Welcome to the third article in my series of articles advising photographers how to carve out a niche photographing models. This article is arguably the most controversial of the articles to date, largely because I am straying into the world of sweeping generalizations.
Over the past couple of years, I have worked with over 100 models and have managed a very good record of ensuring that shoots actually happen. There is nothing worse than booking a model for a shoot, renting studio space, buying props and booking a makeup artist, only to find that your model fails to show or cancels at the last moment. Make no mistake, this is an expensive and frustrating waste of time. There are however plenty of warning signs that can help you avoid no-shows.
I will say that this is not a panacea, no-shows and flakes happen even to the best photographers. Frank Doorhof, a very well know Dutch photographer has a solution. If he has a time-critical shoot for a client, he books two or even three models, trusting that at least one of them turns up. That’s all very well for Frank after all his clients will be picking up the tab.
For many, shooting with models is a pleasant pastime, a fun, creative outlet, where the “product” is the shoot itself. It is often photography for photography’ sake. Who can afford to book three models at £200 a day and then have a large bill when all three turn up?
So how can the hobbyist photographer avoid flakes and no-shows? You can, of course, book an experienced professional model from a top model agency, but the costs are likely to be out of range for many beginner and hobbyist photographers. Really what I am talking about is avoiding flakes from models who ply their trade on one of the model sites like PurplePort or Model Mayhem.
My recommendation is to book models from these sites, don’t book models from Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, unless of course you know the model personally and they have a great reputation for reliability. The model sites have a reference system, you can see at a glance if they are reliable, and just as importantly you can see their portfolio.
I can’t stress this enough, check out peoples references, especially if you are working with a model or photographer with whom you have not worked before. Message people who have left references and check their validity. I have found that people are much more likely to be honest in a private message than they might be in the public domain. If you find that someone has been inappropriate or unreliable just move on. There are plenty of models and photographers around who are safe, friendly and reliable. Avoid those who are not.
Here we go, that word again. Photography, especially model photography, is a person-oriented business and one thing stands out to me above all others. Succesful models are great communicators. They will reply to messages and leave references in a timely fashion. If they are going to be out of contact for a few days they will let you know, your messages won’t go unanswered. Check in a week or so before the shoot date to confirm everything is OK. Tie down arrival times, ensure that your model understands the brief for the shoot, exchange cell phone numbers in case of last-minute hitches. Check again the day before the shoot.
If the person you are supposed to be working with doesn’t respond it is a clear sign that they won’t show up for the shoot. If you haven’t received a response send a message saying that if you don’t hear back by a set time the shoot is canceled. If needs be, call them, don’t rely on text messages.
That said, don’t hound the other party. We all lead busy lives and if people are coming to work with you, they will be in contact, just don’t expect an instant reply.
Time Wasters And Bottom Feeders
Unfortunately, the photography business seems to attract more than its fair share of timewasters. They should be pretty easy to spot. I am often contacted by people expressing an interest in working with me. Occasionally it isn’t possible to make the checks I suggest above because the model is new to the game and does not have any references.
In cases like this, you are almost entirely reliant on the strength of the other party’s communications. I take a very simple approach. If I am genuinely interested in working with the model I simply try to set a date. If I encounter prevarication or procrastination I simply say “no thanks” (politely) and move on.
Models should also beware the photographer that I rather unkindly label “bottom feeders.” These are the “photographers” who scour model sites and social media for new models. They pounce on new blood and often their only interest is to get a new model naked before anyone else does. It’s sad, it’s pathetic and it’s a surefire way to put models off the business forever.
The good news is that they are easy to spot. Check out their portfolio, it will usually be full of “badly lit bedroom porn.” You will see that, for them, nudity for its own sake is their goal. They are not interested in art or being creative, they are only interested in tits and arse. They are a scourge to genuine photographers, but they do lead me into the final part of this article, model and (to a lesser degree) photographer safety.
A Word On Safety Issues
This is a personal thing, but if I have not worked with someone before I will usually offer them the opportunity to bring a friend along to the shoot. My own references are impeccable, but I want my model to be absolutely assured that they will be safe when they work with me. It is fair to say that the overwhelming majority of photographers are respectful and a pleasure to work with. That said, it is a rare model that doesn’t have at least one story about someone who behaved badly on a shoot.
I would advise all models to join one of the many model safety groups that exist on platforms like Facebook. Check out your photographer’s reputation because, as shown in the Terry Richardson case, even the best-known photographers can be creeps and serial abusers.
If you are a model traveling to work with a photographer ensure that you have a full address, vehicle registration details, and a contact number. Give these details to a responsible person in case anything goes wrong. I would also advise having someone contact you a short time after a shoot begins, just to check everything is as it should be.
I do realise that this sounds a little alarmist, but you should take your safety seriously. The overwhelming majority of shoots will be absolutely fine, but a little forethought can save a lot of angst later.
Of course, it isn’t just photographers who can behave inappropriately. There are many stories around about models who offer “specials” and “special rates” for overnight stays. There is a word for these people and it is not “model.”
I hope you have enjoyed the series so far. Part four, on the benefits and pitfalls of working TFP (time for print), will be discussed.
Finally, I have not used any of my own images in this article, simply because I would be horrified to think that anyone I have worked with would think that I believed anything in this article referred to them. I hope you enjoy some pictures of kittens instead. :