, but I have never balanced it against fire AND ambient light before and I was wondering if there were any tips any of you could give that would give me good exposure on my model, the fire and the ambient surroundings.

I work using strobist gear, have a large 1m umbrella/softbox, a small 20inch softbox, a reflector umbrella, two shoot through umbrella and three flashguns, all with stands. I will be shooting with a Canon 7D and the only two lenses I have are a 50mm 1.4 and 24-105mm f4 L. I am not sure of the dimensions of the room yet, but I am guessing its not going to be too big....

Any suggestions to get a classy shot with nice warm tones and colours out of this without it becoming a flashfest would be very gratefully recieved.



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JackAllTog Plus
9 5.0k 58 United Kingdom
11 Dec 2010 10:19AM
Hi John,
Its sounds idylic, i'm guessing a big roaring fire is in order to set the scene; As the fire might be larger than usual do make sure the chimney is swept as chimney fires are hard to deal with, your also may want to put some old bricks under the coals/wood to make the fire look bigger without actually adding too much fuel to get it too hot. Your will want the fire to be going well before the shoot and settleing down into a steady burn as the light will be rapidly changing otherwise. Pyromaniac bit done Wink
The 1st thing i thought of was a big silver/gold reflector to use the fire light reflecting back into her to keep the light colours similiar.
Now i'm speaking out of a guess, but i'd consider some kind of yellow gel to shoot through the white umbrella to mimic the firelight colour but stil keep the light soft and difuse. I'd avoid any bare stobes on full power.
The zoom on f8 might be the starting point if the room is small; she will be siting quite still i hope.
Dont' forget a few bigger wick candles and soft wollen items of clothing as props.

Hope this helps with ideas.
johnnyboy114 9 231 106 United Kingdom
11 Dec 2010 10:54AM
Cheers Stuart, yeah, should be an interesting shot. Its her place and I haven't seen it yet, so I guess I am going to have to wing a bit of it really, but this is good advice. Don't worry about the fire, the chimney is well maintained. She rents, so the landlord gets it done every year....I asked! Smile And she says that when the fire is going, its really roaring....hence thats why she wanted to get it in the shots. So should be good.

As for the flashguns, I have absolutely no intention with the circumstances to have them bare as it really won't be flattering to her, so I want to keep the light as warm and soft as possible. Nothing cheesy, really don't want to do anything "pin up" or glamour or anything, she and I want to keep it as tasteful as possible. She is a curvy woman (not fat, good figure, but of the fuller sort), so want to accentuate that as well so thinking your ligthting suggestions will work well. Thanks again. I have a reflector, so will definitely be using those. She will have a friend of hers there for moral support so I can rope her in to get some help with things.

Thanks again Stuart, much appreciated!

Graflex 15 488 United Kingdom
11 Dec 2010 12:06PM
Sounds like you are turning the clock back half a century with this style of picture,eg George Harrison Marks or Eva Grant.More suited is artificial light from something like 'redheads' rather than flash.Avoid 'white' skin looking and go towards a tan.

Today,with digital you don't require as much lighting like you do for film.

Always ask your model to strip off well in advance (slip into a coat),nothing is worse than strap marks and knickers cutting into skin.To see this in pictures is a right turn-off.

Photographing women without clothes is an art form,and more goes on preparing the picture,hair,make-up...and no stretch marks,than you think.The final product you see isn't what the eye see's on first impression when the lady usually walks into the studio.

Tummies in,shoulders back,chest out,legs NOT pointing towards the camera..and no wide angle lenses.Even the Victorians had this down to a fine art.

Otherwise you might as well photograph a sack of potatoes.All the direction comes from the photographer...and never be shy,one of the rules of the game.Be positive in your dialogue.

Happy Snapping.
johnnyboy114 9 231 106 United Kingdom
11 Dec 2010 12:17PM
Thanks Horace, good advice. I have done a nude shoot before, so have all those check boxes ticked to be honest and said I will chat to her nearer the time regarding clothes, timing, marks, MU and hair etc etc....posing is hopefully in the bag anyway as we both have ideas that we want to try and she has actually been practicing in front of the mirror, so hopefully that will help!

I can see why you think it sounds an old style shoot and in a way, it probably is, but want to give it a contemporary feel without flooding the shots with light, giving more depth with shadows and so on....but want to be able to keep a touch of the ambient coming through as she really wants to get the fireplace in the shots. Will have to have a reccy of her place before I can finalise details, hence my original questions to be honest.

Having said that, really appreciate the comeback to me as its always good to have another kick every now and then as there is always something you will or can forget, so will use this as a checklist, so thanks Smile
Graflex 15 488 United Kingdom
11 Dec 2010 3:19PM
Of course,nothing wrong in old style,I think it's great,it's how I started posing girls,nothing more daunting than seeing naked flesh for the early part of one's career.Until you get an old cynic like me.. seen one,you more or less have seen the lot.

Like a doctor really,second nature.

The trouble with doing this as a living you only see the commercial side but still trying to retain the 'artistic' side and striking a happy balance.

Next patient please...
arhb Plus
10 3.4k 68 United Kingdom
11 Dec 2010 6:04PM
Maybe worth taking your strobes round before shoot day Johnny, and take some shots without flash then with some with flash to experiment with some light levels that incorporate the warm glow of the fire - even get your model to sit in place fully clothed. That way you'll be that bit closer to knowing your set-up, flash levels etc when you go to do the actual shoot.
johnnyboy114 9 231 106 United Kingdom
12 Dec 2010 5:19PM
Yeah, cheers Andy, I think I might do that, or at the very least, do some SP's and try a few lighting things out, so I know where I am starting....definitely need a bit of fiddling with this but don't want to be doing it on the day....will definitely work something out though, I hope! Wink
MikeQ 7 2 United Kingdom
29 Mar 2011 11:22AM

I know this is ages after you have probably done your shoot but I only just read this so I thought I would comment for the next time maybe. This smokin strobes guy has all kinds of video tutorials on his site including by the fireplace. Follow the link



johnnyboy114 9 231 106 United Kingdom
29 Mar 2011 11:38AM
Hi Mike

Actually, I haven't done the shoot yet, which is both frustrating and annoying, but also one of those things that can't be helped....BUT, hopefully, at some point this year, it WILL happen, so all info is good info...

This guy is actually very good....I subscribe to his YouTube channel and I have seen this video already and has given me some pretty damn good ideas! lol! So thank you for that and the good reminder as I need to get in touch with my model and see how she is feeling....has been pretty under the weather of late, hence the no-shoot......but thanks again! Appreciated!

User_Removed 8 4.6k 1 Scotland
29 Mar 2011 12:09PM
Just watch our for the "corned beef" effect that comes from sitting too close to an open fire.
johnnyboy114 9 231 106 United Kingdom
29 Mar 2011 12:10PM
Good point....will do! Thanks for that....hopefully should be good skin, but will be pale-ish, so will have to be careful she doesn't get too hot....appreciate the heads up!
samfurlong 12 2.5k United Kingdom
29 Mar 2011 12:38PM
Start with what ambient light is available and build your lighting around that. You may find that very little flash is required, just watch your shutter speeds as you drag the shutter to capture the available light.
johnnyboy114 9 231 106 United Kingdom
29 Mar 2011 1:01PM
Good advice...I was a touch worried about the changing light of the fire, but seems this might be easier to deal with than balancing the flash with ambient to be honest. I have a feeling it will be quite dark, so highish ISO and longer shutter speeds for ambient, but not going to handhold for those shots.....maybe. Will have to play it by ear on that. But will definitely be watching out for the ambient and colour temp too...want to keep some of the warmth, but will probably have to gel the flashes...cheers for the heads up! Smile
Wellspring 9 86 37 England
17 Apr 2011 9:55AM
I dont have much to add to the above;

I think you might find the strobes need a red rather than orange gel.

I would try white/silver reflectors without any colour as the light coming from the fire will already be coloured

You could try placing light in key areas with just a snoot or with a grid, rather than spreading it around.

I managed a shoot with one candle power so I guess a good fire should be enough light with reflectors.

I like fireplaces but have yet to find a good way to pose a model.

I would try to exclude all daylight as it is the wrong colour but would consider using table lamps if you can get the right colour bulbs/shades.

Just my thoughts - I am eager to see what you come up with!

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