NSFW (Not Suitable For Work), has become a term to warn viewers that certain following images may not be appropriate for mixed company or appropriate to view at work - in other words, adult suggestive content is on its way! One of the first things people imagine when they see a ‘NSFW’ warning is nudity, typically female nudity. I’ve discussed my opinions regarding the gender gap in provocative images in another post so I won’t get into that here. This post is geared more towards what qualifies for ‘not suitable for work' images and where an artist can safely post images that may be NSFW.
Deciding which images might conflict with which social media site most often comes down to deciding whether or not the image may be too objectionable for the general viewing audience. For the most part, the majority of my work is safe on pretty much any social media platform but I do have some images that I’m concerned could get ‘reported’ on certain internet sites. Trying to figure out which images are appropriate on which site isn’t as straight forward as one may think. So, I did what any attorney would do and researched the issue. Please keep in mind the following results are accurate as of the date of this post. One thing I have learned is that the terms can change frequently and often.
Facebook - Probably one of the most widely used social media platforms, Facebook has a community standard when it comes to objectionable images – specifically nudity. You cannot display genitals or images “focusing in on fully exposed buttocks”, whatever that means. Additionally, female nipples are expressly forbidden. There are some female nipple exceptions for actively breastfeeding women or images showing post-mastectomy scarring. Prohibiting pictures of genitalia I can understand. I can even understand a well articulated argument against fully exposed buttocks. But I must admit, I’m a little mystified at the female nipple exclusion. Keep in mind, it’s not a nipple issue, it’s a female nipple issue. There are plenty of images on Facebook of topless men. Are female nipples that drastically different from male nipples? The nipple issue on Facebook has become so interesting that some photographers will Photoshop in a male nipple on top of a naked female image to comply with the community standards – only to be reported anyway. Ha! You can actually download stock images of male nipples specifically for this purpose. This being said, I have seen photos on Facebook of female breasts (nipple included) from time to time. Most of the time however, the nipples will simply be blurred or covered with other images. Facebook allows its members to self-monitor one another and report images viewers find objectionable. Facebook takes over the evaluation from there.
The nipple issue isn’t just a Facebook phenomenon. Most states do not have a prohibition on females being topless but several cities and communities have developed specific ordinances against public exposure of the female nipple. Fort Collins, Colorado is addressing whether or not it is gender discrimination to allow a man to walk around topless and not allow a woman to do the same. New York has allowed females to walk in public topless for awhile but females that do so legally, are still repeatedly arrested. Several organizations and projects such as Free the Nipple and GoTopless have been attempting to address the issue for a while now.
500px - 500px is what I consider a higher-end photography sharing site that has a lot of really excellent photographer members. They too, have a broad standard clause prohibiting obscene or pornographic images. Although I am unable to find any language on the site that defines these terms, it’s not difficult to imagine a person considering a topless woman, or even a topless man, as obscene. However, since this site is geared more towards artistic expression when compared to Facebook, they do seem to allow a broader spectrum of possible ‘objectionable’ material. In fact, they have a search category specifically for ‘nude’ images and you are given the option to flag material you upload as ‘adult content’. There doesn’t appear to be a ban on nipples specifically or on fully exposed buttocks.
Tumblr - Even Tumblr has rules regarding what you can post, believe it or not. If you have a blog that is NSFW, you must flag the blog accordingly so individuals can avoid it if they so choose. Tumblr boasts about allowing you to upload just about anything, again with a few exceptions. They do have a brief paragraph requesting that you not upload explicitly sexual videos – which I think is minimally enforced. However, I could find nothing on images specifically. I would note that the ‘upload anything’ philosophy of Tumblr does lend itself to more selfies and random amateur photographers. This tends to lead to images that appear to be more pornographic in nature as compared to 500px that focuses more on professional looking images in general. However, if it’s strictly nudity and workplace appropriateness, both 500px and Tumblr could be NSFW depending on your search queries.
Instagram – Probably the most cut and dry. “You may not post…nude, partially nude,…pornographic or sexually suggestive photos or other content via the Service.” Again however, I am unsure how strictly this standard is enforced. On a side note, I have attempted to create an Instagram account for my work but I find the nature of the site less conducive to the type of work I do. Although the site is evolving, a lot of my work isn’t from a cell phone camera ready for instant sharing – actually none of it is. And yes, I realize images on Instagram do not have to come from a cell phone but the nature of the site is more about instant uploads which favors the random and instant photos mostly captured on cell phones.
Twitter – Although generally thought of as a brief text sharing site and application, images can be shared as well. The only reference to images I could find in the terms of service indicates that you cannot use pornographic images in your profile image, header image, or background image. I must admit, I am not proficient with Twitter at all. I understand its use but again, feel it isn’t the best format to exhibit my work.
Flickr – Flickr appears to have one of the more understandable terms and service clauses of the bunch. It allows you to set a safety level for images you upload. There are 3 different levels from which to pick. Level 1 is ‘Safe’ and geared towards images suitable for global and public audiences. Level 2 is ‘Moderate’ and is for images that you may not be sure are appropriate but just want to play it safe. Level 3 is ‘Restricted’ and is for images you wouldn’t show your kids or mom. They even further explain that “bare breasts and bottoms are ‘moderate’. Full frontal nudity is ‘restricted". Again, one of the more understandable community standards guidelines of those listed. The levels do not differentiate between male and female images as well. The only restriction on nudity is that it is forbidden in your buddy icon or cover photo.
YouTube – Their ‘Community Guidelines” are very broad and vague simply stating that YouTube is not for pornographic or sexually explicit content. They do, however, have an option to flag your content as ‘adult’ when uploading it. I have seen several videos of behind-the-scenes boudoir photography sessions that basically show both female and male models completely naked – nipples and all. I have also seen videos where the nipple has been blocked out as well. Again, who defines,and how is ‘pornographic’ and/or ‘sexually explicit’ content defined?
These are just a few of the more popular social media platforms used to share artistic works. There are obviously other platforms and if you wish to use them to display materials that might be NSFW, I highly suggest you look into their terms of service or community standards to see what is, and what is not, acceptable.
Now don’t get me wrong. My portfolio is far from overflowing with nudity, male or female, but I do have shoots on occasion that are definitely intended for more mature audiences. Yes, I obviously have my own personal website and I can post whatever I want there, but social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube drive a fair amount of my website traffic. Although I enjoy photography immensely, I also like to share my work, even the work that may be objectionable. To that end, I have to carefully pick and choose what images I put on different social media sites or modify the images to comply with that site’s standards.
We all have our personal definitions of what we individually consider pornographic, obscene, or otherwise NSFW material. That being said, it’s almost impossible to create any artistic work that probably won’t offend someone. In fact, if it doesn’t offend someone, it probably isn’t art. There are several images I consider very artful that someone else may consider obscene or pornographic. Finding the appropriate site for certain select images can be a challenge. Again, I can post what I like on my website but I am at the mercy of social media sites if I want to use them. Regardless, don’t let others define your work. If you find a naked woman, nipples and all, a pleasing piece of artwork you would like to create, get out of your comfort zone, get your camera out, and make it happen. Just be cautious where you post it!
By far one of the messiest shoots I do, a paint toss shoot is tons of fun and relatively easy to set up. I have done this type of shoot before and I learn something new each time I do them. In this post, I will describe the equipment, positioning, and the camera settings I prefer.
First, the obvious. This is a MESSY shoot! I usually spend about an hour before the shoot hanging plastic from the walls and covering the floor with plastic as well. In addition to miles of plastic sheets, I also use a small kid’s swimming pool to try and collect the majority of the paint thrown at the model. I then line a pathway from the shoot location to a shower with plastic as well. The paint itself is a washable tempera finger paint. I purchase the paint at a local school supply store. For this type of shoot, I usually purchase the paint in gallon sizes although they do have smaller sizes available. I dilute each gallon with 50% water giving me two gallons per color. I have found that one gallon will give me roughly 10 images. Keep in mind there is paint being thrown at the model on both sides. If you toss paint from just one direction, two gallons should yield roughly twice as many images. Other equipment I use includes:
Nikon D7100 (Still images)
Nikon 50mm 1.8G Lens
Yongnuo YN560-TX Flash Trigger
Yongnuo YN 560 III Flash (x3)
43” Reflective Umbrella
Olympus OM-D E-M10 (Video)
White Seamless Paper
The location of the shoot was in a two car garage. Since I do not own a studio, this is my go-to location for these types of shoots. Although I do have a background stand and I used that to hang the white seamless paper, it could have just as easily been hung on the inside of the garage doors. I used two pieces of 53” wide seamless paper from a roll side-by-side to a length of about 5 feet each – just enough to have a decent white background behind the model, waist up.
I then placed two Yongnuo flashes on light stands on either side of the seamless paper with large homemade reflectors (white foam board) on the side of the flash facing the camera. The whole point of the flash is to blow out the white seamless paper for a pure white background. Both flashes were set at 1/8 power. The main light was another Yongnuo flash placed in a reflective umbrella at about 45 degrees to the camera-right side of the model and about 45 degrees above the model aiming down. The power of this flash varied between 1/8 to 1/4 power depending on how far it was placed away from the model.
Since this is a shoot where I wanted to freeze the paint mid-air and any splashes on the models, the light from the flashes are controlling my exposure. In other words, I set my camera to settings that when a picture was taken without any of the flashes triggering, I had a fairly dark, if not completely dark, image. It is important to NOT set your flash power too high as this will create a longer flash duration which can create motion blur with the fast moving paint. I would not set these flashes above 1/4 power if you intend to ‘freeze’ action. With that in mind, I set my power on the flashes facing the background first and adjusted my camera accordingly.
I then set my shutter speed slightly over my sync speed. Actually I set it quite a bit slower than I normally do for flash photography. For this shoot, I set my shutter speed to 1/60th of a second. Keep in mind, the flashes are creating the exposure and not necessarily the shutter speed. Typically for flash work I set my camera to 1/200th of a second. After setting my shutter speed, I took test pictures of the background with only the two side flashes firing. The main flash was turned off. I was simply trying to see what ISO would give me the best/white background. I always start at ISO 100 and increase from there. For this particular shoot, I opened my aperture to F8. With the Nikon D7100, I can set my playback screen to show me when portions of the image has no data (is blown out white or completely black). I started to achieve a good white background at ISO 250 - significantly lower than my previous shoot. After setting my camera for a nice white background, I then have the model stand where she will be standing for the shoot and take test pictures adjusting the reflective umbrella flash for a correct exposure on the model.
Once the lighting is done, it’s splash time! The hardest part of this shoot is having the throwers toss the paint so that it hits the model at the same time from opposite directions. Keep an eye on the paint and press the remote shutter at the ‘right moment’. Ha! If there is such a thing. IMPORTANT: Make sure you switch your lens/camera to manual focus after getting the proper focus during test shots. If you leave the camera in auto-focus mode, your camera will hunt for focus, even if slightly, when you press the remote trigger. This slight delay can make you miss the perfect moment. Manual focus only!!!
Besides the complete mess this shoot creates, this is an incredibly fun project both during the shoot and in post processing. Much of what I have explained above can be seen in the video. I will be doing another shoot like this eventually only because I have so much fun with them. So, go buy a lot of plastic, a couple of gallons of colorful finger paint, find a few brave and willing models, and have a blast. As always, get out of your comfort zone and have fun experimenting. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
Keep the interesting parts of life in focus.