So Now You Have Chosen Your Model: How Do You Get The Best From Them?

So you are a photographer, and you’re new to shooting with models.  If you read the first article in this series, you may have done your research and be ready to book your first shoot.  You may have made your booking and be planning the shoot itself.  Let’s set out a few facts for you, and perhaps explode a few more myths.

You may be nervous if this is your first shoot with an experienced model.  Again, that’s natural, but there is nothing to fear.  A good model will be a people person, they will be able to set you at ease, they will be able to help you in many ways, and we will talk about them later.

Respect

Respect, such a simple concept, and one that all too often people forget about.  If you are a professional photographer you will probably already recognize that every shoot is a professional business arrangement.  Treat it as such and you won’t go wrong.

Respect your models’ experience.  They probably know the business better than you do.  There are a few “golden rules” however, break these at your peril.

Do not touch your model unless you are asked to do so.  No one likes being touched by a total stranger unless they are shaking hands.  Think about it, if the office junior has inadvertently tucked her skirt in her knickers, you might tell her about it.  You certainly wouldn’t go and adjust her clothing without an invitation.  The exact same principle should be applied to model shoots.

If you spot a stray label, a laddered stocking, a skirt that isn’t hanging right or a stray piece of hair, then tell your model and let them sort it out.

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The above rule applies 100 fold if your model is working nude.  There can be no excuse for invading a nude models space.  Nude models are usually very body confident and some will come right up alongside you to view images on the back of your camera.  Others won’t!  Personally, I always have a [clean] robe in the room for nude shoots.  Not only will this keep the model warm between sets, it will allow them to cover up when you break to check image results, or for a cup of tea.

Another personal foible of mine;  if a model is changing I leave the room.  The model may well be comfortable working nude, that doesn’t mean they are happy to be stared at whilst they are changing.  Think about it for a moment, a model posing nude is in a “working” mindset.  Removing clothing, lingerie etc. is a much more intimate experience and not one that they may wish to share with you.  Get out of the room and put the kettle on.

Be Kind And Thoughtful

It should not take a rocket scientist to work out that a little forethought and kindness towards those you work with will be productive.

Here’s the thing, a lot of people I work with come to me by train, occasionally after several hours of a journey.  That often means a very early start, and being stuck on a smelly train for hours.  Often they won’t have had time to eat before they left home.

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I stop by the local bakery on my way to meet the train.  I buy some croissants or Danish pastries, some fruit juice and some bottled water.  The anguish this has saved is incredible.  Remember too that your model will likely enjoy a bathroom break and a chance to freshen up before you shove a camera under their nose.

As someone who books all-day shoots, lunch is on me, not just at my expense, the time for a break is my time.  If we take a one-hour lunch break it comes out of the shoot time, you don’t make a model miss the train home because you shot an hour later than agreed because you had a lunch break.

Consider The Weather And Have A Backup Plan

In my view when you have booked a shoot with a model you have a responsibility to ensure they are kept safe and comfortable.  I have shot with numerous people who will do anything to get you that special shot.  I have shot nudes on a clifftop on the Dorset coastline during a gale.  I have had models wade into the river or the sea in the middle of winter.

If you are shooting something like this have a plan.  You must ensure that your model doesn’t get too cold.  Have a warm jacket and a blanket ready, don’t stray too far from the car, and if it’s very cold go back regularly to get warm.  Have hot drinks on hand.  I’m fairly lucky as I take my camper van to location shoots.  If it’s really cold I will put the heating on and go back for frequent warm-ups.

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Let’s face it, it really sucks when you have booked a location shoot and it turns out wet and windy.  Few models pull off the “drowned rat” look successfully, and not many relish images showing them with makeup running down their face.  Sure, you can get creative with umbrella’s and so on, but no one is going to want to be out in the rain all day to do this.  Have a wet weather plan, your models will thank you for it.

Talk To Your Model, But More Importantly, Listen!

Communication again right?  It’s a two-way street, by all means, chat away about life, the universe, and everything, but for goodness sake listen too.  If you have booked a good model he or she will know what angles work for their body shape.  They will know what works for them, and just as importantly, what doesn’t!

No good model wants crap images of her floating around, they want to help you to get great shots.  Listen to them, and above all trust them.  Many models are pretty good photographers themselves.  They know how to use light, whether natural or strobes and they can often suggest lighting setups to give you some interesting results.

Show your model the images as you go, but try to avoid showing them horrible ones where you have lit them badly of caught a bad angle.  A good model will see how the images look and might spot things that you don’t.  Treat your shoot as a collaboration, respect your models’ skills and knowledge, and together you will create something beautiful.

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At the same time, if you spot things you don’t like, gently point it out and explain why.  An experienced model will give you solutions, they are unlikely to be offended.

Shoot High, Shoot Low, and Experiment

Here’s a true story from earlier this year.  Back in February, I was involved in a fairly serious car crash.  I was traveling home from a shoot and had a model in the car.  The car skidded on ice and shot over a 20-foot embankment, smashed into a few trees and crashed through a fence.  Thankfully neither of us were too badly hurt but we were pretty battered and bruised.

Just two days later I had a shoot with a fabulous art nude model.  I was aching in places that I didn’t even know existed on this 56-year-old body.  I probably should have canceled the shoot but I refuse to let people down, especially when they have already traveled for the shoot.   The weather turned out to be horrible, so our location shoot was canceled and we decided to work indoors.  Not being at my best, due to a lack of movement, I shot too many full-length shots from too close and too high a position.  The end result was horribly distorted legs due to my bad positioning and too wide an angle, the lens distortion was horrible. The shots were, frankly, pretty dire.

If you are shooting portraits, shoot at the model’s eye level.  If you are shooting from the waist up, then get a little lower, sit or kneel.  Don’t shoot wide angle, get further back and use a zoom to create the framing you want.  If you are shooting full length, get down low, get back and again use your zoom to frame the image correctly.  I very much doubt that these things are new to anyone who knows how to use a camera, but you would be amazed at how often people get it wrong.

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Likewise, if you want to shoot down on a model, for example where you want to create a sense of vulnerability, then get high, get on a step ladder, shoot down from an upstairs window.  Height can work well but ensure that you get high.

Communication

Yes, I know I mentioned it in the last article, trust me it will come up again later, it’s a point that can’t be emphasized enough.  Once you have that shoot arranged you will be excited, it’s natural, and I get excited before every single shoot.  At this point, you need to make it absolutely clear what your agreement will be for the shoot.  A few things for you to consider:

  • Do all party’s know exactly where and when they are meeting?
  • Have you agreed on compensation (either cash or images)?  If you are giving images have you stated exactly how your model can use them?  This is totally your choice, as a photographer you own the copyright.
  • Have you agreed on timescales, both for the shoot duration and for the editing and return of images?
  • Will you feed your model whilst they are with you?  If so do they have any allergies or dietary requirements?
  • Have you discussed travel arrangements?  Are you prepared to cover travel costs?
  • Have you discussed the theme of the shoot in sufficient detail?  Of course, “winging it” is an acceptable plan sometimes, but having a clear view of what you want to create usually yields better results.
  • Have you made clear what you would like the model to bring?  Does she know whether you want her to have makeup applied, or do you want a clean face when they arrive?
  • What about hair?
  • Have you exchanged contact details, particularly mobile phone numbers?  Things do happen, there may be train delays, traffic jams, breakdowns, illness, and probably a million other things that could go wrong on the day.  Don’t be left wondering.

Say What You Mean And Mean What You Say

Make sure that your model knows exactly what is expected of them.  If you are booking a portrait shoot, do not ask the model to pose in lingerie, if you are booking a nude model that doesn’t mean she will pose for “open leg” shots.  Don’t ask them too, this is known as “level pushing” and will get you banned from most model sites.

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There are plenty of models who are more than willing to shoot to “adult” levels.  They won’t be offended by your telling them exactly what you want to shoot.

As a photographer, you depend on your reputation to be flawless.  Believe me, if you act in an inappropriate manner there are plenty of model safety groups where your behavior will be reported.  You will have a very hard time booking experienced models if you gain a reputation as a seedy “Guy with a Camera.”

And Finally!

Let me try to sum this up for you and add one final piece of advice.  If you treat every shoot as a collaboration and work with your model to achieve the best results possible.  Make sure that you respect your model, ensure that they are comfortable, and communicate clearly, you won’t go far wrong.

Try to remember that a model giving you her phone number is not an invitation for a date.  It’s a form of emergency communication, don’t pester your model and where possible keep communication on the booking site.  That way both parties have some protection if anything goes wrong.

The last thing to consider is the delivery of any images you agreed to supply as part of your shoot arrangement.  Now I confess I usually offer a few images to those I work with for social media and their portfolio.  If the model wants images for a pay site, I’m usually happy to shoot a set for them as part of our agreement.  More about that in a later article.  When you agree to deliver images, ensure that you agree on a timescale in advance.  You do not want to be arguing over this after a shoot.  Stick to the agreed timescale and keep the model informed if you encounter a problem.

Do edit your images.  Not everyone is a photoshop wizard, and many photographers hate the editing process.  However, Adobe Lightroom is a fabulous tool, you would be amazed at how much better an image can be after a 2-minute tweak in Lightroom.  It is well worth the time and your models will thank you for it.

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