The High Art of Nude Photography: A Conversation with Jan Scholz

Submitted by Andrea Bruchwitz / Benjamin Arntz

Portrait of woman lying on bed looking sensually at camera - photo by Jan Scholz.

German photographer Jan Scholz creates artistic pieces that captivate viewers through their empathetic and highly aestheticized visual language. In our interview, he talks about his inner drive and ideals – and shares some invaluable tips on nude photography.

What fascinates you about the genre of nude art photography?

I’m fascinated by the presence of clear lines and forms because they create harmonic compositions. A more important aspect – by a long shot – is something else though: I love fragility, vulnerability, and the absence of a “protective cover.” This emphasizes the impression of intimacy and emotion even more strongly. I consider myself more of a portrait photographer than someone who does nude photography. The lack of clothes gives me a genuine look at the fragility and emotions.

In your nude art photos, you stick to a classical style. Why do you prefer this aesthetic?

I have never considered different approaches. Being self-taught, I always wanted to be guided by what moves me. My style has developed according to what I’ve deemed to be beautiful, harmonious, and interesting. When I’m shooting, I’m looking for harmony. No matter if it’s nude photographs, portraits, or landscapes, I’m always searching for simplicity and balanced composition.

Woman sitting on a bed in lingerie and turning to the camera.

Lightly dressed woman sitting on the bed - © Jan Scholz |

What are the special challenges of nude photography?

It is not easy to depict an unclothed person favorably and also maintain a familiar and relaxed atmosphere. If you have any doubts as a photographer and are struggling with your camera settings, then there are too many challenges. The genre of nude photography has to be studied. I started out with landscapes and portraits before I approached nude or even partially nude photography. That way, I had enough time to completely internalize all the camera settings, lighting, composition, and interacting with models.

What would you like to evoke in the viewer?

I have never really thought about the viewer. What fascinates me about photography and my pictures is the opportunity for me to create my own fantasy world in which the photos play out. I am internally driven to take photos.

Woman lying on a bed on her stomach.

Nude woman lying on the bed - © Jan Scholz |

Why are your nude photographs predominantly black and white?

Black-and-white photographs have fascinated me ever since I can remember. It is the abstraction and stripping away of “real” color that open up a look at the essential.

How do you create a sense of familiarity with the models?

I have more of a quiet, reserved nature. Hypermasculine affectations are totally alien to me. It is important to engage with the other person and design the shoot to be as pleasant as possible. I maintain an extremely friendly, but connected tone. It is really helpful if the model knows what the photographer wants.

Woman with skirt standing with forehead leaning against a wall.

Lightly dressed woman standing against a wall - © Jan Scholz |

What are your pro tips for lighting nude photography?

I like to work with available light and natural light sources. But it took a long time until I could make that work. Natural light offers a lot of advantages. The photographer can be flexible and does not always need to reposition the flash every time the model turns her head. Even direct sunlight is an impressive light source – used correctly, you can create impressive effects with it.

Woman sitting on the floor and looking out of a window.

Lightly dressed woman sitting and lookin out the window - © Jan Scholz |

… the best camera settings for nude photography?

I only use old, manual analog cameras, so my possible camera settings are a bit more limited. That makes it easier than digital photography, because I can concentrate on taking photos. I just have to meter the light and set the aperture and shutter speed, then I’m ready to concentrate entirely on the model.

… choosing a lens for nude photography?

I only use fixed focal length lenses, because the visual quality is usually better, and the higher luminosity makes taking photos a bit easier. I started with 85 and 50mm lenses, but I have been using 35 and 28mm lenses for some time now. That way I can show more of the surroundings in my photos.

What advice do you have for readers who want to play with focus?

Fixed focal length lenses usually have a wide open aperture that makes it possible to keep single, isolated objects in focus. If you are not afraid of using film, the effect can be strengthened by using medium and large-format cameras. Anyone who really wants to study the use of focus and blur with a large-format camera should take a closer look at the work of American photographer Polly Chandler. If you really want to take it to the max in Fine Art Photography, I recommend a Speed Graphic with a Kodak Aero Ektar lens.

Portrait of a woman in lingerie.

Torso of a lightly dressed woman - © Jan Scholz |

As far back as the 1850s, photographers like Eugène Durieu and Bruno Braquehais were experimenting with nude photography. What famous photographers are among your favorites?

My favorite photographers include documentary and portrait photographers like Stephen Shore, Alec Soth, August Sander, and Richard Avedon. In the nude photography genre, Paolo Roversi, Peter Lindbergh, and Helmut Newton spring to mind. Of those three, Newtown is probably the one most considered to be a nude photography artist.

Portrait of woman with her back facing the camera.

Nude woman looking directly at the camera - © Jan Scholz |

What makes an artistic nude that rises above the rest?

Naturally, that all lies in the eye of the beholder. To me, an artistic nude photograph has to evoke real emotions. It has to touch people personally and be more than a superficial depiction of a human body.

Feeling inspired? Show your best black and white nude photographs on our high-quality Baryta paper, offered in our line of photo prints. Batyra paper has shining white and black tones, ultra-fine brightness levels, and sharp contours that make it well-suited for nude photographs. A nude photo printed as a canvas print is an elegant way to assert its significance.

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