When I first started out body painting I knew I needed a decent camera to capture all of my creations. What I didn’t anticipate though was that the camera wasn’t going to suddenly make my pictures amazing. Sure they looked better, but they still didn’t have the look I wanted. Photography is much more than focus and the exposure triangle and lighting setups. You need to learn how to stage, pose, light and take those photographs.
Starting out with my very first body painting picture (which was more of a selfie) here’s some tips that helped me get from that kind of photo to the one in the thumbnail.
The Hair, Makeup & Clothes
Seeing as this is about body painting let’s start out with the look that you’re photographing. In the beginning I was all about the body paint and didn’t think that much about whether my hair and clothes fit with the look. That was a huge mistake. Your looks will have a million times more impact if it’s an entire piece. Spend that bit of extra time changing into something appropriate and styling your hair to match your look to create something cohesive.
You might have to get a little creative to make things work. In the little red riding hood picture I’ve got a blanket wrapped around my head as a red cloak. It looks a whole lot better than the scorpion look where I’m wearing a necklace and jumper that scorpion wouldn’t be caught dead in.
Another huge photography sin I committed in the early days was taking pictures in front of anything. Almost all of my early pictures are taken in my kitchen because the light was amazing in there. Sadly, the kitchen cupboards don’t make the nicest background.
To make things simple I tend to use a lot of plain backgrounds. I use my white walls for a white background, and I picked up some cheap offcuts of different coloured fabrics for coloured backgrounds. I used to tape them to the wall but that made the paint peel off so now I hang them between two chairs or off the back of a door instead.
With the two cat woman looks, even though they’re quite different, having the same plain background on the “old” one would have made it much more impactful than it’s current background (yes, that’s my kitchen…again, with some friends studying in the background).
Setting a Scene
Setting a scene can really up your picture game. It’s definitely not my strong suit thought! But, to be fair I don’t have a cupboard full of props that I can use to make elaborate sets. It can be fun to break out of those plain backgrounds and similar poses and try and make the entire picture one cohesive piece of art. Think about what scene your body paint could exist in and how you can incorporate different props or settings to make it come to life and feel like it’s something that exists in the real world.
In these two pictures you can see how the iron man hand is the focus of the “old” picture but instead of having something fun in the background to draw the eye it’s just my good old kitchen cupboards and me not dressed for the occasion. In the newer pictures it was celebrating reaching 1000 subscribers on instagram so there’s a party celebration scene. When you imagine that leopard print picture with a plain white background, the picture has a totally different feel.
Use Good Lighting
Lighting can be a big problem and while you’ve probably already taken a look at getting yourself a fancy light setup before quickly shutting down amazon because wow things are expensive, there are plenty of more affordable/free ways to get well lit shots.
If you’ve got a window in your house that gets nice natural light then that should work wonders for lighting your photos. It’s pretty gloomy in England so there’s no problem with the noon time sun being too bright, but if that is an issue for you try taking your pictures near to the window but not directly in the stream of light.
Another option that works great for anytime of the day or night is white light bulbs. A lot of people have them in their kitchens as strip lights (hence the huge amount of pictures I’ve taken in my kitchen), but I found buying a lamp with a twisty neck is brilliant as you can move it around and angle it to get it just right.
If you find your light is too bright then you can diffuse it by chucking a white (or coloured depending on what effect you’re going for) t shirt over the top of it. Be careful though as that can be a fire risk so don’t keep it on there too long and don’t leave it unattended.
Learn To Use Light for Drama
Lighting isn’t just for making sure your pictures are well lit. You can also use light and shadows to add some drama to your pictures. This is especially good for creepy pictures where you might want to have an emerging from the shadows feel to it.
Try blocking out the light from certain angles to create shadows. I sometimes grab a couple of chairs and a black towel to create a shadow. Thinner and lighter coloured fabrics work well to give a softer more filtered light instead of a harsh shadow.
While you probably won’t want every shot to be super dramatic, it’s definitely a fun way to make your pictures impactful.
Check Your Shots
Even if you think you’ve just taken the perfect shot, check it out. Zoom in so you can make sure it’s in focus. Scan the background to make sure there’s nothing there that’s ruining the picture. Look for stray hairs that are sticking out. Check where you’re eyes are looking, if you intend to be looking straight at the camera make sure you aren’t accidentally looking at the cameras screen instead. Give the shadows and highlights a once over to make sure you don’t have any unintentional harsh shadows or blown out highlights.
Sometimes I’ll pop the memory card in my laptop to check the photo out before I wash off the body paint just to be sure I’m happy with the finished picture. I’ve had too many times where the pictures looked great on the tiny flip out camera screen but once I’ve got it on my laptop I realise it’s out of focus or there’s something in the frame that I didn’t want in there.
I’m going to admit that posing makes me feel a little bit silly. After all, most of the time I’m alone in my flat sitting in front of a camera trying to nail a certain pose. You guys might get to see the single finished image, but sometimes there’s upwards of 50+ pictures that were taken before while I was trying to get it just right.
There’s nothing wrong with the classic straight on or looking off to the side shots, but they can get a bit bland (especially if you’re posting to instagram as when people visit your page they’ll see a wall of similar poses). Try and mix it up, if there’s an opportunity to get creative go for it. If you’re painted as a character try and “be” that character. Use your facial expressions to express emotions or moods, stick a hand in the picture, create that bit of extra visual interest.
Practice and Improve
Everything gets better with practice. Whether it’s your body painting skills, photography, design, setting the scene…whatever, it’s all going to get better the more you do it.
I find it incredibly helpful to photograph everything, even the looks I don’t like, so that I can look back on them and see what went wrong and why. When you’ve got a look that didn’t come out how you expected, take a picture and leave it a few days to a week before looking at it. When you pull it back out it’ll usually be pretty obvious what the problems are with it and what you need to do to fix it.
Play around with your camera as much as you can. Read up on it. Learn how to use it properly and all the cool little functions it’s got, and if you can get on some photography courses that’ll really speed up how fast you learn. There’s plenty of free places to learn about photography online too, look on youtube and keep an eye out for free Creative Live photography classes.