Working with Models

Posted on January 15, 2012

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As a fashion, glamour, and fine art photographer, I work with a lot of models, actors/actresses, and just plain people. I have been working with them for many years. They are a key subject in most of the images I take. If you have been reading this blog for long, you also know I really don’t like going to meet and greet type activities with a camera to take pictures of models. I want to go into the reason in this entry, and hope it will be educational to you, too.

Meet and greet activities are for photographers who are looking for new models to work. For models, it is a good way to get into meet some of the talent around where the meet and greet is occurring. As a photographer, you will typically get some images and the model will, too. For people who are starting out, this is a great activity. For more established people, it may not be worth their time and effort. Still, it is a good place to work with new people and refresh some creativity. One of the things about a meet and greet is that you are limited to taking pretty pictures of the models – just what you can come up with on a moment’s notice. If you care about your images, edit time is also longer for the images you create as a photographer. Models typically don’t understand that the shortest stage of a shoot is when you actually take the pictures. There needs to be planning and post production work, too.

What bothers me is that most of the people don’t understand working with models. Watching others who really don’t care to improve working with a model is annoying – plus they are annoying to the others who are shooting. Here are some of those things, and the way to work around them.

First, there is an attitude of “free for all” with most of the photographers. There is nothing worse to a model or photographer than more than one photographer directing and guiding a model, all snapping images at once. This confuses the models, makes everyone’s images look the same, frustrates photographers, and gives a poor result. Frequently, there are seven or more people shooting when this happens. If you are using some high end studio equipment and not giving it time to recover, it will break (specifically with the power packs and strobe lights).

Another thing is that most people don’t talk with the models and establish some kind of rapport. The photographer expects the model to do everything on their own from choosing a place to shoot, all the posing, the clothes, and everything that the model is to do. A good and experienced model won’t have a problem with doing this. Less experienced models, on the other hand, often will look blank and wonder what they should be doing. As a photographer, you should have some idea on the concept or idea of how you want to photograph someone. Also, as a photographer, you should have some idea on posing – the type you want to capture and how to make the model look good.

Continuing with the previous topic of not knowing how to work with models, frequently the photographer creeps out the model. This happens in several ways. The first way is that when the photographer is checking the model out to make sure the clothing is looking good and free of wrinkles (or mostly), no tags or straps are showing, everything fits well, and to get an overall idea of the model, they do this in person and have the model get oogled with the photographers eyes. Frequently, I see photographers touch the model at this point – almost always without asking for permission. As a photographer, you should be doing this via the camera. Depending on the shoot. If at a meet and greet, I will do this completely while looking through the lens and have the model rotate around quickly all while looking through the lens. If this is for a client, I do the same thing and snap a few images – one from the front, one from the back, and one close up on the face of the model. I then check those images that I just took. If something needs adjusting, I ask the model to make the adjustments or if there is a makeup artist, to work with the model to correct the problem. You should never touch a model unless absolutely necessary, and then only with the model’s permission for each time you touch them.

The second way that models get “bad vibes” from you as a photographer is if you don’t really know much about posing. There is nothing worse than watching someone who thinks they are there to photograph someone like they were working for something like Maxim or American Curves, and the model really doesn’t want any part of it. If you are shooting something like this type of content, you should have a working relationship with the model PRIOR to the shoot and have discussed everything you will be doing. This doesn’t mean you have met with them, but you should have discussed via phone or e-mail several things prior to the shoot. You aren’t there to photograph the models in unladylike poses showing their under garments. (and yes, I have been to meet and greets where several photographers did exactly this).

Yet another is touching the model to get them to pose the way you want them to pose. There are two ways photographers are told to pose models – one is not touching them, and the other is lightly touching them to guide them into the pose they need to do. The reason for lightly touching them is that it is a lot quicker and less frustrating to the photographer to convey the concept. From my experiences, those photographers who lightly touch graduate to even more touching and eventually inappropriate touching. For this reason, I believe as a photographer that you should never touch a model. You should direct the model by example and explain things fully.

I hope this entry has given you some idea of how to work with models. First and foremost, realize that models are people just like you and are not puppets. They have feelings just like you. Doing this little bit will go a long way to establishing a good working relationship with a model and help you to get the best you can from them.

Edit: Something that has been made very clear to me in a few messages from this post is to emphasize that models are people, too. Yes, they are a subject and something to take pictures or sketch or paint… but they are real, live people with feelings, too. Don’t ever forget that they are, and it is a privilege to work with any of them.