Welcome to the Cut’s guide for taking the best nude photos of your life.
Whether you’re replenishing your stash or have free time and want to experiment with your living room’s flattering 2 p.m. lighting, below is our best advice on how to take a great nude.
1. Don’t underestimate the power of lighting.
Natural lighting is generally good, so if you have a room in your apartment that gets some sun in the afternoon, take advantage of it on your lunch break. If not, a well-placed desk lamp is very useful — as are ring lights, which a lot of us own now.
My friend Jane suggests setting your light source up so it comes from a single angle, which means you can work more easily with shadows; Annabelle, another friend, recommends two different light sources for further fine-tuning. Both lean toward using a warm (yellow) light — “it’s more flattering and less clinical-looking,” Jane explains. (If you only have cool white lighting, try draping a thin scarf or blouse over it to change the tone.)
Consider candles, which serve all of the above purposes and are useful if you missed peak daylight hours. I have a bunch of battery-powered fake candles, which sound tacky but are actually amazingly atmospheric and less dangerous than Diptyque!
And two words: string lights. They create an effect similar to candles, and you don’t have to roll around nude near an open flame.
2. Consider your background.
Avoid the following objects, which make for a bleak milieu: toilets, trash cans, large piles of laundry, dirty dishes, and litter boxes.
What to include instead: books, candles, plants, clean furniture, exposed brick, attractive lamps. Props, too, are useful — think fruits, flowers, rope, a baguette; in general, the idea is not to distract but to enhance.
That said, the nude is extremely subjective, and a lot depends on what you want to communicate. For passion, try a bitten lip and lacy bra. For indifference, maybe leave that pile of laundry in the shot. Adjust accordingly.
3. No mirror? No problem.
So your only mirror is in your dingy little bathroom. It’s fine; mirrors are not necessary for an excellent nude. This is where the belly-flop nude comes in: You take it while lying on your stomach on your bed. It’s perfect if you’re a little bloated or sleepy.
Here’s what you do: Lie on your stomach and either bend your knees to push your butt up or place a pillow under your thighs. The idea is to highlight the curve of your back and butt.
Another simple, mirror-free approach: Sit on the side of your bed (or a couch) and take the photo from above. It highlights the chest and thighs and is an easy option in terms of setup and execution. Take it completely nude or with saucy undergarments.
There’s the bathtub nude. This can be of anything! Take a photo of your knees, feet, legs, whatever. The way the water captures the light is very pleasing, and you can use things like bubble bath to your creative advantage: Conceal and reveal to your heart’s content.
Mirrorless nudes are a good opportunity to take a more discreet photo. Don’t underestimate the power of suggestion; sending a nude is all about the sensual energy of sharing something intimate like a stolen kiss or a secret. For this, Jane suggests a “pouty-lip and exposed-shoulder combo.” Drape a robe, loose top, or bedsheet around your body, and shrug it off of one shoulder. Then take the selfie so that it cuts off right above your lips, exposing the shoulder, throat, and maybe a little bit of cleavage. The photo is ostensibly chaste, but the effect is very sexy and a bit boudoir.
4. And if you do have a mirror?
Congratulations! Your nudes can take on a completely different dimension.
If your mirror is movable, lean it against the wall. Tilt it at a 70-ish-degree angle: This will make you look longer and leaner. If you’re doing a full-body shot, Annabelle suggests placing one leg in front of the other to accentuate length. She suggested “pushing one hip out to highlight curves and sharpen your waist”; a half-turn “to show off the butt,” she says, is an easy, elegant pose and useful if you’re trying to camouflage a tummy rumbling with beans.
My colleague Brock Colyar maintains that the key to a good nude is “a floor-length or vanity mirror that is in need of a good Windex. The grimy mirror doesn’t give too much away (including your identity) and leaves some stuff up to their imagination.”
5. Try an in-the-moment nude.
While many people tend to default to staged nudes, there are merits to taking a more spontaneous approach. A friend of mine, Ava, a designer whose aesthetic taste I trust deeply, is a proponent of the in-the-moment nude, which involves sending one as (somewhat) of a surprise.
She maintains that the excitement of taking a photo at random, and the response from a delighted receiver, is the most titillating part of taking nudes: “There’s something thrilling about an ‘in-the-moment’ nude — a fresh pic rather than a stock nude on your phone,” she says, likening the latter to a photo on Getty Images. That said, she advises that there should, ideally, be a satisfying lead-up to the photo — “a dramatic arc” (e.g., saucy texts, flirting). This kind of exchange can help you ensure that the person actually wants to see the photo.
The spontaneous nude generally requires you to slip into a bathroom or unoccupied room; you can take the photo from an angle slightly above your head exposing cleavage. Or consider taking a straight-on shot of your boobs, which you can grasp in a sort of single-hand bra for volume.
A few other notes.
Use your timer! If you don’t have a phone stand, there are plenty of DIY options (like binder clips or plastic credit cards or gift cards you no longer need). And if you’re not taking an on-the-fly nude, Ava suggests treating this process like a “photo shoot” and doing plenty of takes. She adds that “mindful cropping” is your friend.
On this note, it’s generally not advisable to include your face in your nudes if you plan to send them to someone. And whatever the case, remember to send and save all your photos securely: Password-protected photo apps are good for this, and if you’re sharing your pictures, consider doing so via private text rather than a DM on a third-party app. When it comes to private photos, safety comes first — make sure you trust the person you’re sending the photos regardless of whether your face is in the picture. It can be risky to send pictures to strangers or people you’ve just met.
Even if your face isn’t in the photo, Violet, another friend, suggests doing your hair and makeup; it’ll help you feel more confident. Jane, meanwhile, recommends putting on some body oil: “Your skin will look hydrated and catch that warm light better.” She suggests looking up inspiration from “people who have a similar body type to you. Practice and copy their angles.”
On that note, why don’t you get going? Perhaps you could take a cue from Harry Styles and throw on a pair of fishnets and loafers or simply drape yourself in a mess of string lights and throw on a beret. If you’re with a partner, ignore most of this advice and have them photograph you. I guarantee it’ll be much more fun than doing a puzzle.
Some names have been changed.