What I have learned after 2 years of working with models

Advice for anyone starting out… feel free to add your own observations in comments!

How to work with Models

(Advice for the new portrait photographer on how to relate to your model and using social networks to build relationships)

I’ve no doubt you’ve read many articles on the ins and outs of portrait photography. Many words have been written giving advice on the use of flashes, studio lighting or using natural light on location. Posing techniques and making the best use of the subject’s features, while addressing each model’s physical attributes, are covered in a myriad of magazine and online articles.

The purpose of this article is to share my experiences with you, and by doing so I hope to help you avoid the mistakes I made and give you the benefit of advice passed down to me by experienced mentors

You have made contact with a willing model (for this article’s purposes, a female) and wish to know how to proceed. If at all possible I advise you to meet with the person first. This will give you a good idea of her personality, her confidence level, her physical appearance and put you on a friendly footing. Photographers planning involved shoots with props and stylists will often use a test shoot to assess potential models.

At the very least, move beyond the impersonal communications of texts and internet messages and call her on the phone to discuss her expectations and your requirements. Part of the enjoyment of doing portrait shoots on a regular basis is meeting new people and developing your people skills. I was quite shy and not a really good conversationalist. I had to learn to initiate conversations and really listen to my model. If you are being comfortable with yourself, you will project an air of confidence to the model, which in turn will help make her at ease. This will come with practice.

My advice on meeting a model, at the start of a shoot, is to leave your camera in its bag and to engage her in conversation. If you can find some area of common interest it will break down barriers quicker. Ask her questions about her previous modeling experiences, her clothes or makeup and be genuinely interested in her answers.
Remember, she may have a degree of nerves and trepidation about being in front of a camera with a photographer she does not know.
I approach a shoot with the realization that unless the model is very experienced, the first 30 minutes of the shoot will rarely produce the best images. This is the period of building a rapport with the model and getting her comfortable with you and the camera. If you are on location I suggest the best areas of the locale be saved for the latter half of the shoot.

If you are in a studio setting I am a believer in the power of music to create a comfortable ambience. I provide a player and ask the model to bring music she enjoys. This is played as background music allowing conversation and interaction.

While shooting there are a few rules I have made for myself. I find the model appreciates being shown the progress by reviewing the camera screen at intervals. Often they will pick up on awkward shapes, slipped bra straps and have suggestions of how they can improve what they are doing. This also involves the model in the process. Some models have told me that they don’t like working with photographers who decline to do this. Always be respectful and professional in your interactions. This does not mean that you cannot have fun and one of the best comments you can get at the end of a shoot is “I really enjoyed that!”

If you are working to a concept, either keep the concept photos in your head or on your phone. Don’t show your model photos of other models. Your model is the most important person in the world while you are shooting. Praise while shooting will give positive reinforcement and spur her on to better things. To point your lens and just shoot, is to have the model working in a vacuum.  If you engage your model in conversation while you are shooting you will create an atmosphere of camaraderie. You will find when you are working well as a team that the shoot will flow. The model will respond to the click of the camera or the flash of the strobe as an indication that she is finding the right look and position and will be encouraged to find new poses.

New and inexperienced models will need direction on the shoot. Point out to them that they do not need to look at the camera and many of the most attractive photos will be when she is looking away. Move in and out and around your model, ask her to change position of her own volition and if she finds a great position, this is the time to stop her with a superlative and work to refine that photo with small adjustments. Beginner models need to be shown how to move and refine positions in very small incremental movements. Alternatively it is just as acceptable to free shoot with your model and let the shoot happen organically with little adjustments from you.

Variation in expression is important. You don’t want a camera full of images with the one expression. Ask your model to remember things that made her happy, sad, melancholic or any other moods she can think of. When you are confident in your rapport ask her to play-act scenarios. Variations such as mouth open, half open or closed and even eyes shut should be tried. Asking a model to close her eyes and imagine something and then open her eyes before you shoot can produce good results. Use movement even to the point of blur. Dancing around will often produce a sense of fun and physically relax the model. Dancers often make wonderful models as they have a great awareness of their bodies.

One of the best pieces of advice I was given is to consider that you will only ever be in the one place with this model at this time and to make the most of it. I was capturing up to 200 images per three hour shoot. I now shoot between 400 and 500 images. Capturing that pose with the right expression is more likely to be a success if you maximise the possibilities.

When the shoot is finished, be prompt and professional. Your model will be very interested in the results. Try not to make them wait longer than necessary. Every photographer will have their own way of dealing with this process. My choice is to shoot small Jpeg along with RAW and upload a PRIVATE set of Jpegs to my Flickr pro account with an emailed invitation to view. This can be done on the evening of the shoot and I then can process the model’s choices as well as my own favourites. Surprisingly these only occasionally coincide. I then email small web size images as I process them so the model can upload them to the web as she sees fit.

Models can be found on the websites Model Mayhem http://www.modelmayhem.com/ and Starnow http://www.starnow.com.au/
It’s best to join these websites when you have at least 8-10 quality images as models will look at what you can do when you approach them. Photograph friends and acquaintances, ensuring you get their permission to show their photos on the web.
Facebook is a great place to meet models and makeup artists and get inspiration from other photographer. I have a personal page and also a fan page where I promote my photography. Most models you will shoot will have a Facebook page and will know other people in the industry. Women’s fashion retailers, both mainstream and alternative clothing companies have pages and you will soon build a network of models, photographers
hair stylists and makeup artists. It’s a good idea to comment on other’s photos when you see impressive work and you will become well known to them and they will encourage you when you post your work. There are also groups such as Women in the Industry and Artistic Collaborations where you can arrange to work with others or find collaborators for your projects.
When you have a body of work, be sure to set up a website as well, as not everyone uses Facebook. Print some business cards with your website email and Facebook fan page addresses and hand them out at all opportunities.

Working with models creating unique and personal images is fun, challenging and ultimately very rewarding.

What I have learned after 2 years of working with models

SunseekerPix

Sydney, Australia

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