Tips For Working With Models

There are no hard and fast rules for working with models, but there are social etiquete rules that need to come into play for both the model and the photographer to enjoy the shoot.

I’ve seen a number of articles on the web where they give tips to photographers about the art of working with, lets face it, strangers who are models.  For the most part, the models we encounter are probably from reputable websites such as Model Mayhem, Model Agencies or if your a brave and brazen photographer like me, women we’ve tried not to creep out and stopped them in the street to see if they’d like to have their portrait done (yes, I do it all the time, much to my girlfriends annoyance I’m sure).

Where do you start when trying to work with models..?

Friends and family would usually be the first point of call, and lets face it, it doesn’t matter what we’re trying to do, its usually the F&F’s that get approached first, whether your trying to sell widgets, seek funding or just generally pitch and idea too, we always go to them first don’t we?  It’s true in this instance too.  If you have a  hot girlfriend (and why wouldn’t you?) or wife (or both) then start there, if your mates have those too (it won’t happen but its nice to ask) you could always ask them if they’d model for you, but generally you’ll get a better response from strangers.  It’s with strangers that the pitfalls show themselves.  So lets get on with the rules as I see them..!

Rule #1:  This woman is not your girlfriend..!

Okay, she maybe way hotter than any woman you’ve ever talked to, let alone dated, but she’s not your girlfriend, your not on a date, and she’s not interested in you!  She’s there for one reason and one reason only, to have you take photos of her, and for you to make her look awesome in those photographs.  Its easy to let yourself move from praise during a shoot to flirting, but flirting is for bars/clubs and various other venues, but NEVER for photo shoots, or when your engaging in communication about a photo shoot.  Don’t even flirt after the shoot, its just not the done thing.

You may need to utilise the model possibly for future verification of your work, when approaching other models who will want references of other people you’ve worked with.  The last thing you need is to be called a lecherous creep who does nothing but come on to the models he works with.  You might think your gods gift, and who knows, you just might be, but if you brake this rule your finished in this industry and your reputation will be in tatters.

Rule #2:  Don’t ever touch the model..!

Now I’m not saying you can’t touch the model, but if you do, then seek permission to do so.  Some people don’t like their personal space being encroached, especially by another stranger.  If you see a thread that needs pulled, a strap that is twisted, or a stray hair across the face, then get the model to sort it.  If they can’t, then always always ask permission for each instance that you need to do it yourself.  Don’t assume that because you’ve done it once, you can do it each time, because you can’t..!

Rule #3:  First shoots should never be done alone..!

Why..?  Is probably what your asking, and its a fair question, but put yourself in the models shoes (not literally), she’s usually going to be travelling to your studio and will probably be excited and scared in equal measure (depending on experience) so having a friend/parent is more of a comfort than a necessity.  If you advocate the bringing of a friend/parent then they’re more likely to be at ease very quickly into the shoot.  Nervousness shows in photography, as it is sensed in animals, if a model is nervous or worried you’ll never get the best from them, strained smiles will never get you on the front cover of Vogue and the shoot won’t ever make it as a portfolio resource.

So whatever you can do to put everyone at ease for the first time is always a plus.  Personally I’m not a fan of having a boyfriend on set, as it makes things a little awkward for the model, and paying compliments (which is the next rule) to your model whilst shooting will make it awkward for the boyfriend, which in turn will be transmitted back to the model.

Think of it this way, friends of models are possible future clients..!

Rule #4:  Pay your model compliments..!

Beautiful people despite what you might think, sometimes lack a little confidence and when they hear a compliment they sometimes wonder what’s the motive behind it (I should know, I’m gorgeous and hate compliments – I wish), but paying a compliment for something the model is doing right is a good thing.  If you see a smile and you can get them to hold it for a few frames more by telling them that they’re looking amazing, will let them know that they’re giving you what you need.

The flip side to this is never be negative, if the pose isn’t working, suggest to the model that move their hand to the left a little, or shake their hair across their face and flick it back, or relax slightly, the distraction might work to get them into the right position.  Negative feedback will only slow you down, and ruin the experience of the shoot and lose you future customers.  If they’re doing something wrong, gently explain to them what you’d like them to do instead and why.  This will mean they’ll learn from it and thus reduce the likelihood of doing it again in the future.

Remember, when it comes to compliments, don’t be creepy, or overly gushy, cause that’s just wrong… Nuff said..!

Rule #5:  Tell them what you want from the start..!

This rule is quickly followed with “and agree to it between the both of you”.  If your shoot is a glamour style shoot and you want it to be skimpy clad models in evocative poses, then make sure your model knows this in advance.  If your hoping to get her nude later in the shoot DON’T..!  If your intention for the shoot is to have your model topless or nude and you’ve not agreed it in advance, don’t bring it up during the shoot, because this is where you reputation gets killed.

Remember rule #1, she’s not your girlfriend, and your not trying to seduce her to get her in to bed.  Your attempting to take pictures of a stranger with no clothes on and she didn’t know about it.  What does that tell you about you?

Have the discussion in the pre-shoot communication in as plain a manner as possible.  Ask her out right to what level of nudity she’s prepared to shoot up to, be that topless, nude, nude-implied or not at all.  Don’t be weird when asking about it either.  If you’ve shot nudes in the past, simply ask if the model would be interested in something similar and show her images of what you’ve done, or images of what you’d like to do, if its something you’d like to attempt for the first time.  If its your first time getting into the nude photography category, its probably best not to approach a model who you’ve not worked with previously.  Your better off getting a professional model who has experience in this, and let her give you some ideas on how best to work this category of photography.

One tip to remember on this subject is that nude is not porn unless its porn.  You should be big enough and mature enough to know the difference, if you don’t (and be honest with yourself) then don’t go down this route until you’ve done some research on the matter or at least grown up a little more.  Remember your reputation.

Rule #6:  You’ve two ears and one mouth, do the maths..!

You can listen twice as much as you can talk, so if the model has an idea about a particular pose, then don’t be too arrogant as to not listen.  If she’s an experienced model, let her work through her routine of poses, you’ll be surprise how easy it makes the shoot go.  If there’s an outfit she’d like to wear that might not be what you had in mind, let her wear it, and do your best to make it work.  Your a photographer and you’ll come up against various situations in your career that will be a challenge, its all about making the best of those challenges that makes you a better photographer.

Posing is always a challenge, if you position your model roughly where you want her, and guide her through the angles and movements then you’ll get the image your after, it just might take you a little longer.  Remember to let the model relax every now and then, as you don’t want her to be in any form of uncomfortable position for too long.  However, if she’s not enjoying the pose, leave it and move on to another one.

Rule #7:  Failure to prepare, is preparing to fail..!

If she’s never done this sort of thing before, provide some advice, give her a list of facial expressions she should try and practice, a handy link would be from Learn More Photos website on Facial Expressions (and hand movements).  Chances are though, they won’t practice, so its important as the photographer to be able to express yourself visually, so that your model can replicate what your doing.  If you think your model feels stupid doing it, wait till you’ve tried it yourself.

Make sure she has enough outfits with her too, and advise her not to stuff them into a small bag, as this will only result in her looking like she got dressed in the tumble drier.  Not a good look, and one that’s very difficult to repair in Photoshop, if not impossible.

Remember, your the one who is supposed to know all about this in advance, so tell your model not to do any fake-tan unless its a professional job in a spray-booth.  Your not doing a promo for Willy Wonka, so if they do turn up looking like an Umpa-Lumpa, send them home.

It’s all in the details, so one more thing to cover is make-up and nails, half chewed nail varnish is just a nightmare, as is poorly done make-up.  A make-up artist can help, but if your on a budget and can’t stretch to one, then your advice to your model is that less is more.

Before the model shows up, go online, go through your literature, and have some poses ready in your mind or printed out, as there is nothing worse that those awkward moments when your stood there thinking ‘What next..?’.

Rule #8:  Model Release Forms

If your model is under 18 you need a parent or legal guardian to sign off on the form, especially if the images are to be used for portfolio’s.  There are plenty of sample forms out there, so you’ll not be in short supply for tips on what to include.  If your model is over 18 (get proof if your not sure) then make sure she signs it on the date of the shoot, and another one again if you do another shoot on a different date.  Keep these on file, and let your model know roughly when she should expect to see the results.

If your like me, tell them they’re only going to get the images that you approve of.  You’ll have plenty of duff images to begin with at the start of the shoot, its common so don’t be too worried about it.  I tend to use the first 30 minutes of my shoot with new models as a training workshop, to get them used to being photographed, posing and generally breaking down the barriers that might have been built up prior to her arrival.  Keep the chit chat general, don’t talk about her partner (that just comes across as creepy) if you can get away with it, find out what interests her, as these moments will often glean a more relaxed image, most of all, no smutty jokes, again, it will lead you down to the creepy path.  Once they’ve relaxed you’ll notice it, and they’ll get more into it, those tend to be the best shots of all, and those will be the ones you’ll end up showing off.

I prefer only to display one maybe two shots from a session in my portfolio, especially if I’m constricted to a studio or a cramped location, as the images tend to get a little monotonous when viewed in one sitting.  Advise your model to do the same, as this will increase the variety.  Also let your model know when she should roughly expect to see the results of her day.  There’s nothing worse for a model in not knowing when she’ll see her work, and you’ll only end up getting pestered, so do yourself a favour and be honest from the outset.

Rule #9:  Don’t stare..!

If your on location, try your best to provide your model with a place to change.  If you can’t, and its not always practical to do so sometimes, the very least you can do is turn around with your back to your model whist she changes.  Find something to distract yourself, flick through some of the frames on your camera, but don’t move about, stand still and keep your back to your model or you’ll just make her nervous.

I try my utmost not to stare at my models, but I always have a quick scan to make sure that there’s nothing I could have had put right before taking the shot.  Explain exactly what your doing when you do look over a model, and remember to keep your models modesty intact.

Rule #10:  Enjoy it..!

After all those rules above, try to enjoy the experience.  If you look like your having fun, then the model will begin to enjoy it.  The best way to get the most out of your modelling experience is to keep shooting.  Your not always going to get it right first time round with a model, but with practice you’ll reduce the likelihood of that occurring too often.  Encourage new models to seek work with other photographers, I don’t personally recommend any other photographer unless I’ve worked with them, or seen them at work.  Your recommendation is closely tagged to your reputation, so don’t wreck it by passing on a model to a photographer your not sure about 100%.

Once your new models have worked with other photographers, get them back for another shoot and you’ll notice the difference, and lets face it, you’ll probably benefit from their newly gained experience.

I hope you’ve found these little rules helpful, and remember… Shooting models is like shooting strangers, it takes time to get to know them, so make sure they get to know you in a good way, that way you’ll have more strangers calling you, and that’s where reputation comes into play..!

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Categories: Glamour, Photography | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Tips For Working With Models

  1. Sound advice. Most is that rare talent of common sense! Good post.

  2. Megan

    Very good advice Darron!! and i will pass this round, highly recommend a model to read it too, to get a togs perspective!! And i agree with Michael, common sense, a trait a surprising amount of people lack! Hope you are well.

  3. ciaranwhyte

    Very well considered and put together. I think a lot of this is pretty sound advice for people very new to shooting models. But to be honest, I don’t agree with most of it 🙂 Sorry

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