After years of photographing music festivals and gigs I was feeling stale. My photography had stopped being a challenge, I could get great shots, almost with my eyes closed. I had learned most of the tricks of that particular trade, and if I’m honest I was beginning to think that I didn’t have much to learn. Boy was I wrong!
This, the first of a series of articles about model photography, is a summary of the lessons I have learned over the past couple of years. I will lay bare the assumptions I had to overcome, hopefully burst a few myths, provide a few tips to help you avoid the pitfalls, and give you a peek into how I work.
Forget The Gear – Work With What You Have.
I like to pretend that I have never suffered from the disease that all photographers will contract at some point. It’s called “Gear Acquisition Syndrome,” I’m sure you recognise it. To be fair, I already had two great cameras, a Nikon D750 and a Nikon D810, for the simple reason that a two camera rig is almost essential for music photography. Pair those cameras with a 24 – 70mm F 2.8 and a 70 -200mm F 2.8 and you have virtually all bases covered when shooting gigs.
Admittedly, the same set up is brilliant for location work with models too, but honestly you can create great images with an entry level DSLR and a kit lens, add a cheap 50mm F 1.8 lens and you have an excellent set up for shooting models. If your camera is a crop sensor model so much the better, your 50mm will give you roughly the same field of view as an 85mm lens, so long a favourite for portrait photographers.
So, with an entry level DSLR and a 50mm lens you are set to begin shooting models. In my opinion add a 5-in-1 reflector, and a single speed light and you are set.
Forget What You Already Think You Know
Confession time: I thought that after gig photography, shooting with models would be a breeze. My absolute No 1 mistake. Anyone who has shot gigs will know that it’s not easy, constantly changing light, performers leaping around, it takes skill and timing to get a good shot. You learn to anticipate lighting and learn to keep one eye on everything going on right across the stage.
Models will be easy, after all they stand relatively still and you are in control of the lighting right? Wrong! Well its probably more accurate to say that its partially wrong – if you are to achieve great shots with your models you need to think differently.
You know what’s great though, a good model can really help you with lighting images and helping you to develop your model photography – but you need to book a reliable model. How do you go about finding a reliable model?
Finding A Reliable Model
Absolute mistake No 2. It’s easy to assume that the best thing a Photographer can do is to arrange a TFP/TFCD arrangement with an inexperienced model so that you can learn together. That’s a mistake, its the blind leading the blind. You will end up with a load of “family snapshot” images, probably with the model having the same “dead behind the eyes” expression in every shot.
Booking a couple of really great models is going to cost you. In the UK, the going rate for an experienced freelance, “internet” model ranges between around £200 – £350 a day. It sounds expensive right? In reality, if you pick the right model then it is money very well spent.
You should bear in mind those costs are what I expect to pay for “cream of the crop” models in my area. Prices can vary across the country, so I will talk a little more about that in the next article.
Many experienced models have beautiful home locations or home studios that you can shoot from. Some even have studio or constant light rigs that you can use when shooting with them. They can teach you to use those lights. Most importantly, experienced professional models know how to use the light to give you great images, they know how to pose to show themselves at their best. You will see them make little adjustments when you take up new positions.
So Where Do I Find These Experienced Models
Being UK based I use PurplePort, it is UK based and most of the models are too. I find the community on the site (for the most part) friendly and the models reliable. It must be said that the site does have its share of flakey models. There is nothing worse than booking a model and maybe a studio only to find that they don’t turn up. In truth this is easily avoided, I will pass on my tips in a future article.
The site has great search facilities, you can search for models within a set radius of your home, you can filter for age, gender, hair colour, level of nudity, and a host of other criteria. Importantly, the site has a reference system that allows you to see whether the model you are planning on working with has a good reputation.
I prefer using a networking site like PurplePort because there is a community, a reference system, and means whereby “dodgy” photographers and models get weeded out. You have no such protection if you book a model direct from FaceBook, Instagram or Craig’s List.
For those based in the USA Model Mayhem is a good place to find models. Mad Cow Models can also be useful. I personally stick to PurplePort as it has a huge number of models and it is more UK focused. All of these sites are free to join, though to make the most of the facilities the site offers you pay a membership fee. PurplePort offer full membership for £36 per year – the other sites are similar.
Models Are not Scary, In fact Most Are Beautiful Creative People
My No 3 myth buster. Here’s the news, most models are lovely people, you are unlikely to find yourself in a room with a diva of Naomi Campbell or Kate Moss proportions. Be friendly, have a laugh, don’t take yourself too seriously. Be relaxed and have fun. If you do your model will too.
Be courteous and polite, provide drink and snacks and you will have a happy model. Don’t be afraid to take advice, quite a number of experienced models have experience as photographers too. If your having an issue with something ask them for advice, you will be surprised at how knowledgeable many are. Most won’t offer advice if you don’t ask though.
The simple fact is that many of the models I have worked with have become good friends. They come and stay with my wife and I, sometimes when they are on tour, sometimes to work with me, sometimes just to hang out. We love it, and I think they do too.
Think About What You Want To Shoot, But Throw Away The Rulebook
OK, so you know you want to shoot models, but what do you want to shoot with models? I can’t emphasise this enough, think about your shoot, add context and think about outfits. I will let you in on a secret, most professional models will turn up with enough outfits to last a 6-month tour on the QE2, but a little thought goes a long way. If you are planning a lingerie shoot – then don’t do it in the middle of a forest -its out of context. Instead plan for natural colours, flowing dresses, season appropriate clothing. You are not normally going to want images of a beautiful flowing summer dress when you have 12-inches of snow underfoot.
Here’s another scoop for you. Shooting models against a black or white background gets boring really quickly. Don’t get me wrong this type of photography has its place – especially when you are shooting for a client and the outfit rather than the model is the end product. Shooting high-key in a studio with an infinity wall is perfect in that scenario, but it gets dull quickly, for both of you.
Scout out nice locations, have a wet weather plan and choose outfits that fit the style you want to shoot.
Don’t be afraid to get creative, shoot from all angles, get low, get high, ask the model to climb trees, wade into the sea or the river. Many will, but of course do, be mindful of safety.
Communicate! Communicate! Communicate!
This is one rule that really shouldn’t be broken. Communication is the most vital tool in your armoury, try to remember that good communication means listening and observing too.
Good communication begins at first contact. When contacting a model you should make clear exactly what you require from them, and you should clearly state both your requirements and your responsibilities.
I generally book models for a full day, especially when they are travelling to me. My initial message will always look something like this.
I am a professional photographer based in Broadstone, Dorset. I have seen your portfolio and think you would be perfect for a shoot I am planning.
The theme of the shoot is…. and I am interested in [whatever type of clothing, lingerie, nudity]. I have checked your calendar and Sunday [date] appears to be a mutually convenient date. I can offer a paid rate of £££ for the day, and if you wish I can supply a small number of retouched images for use on your portfolio only.
I have a number of locations in mind and I will make sure you are well fed on the day
I would appreciate it if you could let me know by Thursday [Date] if you would be interested in this opportunity. I have created a mood board on Pinterest which you can see here.
The message should be brief and accurate, but contain enough information to allow the model to make an informed decision on the project.
This is a business transaction, so keep your language business like. I doubt that models respond well to a salacious message like “nice tits darlin, fancy a shoot.”
In summary, model photography is enormous fun. It needn’t be daunting. Just keep these tips in mind when you attempt to book your first model. You won’t go far wrong. Please do watch out for the second article in this series, which looks at how you can get the best out of your model.
If you are based in the UK I am happy to recommend some fabulous models who are equally at home working with anyone from a novice to top industry professionals. Drop me a note for a recommendation.