I’ve always loved photographs of great bodies shot against a background of some sort of dramatic landscape – mountains, desert, lave-strewn beaches. Outdoor location images of Steve Reeves or Arnold Schwarzenegger. High fashion photos shot in the Himalayas or Africa. Edward Weston’s nudes at Oceano Dunes.
For me, extraordinary bodies and landscapes go together. I’d have much more trouble shooting a defined athletic body against rolling green hills or piney woods. Many photographers shoot people outdoors with the background blurred and out of focus. My aim in shooting bodies in a landscape to to do an excellent body shot – and an effective landscape photo as well. One comment I received, that I truly appreciate, was “Bill, if there were no model in the picture it would still be a great landscape shot.”
The kind of body photos I do are all about detail. As I wrote in my blog post Photographing Nudes, I like to make images of highly defined physique with the same approach Ansel Adams used in his photos of mountains and deserts. With the body itself shot as if it is a landscape. So when I put that kind of body in an actual landscape, I am going for double the effect – lots of definition in the body, a lot of dramatic detail in the background landscape.
Even when I’m photographing a less athletic physique, a fashion or swimsuit model, I am still very aware of contrasting the shape and form of the model with the contours and drama of the background. Putting the background out of focus makes sense when you want to emphasize the clothing the model is wearing, her jewelry and accessories, or her hair styling. A background out of focus draws attention to the foreground. But in many cases, my location photos are about the connection and the correlation between the body and the landscape in which it is viewed. So a sharp, clear landscape seen behind the model is an essential element in the effect.