Gaia Nudes — Workshop w/ Darwin Wiggett & Samantha Chrysanthou

Good friend to Dar­win Wiggett is offer­ing a work­shop (about 1/2 hour west of Cal­gary, Alberta) on August 12–14, 2011  on how to shoot land­scape nude pho­tog­ra­phy, called Gaia Nudes. Dar­win is a fab­u­lous pho­tog­ra­pher and teacher so it’s my plea­sure to help spread the word. Read on if you are inter­ested in learn­ing how to shoot nudes with Dar­win and Saman­tha. As always, Dar­win only works with small groups so spots fill up fast.

Q: What is Gaia Nudes?

A: Gaia Nudes is the name of our project for pho­tograph­ing artis­tic nudes in the land­scape.  As land­scape shoot­ers, we have an appre­ci­a­tion for nat­ural beauty.  Meld­ing the human form into the land­scape seemed a fun and chal­leng­ing way to merge our appre­ci­a­tion of the land­scape with recog­ni­tion of the beauty inher­ent in the nat­ural human form.  The results of our work are show­cased on our web­site,

Q: As you say, you are pri­mar­ily nature and land­scape shoot­ers; how did you come to develop this web­site and con­cept behind Gaia Nudes?

A: Well, there are many, many won­der­ful land­scape scen­ics out there online, in mag­a­zines and in other forms of pub­li­ca­tions.  There are also a lot of pic­tures of nude or naked peo­ple online:  just try search­ing for qual­ity, fine art nude pho­tog­ra­phy and you are inun­dated with what is often just soft porn!  We real­ized that there are much fewer exam­ples of images that com­bine a well-composed land­scape with an artis­tic inter­pre­ta­tion of the human form.  We thought this would be a chal­leng­ing yet reward­ing way to broaden our skills as photographers.

Q: How is Gaia Nudes dif­fer­ent from say, boudoir or glam­our nude photography?

It really boils down to one key word:  sex.  Fine art nude pho­tog­ra­phy is not there to sell a sex­ual idea.  Sure, there is inti­macy and sen­su­al­ity in fine art nude land­scape images, but we are appeal­ing to these sen­si­bil­i­ties more than we are appeal­ing to people’s inter­est in sex.  Boudoir pho­tog­ra­phy is as its name implies:  shot in a pri­vate, inti­mate set­ting with props such as sexy cloth­ing, mood light­ing, makeup and provoca­tive pos­tures.  The empha­sis is on the phys­i­cal desir­abil­ity of the per­son being pho­tographed rather than on a gen­eral aes­thetic appre­ci­a­tion of the fig­ure.  Glam­our nudes sell sex pack­aged up with fash­ion.  Both are respectable forms of expres­sion, but they are not what Gaia Nudes is about.  A Gaia Nudes shoot may show the fragility of the body when exposed to the ele­ments, it may be a story in the con­trast in tex­tures, or it may high­light the par­al­lel forms of the human body and its echo in the line of a tree, hill­side or jagged rock.

When we are out pho­tograph­ing with our mod­els, we are all hav­ing fun.  We laugh at our mis­takes, spin cre­ative ideas off each other, and exper­i­ment with poses that con­nect the body to the land­scape.  It’s a phys­i­cal and men­tal workout!

Q: Why would other pho­tog­ra­phers be inter­ested in this area of photography?

We have heard many times from our work­shop par­tic­i­pants that they are ‘in a rut’ or bored with their pho­tog­ra­phy.  For shoot­ers look­ing for a chal­lenge, pho­tograph­ing nudes out­doors brings into play many skills and chal­lenges, forc­ing pho­tog­ra­phers who think of them­selves as ‘peo­ple’ shoot­ers or ‘nature’ shoot­ers to think out­side of the box.  If you enjoy pho­tograph­ing beauty in any form, then you would be inter­ested in this kind of photography!

As well, because we have avoided the need to ‘sell sex’, the pho­tog­ra­pher has a much wider range of emo­tion and story to work with.  By free­ing the shooter and the model from the boudoir or bed­room, we’ve freed them to work together to chan­nel orig­i­nal and unique expres­sions or stories.

Q: What do you look for in a land­scape for a Gaia Nudes model shoot?

Good ques­tion!  We look for a land­scape that has a bit of mobil­ity in terms of it can sup­port more than one pose or idea.  Ide­ally, a land­scape that has sev­eral fea­tures of inter­est, such as some open land, rolling hills, some for­est, per­haps some rocky ter­rain….  Prac­ti­cally speak­ing, we need land fea­tures that are capa­ble of sup­port­ing safely both pho­tog­ra­pher and model (so no swamps, wil­low thick­ets or scree slopes!).  Pri­vacy is also crit­i­cal so both model and pho­tog­ra­pher can con­cen­trate.  The land­scape should also be some­thing that we would pho­to­graph for its own sake.  Too often when a pho­tog­ra­pher takes a model out­doors for nude work, the land­scape gets short shift and is rel­e­gated to a few sticks or a rocky water­fall.  We want both nature and the model to be appre­ci­ated since their sto­ries are interwoven.

Q: What do you look for in models?

There are a few char­ac­ter­is­tics that are crit­i­cal.  The most impor­tant is atti­tude.  We are seek­ing a fun and reward­ing expe­ri­ence for both model and pho­tog­ra­pher, so a per­son with a pos­i­tive atti­tude and a will­ing­ness to get a bit dirty or work a lit­tle harder for the shot are crit­i­cal.  In terms of phys­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics, we look for a slim, fit and healthy body that looks nat­ural.  The cam­era appre­ci­ates mod­els who can elon­gate their limbs and carry an ele­gant line from head to toe.  We love yogis, dancers, and gym­nasts for this form of work.  The model should have a good kines­thetic aware­ness and an abil­ity to under­stand a direc­tion from the pho­tog­ra­pher so that he or she can trans­late a ver­bal sug­ges­tion into a pose.  This is def­i­nitely a tal­ent!  We avoid mod­els that are too mus­cu­lar, too endowed (remem­ber, we’re not sell­ing sex!) or dis­pro­por­tional.  We don’t have height require­ments, we aren’t gender-biased, and we don’t really care about the model’s facial beauty since we’re not sell­ing glam­our, fash­ion or boudoir.

Q: Describe a typ­i­cal shoot.

This is one area where we are land­scape shoot­ers, through and through!  We start early (just after sun­rise is best) and work in the lovely early morn­ing light for a cou­ple of hours.  We usu­ally break for mid­day both for health (heat­stroke, any­one?) and then resume in the long, golden light of the evening.  Each ses­sion is usu­ally about three hours long.  Both of us work one model and encour­age sug­ges­tions or ideas from the model as well as each other.  We rarely use sup­ple­men­tal light, but some­times we share hold­ing a reflec­tor to brighten parts of the model’s body.

Q: What are some of the chal­lenges and rewards of this form of photography?

The chal­lenges of this form of pho­tog­ra­phy is that it is like an ‘all over’ work­out:  so many skills are at play!  Men­tally, you need cre­ative vision to pic­ture a con­cept.  You need good com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills to trans­late this vision to the model so that he or she can pic­ture what you have in mind and exe­cute your sug­ges­tions.  You also need to be flex­i­ble to respond to chang­ing poses, other’s ideas and vari­able weather and light con­di­tions.  There is a bit of phys­i­cal exer­cise too.  Fine art out­door nude pho­tog­ra­phy com­bines skills from the tra­di­tions of both por­trai­ture and land­scape pho­tog­ra­phy.  The rewards are increased skill lev­els, com­pelling imagery and that sat­is­fac­tion you feel when you work together as a team with your model to cre­ate an amaz­ing image.

Q: Can you pro­vide any tips for com­pos­ing the scene?

You have to work within an idea.  Just plunk­ing a per­son into a scene is going to look arti­fi­cial.  Try and think of the model as another fea­ture of the envi­ron­ment.  Where would this fea­ture look best in the over­all scene?  Look for shapes or ele­ments in the scene that might mir­ror the shape and form of the human body, or con­trast with the human form.  If you are really stuck, try hav­ing your model make dif­fer­ent forms (rounded or long, arms and limbs out or close to the body) next to another dis­tinc­tive ele­ment in the scene.  For exam­ple, a round rock in a prairie scene might sug­gest a curved form on or around the rock, or you could angle for con­trast and have your model in a sit­ting tri­an­gu­lar pose to con­trast with the rounded form of the rock.

Lens choice and point of view are also impor­tant when com­pos­ing the scene.  Since this is about the land­scape and the model, we often use wider angle lenses and shoot fur­ther back than tra­di­tional boudoir or fash­ion photography.

Q: Where do you look for inspi­ra­tion on how to pose mod­els within the scene?  Is com­mu­ni­ca­tion of your vision easy or difficult?

A lot of our inspi­ra­tion comes from the land­scape itself.  There are always inter­est­ing shapes, tex­tures and lines in nature that you can work with.  We encour­age our mod­els to come up with ideas as well since they know what their bod­ies are capa­ble of doing in terms of reach, bal­ance etc.  Com­mu­ni­ca­tion depends each time on the rela­tion­ship between the pho­tog­ra­pher and the model.  We try to be very clear and descrip­tive with our lan­guage to trans­late our vision in what we want the model to do.  So, instead of say­ing, “Can you just move that arm a bit more over there?” which is a ter­ri­bly unin­for­ma­tive way of putting it, we would be more spe­cific:  “Can you lift your right arm about 90 degrees out from your side and bend your elbow so that your right hand rests behind your right ear?”

We have also wan­dered across some excep­tional fine art nudes in the land­scape and those are also always an inspiration.

Q: What equip­ment do you use in the field?

We mostly use nat­ural light as it is very beau­ti­ful and flat­ter­ing to both land­scape and model if you shoot in bright over­cast light or when the sun is lower in the sky.  We may use a reflec­tor for some fill, and on some occa­sions we break out off-camera flash with a soft box for other effects.

Q: You are also both photo instruc­tors with eBooks and work­shops on offer.  I under­stand you have an upcom­ing work­shop on this form of fine art pho­tog­ra­phy.  Can you describe that for any view­ers who may be inter­ested to learn more?

We greatly enjoy teach­ing, so we do have some eBooks on generic pho­tog­ra­phy top­ics, along with our busi­ness part­ners Jay and Varina Patel, at But our Gaia Nudes work is pri­mar­ily on our Gaia Nudes web­site.  We are offer­ing a work­shop this sum­mer, in Alberta near where we live, on how to cre­ate this form of artis­tic pho­tog­ra­phy.  The work­shop takes place August 12–14, 2011 on gor­geous, pri­vate ranch­land in the foothills.  We have sev­eral mod­els and a very lim­ited num­ber of par­tic­i­pant spots.  We’ll be cov­er­ing how to com­mu­ni­cate your cre­ative vision, com­po­si­tional tips and tech­niques and essen­tial equip­ment, and we have a Ladies Only day spe­cially set aside for female shoot­ers who appre­ci­ate com­raderie and com­pany in learn­ing new forms of photography.

Dar­win Wiggett and Saman­tha Chrysan­thou are both cre­ative and life part­ners.  They spe­cial­ize in high-quality, acces­si­ble instruc­tion on pho­to­graphic top­ics.  Their work has been pub­lished in both national and inter­na­tional mag­a­zines and pub­li­ca­tions; Dar­win is a reg­u­lar colum­nist for Out­door Pho­tog­ra­phy Canada mag­a­zine.  You can read more about them by vis­it­ing their web­sites ( , or their blogs ( ,