The great photographers of life – like Diane Arbus and Walker Evans and Robert Frank – all must have had some special quality: a personality of nurturing and non-judgment that frees the subjects to reveal their most intimate reality. It really is what makes a great photographer, every bit as much as understanding composition and lighting.—Caleb Deschanel
[one_half padding=”4px 10px 0 4px”]If Playboy® magazine’s chief content officer Cory Jones thinks that nudes have become passé, perhaps one of the reasons might be that the magazine has dropped their emphasis on creatively and seductively lit images. Back when the magazine started in 1953, the gatefolds were pinups in the classic style, with a careful attention to maintaining a sense of illusion. Lighting was critical. The photographs from the first few years, the ones that caught your grandfather’s or great-grandfather’s attention, look to us now almost like a set of realist paintings. They were carefully shot and carefully processed to portray a specific image that implied luxury and refinement. They were classy, not slutty.
During the 1960s and 70s, Helmut Newton came to the magazine and set the world on fire with his black and white images that were naturally lit. While the concept sounds easy, just show up someplace with decent indirect lighting and shoot where there are no shadows, photography for Helmut was never that simple. He would scout locations and check for the perfect time of day when the lighting was going to be precisely the way he wanted. Then, he was picky as hell about things such as reflection and making sure that poses put shadows precisely where he wanted them. There was never anything accidental or surprising about Helmut’s photos; what you saw was exactly what he intended.
Then, starting in 1976, Arny Freytag pretty much took over Playboy’s® gatefold and did so with highly-specialized lighting schemes that sometimes used as many as fifty flash heads to create just exactly the precise amount of light he wanted across every inch of the photograph. Arney didn’t just make sure the lighting for the model was correct, but he cared about the background as well, whether it was a complicated room full of furniture, or something seemingly as simple as a rumpled sheet. Arny would fuss endlessly over the precise placement of lights, taking endless Polaroids® until the lighting was to his critical satisfaction. [/one_half]
[one_half_last padding=”4px 4px 0 10px”]Such were the years of Playboy® at its heyday. As Arny got older, he didn’t shoot for the magazine as often and the difference was dramatic. Lighting was terribly inconsistent from one photographer to another. Some insisted on blowing out the highlights and the background. Others, especially once the magazine moved to using digital cameras, created images that were as flat as the paper on which they were printed. Shadows showed up in awkward places. Sunlight glared down on models with no filter or any form of diffusing. Editors and photographers alike seemed to rely more on Photoshop® to fix the errors rather shooting good pictures to begin with. With those attitudes, anything would quickly become passé.
When Hugh Hefner started the magazine, there was an inherent emphasis on quality because he wanted a men’s magazine that would stand out with class and not be like the low-class smut being produced at the time. He knew that was the only way to win over the large-scale acceptance of the men’s magazines necessary to make it profitable. There was no room in Hef’s magazine for bad lighting or poor photography. Even non-nude photographs, such as those accompanying the famous interview portion, were by photographers who knew how to light a portrait correctly.
Playboy® faces a tough battle ahead if it plans to go up against men’s giant such as GQ and Esquire with the bad lighting some of their photography has shown the past 20 years or so. There simply is no substitute, now or in the future, for a photograph that is lit properly from the very beginning. If an editor wants to capture readers attention, good lighting is an absolute necessity, even if readers don’t recognize it. Sometimes it’s the details that keep a magazine from being passé.[/one_half_last]