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Wait, What is Glamour Photography Again?

It is easily one of the most vilified and stigma'd genres in photography, and the one genre that provokes the most ire from its critics. Difficult to define and even harder to describe to someone accurately, one could also argue that it's the one photography category with the most people, mostly men, who are involved "for all the wrong reasons". In short, some people loathe glamour photography. But, is the reputation deserved? And what the heck is this glamour photography thing anyway?

For one thing, there are some nationally recognized glamour photographers who don't even like the term, such as Colorado's top shooter Don Hales, who states clearly "Fashion sells a product, glamour sells the model. When you're looking at Maxim, you don't care what kind of bikini she is wearing, you care about the girl." which is in strong contrast to, say, Vogue magazine, where the wardrobe is (more or less) the primary focus.   

This is all confusing already, so let's start of with an attempt to define glamour - literally that is - from a formal source like


1. the quality of fascinating, alluring, or attracting, especially by a combination of charm and good looks.

2. excitement, adventure, and unusual activity: the glamour of being an explorer.

3. magic or enchantment; spell; witchery.

4. suggestive or full of glamour; glamorous: a glamour job in television; glamour stocks.

That's well stated and all that, but what does it mean for the photography genre? Honestly, definition #1 covers it, spot on. But how so? Let's take a look at it while we try to avoid the obvious assessment  of "Men like hot women" because, frankly, that's only a small part of it.

"Fascinating, Alluring, Attracting, Charm, Good Looks"

Who finds glamour fascinating? In my experience as a glamour photographer over the years, I have noticed that, curiously, a unexpected number of women from all walks of life are fascinated and intrigued by the idea of being a glamour model. And sure, why not? Glamour models are often regarded as celebrities (even minor ones), for better or worse, and there has never been a shortage of people who find being a celebrity fascinating. For every woman that I have met that blanketedly dismissed glamour models as "wrong" (or whatever critical term they care to use), I've met 10 other women who tell me they fantasize casually about being one at times. My own wife included, which is why she has modeled "for fun" since 1999.

Nichelle Layne, glamour model, and my wife. She models for fun, and I've been working with her for over 15 years now.

There is a mystique behind this, a certain perception of strength and power about being a celebrity or semi-celebrity, and the title of glamour model sits squarely in that perception. Mind you, I am fully aware that there are very important people in this world doing very important things for society and humanity in the realms of science, medicine, philosophy and education, and I applaud them all. In fact, I'm a huge fanatic and supporter of those subjects and those working to expand them. But glamour models provide both men and women with a fantasy escape, if you will, that more people find fascinating than they are usually willing to admit.

Ok, so, is glamour charming? In my opinion, it definitely is. To me, being charming is having an appealing sense of friendliness, confidence and a sense of humor. The latter being the key element in glamour. You see, although this may not be how some feel about it, to me, glamour has to always have a small sense of humor in order for it to work. Glamour, and those who work in it, cannot take themselves too seriously if they intend to create imagery that conveys sexuality, beauty, style and confidence in a universally appealing manner. Once you take yourself too seriously in glamour, you can accidentally jump firmly into arrogance, whether you mean to or not, in a genre that shouldn't be taken too seriously to begin with - and that is another stigma that can be hard to live down.

This is a style I call "hard glam", which I usually accomplish in studio. I plan sets like these to be very much in your face, if you will, and totally and completely about the model in the shot. In this case, Playboy Cyber Girl Of The Year, Jennifer Vaughn.

But let's not mince words here: Glamour photography is also wrought with far too many perverted "photographers", seedy "agents" and a host of other questionable people, all trying to exploit anything they can out of anyone trying to work in the genre. I freely admit it, there are way too many trashy photographers in glamour. And more than likely you or someone you know has had a bad experience with one or more of these unfortunately prevalent predators. One of the most staggeringly annoying aspects of this problem is when these ridiculous perverts trying to shoot glamour approach me as if I think just like they do. And before I can stop them, they are spewing forth their, let's call them philosophies, on why they work in this genre. I usually need a shower immediately after these barrages of garbage spew forth from some wannabe glamour photographer's mouth.

The worst part is, the photographers, models and other industry professionals with integrity have to live this stigma down, daily. As social media is used so often these days, a glamour photographer or model is never too far away from the next criticism or condemnation from a random commenter.

Glamour can be in your face with sexualization, or more subtle as in this image I shot in Chicago with Nikki Fritz.

So, ok, more people get a kick out of glamour photography than they will admit, but glamour photography is also not for everyone. If you're a self-described prude or find that viewing glamour images go against your set of ethics and morals, then glamour isn't for you. And that's, of course, perfectly ok. I can relate to this because of my disinterest in, for example, the horror, or macabre, genre of model photography. Sure, there is a time and place for it (namely, on commercial horror movie posters), but it is not a style I like, let alone strive for. I've no interest in it, but yet may photographers and models and creative individuals are quite passionate about it. And that is, again, perfectly ok.

But back to glamour. I've been working in this genre for a few years now, and have met many in the industry with very interesting outlooks and opinions on this whole "glam" thing. Playboy model Elsa Day remarked recently during a chat of ours "To me, glamour modeling is about seducing the camera. A good glamour model commands attention or a jaw drop with her goddess like qualities and confidence" she says, "Being a glamour model you are more of a classy tease, the stunning woman a man might check out in a grocery store but in her lingerie and with blowing hair." What Day is basically saying here, to me, is that glamour creates fantasy, which is not unlike other genres of photography. She also spoke to those who criticize the genre, stating "[If a photographer or client] puts a model in Wal-Mart undies, spread her legs and have her suck on a lollipop, that turns trashy real quick. But if you put a model in Agent Provocateur or Victoria's Secret with amazing hair & make-up and a fancy hotel suite, and she knows how to pose sensually, then [can be] classy." There is a fine line here, as she describes, and it all comes down to intent and dignity.

Michigan based professional touring model Aneta Kowal describes glamour in her own succinct manner, declaring "Glamour modeling is expressing my sexuality in the form of a photograph." 

Professional glamour photography stalwart, James Gurdine, who has shot for every men's magazine you have ever heard of for almost 20 years, told me recently "I've made a big chunk of my living shooting glamour and, for the last 7+ of those years, writing about it as well. For me, glamour photography celebrates - you might even say worships -  the feminine mystique, as well as the beauty, allure, and sensuality of the women in front of my camera, and the cameras of others who either work at or enjoy shooting the genre." Gurdine also commented on the criticisms glamour receives, saying "I try to keep an open mind to glamour photography's detractors, that is, those who judge it as smut, filth, sinful, whatever. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions. I do, however, take exception when the people who embrace those opinions attempt to force their personal sense of morality on others by shaming them, judging them, even condemning them." 

The feedback I get from the industry reminds me that very real human beings work in glamour despite the critics who may declare otherwise.

Though often crossing over into glamour, the genre of boudoir photography is not just about the final image(s) created, but about the premise behind why someone opts to hire a boudoir photographer as well as who the images are intended for, which can vary. Boudoir is similar to glamour but is often about showcasing fantasy that is often steeped very much in reality, as these images are very often gifts for significant others. For a brief moment in time, a boudoir client is a glamour model, in front of the camera, creating fantasy.

Glamour photography is all about fantasy, as I've stated, and specifically sexual fantasy. That said, glamour is not - let me say it again - is not like pornography. Rather than go on some thousand word diatribe about why it is not like porn, I will just say that, if you're unsure, hit up Google and search for some. If that doesn't show you the profound difference between the images in this article and the images the Google gods will throw at you for searching "porn", then I can't help you. Pornographic images and videos, if I'm honest, scare the hell out of me a lot of the time. The vulgarity, disrespect, even violence. Just awful. However, a delightfully pointless shot of Chicago model Amanda Paris wearing an electric pink mini dress sitting in a Porsche 911 GT3 is not scary at all. And it depicts the fantasy of maybe, just maybe, what it would be like to be married to such a woman and own such a car - a fantasy common among quite a few men I am sure you know in your life. And I am certain which one is sexy (Amanda & Porsche), and which one isn't (porn). 

Exploring sexuality in art is nothing new, and at times it can be a very serious exploration. But with glamour, I think it should be approached with tongue firmly planted in cheek, and just allow yourself to be in the moment of it, however brief, and smile. After all, there are plenty of other things in life we need to take very seriously, and pay attention to. 

And if you're in glamour or wanting to be in glamour, remember what Kowal says, quoting composer Jean Sibelius, "Never pay attention to what critics say. Remember, a statue has never been set up in honor of a critic."


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Nick Viton's picture

Nino! You win at Life!

michael buehrle's picture

once again, great article.

taytus's picture

*clap clap clap*

Jason Ranalli's picture

I think this article raises some good points which I agree with, however, I think the comparison to pornography is a bit unfair. While pornography is far more explicit than glamour I don't find it to be violent or disrespectful at all. Of course there are sectors of the industry that would go to places I wouldn't approve but that doesn't mean that all porn is violent or disrespectful.

I can't remember what photography site I used to visit where some of the folks shooting were these older dudes photographing these tiny nearly-naked young girls looking really trashy. I found that to be more offensive than pornography frankly because the pictures were awful and tasteless. It seemed clear they were taking pictures for the thrill of "hey I have a naked girl in my apartment lying on some mattress in the corner" rather than working on the craft of photography itself to create a really well produced alluring photo.

Nick Viton's picture

("Shot by Kern" perhaps?)

Savi You's picture

Probably Model Mayhem

Anonymous's picture

Funny you say that. My wife and I found Richard Kern (and Shot by Kern on Vice) and we marathon watched every episode. It was my wife, after watching that series, who encouraged me to shoot what I shoot now (similar to Kern), to her, that show dismissed any preconceived notions she might have had about shooting that style/genre. She found Kern to be the exact opposite of creepy, if that makes any sense, and found his work to be the least "trashy", even compared to certain styled clothed/bikini glamour photographers..

Jennifer Kelley's picture

I agree with this. Porn isn't violent or blatantly disrepsectful, though there are some that cater to a specific group or taste. I worked in a pro photo lab during college and we would develop the overflow from the porn shop, so I've seen my fair share of pro and amateur porn as well as glamour. Some porn was fine, some glamour was sleezy. Any time you are shooting women lacking clothing putting their sexuality on display, there are going to be sleezebags who flock that direction.

Also, I think the level of sleeze really depends on the photographer and model and their experience. Being inexperienced with this genre, I know if I shot with one of my regular models who is overtly sexual just sitting in a chair, we would create glamour that rivals porn without meaning to.

Francisco Hernandez's picture

"Even violence". Meaning some, but not all, of it can be violent. There's some pretty crazy stuff out there.

Anonymous's picture

Sometimes taking photos isn't about the craft of photography, it's documenting moments. For some people that's having fun and sometimes that's naked. Nudity isn't that big of a deal and I'm not sure why a photo with a nipple or vagina in it should have some extra stigma attached to it. After a portrait shoot of a dozen or so Olympic athletes for a shoe company yesterday, I spent a few hours taking photos of a girl in her apartment, in her shower/bathtub, (on her mattress, which was in the corner) all over, nude, clothed, smoking pot with her friends. If someone's going to look at my photos and critique the lighting and 'posing' and technical photography, or, as you say "craft of photography" - I think the point is missed.

Jason Ranalli's picture

You're very right, but taking pictures of a girl in her environment like smoking pot with her friends is not a planned glamour shoot either....that's more photojournalism IMO and a completely different beast. That's not trying to pass something sleazy off as glamour photography...that truly is documenting the moment and capturing the mood.

Chris Blair's picture

I think I like Glamour Photography.

Bob Bell's picture

Great article mate, and class pics.

Doc Pixel's picture

Great editorial Nino! And thanks for bringing that beautiful quote by James Gurdine along for the ride! I echo this statement, "For me, glamour photography celebrates - you might even say worships - the feminine mystique, as well as the beauty, allure, and sensuality of the women in front of my camera."

Gustavo urena's picture

I'm sorry but this is not glamour at all. This falls more into boudoir but glamour is not sexual at all. Glam is fantasy yes but not in a sexual way. This about George Hurrell—totally fantasy and hollywood glam. Think about Sue Bryce—Totally modern glam and not a cent of hardcore sexual connotation.

Nate Lugo's picture

Great Read! Thanks!!!

Marek Michalek's picture

Great article. It really paints a solid picture of the industry. It's difficult to proclaim yourself a glamour photographer without accepting the stigma that comes along with assumptions made. It's particularly challenging as a man in the industry not being associated with photographers with questionable motives and actions.

Neo Racer's picture


Ralph Berrett's picture

I remember the first time i shot a glamour image in junior college, I get called in by my instructor, in which he informed me that I had not broken any rules, but I did cause new policies to be written.

What i like about glamour is that in many ways it is telling a story, although fictional story. I think that is why I am drawn to it as a genre. I have always liked telling stories with my photos.

In many ways glamour is my escape from my normal work. I also don't shoot the horror, or macabre, genre of model photography, mainly because in my line of work I have photographed, real blood, pain and death (photojournalism). In someways I use glamour to celebrate life.

Glamour in someways is the bastard child in photography. I had one college instructor pull me aside and tell me, he could not understand why I wanted to shoot this. For him it was not fine art. Glamour photography crosses almost every genre of photography, yet it the least respected.

Glamour and porn really does not have a black and white zone but more of a grey zone. What was funny my conservative parents had no issue with my glamour work, now my relatives viewed it as porn. I had a distant cousin looking at my portfolio. After looking at my glamour shots, she said, "these girls must have loose morals".

I laughed and said, "They have some of the best morals that money can buy". "It is a job, and they are professionals who are in their own right are artists like actresses".

Archag Tchorbadjian's picture

Fine ... seduce the camera, be alluring, be about beauty, but when the image is ridiculously "airbrushed" to a point of ridiculousness, it becomes a load of fake crap. Let's take some real pictures or really "glamorous" women without this incessant need to make them look like plastic Barbie dolls, it's horrifying how fake this has become.

Ralph Berrett's picture

That is true of all photo genres that are touched by Adobe Photoshop. You can say the same thing for example of Landscapes with bad HDR. Photoshop can be a fine brush or sledgehammer.

Christopher Hoffmann's picture

Well written Nino!

Julius Jooste's picture

Great read!
I agree. Glamour is selling the girl, fashion is selling the product.

Visit for professional glamour photographs at affordable rates.