Bodyscape photography is one of the most appreciated and rewarding types of abstract imagery you can create (see Figures 1 & 2). It’s also surprisingly easy to get right with just a little practice. In this overview, you’ll learn what you need to get started on your first bodyscape creations.
We’ll start by discussing models and differences between high- and low-key bodyscapes. Then we’ll cover lighting and post-processing. I’ll include some helpful lighting setups and examples that you can follow into your first bodyscape photography adventure!
Figure 1. Bodyscape.
Figure 2. Bodyscape.
The Right Model for Your Bodyscape Photography
Bodyscape photography is about creating beautiful art with light, shadow, and discrete areas of the human form. So, when considering a model for your next bodyscape project, just think about the types of images you’re wanting to create. Also factor in any other types of images you might shoot at the same time.
If you want to combine your bodyscape work with figure studies or boudoir imagery, the overall look of your model is going to be more important. But for a creative exercise focusing on discovering intriguing abstracts, almost anyone can be a good candidate to work with.
Finding someone actually willing to pose for bodyscapes might not be easy unless you’re willing to pay for a professional independent model’s time. I’d argue that it would be money well-spent. I’ve found a model experienced with nude or figure work can make the entire process enjoyable and more productive. A model that understands how to strike and hold certain classic poses is going to be much easier to work with than a beginner who is unsure about what to do, or what the resultant images will look like.
Bodyscape Photography Backgrounds and Environment
Bodyscape images can be high-key, low-key, or anything in between. It’s up to you to decide on the style and mood you want to convey. Do you want your images to be dark and mysterious, or light and airy?
Generally speaking, a darker environment (or background), together with deeper shadows, will result in a low-key image. Conversely, a very light background and light tones making up the bodyscape will give you a high-key picture. You’ll see examples of both below.
Bodyscape Photography Lighting
Bodyscape photography requires little more than one or two lights and their creative placement. What’s amazing is how easy it can be to create fascinating images with no more than a single light and a variety of poses and camera positions.
As you compose in-camera, or crop later in post, you’ll be amazed at how the shapes and textures of the body can be transformed by light and shadow into fantasy “landscapes” or “moonscapes” (see Figure 3).
Figure 3. Bodyscapes can take on the look of a mysterious, otherworldly, landscape.
When I teach bodyscapes and figure studies I usually demonstrate any number of my favorite lighting setups. But the ones I’ll show here are very effective and easy to do when you’re just getting started.
For classic low-key bodyscape photography, you can use one light at a hard angle to create dramatic highlights against the form (see the setup in Figure 4). Here, I’m using a shoe mount flash on a lightstand, with a 43″ shoot-through umbrella modifier to create this effect for Figure 5.
Figure 4. For a side light and dramatic portrait light effect, I like to bring the light out to just past the subject’s side, slightly in front. In this case, the light will be closer to the subject and modified with a shoot-through umbrella or softbox.
Figure 5. Bodyscape featuring neck and shoulders.
Here’s another (see Figure 6) with a change to the model’s pose, and a soft glow added in Lightroom, to create a different effect.
Figue 6. Low-key bodyscape with soft focus/glow effect.
Finally, the high-key image below was created by placing two shoe mount flash units on stands directed only at the wall behind the model, as shown in Figure 7. Exposure was boosted to bring out the figure and overexpose most of the background (see Figure 8).
Figure 7. High-key lighting setup. (A) Two flash units directed at the wall behind the subject. The table, almost out of frame here, is where the model posed for these shots.
Figure 8. High-key bodyscape.
I do recommend having your initial lighting setup and camera settings in place, tested, and ready to shoot before your model arrives to the set. This way, a couple of final test shots with the model will allow you to start shooting in a flow almost immediately. A clean and organized studio (or portable studio) setup will also help keep you and your model focused and allow you to progress smoothly through the shoot.
Editing and Post-Processing
Much of the success of bodyscape photography relies on the decisions made during the post-processing stage. Many hidden treasures can be found while experimenting with cropping and rotating images, and in the adjustments made to color and tones in editing software like Lightroom and Photoshop.
For example, a working image from your bodyscape shoot might include a wider shot like the one shown in Figure 9. In this case, the model is posed in a standing position with the light coming in at an angle from behind and to the left of the camera (the screen shot is shown with the image already rotated).
Figure 9. Low-key image, cropped and rotated. (Screen shot from video included with my Nudes & Bodyscapes guide).
By simply experimenting with rotating and cropping the image, we’ve discovered an new composition! Finish that off with some basic adjustments in Lightroom and we’ve got one of potentially several finished bodyscape photographs from our working image (Figure 10).
Figure 10. Low-key bodyscape from crop.
Here’s another (see Figure 11) that we’ve captured against a light-colored background with the same high-key setup shown earlier. Again, creative cropping brings about a pleasing bodyscape composition from an otherwise wider, non-bodyscape pose. I finished by processing it in Lightroom to achieve a soft, airy, sculptural look (see Figure 12).
Figure 11. Cropping down to discover a potential bodyscape composition. (Screen shot from video included with my Nudes & Bodyscapes guide).
Figure 12. High-key bodyscape from crop.
If you’ve been interested in trying figure studies, or nude abstracts, give bodyscape photography a try. It’s very easy to do with minimal lighting and basic post-processing adjustments. Some of the most creative choices you can make will be after the shoot in Lightroom or your favorite photo editor. Almost anyone comfortable enough to pose for you can serve as a good model, and the images you create can be displayed tastefully for anyone to enjoy.