This Couple Is an Adult Entertainment Photographer Duo (NSFW)

Want to know what it’s like being a photographer in adult entertainment? Here you go…

“Now and then, you suddenly realize that there are naked people having sex right in front of you,” says Luke from the adult content site, Bright Desire. Alongside his wife, Ms. Naughty, Luke is shooting and photographing content that looks to break the status quo of the industry. In what they call “feminist porn,” their ethos is to make adult material inclusive of everyone that is a break from the view of the male gaze. But, aside from the polarizing topic of ethics in the adult industry, what is it like being on set? More so, what is it like photographing adult content? We discuss all that and more as we sit down to talk with Luke and Ms. Naughty.

Phoblographer: Please tell us what first inspired you to create adult content that went against the grain seen in the industry?

MN: I have been a fan of erotic content made for women since I bought my first copy of Australian Women’s Forum in 1994. It had male centerfolds and erotic fiction. I became a freelance journalist for that magazine in 1998. When I started making adult websites in 2000, it seemed a natural extension to make adult content that catered to women. I like adult entertainment, but I never liked the sexism of it or the way it always gave priority to the male viewer. My goal from the beginning was to offer a female perspective and make adult content for women like myself. That expanded into ForTheGirls.com in 2003 and then making films in 2009 followed by the launch of BrightDesire.com in 2012.

Phoblographer Your content includes real-life couples. How does the chemistry and authenticity between your subjects differ when you’re photographing/shooting two people who are romantically involved, rather than two actors?

MN: The answer to this is more complicated than it would seem. Real-life couples know what they want in bed, they’re already hot for each other, and you can often see the shared intimacy and connection that they have. They like each other and want to be there. That chemistry is what I’m after when I work with a real-life couple and I think I’ve done a good job of capturing it. We often focus on people’s faces because I want to see the interactions they have while having sex. That, to me, is far more interesting than any of the mechanics of sex (although we like to show that too, of course).

That said, we’ve worked with many real-life couples who were making adult content for the first time, and they’re often nervous about being in front of the camera. They also don’t really know what to expect, they aren’t used to lighting or other technical considerations. This can impact what we capture. We do our best to be unobtrusive and make people feel comfortable so they can relax and just do what they’d normally do, but sometimes that means it’s not perfect.

We’ve also shot with people who have never met before or professionals who have said they’d like to work with a particular person but they’ve never had sex with each other. Those scenes can have their own special chemistry and magic. The thrill of the first time can be wonderful to see. The scene we did with Jiz Lee and Bishop Black is absolutely adorable and they’d never had sex before, although they were previously acquainted. The scene went for hours because they were so into each other they wouldn’t stop. And professionals are often easier for us to shoot because they are more comfortable being filmed so they’re better able to just focus on having fun.

“That’s what people want from Bright Desire – that human connection.”

Miss. Naughty

There’s a lot of discussion in feminist adult entertainment circles about what’s “authentic” in adult content and how the term is used as a “genre” in some ways. If there’s a camera in the room when people are having sex, that fundamentally changes the dynamic. It’s always a performance, even if it’s a real life couple filming themselves with an iPhone. But it’s also real sex and people can be having real orgasms and having a legitimately good time. Ultimately, we try to offer something that is realistic and if our performers also have a good time then that makes it even better.

Phoblographer: I imagine you take plenty of stills throughout a shoot. What do you look for in your final selection of images in order to make people want to see more?

MN: Our typical way of working involves us shooting set up scenes at the beginning, any dialogue, any outside scenes etc. Then when it’s time for the sex part, we just say “rolling” and let people go. We won’t stop unless they call a halt or there’s a technical problem. We have two cameras, one a DSLR and one a dedicated video camcorder (the DSLR gets the arty shots but is harder to shoot good video on the fly, the camcorder is run and gun, it means we don’t miss bits).

In this scenario, video gets priority. We don’t want to stop the action to take stills, especially as we’d lose one camera angle and the sound of the shutter comes out on film so it’s distracting. Also, erections are finicky, you don’t want to interrupt if things are going well. And there’s only two of us, so we don’t have a dedicated photographer. So typically, we get people to recreate poses and expressions after it’s over. This is often how it’s done on mainstream sets as well. Those shots are often “softcore” in that there’s no penetration going on, if it’s a straight couple.

“I never use derogatory language to describe them or the sex. I want to honor their work and who they are.”

Ms. Naughty

I’m the one who will choose the pics and edit them. There are two things I look for. One is good facial expressions, something that captures the intimacy or connection of the moment. That’s what people want from Bright Desire – that human connection. The idea that this is a more recognizable sexual interaction between people who are into each other. Smiles or laughter are good. And also, nice, arty composition or lighting is important because everyone appreciates a nicely constructed photo.

Phoblographer: All styles of photography can be tricky. What’s the biggest challenge when photographing adult material?

Luke: I’ll break it down.

Lighting: We have distinct shots that we will seek within the space we’re filming in. Close-ups or faces and genitals are very important. These are the shots that our members want to see. Lighting the overall scene without overexposing it but with enough light for those close-ups is nearly impossible. Other photographers arrange their models in unnatural poses to allow for better exposure. We can’t capture the flow and feel of authentic intimacy if we are pulling people out of the moment to make our way through a shot tick-sheet.

Visual language: We shot a BDSM scene for some work friends. It was difficult at the beginning because I didn’t understand the visual language of their project. For example: one person was stepping on the other person with sharp-heeled shoes. I just had to stop them and ask them what they were doing and why they were doing it so I could work out which element within the frame was the subject. As it turned out the main focus they wanted was the point where the heel pushed into the skin. Now I knew where to shoot. Frame the skin. The heel came in. The skin moved to show that the person felt the heel and felt the discomfort of it. We were able to capture the person’s face to show that they were anticipating this experience.

Mismatched cameras: One of the cardinal rules is to match cameras. Why? With two cameras the same you are more likely to get two shots the same. The strengths of the different cameras compliment each other. One is crisper, gives a truer color, creates a better short depth of field, and takes better stills. The other yields more usable footage, can change framing more quickly, and has much better sound recording. I correct the differences in post.

The ‘what the hell’ moments: We are both so focused on the process of filming and taking stills, having to create the set, the cameras, the lighting, any catering required, everything! Then we’re greeting the models, running through the plan, checking ID – and then we start the shoot. We both get engrossed in the job of making sure we’re getting good footage with varied frames and angles. Now and then, you suddenly realize that there are naked people having sex right in front of you.

The camera in your pocket: One shot I’ve always quite liked was a camera following the model’s eye height as they sank into a bathtub. They were looking forward, not into the lens. So this must have been very complex and required a lot of really expensive gear, right? Nope. We threw a used iPhone 4 into a ziplock back and dunked it like a teabag a few times. The model and I came up with this scheme. We were both very happy with the results. I tell people to just start. You can only stuff it up. It’s not school; you won’t be in trouble for doing it wrong.

The other side of this is the bog-standard impostor syndrome. “We do this for a living? Shouldn’t we have more gear? Expensive gear? Shouldn’t we have gone to some sort of school for this sort of thing?” It can be a bit of a roadblock when asked to answer questions.

Also, erections are finicky, you don’t want to interrupt if things are going well.

Ms. Naughty

Phoblographer: People tend to be full of excitement when they consume adult content. How has creating so many explicit images impacted the way you view and feel about sex and adult entertainment?

MN: I’m personally very bored by most adult content. I’m pretty much immune to it, though it can sometimes be arousing if I’m able to turn off my working brain. But I’ve been doing this for 20 years. I’ve seen a lot of it. Indeed, we’ve sometimes shocked friends by bringing them into the office to say: “Hey, look at how cool the lighting was in this scene, don’t the shadows look great?” And then we remember that we’re showing them some incredibly explicit image and you’re typically not supposed to show your friends adult material in such a casual way. I’ve also done a lot of analysis of adult entertainment from an academic/critical perspective, so that’s also a factor in how I view porn. I’ll be thinking about the meaning and politics of the images, not whether they’re arousing.

Or else, I’ll be looking at it from a technical perspective, studying how it was lit, what they’ve done with set design, thinking about the circumstances in which it was shot. Because adult entertainment is so often done on the run, in secret, or in people’s homes, in warehouses, on low budgets. That’s certainly how we make ours. So I compare and wonder if there are techniques I could adopt, cheats I could use, that kind of thing.

Phoblographer: Photography and videography are powerful tools. What message do you want to convey with your content?

MN: Our work embraces a lot of themes. One is that adult entertainment is a form of media, like anything else. It’s not inherently wrong, or immoral, or sexist or racist. You can capture the act of sex in a way that’s respectful, compelling, and visually interesting. Just because the viewer is aroused doesn’t take away the fact that adult content is an art form like any other. On top of that there’s the idea of ethics. We are making adult content in an ethical way – respecting our workers, paying them properly, treating them well, ensuring safety on set etc. (See our statement of ethics here.) From the beginning, I’ve emphasized respect for our performers, both in how we work with them and how they’re presented on the site. I never use derogatory language to describe them or the sex. I want to honor their work and who they are.

“It celebrates human desires, no matter your gender or orientation. For me, it’s the connection that’s important.”

Miss Naughty

Consent is also a vital element in our work. We don’t push performers to do anything they don’t want to. And we also make an effort to depict consent in the films themselves. One of our more recent films, Linger, was made with the explicit idea that the performers would go slow and ask consent at every step of the way. The result is very sexy. And of course, we aim to give priority to female pleasure, if only because so much adult content ignores it. I often ask couples to include cunnilingus in the scene, it’s the one request I make. And we don’t do external cumshots unless the woman wants it. We try to subvert the usual porn cliches when it comes to how people have sex and what they do on camera. Sex toys, clit stimulation, female orgasms, it’s amazing how little these things appear in adult material, even today. And I make male masturbation scenes for a female viewer, which is also rare. So I have that agenda.

Also, we embrace diversity in terms of body types and orientations. My main priority when casting a scene is whether the two people will have fun and get off. How they look is much less important. And of course, we’ve worked with older couples, queer couples, we’ve worked with a performer who has cerebral palsy. Diversity is interesting, it makes for a much more watchable scenario, I think.

Phoblographer: We found your site in a list of “feminist sites.” It’s clearly aimed towards women and pushes more respect for female performers. From your experience, is it just women who desire this style of content, or do men like it too?

MN: I’ve always aimed my content at women, first and foremost. That’s been the motivation behind my whole career. What’s interesting, though, is that men want our kind of content too. Over 50% of our members are male. So though I happily use the terms “porn for women” and “feminist porn” to describe my work, it’s also a humanist kind of material. It celebrates human desires, no matter your gender or orientation. For me, it’s the connection that’s important. And I think I lot of people want to see that too and that’s why we’ve been so successful.

Check out the work of Ms. Naughty and Luke over on their website, Bright Desire.