Top Glamour Photographers: Ellen Von Unwerth


This is the first post in a series that will highlight some of the world’s top photographers.

As a 10-year-old, I spent most of my free time trying to emulate Walt Frazier of the New York Knicks (though I had the Puma Clydes, I couldn’t quite keep up with the Rolls Royce, fur coats, and basketball talent).

Fifteen years later, I found myself spending hours upon hours studying the images of photographers such as Gilles Bensimon and Peter Lindbergh.

Those are two examples of how to dramatically improve at anything you have a passion for: Identifying the artists of work that excites you and then putting in the time to figure what makes them so special.

Guitar players study Jimmy Page, architects study I.M. Pei, and photographers study Ansel Adams.

However, when it comes to Ansel Adams, if your desire is to improve your glamour photography, studying his groundbreaking nature images might not be all that helpful (and learning the opening riff to “Whole Lotta Love” might help even less).

Fortunately, there are many excellent photographers whose work you can learn from.

Not all the photographers that I’ll highlight in this ongoing series will be known primarily as “Glamour Photographers”. However, each photographer I feature will have a style that incorporates a sense of glamour and sensuality in his or her work.

As an example, top fashion photographers are known for shooting very glamorous images. However, at the end of the day, their primary job requirement is to make the clothes look good.

Still, fashion shooters are some of the most talented photographers in the world.

And without question, one of the very best is Ellen Von Unwerth.

Strictly speaking, the German-born Von Unwerth, would be defined as a “fashion photographer.” However, her work transcends the typical definition of that specific style.

And best of all for us, photographers of any experience level can benefit from studying the techniques and shooting methods used by Von Unwerth.

To give you a bit of background, Von Unwerth made her living in front of the camera starting at the age of 20. She worked as a leading fashion model for ten years. However, the gift of a camera from a boyfriend dramatically changed the direction of her life and career.

Simply for fun, she took the camera to a modeling job in Africa and simply snapped pictures of the local people and environment. However, upon her return to Europe, her pictures were promptly purchased and published in a magazine called Jill.

And just like that, without a shred of formal training, a new career was born.

Today, Von Unwerth is one of the most sought-after photographers in the world. She shoots fashion and editorial spreads for leading fashion magazines, celebrity portraits, and some of the worlds biggest ad campaigns. Without question, Von Unwerth is firmly entrenched at the top of her field.

And she deserves to be.

But here’s the important question for you and me: What’s in it for us? What can we learn from the work of Von Unwerth?

Fortunately, quite a bit.

Of course, the point of studying the work of other photographers is not to steal their styles. Rather, it’s to study the details and characteristics of high quality work and take note of what makes certain pictures and certain photographers so special.

In the case of Von Unwerth, what stands out most is the vibrant sense of sexual spontaneity that appears in her work.

The models in her photographs convey a sense of movement and freedom that sets her work apart from the majority of other leading fashion photographers.

Von Unwerth’s style didn’t come about by accident. And it didn’t come from a conscious decision to set herself apart from her peers.

The truth is that her style came from her time spent modeling. As a model, she didn’t like the static nature of traditional fashion photography. Holding poses for long lengths of time and having photographers make tiny changes to these poses was the way fashion photography had always been done.

When she embarked on her own photographic career, she rebelled against that style.

She’s known for creating interesting environments and then inserting the models into them. Once there, the models are encouraged to enjoy and interact with the environment in a playful, curious, and natural way.

Without using explicit direction, Von Unwerth is there to capture the results in an equally spontaneous manner.

She allows her models to simply be themselves during shoots. This is a drastic departure from the way most fashion work is shot.

She has an uncanny ability to put both models and celebrities at ease. She is more interested in giving her subjects the freedom to express their emotions than she is in capturing technically spot-on images.

Whether shooting in black & white or color, her signature style revolves around the idea of women embracing their sexuality and their femininity at the same time.

Her fashion and editorial work manages to incorporate a stunning sense of eroticism, role-playing, and even sadomasochism. Obviously, quite different from typical fashion photography.

But whatever the subject, Von Unwerth encourages her models to freely express themselves in any way they like. Most likely, this is the reason that no matter how exposed her model’s bodies may be, they never appear objectified in any way. Von Unwerth allows her models to show their true personalities as well as their nude bodies.

You might want to try this way of shooting. I think it would be a worthwhile exercise for any photographer (especially for those who like to keep tight control over their shoots and their model’s poses).

My advice:

Give it a try, you have nothing to lose. I think you’ll be quite surprised by the results.



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 Tips, Techniques, and Ideas for Glamour and Nude Photography


What Can You Learn From A Naked And Annoyed 19-Year-Old?

The story behind this picture can teach you a valuable lesson. Trust me, I was there.

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.

Like all new photographers, I was struggling to juggle all the variables that a nude photo shoot requires. However, unlike the models I’d photographed before, Tara was very experienced and had little patience for my frequent confusion regarding what to do next.

During one of the many self-caused delays, I looked over at her and she was staring at me with a look of disdain that 19-year-old girls seem to do so well. Still, I couldn’t help myself. I quickly snapped off this shot.

In spite of the circumstances, I really like this picture. It’s not posed. It’s honest. It’s authentic.

Looking back, I wish I hadn’t added the extra grain and the purple tone; but it was during my early days with Photoshop and I couldn’t help myself. Unfortunately, I’ve since lost the original slide.

So what’s the lesson to be learned from my experience?  Simply this:

If you’re new to shooting glamour or nude images, don’t worry about things going wrong during a shoot. Trust me, things are going to go wrong. Simply accept that fact and move on.

And don’t worry about being nervous before a shoot. There’s nothing wrong with a little nervousness. Nerves are proof that you care (or so I’ve been told).

But here’s the good news: Not only can I guarantee you’ll survive the shoot, I can guarantee you’ll learn a lot in the process.

And before you know it, you’ll be the one with the experience.


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 Tips, Techniques, and Ideas for Glamour and Nude Photography



How To Take Candid and Playful Nude Photos

What’s your first thought when you see this picture?

For me, it’s the “realness” of it. I’m struck by the authenticity of the shot. I think you’ll agree that a piece of the model’s true personality seems to come through in this image.

Shooting candid shots is certainly not difficult. Walk down any busy street and you can take 50 candid shots within a single block.

However, shooting candid nude shots is a far more difficult task. But on the rare occasion when you’re able to capture a model in a truly unguarded moment, the result is often quite charming.

Taking casual nude images is difficult because a nude photo shoot tends to have a certain structure to it; and a great deal of that structure usually involves some degree of posing by the model.

In other words, whether you’re shooting glamour, nude, or erotic images, most likely you’ll be directing your model into poses of some type.

Since I didn’t take this picture, I have no way of knowing what lead up to this particular image. For all I know, the authenticity I see when I view this shot might all be a ruse. Still, as ruses go, you’ve got to admit this would be a pretty good one.

But in this particular case, I don’t think it’s a ruse. I believe the picture represents an authentic sliver of time that occurred between the photographer and the model.

And though I don’t know the details of this specific shot, I can share with you the circumstances that have enabled me to capture similar shots during my own career.

For myself, shots like these tend to occur soon after finishing a specific set of images. Many of my sets consist of about 150 shots; with each shot featuring a different pose (requiring quite a bit of effort and concentration on the part of the model).

When I eventually tell the model, “Okay, we’re done,” she’ll inevitably fall into a comfortable body position and allow herself to relax, both physically and mentally. At this point, we may talk for a few moments before moving to the next set.

If you’ve developed a good rapport with your model over the course of the shoot, she’ll likely feel comfortable simply being herself while also being completely nude.

It’s during these “in-between” times that casual and candid shots like the one seen here are most likely to be captured.


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 Tips, Techniques, and Ideas for Glamour and Nude Photography


Glamour Photography: The Art Of Naked Deception

This is a deceptive photograph (even more deceptive than most glamour photographs – and that’s saying a lot).

At first glance, it has a very casual feel to it. It succeeds in giving the impression that the shot was made in a very spontaneous manner. A nude woman simply lying amongst the sheets of a bed.

However, getting shots like this is not as simple as this picture makes it appear.

In other words, you probably won’t have much success if you stake out the bed of your wife or girlfriend, wait for her to open her eyes, and start snapping away.

Closer inspection of this picture shows that it wasn’t taken quite as spontaneously as it seems. For one, the white background provides a great contrast to the model’s skin. Also, there’s no clutter in the shot: no drapes, no clock radio, not a single distraction to be found. Not many actual bedrooms would provide such a clean “canvas.”

Add the beautifully soft and even lighting, the perfect manicure, the professionally applied makeup, the tousled hair that probably took an hour to get just right, and suddenly you have a glamour photograph that isn’t so casual after all.


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 Tips, Techniques, and Ideas for Glamour and Nude Photography