Lester Cannon: How to do Nude Portraiture (NSFW)

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All images by Lester Cannon. Used with permission.

Lester Cannon is one of the more inspirational photographers I’ve ever had the pleasure of interviewing. You see, Lester is on our list of the most inspirational photographers of the year–and he’s all about shooting film when he can for his personal work, though he also works in digital. He also believes that digital cameras are creating impotent photographers–which I completely agree with. But above all, Lester understands that when it comes to creating portraits, it’s about your subject, not you.

That fact is very highly reinforced by the fact that the people he photographs have enough trust in him to pose nude. Lester creates tasteful and beautiful images that are a result of his excellent people skills–one of the best things that every portrait photographer needs. So we talked to Lester about how to move into doing nude portraiture.

Phoblographer: You’re a photographer that travels a lot because of your job. So how do you go about finding new people to collaborate with and photograph and then do nude work?

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Lester: The process for finding nude models is no different from finding any other type of model. Present an impressive body of work, be friendly and professional, and people will want to work with you. There are many different sites to network on like Model Mayhem, Model kartei (Germany), Purple Port, etc. These sites are a good way to get started and build new working relationships with people in your area. Instagram is actually very helpful as well. I have shot with quite a few people who I followed or followed me. I also network a lot. Word of mouth is very powerful and it’s free.

Phoblographer: Your nudes are tasteful pieces. Where does your creative inspiration come from for these in particular?

Lester: I think my inspiration for photography in general comes from movies. I love cinema. When I got my first DSLR, I had the idea of making my own little movies. After seeing how much work it was and that it relied on many other people than just me, my dreams evaporated. I still like the cinematic look. I like when images have tension and drama. Choosing models with the ability to express emotion is key to getting this look.

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Phoblographer: You shoot film and lots of your nudes are in black and white on your site but on your Instagram you feature more color work. Do you feel the Instagram audience appreciates color more than the people coming to your website? And with that said, do the people who come to your site usually to consider working with you?

Lester: My website is for customers to view my best work and decide if I can provide what they are looking for. There is a fine line between what people consider fine art and just pics of naked girls. You can have a portfolio with tons of killer portraits, landscape, and travel photos. But if you have a few nude photos in there that’s the only thing people see and you are pigeon-holed as “the guy who takes naked pictures”. With that being said I feel that when an image is in black-and-white it reduces the sexual energy that is there and helps the viewer focus more on the photography. Instagram is a little more spontaneous and random almost like a photo diary of my projects. I found that my site has been received well by customers. I try to keep it updated every 1-2 weeks with latest and best content.

Phoblographer: What’s the shooting process like and the conversations as well as the posing process?

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Lester: I tried to keep things laid back but I stay very focused. Music is always good to have if possible. It lightens the mood and keeps things fun. I’m not a fan of awkward silences. I prefer to not have to give a lot of direction. I like to give a general idea of what I want through mood boards or other visual aids and then let the model do their thing. I just might here and there have them adjust their pose to enhance the composition.

Phoblographer: What films do you use and feel that work best with skin and the type of look that you’re going for?

Lester: My favorite film is Fuji Sensia 100. Right after it in second place is Kodak Elite Chrome 100. Sadly both of these have been out of production for a number of years but I am still able to get my hands on both pretty often. Slide film produces sharp and crisp images that have an almost 3D look to them. Fuji Pro 400H and Kodak Portra 400/800 are also great for skin tones but are very costly. So I often use what I call ” The Poor Man’s Portra” Kodak Ultramax 400, and Lomography 800.

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