Photographer Arny Freytag has shot for Playboy for over 35 years. He currently holds the world record for most Playboy Centerfolds shot. Several years ago, he joined forces with fellow Playboy photographers Jarmo Pohjaniemi and David Mecey to form Shoot the Centerfold, an educational project to share their collective expertise through seminars and multimedia aids. Recently Freytag answered some of our questions about his career and his craft.
- Model Mayhem EDU
MM EDU: How did you become a Playboy photographer?
Arny Freytag: I started out in art school studying painting and drawing, and took photography as a minor subject. I soon realized that I loved photography more than painting, and I was pretty good at it. I started shooting street people, documentary-style. Then I met a girl and asked if she wanted to do a model shoot. Well, after that one shoot, I realized that I wanted to photograph women. I decided to go to a very technical photo school, Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, California, to learn the mechanics of photography. I felt then, and I still do today, that a photographer should have a complete understanding of his or her craft. By having this knowledge, it allows you to be more creative and flexible.
It was there that my instructor saw my potential and suggested a work-study at Playboy. I never thought for a minute about shooting for Playboy, but I sure did after he suggested it! I interned for six weeks, made some connections, and was shooting for Playboy within a year. The rest is history. One of the best way to become a Playboy photographer is to come and meet Gary Cole, Playboy’s director of photography of over 35 years in our seminar/workshop. He evaluates portfolios from our attendees and looks for potential new photographers who have what it takes to become the new shining star.
MM EDU: As a photographer, what is your greatest weakness?
AF: My greatest weakness as a photographer is always looking for the next great model. Even though I shoot some of the most beautiful women in the world, I will always be looking for that one special girl with that little something extra!
MM EDU: As a photographer, what is your greatest strength?
AF: I believe my greatest strength as a photographer is in the ability to make new models extremely comfortable. In my environment, it is very important to be able to establish a sense of trust with my models. Almost all of my girls are brand new to modeling and have absolutely NO experience at all. And on top of that, they have to pose nude. This would normally be a challenge to most photographers, but I have somehow been able to find the right combination to make the models feel very comfortable. I always make them know that I am there for them and have their best interests in mind at all times. It also helps to show them a great photograph of themselves as I shoot. This installs confidence. Once they see that I can capture their beauty in a photograph, then they become that much more comfortable with the process.
MM EDU: Is it true that a photographer doesn’t need much lighting to do a lot?
AF: This is a very true statement. Sometimes less is more. I just shot a layout for Playboy using only one light! Yep, Arny Freytag used only one light. Normally I use a LOT more, but as I said before, knowing your craft allows for you to break the rules, as long as it still looks great. It is not how much equipment you use, it’s how you use it.
MM EDU: Tell us about your one-light shoot for Playboy.
AF: I was assigned to shoot Bree Olson, one of Charlie Sheen’s “Goddesses” for our August 2011 issue. I am known as the guy that uses a lot of lights, and a lot of times I do. However, I also tailor my lighting to the particular assignment. In this case, I wanted the photos to look like they were shot by someone right there in the moment with Bree, not a polished, professional look. It was supposed to look spontaneous and fun, like her. I felt we could do some fun pictures. With this in mind, I chose to use just one simple light. Kind of like an on-camera flash, but a little bit better. This approach also allowed me more freedom for her to move around and be herself. A lot of times, when using a lot of lights, the model has to pretty much stay in one spot because the lighting is so specific. In this case, my model had the freedom to move around and I didn’t have to worry about technical issues.
MM EDU: How much creative freedom do you get shooting for Playboy, and do you get much say in poses and settings?
AF: Actually, I get a lot of creative freedom at Playboy. With the exception of the one Centerfold picture, I have total freedom. The Centerfold is a creation of combined efforts of my editor, set stylist, and myself. I do, however have a major influence on the overall look and direction of the set and where the layout is going to go. We all decide on what the set will be based on the model’s background and interests. We try to tell a story in every Centerfold, something that will give the reader a sense of what the girl is all about. It might be about where she is from, or what she does in everyday life. For instance, if the model is from New York City, then we might build a taxicab set or modern high-rise. If she is from a farm in Iowa, then perhaps we build a barn set.
Once the large Centerfold is completed, then it’s up to me to find all the poses and move the set around, build an additional set, or go on location. The model and I work together to find the best poses for her. Sometimes I have her move around until we find a pose, but most often I will just pose her. Again, my girls have never modeled before, and I do not expect them to know how to move like a fashion model.
Because of all this control, it is not like advertising shoot. I do not work with layouts, and I do not have an art director standing over my shoulder while I shoot. I really enjoy this type of shooting. It allows me to connect with the model without interference from other people on the set.
MM EDU: What do you look for in model?
AF: First of all, I look to see if a model fits the job. If I am shooting a commercial, what does the client want? If they are selling soap, maybe they want a wholesome-looking model. If they are selling sexy, low-cut jeans, they probably will want a sexy model. If they are selling hair products, they will want someone with beautiful hair. I think you have to look at a modeling career as being able to fit the client’s wishes.
Not every model is perfect for every job. This is why I tell models to not get discouraged. If you didn’t get the job, maybe it was because you didn’t fit the type of model that the client requires. Except for some types of fashion modeling, there are no certain “model looks” that we can describe. At ShootTheCenterfold.com, when we look for models, we want all kinds. Sure, a well-proportioned figure helps, but we tend to look at the whole person and then we decide if she is right for us.
MM EDU: What makes a model good to work with?
AF: I feel one of the most important factors that I look for in a model, other than having the right look for the job, would be his or her attitude. Are they excited about the project? Are they willing to contribute something to the job other than just showing up? Are they a team player, or do they only care about themselves? A great photograph takes a team effort. It is never just the photographer that makes the shot; neither is it just the model or makeup person, stylist, or creative director. It is all the above working together to make a good piece of work. Having said all that, it also boils down to the issue as to whether the model has the right look for the project. And, there is no one right answer here. There are many different assignments out there, and they all need a particular look. One look does not work for all the various assignments.
MM EDU: What are the pros and cons of partnering with other photographers?
AF: Well, on the plus side, there’s power in numbers. At ShoottheCenterfold.com we have the combined experience of over 80 years between us, and that is VERY powerful. Plus, we all teach differently, and we teach different things. I feel this gives our clients a much broader learning experience. This way, there is more to learn and different styles to learn from.
On the con side of things, there are more opinions other than your own. And that means compromise. We all know photographers have pretty big egos, but at ShoottheCenterfold.com, we all get along very well. I think that shows in our seminars and workshops. It’s one of the best ways to come together and leave egos at home.
MM EDU: What is there to learn after 35 years of shooting for Playboy, and where do you see the Centerfold heading?
AF: There is always room for improvement. I will always try new techniques, I will always try new approaches to the art of photographing women, and I will always continue to grow. Styles of photography change, the looks of the models change, the looks of wardrobes change constantly. I think we as photographers need to be aware of new styles and new looks. But at the end of the day, all that matters is–how does your model look? If she looks beautiful and approachable, then we have done our job. No matter how cool your photos are, or how great your technique was, all of that doesn’t matter if the model does not look beautiful. It is all about the girl!
In regards to where the Centerfold is going in the future, I feel it will always have that “pinup” look. It is an icon of American culture and art. Nothing will ever replace a great image of a beautiful woman. Nothing!