Photographer Les Delano Reveals the Naked Truth Behind the Camera

Photographer Les Delano Reveals the Naked Truth Behind the Camera

PLUS Model Magazine’s ‘Dare to Love Your Body’ editorial in the October issue of PLUS made huge virtual waves. Seven beautiful plus size models of all sizes, shapes and races showed their confidence for all the world to see by posing in the nude. Photographer and former model, Les Delano, was behind this beautiful display and has been bringing exciting and creative images for many years. Today Les exposes herself for PLUS and reveals the naked truth behind the camera.

[Maddy] Most people know you as a passionate photographer but you actually began your career as a straight size model. Can you tell me a little about your modeling days?

[Les] I modeled back in the 80’s, when straight size was 6, 8, and even 10! I did print, beauty and catalogue, mostly; some commercials. There was no on-line advertising then; it was all catalogues, magazines, newspapers and TV. The look for straight sized models was different than it is now–I knew very few girls that I would describe as emaciated; they were just slinky and svelte. Think about the Sports Illustrated girls; that was the look. Lean muscles were great!! I think Elle McPherson, Paulina Porizkova, Kim Alexis and Kelly Emberg, define that era in terms of model types.

[Maddy] We often hear that straight size models are asked to slim down below a healthy weight. Was this your experience?

[Les] Well, models have always been taller and thinner than the average person, but back then (sounds like I am talking about the Jurassic era — LOL), most 5’10 models weighed about 130 pounds, maybe less for runway, which is more stringent. I was about 135 pounds, which is thin but not disgusting. I was (and am) completely uncoordinated; I can’t walk in heels at all, so runway was not an option for me! I had big lips and big hair and a slightly exotic look for a blond. That’s what got me work, mostly, my face — as long as I stayed around an 8-10 for the Chicago market that was okay. It’s very diffe rent now, models are being fired for being 5’11” and 125 lbs– i.e., too fat, because sample sizes are 0-2 now. I sure as heck wouldn’t have been a model if I were of age now.

[Maddy]  Over the past few years we have seen a handful of models turn their attention towards photography. What does it take to be a good photographer?

[Les] The eye. Unfortunately digital has leveled the playing field in terms of being able to use the equipment, but all the toys in the world won’t help you if you don’t have a great eye both for composition AND lighting.  I love working with natural light, and personally would still shoot film if I had my druthers, but no one wants to wait for the development or pay for it. Which is sad, as it would weed out a lot of people because there’s no retouching!

[Maddy] When did you decide you would turn your sites to the photography field?

[Les] I believe it was in early 2001. I had been unofficially taking shots of model friends for years, but when 9/11 hit and the economy started to tank and funding dropped out of documentaries, I had to make a fast move. Having both modeled and made movies, I figured I could teach myself how to do still shooting pretty easily. I never assisted; I just started, as I have done with all my artistic careers. I studied European fashion magazines, which have much better photography than American ones, especially the Italians; they know all about light and have for centuries!

[Maddy] After studying photography on your own, how did you begin to develop your book?

[Les] I started testing for free — I got some models off the plus models site– and then went into agencies. I also shot straight size starting out. It’s pretty easy to get beginner top agency models if you have a team and are a woman. I got very young girls (and their mothers) from Click, and everyone was comfortable with me, Bette and Tanja.

It’s important to build a strong book as quickly as possible, rather than worry about getting paid right away. As soon as your book is strong, you can do paid tests, and get clients. As with models, so it is for us photographers; our images are our calling cards. My first client job was through a model, Taylor, who I had shot a card for, and that was Kiyonna. They were shooting their own merchandise at the time and they saw my work on Taylor’s card and she enthusiastically recommended me!

[Maddy] With the stigma that plus size models had years ago… you still decided to include plus size models in your work. Why did you make that decision?

[Les] I think it is devastating to present only one size as the standard of beauty, especially since weight and frame size are pretty random variables among the general population. I mean, we don’t hold someone’s hair color or eye color against them, right? You can be a beautiful girl with gray, brown or green eyes, but not if you aren’t a size 2?  It’s ludicrous to me. I believe it’s all about the face, that’s what I go by. Maybe it’s because I’m a straight woman, not a gay designer or a MWC (man with camera), but it’s the shot, how the girl moves, the clothes, the location and how the LIGHT come together. A beautiful face on any size body will get me and my camera any time!

[Maddy] You are well known by the agencies for your fantastic images. How important is it to have a good reputation in this business?

[Les] I think this business is heavily dependant on word of mouth. Clients know I deliver good images on time with a tight creative team. They also know I have nothing edible but chocolate and this vile green juice in my house, but there are worse things to be known for – LOL!

[Maddy] What are your own views about body image?

[Les] You really want me to start on this — LOL? Ok, I think there are many factors that determine body image, which is separate from self esteem in general. Take me for instance. Due to factors growing up: family, peers, and the fact that I was in the fashion industry; I’m not happy with my size and always have wished I had a better body. I also have a lot of common sense and a deep-seated loathing of exercise, so wishing is as far as it ever gets… My body thoughts, however, do not interfere with how I see myself as a human, to what’s important to me in life, which is helping other people as much as possible. That’s what I base my self-esteem on — what my various talents and qualities are.

As far as body image for the rest of the population — women of all ages are affected by the media blitz that subliminally — or not so subliminally — sends them the message that they are NOT OK as they are. The media does this by glorifying unusually young and genetically gifted people and paying them enormous sums of money to hawk products through which the average woman has a snowball’s chance in hell of ever looking like the model/actress — but hope springs eternal, and hope drives huge profits in the beauty, fashion and diet industries. So women run out and buy that diet aid, that mascara, that cream, those jeans, that hair dye, because the message is, “If you don’t look like Giselle no one will ever love you and you will die a failure eaten by your cat in your overpriced tiny pad full of Jimmy Choos and thigh-slimming cream.” It’s SILLY but it’s so overpowering, and not everyone is hyper aware enough to dismiss the virtual Uzi of “you don’t look like this and you should” messages that come at them hundreds of times a day in all media. So it’s my mission to make it ok to be different; make it ok to love your body even if no one hires you as a stand in for Megan Fox. It’s a work in progress, and I’m including myself in that.

[Maddy] You are the photographer who brought us the ‘Dare to Love Your Body’ Editorial in the October issue of PLUS. Tell me about what bringing images that represent bodies of all shapes and sizes mean to you.

[Les] That was one of the most fun shoots I’ve done. The models were great — no hissy fits about being buck-naked on my rooftop deck in sweltering 90 heat. We are so trained how to ‘best hide’ our figure ‘flaws’– that ever helpful media telling us we suck again– that it was great to have these girls say — here is my body, I love it, you better love it too! That confidence is hot and made for hot photos.

[Maddy] You have worked with some of today’s most well-known plus size models and have been a model yourself. What are your tips for aspiring models when preparing for a successful shoot?

[Les] Go to a pro, someone who does not retouch the living hell out of your pictures. Big agencies like Polaroid girls and that’s what I like for castings; your pictures MUST look like you. When I shot film the agents would take the proof prints and make cards directly from them. Digital does require a little post work for color balancing and zit removal as it is a much harsher medium than film, but go to someone (like myself) who has a VERY light retouch touch!

Also, use a stylist. It’s expensive but these pictures are going to be what get you those nice day rate jobs, so invest the money. Trust the photographer to know the best artists. It may save you $$ up front to bring your friend who did all the make up for the high school plays but if you need to re-shoot, then you are out even more money. So do it right with the best people you can afford right out of the gate. You are only as good as your pictures in this arena.

To reach Les Delano visit