Photos: Not always the whole picture

I’m going to put this out there right up front. I love rope photography. I love seeing the creativity in the ropes, the blissful or pained expressions on the bottom, and the beauty of the lighting, composition, and setting. However, I also understand that the photos are a lie. What I’m not talking about in this post are shots that are snapped mid-scene. I’m talking about photos taken specifically for the sake of taking a good photo.

I am speaking from both sides of the rope and both sides of the camera. I’ve topped rope for photos and I’ve bottomed rope for photos. I’ve been shot and done the shooting at photo shoots. What goes into making a good rope photo is not necessarily good rope. In fact, when it comes to creating a good rope photo, the rope itself is one of the least important things.

Lighting is key. Without good lighting, you really can’t even begin to hope that you’re going to get a good photo. Lighting highlights certain aspects and hides others. A good photographer can set up lighting to make sure that the eye is drawn to the best parts of the image while hiding flaws. Good lighting is what makes a photo appear professional when compared to a shot snapped by a cellphone, or even a great camera, mid-scene.

Camera choice is also incredibly vital. No matter how good the rope it, a photo with a cellphone or a point and shoot camera just isn’t going to turn out as well as a photo shot with one of those fancy cameras that have lots of letters at the end of their name.

Post-processing. I can’t even begin to explain the importance of post-processing when trying to create a great rope photo. I’m not talking about making the model look skinnier or removing bad looking parts of the photos, although that can certainly be a part of what some people do. I’m talking about working with the exposure or the color balance, removing noise from the photo, highlighting certain parts that the photographer wants more visible, cropping the photo. All of these little changes make huge differences in the photo.

In a photo shoot dozens, sometimes hundreds of images, are snapped. The shoot is considered a success if just two or three of these photos turn out to be usable. What you don’t see is the number of times between shots that the rope is changed, or the model is asked to change their facial expression, or the lighting set up is changed. All of these things tend to destroy the energy of the scene, most especially if the rigger is also the photographer.

Finally, the rope itself can be a lie in the photos. This isn’t to say that it always is, but it does happen. Many times what the rope looks like it’s doing is not the same as what it’s actually doing.

  • A gorgeous tie from one side may look like total crap from the other, especially when the goal is only to get one specific shot.
  • Something that appears to be extremely strenuous on the bottom may have adjustments made so that it can be endured better.
  • Crazy suspensions are frequently shot by getting everything prepped, putting the bottom up and lifting them in and out of it every few seconds until the shot they’re looking for is captured.
  • Something that appears to be inescapable frequently is actually not very restrictive at all. The bottom chooses not to struggle in order to avoid messing up the pretty rope work.
  • Sometimes a rigger will take literally hours to get the rope looking just right for the photos while the bottom is bored off their ass in the mean time. I’ve even heard of riggers turning on the TV so the bottom can have something to do while they get the rope looking just like they want it to.
  • Photos that look particularly dangerous almost invariably have something going on to the sides or above the photo to ensure the safety of the bottom.
  • When a bottom looks totally blissed out in rope space, frequently, it’s for the camera. Rope faces mid-scene tend to be derpy, not flawless faces of serenity.

This post is not me trying to say not to look at rope photos. Hell, I do it all the time. It’s a reminder that rope photography is just like porn. It’s fantasy. It’s great for getting people off, what it’s not always great for is ascertaining the amount of skill that a top has, nor is it great for knowing the quality of the scene or connection between the top and bottom. It's also not me saying not to take or appreciate photos or that all rope photos are not as they appear. Some of them are, but many are not.

I love rope. I love photos of rope. But, I also never forget that what you see in a photo is almost never the whole picture.