Working With Models: Part 1

I do a lot of photography using models and have been asked a lot of questions by photographers who have never worked with models, but are interested in doing so. People want to know where to find models, how to book them for a shoot, tips on setting up a shoot with a model.

I finally decided to put together a multi part article/tutorial on the subject of using models which I am going to post on a couple of different sites that I use.

Below is part 1, Finding and Contacting Models. I post it here both for the benefit of anyone looking for this type of information and also, since I am not a writer, to get any feedback from those looking for information on using models for the first time, on what would be helpful and make the information more readable.

If people seem to find this helpful, I will be doing additional write ups on the topics of:

setting up, organizing and directing a shoot
working with different types of models and their personalities
setting up the studio environment
photographer ettiquette as it relates to working with models
using costumes, clothing and make up

Finding A Model

When you are new to using models in your photography, the obvious and sometimes easiest route is to start with friends and family. I started out using friends who were willing victims of my first attempts at model photography. Using familiar people with whom you are comfortable will allow you to practice the skills involved in directing a shoot and a model.

Once you’ve exhausted the kindness of friends and family and are ready to try your hand at working with someone new, where do you find the model and how do you go about getting them to work with you?

There are a number of online resources that cater to models and artists. My personal favorite and the one I have had the most luck with is the site Model Mayhem. This site allows you to view the portfolios of models, see what their terms are and select the right person for the shoot. On sites such as Model Mayhem, you are going to find a variety of models with varying levels of experience. Many will have little to no experience. This can be an advantage to the photographer with limited funds for paying a professional model as new models will often trade their time for portfolio images (TF work). It can also be a challenge in directing the shoot as the models will sometimes be looking to you to help them hone their skills. In the next installment I will be discussing the fine points of organizing and directing a model shoot. For now, let’s take a look at how we go about finding and booking the model.

The first thing to do in using an online modeling site is to set up your own photographer’s profile. Most sites will provide a limited membership free of charge that allows you to post a profile and upload a certain number of photos. The reason you want to develop a photography profile is that it will allow the models you to see who you are and what you do. The photos you post in your portfolio should represent your best examples of portraiture, fashion photography, artistic photography of people. Hopefully, you’ve gotten something worthwhile out of those friends and family members.

Now, you’ve created your profile, it’s live on the site and you have established for other members that you are a legitimate photographer. You are now ready to hire that first model.

When you begin searching profiles and portfolios, naturally, you are going to be paying a great deal of attention to the photos. Your ideas may require a certain type of look. However, do not overlook the profile itself. A well done profile should tell you everything you need to know about a model.

You will want to take note of their experience level if this is something important to you.
If there are certain types of photos that a model is unwilling to do, this will usually be noted in the profile as well. This is particularly important if you are seeking models who pose nude or will do lingerie or swimsuit shoots.

Another important piece of information you will get from the profile is the model’s expectations for compensation. Some models will accept only paid assignments, in which case, you will need to find out what their hourly rate is and decide whether or not it is affordable for you. If you do not have the financial resources to pay a model for their time, you will be able to find some who will trade time for copies of the photos or trade time to have you do some specific types of photos they have in mind for their portfolio. This is referred to as TFP.

TFP Shoots

You will notice that many models are willing to what is referred to as TF/TFP. This is “time for print.” It indicates that the model is willing to be unpaid in return for copies of photos or specific photos for their portfolio.

Often, the model who is willing to this is inexperienced and needs to build up their portfolio (later on I will address working with the inexperienced model). Sometimes the model is very experienced but is hoping to find a photographer able to do something that is different and will enhance their portfolio. In order to get that, they are willing to trade their time for your artistic ability.

In your initial negotiations with a model to do a TF shoot, you will want to make sure you know exactly what they expect in return for their time. Do they want copies of your photos to add to their portfolio? Do they want you to do special shots for them? A combination of both?

If the model is requesting special shots, you will want to get a good idea of what they have in mind and determine whether or not you can provide it. You will also have to factor it in to the planning of your shoot.

Initial Contact

When making the initial contact with a potential model, it’s best to keep it short and sweet at first. Generally the best way to approach a model for the first time is to briefly introduce yourself, state that you have some ideas in mind that they may be right for and give a very brief idea of what your concept is. End the email by asking them to get back in touch with you if they would be interested in hearing more.

If the person is interested and does contact you, you can then begin a more detailed explanation of what you have in mind. At this point you will also want to work out all details regarding payment, trade or reimbursement for travel expenses. You will also need to discuss whether the model will be providing their own clothing for the shoot and make up for the shoot or if you will.

This is probably a good place to make a comments on safety concerns. Until a model has gotten to know you and has worked with you at least once, it’s not unreasonable for them to request bringing along a chaperone. Some photographers feel that having another person in the studio is a distraction, but frequently models, especially women, will be apprehensive about being alone with a stranger. What I will tell a potential model is that they may bring one person with them and that the person must stay to the side, out of the way, throughout the shoot.

Of course, there is just as much a safety risk for the photographer. A female photographer working with a male model may want to ensure that she has an “assistant” present. Whether it’s someone who can actually assist is irrelevant. It just needs to be someone who can help provide for your safety.

One way to ensure safety and comfort for both parties is to do an outdoor shoot in a public place. Even when you want to do some studio shots with a model, you can try scheduling an initial shoot in a public place, get a feel for one another, see how well you work together, then schedule a studio shoot if all goes well.

All these details to be agreed upon prior to a shoot sounds like a lot of back and forth discussion and negotiation when all you want to do is get to the creative part. However, they are important in avoiding miscommunications or inaccurate expectations. If you have your thoughts organized and know what you want, it really only takes a few emails between the photographer and model before they are in agreement and ready to schedule a shoot.

Journal Comments

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