An Interview with Erotic Photographer Michael Charles

 

Ed Verosky is a leading voice in the photography world. He is the creator of About-Photography.com. Ed is an articulate and engaging commentator on all aspects of the photographic industry.

 

An Interview with Michael Charles

By Ed Verosky

For many years, Michael Charles has been working at the highest levels of the nude and erotic photography world. He is the creator of InsideGlamourPhotography.com, a leading website devoted to the art of glamour, nude, and erotic photography.

Michael has recently completed a very informative—and, in my opinion— excellent eBook regarding the tools, tactics, and temperament required to be successful within the fields of glamour and nude photography.

I recently sat down with Michael at his home in the Hollywood Hills to discuss his new book, SKIN: The Complete Guide to Glamour & Nude Photography.

Michael Charles has worked in many areas of photography over the years, but he seemed to find his stride once he entered the commercial adult photography arena.

Although his bread-and-butter work isn’t for everyone, just as landscape or food photography might not be, as an established industry professional he’s mastered a set of interpersonal and technical skills that can have several applications.

His new eBook, SKIN: The Complete Guide to Glamour and Nude Photography offers some of his best advice for finding and working with models that can be applied to a wide range of genres, from tasteful nudes to commercial erotica. I was curious about how he got into this type of photography.

 

Ed Verosky:  How did you get your start in photography? And how did you eventually make the move to nude-oriented work?

 

After I graduated from UC Berkeley, my girlfriend and I moved to Hollywood and she started working in the advertising department for Guess clothing. Those were the days when photographers like Wayne Maser and Ellen Von Unwerth were shooting great black and white campaigns for Guess with models like Claudia Schiffer and Carre Otis.

My girlfriend would bring home marked-up contact sheets from these great photographers and I thought the whole process was just the coolest thing ever.

Pretty soon I was reading every book I could find to teach myself photography. Looking back on things now, I should have had my girlfriend simply ask Ellen Von Unwerth if she could use an assistant and/or gopher who would happily work for free. Instead, I  learned whatever I could on my own.

However, I eventually realized that I’d learned all I could on my own. At this time, I sent out about a hundred letters to photographers in Los Angeles and asked if they could use an assistant.

From these letters, I ended up assisting quite a few different photographers over a two or three year span. The shooter I worked the most for was a guy named Kal Yee. He was, and still is, an incredibly good photographer when it comes to exquisitely precise technique.

At the time, he was shooting all the covers (and a lot of the editorial pages) for magazines like Muscle & Fitness, Men’s Fitness, and Shape. He was in huge demand for that type of work because he was so good at lighting bodies in ways that make them look as flawless as possible.

In those days, shooting Muscle & Fitness covers required very complicated multi-light setups because he had to individually highlight virtually every muscle separately. He also did a lot of posters and calendars featuring women in bikinis and that kind of thing. Basically, he was someone who could make the human body look pretty close to perfect (in a very commercially appealing way).

He’s since ventured into more fashion and portrait photography; but at the time I was assisting him, it was pretty much all related to fitness and body stuff — though he never did any fully nude work.

At the time, my goal was to become a fashion photographer. The thought of doing nude photography never even crossed my mind. In retrospect, however, I realize that I was learning a lot from Kal about how to approach shooting bodies and how small details such as a model arching her back by just a few additional degrees could make a huge difference in how the final image looked.

 

Ed Verosky:  At some point you ventured out on your own. Was it a big transition for you?

 

I eventually felt I was ready to start shooting my own stuff in the world of fashion photography. However, I very quickly came to the realization that I had absolutely no interest in “fashion.”

It had never really dawned on me that fashion photographers have to put so much effort into making the clothes look good. Amazingly, that never really occurred to me until I started doing it. It didn’t take me long to realize that what I liked about fashion photography all along were the models and the boundary-pushing styles that the top fashion guys were shooting.

In addition to my utter lack of interest in women’s clothing, I also had another eye-opening realization fairly soon into my “fashion photography career” — I definitely didn’t possess the type of personality that was conducive to overseeing and directing the dozens of people who are on the set of a typical fashion shoot.

Anyway, the years went by and my involvement in photography gradually diminished, I would shoot an occasional actor’s headshot or photograph a friend’s band but that was about it.

 

Ed Verosky:  The commercial fashion thing wasn’t for you, I guess.  But you went on to shoot adult material of all things. I always like to hear stories about how a photographer gets into that line of work.

 

One day, for some reason, it hit me that I could perhaps start shooting pictures for “Adult” magazines. I’m not sure why it took so long to stumble upon this idea. However, once I started doing it, I realized it offered me two factors regarding what I didn’t like about fashion photography: 1) There was very little, or no, women’s clothing involved; and 2) I could do it on a small scale in regard to the number of people on the set. In fact, the great majority of my shoots include just me and the model.

I slowly began learning the process of shooting and selling this style of photography. It was all trial and error; making lots of mistakes and doing my best to learn what I could from them.

Eventually I did figure out all, or most, of the necessary factors involved with this style of work. An eBook like the one I wrote, SKIN, would have saved me hours, days, and even years of time and effort spent figuring things out on my own.

 

Ed Verosky:  Your new ebook covers a lot of ground for someone wanting to get started in Adult-oriented photography, including a guide to media outlets that will publish and pay for this type of photography. We’ve promoted your eBook on our site, About-Photography.com because I think it’s got lots of good info and tips. But it’s not for everybody, is it?

 

Well, yes and no. I don’t want this to come off sounding arrogant, but I truly believe that there’s quite a lot of information in SKIN that would benefit all photographers, no matter what style of photography they do.

Many of the techniques I cover work equally well whether you’re photographing a nude woman or shooting a landscape.

As an example, I cover the importance of being able to have precise control over your depth of focus and how to achieve that control. Controlling depth of focus is a huge factor in creating great pictures of any kind. However, many photographers just set their camera to automatic and thus relinquish all control over this particular factor. In the book, I explain how to take charge of your camera and truly create the pictures in reality that you envision in your mind.

As another example, I go over the importance of the compositional guideline referred to as “The Rule of Thirds.” This relatively simple method of composition is unknown to the majority of photographers. However, it’s almost certainly the simplest way for a photographer to turn average pictures into good pictures and good pictures into great pictures. Best of all, utilizing “The Rule of Thirds” is equally effective whether you’re shooting a beautiful model in a bikini, your Aunt Edna, the Taj Mahal, or The Great Barrier Reef.

Also, I’d like people to know that I put a lot of thought and effort into choosing the images that are included in the book. Perhaps most importantly, there aren’t any pictures in the book that I think would be defined as “graphic”, “explicit”, or “overtly sexual” in any way. One of my goals in creating the book was that it could be viewed by photographers of all kinds. For this reason, I put a great deal of effort into including only tasteful images.

 

Ed Verosky:  Well, one person’s “tasteful” is sometimes another person’s “porn,” so that’s a hard one to judge. Let’s just say that people should take a look at your book’s Info Page or your blog to get a good idea of what type of imagery is included. Nevertheless, the instruction and advice you provide are well presented. One of the things I think is interesting about your book is how you approach dealing with models and potential models.

 

A major factor I wanted to convey in the book is that it’s possible to approach nude photography in a very professional manner — and I definitely believe that’s the best way to go about it.

In other words, simply because I’m shooting nude images and dealing with nude models doesn’t mean that the various aspects of the work have to be any less professionally done than they would be if I were shooting any other style of photography.

This approach carries over into the way I interact with my models. Unlike a lot of photographers in this field, I treat models with the same respect that I would treat anyone. I don’t believe that simply because a woman is open to nude modeling makes her any less deserving of respect. Because of this, I’ve been told by many models that the way I interacted with them separated me in a positive way from nearly every other photographer working in the industry.

 

Ed Verosky:  Many photographers would like to explore nude work but just don’t know how to get started. You make it sound pretty easy to find someone to pose for nude or erotic photos.

 

As far as finding models who will pose nude, I imagine that most photographers think it’s much harder than it actually is. As I discuss in more detail in the book, females today, especially those under 30, have grown up in a society where nudity and sexuality are looked upon much more liberally than in the past.

Models and actresses often pose nude or partially nude. In addition, advertising of all types use the concept of sex so heavily to sell products that nudity has become almost routine to young women today. In other words, the stigma that used to be applied to women who posed nude has long since passed.

However, that doesn’t mean you can simply walk up to any woman you see and easily convince them to  pose nude. In SKIN, I cover a wide variety of effective ways to find models; from online agencies to advertising to approaching women on the street. Many photographers find that last method particularly intimidating. However, as far as approaching a potential model in public, if it’s done in a professional and respectful way, there’s no reason to have any anxiety.

After all, a photographer approaching a potential model about a possible shoot is a professional interaction, not a personal one. There’s no need for a photographer to fear rejection; it’s simply business.

 

Ed Verosky:  For photographers not interested in shooting explicit imagery, what does SKIN: The Complete Guide to Glamour and Nude Photography offer in terms of actually becoming better at all types of photography?

 

First of all, there’s no reason that nude photography has to be explicit. The art of the nude has been around as long as art itself. In the book, the techniques I discuss apply equally well to glamour and boudoir photography as they do to more erotic work.

In fact, many of the techniques I discuss will help photographers take more attractive images of any person they shoot, whether the subject happens to be wearing clothes or not. As I mentioned earlier, I go over quite a few things that apply to just about every style of photography that exists.

In the SKIN, I devote quite a bit of time to teaching photographers the important factor of quickly creating a good rapport with their subjects — whether they’re shooting an actor’s head-shots or family portraits.

After all, in my business, it’s absolutely necessary for me to be able to quickly form a level of mutual trust and respect between me and my models. This need is due to the fact that I will often begin shooting a model fully nude just minutes after meeting her for the first time.

Consequently, I have a very small window in which to create a rapport with her that will be conducive to her feeling relaxed and confident and ready to do a good job. Fortunately, all the techniques discussed in SKIN that I’ve learned over the years by dealing with nude models work equally well with any photographic subject.

 

Click here for more info on Michael Charles’ eBook, SKIN: The Complete Guide to Glamour and Nude Photography. Michael also writes an excellent glamour and nude photography blog that can be found at InsideGlamourPhotography.com.



 
 

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  1. [...] I took this shot many years ago. In fact, it’s from one of the first three or four nude shoots I’d ever done. I wish I could tell you that I was in complete control of the shoot and impressed this model with my expertise. Unfortunately, that’s not how it happened. [...]

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