One of the very first things I ask models as a photographer is “What kind of images do you want to do? Where do you see yourself in photographic images?” Most of the answers are reasonable answers, but some replies are in highly conceptualized images. Sometimes, I see where models themselves post in a casting call or similar type of venue that they want to do something like this and they link to images that they want to create with them in it.
What do you mean by highly conceptual? The images are shot with models who have lots of makeup on, extensive outfits, probably a wig or head piece, and are in fantasy types of locations or images. Someone with little or no experience probably won’t have a chance at creating an image like this because it takes skill and no one will invest in a session like this without knowing the outcome prior to doing it. But, you can work your way up to doing highly conceptualized shoots if you work hard and perfect your modeling. Demonstrate you can do it, and people will ask you to be the model in conceptual kinds of images.
You may have seen that I used the word “invest” above. When someone hires you as a model, they are “investing” money in the hopes of a return on that investment. If they don’t get a return, then it was a poor investment. The investment can be monetary or something else. With this in mind, a great photographer (Michael Daggett) being openly honest and candid responding to a model who wanted to do a highly conceptualized shoot responded with this: “No really this is actually easy. After, you have all the right lights and modifiers, and associated skill on how to use them. You also need a MUA who has all the right makeup, and associated skill. Then the right retoucher with the tools/skill. Then you need to find a model and wardrobe stylist. Once you have all that, and your team has worked together on a few hundred shoots, this should be fairly easy. My guess is the original team has moved on to something more challenging now that they have mastered this. Pressing the shutter button is easy. Clicking the mouse is easy. Knowing when and where takes time.” His comments capture the feelings that most photographers have when they hear this from a new model or one with little or no experience and you know that the model doesn’t have the modeling skills to do an image like what they want to do. Images are frequently investments. There has to be a return on the images in some way for a team of people to do them. People (photographers, stylists, MUAH, editors) don’t just capture images in a business just to have fun.
A highly conceptualized image can easily take over a month to shoot. Costs are incredible for outfits, makeup, hair, and location (if shot on location). Most of my conceptualized shoots from start with the idea to the end with images take between six months to a year. The shoot itself will probably be an all day event for you as a model. There is lots of preparation that has to be done by the photographer, stylist, makeup and hair. Preshoot work is extensive, often including a lot of testing by a photographer. Costumes or outfits can be expensive if you don’t have a fashion designer or costumer buy into the project. I have had outfits range from $120 to $3,000. This doesn’t include the time to find just the right outfit. Makeup is expensive and getting a licensed makeup artist is also expensive. You often pay “per look” for both hair and makeup. In some images, a body painter is required. I don’t know of any body painter who will work on a conceptualized concept for less than $600, and this is inexpensive for a body painter. If you need to shoot at a location, the location has to be found and exchanging information and getting the details worked out for that. Location costs aren’t free in most situations. The final editing of an image can easily be $500 to $1,000. It isn’t hard to see when you look at these kinds of costs how something like this would cost $10,000 or more. There is a lot of planning and time put in by several people to complete a conceptualized image.
If you are a model, realize that all your prior work comes into play for consideration in doing something like this. You have to demonstrate that you can do the work and have done work adding up to something highly conceptual. This means learning expression and movement, and how a little different of an inch placement of a body part can make or break an image. When I do highly conceptualized images, I will choose actresses and dancers over models because they know this from their background and how to give me what I need to capture in that image, and know what it is to work on a long term project. I don’t get the “I just need to show up and look pretty” attitude that models tend to have. The models who I do work progress while they work with me and we build to a conceptualized project to make sure they can do what needs to be done. A selection of a model doesn’t just happen off the street or without any prior experience with that model.
This is one reason that professional photographers do TFP testing with models. We use it to find out about the model, what they can and can’t do, how tolerant are they of planning an image, and a variety of other things. You must be on your best behavior, and if you are working with a photographer on a project, you can’t just disappear or stop communicating without a response. These all factor into what a model can and can’t do. Flaking or not responding during planning a session are the same. Having something to do in the middle of a shoot also undermines your credibility as a model. Even worse is sharing that concept with another photographer and shooting it as though it were your idea. You will have burned that bridge working with that photographer. Those photographers who do this as a business will have long memories. As professionals, we also talk with our photographer friends.
There is nothing worse as a photographer than spending $10,000 to shoot a concept, and having nothing to show after spending that kind of money. Remember, it is an investment. It is not something a crew of people do for fun.