The Creative Mentality Behind Intimate Portraiture (NSFW)

All images by Jason Bach. Used with permission.

“We live in a world where media & film censorship favors violence over the beauty of the naked form.” says photographer Jason Bach about how he got into intimate portraiture. “To me, its an appalling concept and should be reversed – we should be embracing and teaching younger generations that sexuality and nudity is natural and a much more positive representation of humanity than what violence offers.” You see, Jason isn’t one of those guys on the social interwebs using nudity to become Instafamous–he creates genuinely intimate, sensual and beautiful work.

Jason Bach is a wedding and commercial photographer who owns his studio The Photogenic Lab based in Denver, CO. He labels his distinctive style as “playful, innovative images that wrap stories into single moments.” Indeed, it makes a lot of sense. And when it comes to creating intimate scenes, he says that it’s all about the serious nature behind the work.

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Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.

Jason: It was an on again off again love affair beginning in my early childhood when my parents gave me my first Pentax film camera as a birthday present. I was always trying to take all the art classes, to the point that my high school made extra art class periods for me because I ran through them all by junior year high school. My first and only actual photography class was in high school and that was my introduction to film and processing prints. After that I had a gap where I studied computer science and let a career in that scratch my technical itch for a few years.

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I fell back in love with photography after getting my hands on my brother’s old Nikon DSLR for a few weeks. It brought back this need to understand the principles and become creative again. I went back to school to get a MA in Media, Film, & Journalism at University of Denver, which led me down a career path in commercial video production, which taught me much about understanding light, how to look for it, and shape it if need be.

After working as a camera operator and DP for a bit, I turned my attention back to stills photography and decided to give weddings & lifestyle a go, but only if I could bring a more artistic non-traditional style to my creativity and client delivery. I founded The Photogenic Lab soon after.

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Phoblographer: What made you attracted to creating intimate portraits?

Jason: Several reasons actually. We live in a world where media & film censorship favors violence over the beauty of the naked form. To me, it’s an appalling concept and should be reversed – we should be embracing and teaching younger generations that sexuality and nudity is natural and a much more positive representation of humanity than what violence offers.

However, I don’t want that to be confused with sexualizing the male or female form. I think one can admire the beauty of intimate display without overtly manifesting sexual desire for it. I love creating intimate portraits that can elicit either of these emotions from a viewer. Much of it also has to do with the subject and how they want to portray themselves as well.

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Phoblographer: When you go about doing this work, what kind of prep do you do beforehand? Is there concept planning? What about locations?

Jason: Sometimes it’s not planned at all and totally spontaneous while other times every detail has been planned out for location, wardrobe, model, etc. I try and use the subjects house or a friend’s location if available. Lately I’ve been scouting on Airbnb for fun locations to use with owners permission of course. As for as concepts are concerned, it’s something I want to explore more of. For now, I’ve just been concentrating on my style and figuring out what works and what doesn’t.

Phoblographer: This type of work obviously gives off a very intimate feel, so what elements and ideas are always in your head to ensure that that’s what comes through in the end result?

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Jason: Normally when I shoot weddings and engagements, I like shooting medium to wide focal lengths. But for intimate work I’ve started to lean more towards longer focal lengths, such as my 58mm and 85mm. The 85mm is a spectacular portrait lens obviously, but that focal length also gives off a voyeuristic vibe which I feel elicits a stronger intimate connection for the viewer.

Lighting plays a very important role too, which is something I’ve been experimenting with to see what works for me. I’ve learned that less is more and to use the ambient lighting to your advantage. I see a lot of traditional boudoir photography very well lit and while this style produces technical good imagery, I feel that its lacking in mood and intimacy.

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In my early days of working commercial sets I remember the best advice given to me by a gaffer after I was trying to correct every shadow in the scene with more fill light. He said “The world is comprised equally of both light and darkness, don’t unbalance that.”

So I’m trying to apply that concept more nowadays to my intimate work and remember that its OK to live in the shadows as long as it fits your vision.

Phoblographer: Talk to us about the conversations you have with your models and about the importance that trust plays in all this.

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Jason: Any subjects that I haven’t worked with before I like to meet in person first to get to know one another and begin forming that bond. I’ve definitely been influenced by muses in my life, whether they are lovers, friends, or models that I have a platonic connection with.

“He said “The world is comprised equally of both light and darkness, don’t unbalance that.”

The muse effect is a very real thing and can inspire your work tremendously. When it comes to the actual shoot, I recommend that at least one other person be present, either a stylist or a friend, so they feel that they are in a safe place. When it comes to directing my subjects, I like to ask them what they want to get out of the session, what they are comfortable with showing, and then I help direct them by laying out a story for them to interact with.

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It can be as simple as waiting for your lover to get out of the shower or complex such as dealing with a sudden breakup. I think relating a story to your subject to work with is important, it transforms them from being a model to being an actress. It gives them an anchor for inspiration. Some clients have elected to have a glass of champagne too which helps take the edge off if they are nervous. I also really enjoy playing music during my shoots.

I curate a Spotify playlist for bedroom activities that seems to help relax and create a comfortable yet sensual mood. Overall I just want to have fun and create art together.

Phoblographer: What are some technical challenges you’re often faced with that you try to solve? How do you go about doing that?

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“I curate a Spotify playlist for bedroom activities that seems to help relax and create a comfortable yet sensual mood. Overall I just want to have fun and create art together.”

Jason: My biggest struggle is with posing my subjects. Sometimes a subject can just turn it on and roll with the camera, and others need absolute 100% direction. I like to do a mix and make it a collaboration as these sessions are a creation between both of us. There’s moments where I hit a creative block and can’t figure out what I want, whether it’s a pose, composition, or how the light is falling on the subject. If I hit a creative roadblock, then I take a break and think about. I find just taking your time and not putting a time limit on the session really helps push through these hurdles.

Phoblographer: You tend to skew very heavily towards working with a warm color palette and minimal colors. But do you feel color plays an important role in the intimate work that you do or can these easily be switched over to black and white and be just as effective?

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Jason: Usually in my other type of photography work, my eye is attracted to scenes of vibrant color, perspective, texture, and depth. For my intimate series, I’m mostly working with interior bedroom or house scenes, so I’m confined to whats available on set. Which I’m ok with, because of my tendency to shoot longer focal lengths now, the photography focuses less on the environment and more on the subject. I like warmer skin tones in general, but especially for the intimate series because that palette translates better for expressing sensuality. I’ve toyed with the idea of converting the series to all black and white treatments, but I feel keeping my images in color to truly represent the natural beauty of my subjects portrays the emotion of the scene a lot better for my work.

Phoblographer: Talk to us about the gear that you use. How do you feel it helps you get the creative vision you’re going for?

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Jason: I’ve learned to keep it minimal and work harder with less. Due to the low light nature of the environments I shoot in, I use a camera body capable of handling higher ISO with low levels of noise, such as the D750 and D5.

As I mentioned earlier, I primarily stick to medium focal lengths, namely Nikon 58mm and 85mm. I used to use a tiny bit of fill light using a LED litepanel, but have since moved on to just using 100% ambient light to have a more natural feel. I have different ideas in my head when I approach each shoot. For example, sometimes my vision is to portray the images as if a lover was taking candids of their partner on a lazy sunday morning.

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Other times, it could be more voyeuristic and catching a glimpse into these tiny moments that many people experience when by themselves.

Phoblographer: How do you believe your work stands out from all the rest of these types of photographers trying to be Instafamous?

Jason: Ha! I’m not entirely sure that it does! I’m certainly proud of my images in this series but I’m also very critical of myself and always think there’s room for improvement, especially seeing so many other talented photographers out there creating art that is absolutely stunning. The intimate series is really just a side project I work on in-between my wedding and commercial work. Mostly its just satisfying a different need of creativity for myself. If people enjoy the imagery I put out into the world, then great.

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Phoblographer: How do you plan on making your work evolve?

Jason: I want to introduce more subtle elements of story into the series. Tiny clues that make you stop and think about the image more and really ask yourself “Wait…what’s going on here really?”. I have a few ideas but it takes a lot more planning than just showing up and shooting. Finding specific set locations and elements then piecing together these elements to create a multi-layered theme is my objective moving forward. I’d also like to find more real couples who want to share their unique intimacy together.

These connections are the natural evolution of this style of photography and I feel can truly embody the most intimate emotions between two people outside of traditional wedding and engagement portraiture. The trick is finding clients actually brave enough to do it!

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