The Master Nude Photographer Series II: Ellen Von Unwerth

There are a number of ways to improve your nude photography skills and techniques. Emulating top photographers can be one of the most useful.

Obviously, this “imitation effect” doesn’t only apply to erotic photography. For example, 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 his Puma Clydes, I couldn’t quite keep up with his Rolls Royce, fur coats, and basketball skills).

Fifteen years later, I found myself in a fairly similar situation; spending hours upon hours studying the images of photographers such as Gilles Bensimon and Peter Lindbergh.

The two examples above demonstrate how to improve at anything you have a passion for: 1) Identifying the artists of work that excites you and, 2) 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 if your desire is to improve your nude photography, studying the groundbreaking nature images of Ansel Adams might not be all that helpful (and learning the opening riff to “Whole Lotta Love” will probably help even less).

Fortunately, there are many excellent photographers whose work you can learn from. With a little research, you’ll quickly discover that fashion photographers are some of the most talented photographers in the world.

And without question, one of the very best is Ellen Von Unwerth. Her work transcends the typical definition of what is typically considered “fashion photography.” Furthermore, photographers of all experience levels can benefit from studying the techniques and shooting methods used by Von Unwerth.


Though she started out as a model, Von Unwerth is now 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.

“Good for her,” you may say, “but what’s in it for me?”

Fortunately, quite a bit.

The main point of studying the work of other photographers is not to steal their styles. Rather, it’s to study the details and characteristics of their work and note 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.

She’s known for creating interesting environments and then simply 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.

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 actually be, they never appear objectified. Von Unwerth simply allows her models to show their true personalities.


You might want to experiment with this way of shooting. I think it’s a worthwhile exercise for any photographer (and especially worthwhile for those who, unlike Von Unwerth, like to keep tight control over their shoots and their models).

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

Do you have a favorite photographer that has influenced your work? Leave a comment and let me know.

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