This is a post about levels. For anyone who works in the industry, you’ll know what I’m talking about. For anyone else, you’re probably like, ‘levels of what??’
Well, I’m here to clear that up. A model’s levels refers to what sort of work they do, and every model will have her or his own levels. For example, I work up to fine art nude but some models work up to fashion or lingerie or adult. The levels we refer to in the industry are sort of on a scale, usually getting more revealing/intense. The more revealing levels are referred to as ‘higher levels’ as understandably, not as many people are comfortable shooting them.
Not only do all models have different levels, those definitions of the levels vary depending on the model too, so it’s always important when booking a model to make sure you’re both on the same page. You’re usually pretty safe if you’re booking a model who works up to fine art nude and you’re only planning to shoot up to lingerie for example, but it gets a bit more tricky when you come to shooting the higher levels. In my opinion, communication is key here (a bit of advice for newer photographers there!)
I thought this post might be interesting for those who aren’t in the industry because you might see these words coming up and not really know what they mean.
As I mentioned, the way levels are usually put forward are in increasing intensity so that’s the way I’ve chosen to lay out this blog post. Be aware that this post is my personal opinion on what these levels mean and the ordering of those levels is the way I see them. This post is meant as a general overview because I thought it might be an interesting thing to explore and write about. Not all models will feel the same way about each level, so please keep that in mind (and I believe it’s up to the model, not the photographer to define these levels for her/himself).
If a model shoots to fashion, it is fully clothed work, i.e. clothing that you would wear anywhere. This covers many different styles and types of clothing, as there are many different types of clothes! This label would cover anything from modern fashion, to period costumes, to outdoor wear, sportswear etc.
It is possibly worth noting here that just because someone is a fashion model, it doesn’t mean that they will shoot in any clothing. The model always reserves the right to say they don’t feel happy or comfortable posing in certain clothing, especially if the clothing is provided by the photographer (because obviously a model is unlikely to bring clothing of their own if they didn’t want to wear it, I guess!). Reasons for a model declining to shoot in an outfit could include: poor fitting or wrong sized items, not wanting to wear something somebody else has worn, or not wanting to wear something in a certain situation (like wearing evening wear in the middle of a high street).
I’m pretty easygoing when it comes to wearing stuff provided by the photographer. I’ve worn loads of stuff that I wouldn’t ever dream of dressing myself in because as long as the photographer is happy then I’m not too bothered. But that’s my choice, not every model will feel the same way. There have been occasions when I’ve said no to certain items of clothing and I’m always within my rights to do so.
Here are some examples of my fashion work. In order, the photographers are:
© Garden of the Muses © Brian Cooper © Michael Szabo © ASN Photography
Lingerie can cover many different types of photography from subtle shots of people in lingerie, to more erotic and suggestive work. It’s important to find out what the model is comfortable with in terms of posing and expression when shooting to this level. Lingerie shots with a more sensual feel to them are often referred to as boudoir and are usually shot on or around a bed/bedroom setting. Some models who work up to lingerie might be okay wearing sheer lingerie and some might not. Boudoir and sheer are sometimes considered separate levels to lingerie, so I will provide examples of each.
Lingerie shots: © Michael Szabo © Photopurity
Boudoir shots: © Paul Smith
Sheer shot by © Allen Sheffield and a Sheer/Boudoir/Erotic shot by © Phil Lonergan
I believe latex modelling is a separate level to fashion and lingerie, simply because the nature of latex. It might make some models uncomfortable, even if they shoot a lot of fashion/lingerie. Firstly, it’s skin tight. Secondly, it’s a bugger to get into sometimes, so unless you have a friend, fellow model, designer or assistant to help you, it might not be for everyone. Latex shoots would need more planning than fashion or lingerie anyway, so it’s unlikely that as a model you would suddenly be asked to model latex, but it could happen and if you wouldn’t be comfortable doing it, just say so!
I’ve mentioned in my other blog post about my time in Bulgaria that I modelled latex for the first time in october 2018. Here are a couple of shots of me wearing Kaoris Latex and a behind the scene shot of me and Stacie Mai applying shiner before we were photographed. If it wasn’t for Stacie, I don’t think I would have been able to get into some of the pieces I modelled over there, which is why I think latex should be a level in its own right! Photography by © Colin Grist
Topless modelling and glamour are often both confused. For me, topless modelling means that you’re naked from the waist up. Glamour is more about the lighting and the posing and isn’t always topless (although a lot of glamour is topless). What I’m trying to say is that just because someone models up to topless, it doesn’t mean they want to shoot glamour. I fit into this category. I don’t really do glamour, simply because I don’t think I have the right look for it (there are so many models out there better suited to this style than I am!) So although I’m happy to model topless, that doesn’t mean I’ll stand straight on to the camera with my hands on my hips and smile… I’m more comfortable with more subtle/soft styled images.
I know I’m repeating myself but make sure the model you’ve booked knows the style you’re going for if you’re booking them up to topless. Communication 😉
Also, mood boards are helpful.
Examples of modelling topless by © Kevin Sheldon and © Derwood Pamphilon
More glamour-type shots (this is about as glamour as I get!) by © Graham Savage and © Brian Cooper
Implied nude is generally accepted to be images where the model appears to be nude, but nothing is on show. Think something that is Facebook or Instagram friendly. No female nipples or genitalia on show. So for example, a shot of someone curled up, or a portrait where the woman’s arm is across her chest. That sort of thing.
Implied nude is where things start to get a bit more tricky when we start to discuss whether the model has to be nude when the photograph is being taken or not. Some people say yes, some people say no. For me, as long as the model looks naked, why should it matter? Logic, right? Some models may feel more comfortable wearing a strapless top or nude coloured lingerie, if it’s not visible in the finished image.
For me personally, as I shoot up to art nude anyway, I’m not bothered about actually being naked but just covering up what needs to be covered up for the shot… But if a model doesn’t shoot to art nude, it doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t shoot to implied nude. It’s just important to check first wether they would be comfortable being nude for the set and just not have ‘anything on show’ in the final images, or if they just want to sort of pretend to be nude (if that makes sense!)
Here are some exampled of implied nude work. Each of these images is deemed ‘Facebook friendly’ as there is nothing on show. In all of these images, I was completely nude (except for the mesh one of course, but I felt this was another example of implied nude, because you can tell I’m nude under the material but you can’t see anything).
©Paul Smith © Shihari ©Lightyear © Garden of the Muses © Joan Blease © Paul Smith
Fine Art Nude
My favourite. There are many different names for this level such as: nude, art nude, fine art nude, classical art nude, figure, figure work, figure nude etc. This basically means that the model is naked but the poses are never explicit in nature and are rarely sexual.
When I’m explaining what I do to muggles (non-magic folk…. I mean, people who are not involved in the industry), I often say that they should think of the paintings you see in art galleries, but just photography rather than paint… And then they usually get the idea. Non-sexual nudity that depicts elegance, grace, and feminine beauty.
Some models will shoot what is called ‘full frontal art nude’ which is a half step above what I usually shoot to. This just means that they aren’t as bothered about posing slightly open legged in some shots.
I’m pretty sure that most people who follow my blog will have already seen plenty of my fine art nude images so I don’t need to post many here for you to get the idea. Just think of what I do most of, and that’s what fine art nude is! Note that most of the poses I do have my legs crossed in front so I don’t show ‘too much’.
© Kevin Sheldon © Garden of the Muses © Michael Szabo
Erotica is one of those levels that is less about how much you can see and more about the general feel of the image. Some models who shoot to lingerie will be able to pull of an erotica theme without getting nekkid, so this level isn’t about the nudity per say. It’s all in the posing, the lighting, and the expression on the model’s face.
For me personally, I’m not overly comfortable having someone photograph my crotch, whether I’ve got underwear on or not, but that’s just me. I’m more at home with the crotch-facing-away-from-the-camera poses, especially when I’m shooting this more sensual style… Nude or clothed. Whenever I’ve been asked to shoot erotica, I just let the photographer know that I’m not comfortable with that type of posing and they can decide whether those poses are integral to their ideas or not (and either book me, or find someone who will shoot the poses they want!)
I once heard someone describe the difference between erotica and adult in a way that stuck with me. I can’t for the life of me remember who said this, but I like it:
“Adult is about what you can see. Erotica is about what you can’t”
I don’t think I can put it more succinctly than that! I really like that way of looking at it.
Here are some images from about three or four years ago that are on the edge of the fine art nude/open leg/erotica level. I don’t trust all photographers to shoot images like this: On this occasion, I did it because the photographer, John Gould was particularly talented at capturing such images and we had discussed this before hand.
A couple of images taken by Phil Lonergan, also about three or four years ago that depict an erotica theme that doesn’t revolve around complete nudity or explicit-ness.
I’ve lumped open leg and adult work together, simply because I don’t actually have any examples of either of these levels to show you since I don’t shoot them. But they are distinctly different and I’m guessing that models who shoot to these higher levels will all have their own comfort zone and their own definitions of what separates open leg and adult.
From my understanding, open leg work is rarely sexual in nature, despite you being able to see everything. Adult tends to be more sexualised and explicit. Also, there are many different types of work that come under the umbrella term of adult work. I’m not the best person to delve into that side of things! I’m sure that if you’re wanting to shoot to these levels then any model you’re thinking of working with would be happy to explain to you what they’re comfortable with and what they mean by the different levels that they work up to. I think, it’s just really important to have a conversation about these things with whoever you’re working with and make sure you’re both on the same page.
I’m not sure where these levels are for males because obviously shooting to art nude is as exposing for males as it is for female models shooting to open leg. I’ll have to ask a male model for clarification on this!
And that’s that, my post about levels! I hope that it’s not bored you too much and that if you didn’t understand what these terms were before (as either a new photographer, or someone not in the industry), then I hope that my ramblings have made it all a bit clearer for you and not just confused you!
One quick note before I sign off: I’d like to talk briefly about what’s called level pushing as it seems like a relevant side note to this post. The term level pushing refers to when a photographer attempts to get a model to work to a higher level than what she/he usually shoots to or has stated that they are comfortable shooting to on that occasion. This can come in many forms such as repeatedly asking for poses above the stated levels, belittling when the model declines, attempting to trick the model into posing in such a way, taking shots when the model is getting changed or moving between poses, refusing to pay the model if they don’t shoot to the higher levels, and intimidation/coercing/forcing the model to shoot those levels. I’m certain that I don’t need to explain why this is wrong to anyone reading this, but I assure you it is a lot more common than you might think.
Level pushing doesn’t always have to be sexual in nature, either. It can simply be asking a model to pose in a way in which she doesn’t wish to, in an outfit she is not comfortable in or with props she doesn’t want to be associated with. For example, some models don’t wish to pose in sheer lingerie but are happy nude. That’s her choice. Some models don’t want to pose with weapons of any kind. That’s her choice. Some models don’t want to smile on photographs. That’s her choice. Some models don’t want to have their hair/make up a certain way. That’s her choice. No means no, regardless of what you’re asking. I’ve had photographers repeatedly ask me to do something over and over and I believe this is level pushing and very disrespectful. No means no. It’s that simple.
I urge all models (particularly newer or part time models, who may not have come across this sort of behaviour before) to be aware that this is something that happens and know that you should only ever work to what you’re comfortable with. You’re the one in control, keep it that way. It’s your body and it’s your image that is being captured so anything you pose for should always, always be your choice. You also do not need to give an explanation as to why you’ve decided you don’t want to do a certain thing. You can simply say no.
I urge all photographers to keep this in mind too as it’s very easy to destroy all trust in the model-photographer relationship by not being mindful of this issue. If a model says no or that she’s not comfortable then that’s the end of it, you can just move on to something else! The work we do is creative and should be fluid. And let’s face it, if the model is not happy or comfortable then the pictures just won’t be as good, and that’s a fact.
I have personally dealt with level pushing on several occasions and it’s not nice. Being someone who is quite shy and anxious (I know, shocking, right?), I find situations like this particularly awkward. The more experience I’ve had, the better I am at dealing with such issues but it’s never nice. I love my job and I love meeting and working with people from all walks of life, from all over the world and I won’t let the few disrespectful people ruin that for me. I hope that by writing this post, it’s bringing a bit more awareness to this issue so we can stop it happening 🙂
Thank you so much for reading this post, and I hope it’s been helpful or at the very least interesting!
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