Working With Models: Part 2

Directing And Organizing Your Shoot

So you have scheduled your first shoot with your model? Now you have to ensure that you have everything planned out, organized and are ready to direct whatever personality comes through the door.

Directing can be very intimidating when you have little experience in doing shoots with models. My first few times working with models, I was terrified that I would come across as the complete virgin that I was. I was sure the model would see right through me. The best way to deal with this is to set up a comfortable, relaxed atmosphere and to have a good idea of what you want and need and be able to express that as clearly as possible.

There is a fine line between directing to get what you want and totally dominating the shoot to the point of stifling the creativity your model may bring to it. The best photo shoot is one that is a creative collaboration between the photographer and the model. You should be prepared with your own ideas, but remain open to creative ideas that the model may bring to the shoot.

Directing The Experienced Model

The model may be very experienced and come in with a natural sense for posing, facial expression and giving you the mood you require with only a basic idea from you. They may know exactly how to position themselves for the lighting, how to avoid awkward angles and heavy shadows that will ruin a photo.

When you are working with someone that has a good deal of experience or who is just a natural in front of the camera, your job as the photographer is made easier. You can usually give your model a sense of what you want and allow them to go with it.

The one potential pitfall with the experienced person is that they may end up running the shoot. It’s easy to want to allow someone to just go with whatever they feel when you have a sense that they are good at what they do. However, the thing you need to ask yourself is whether or not you are getting what you want. If the answer is yes and you are feeling good about the shots, let it happen. If you feel that you are not getting what you hoped for and that your model is calling all the shots, you need to take some control.

This is where you will need to put to use all of your acquired people skills and diplomacy. The best way to handle the situation is to let the model know that you appreciate what they are bringing to the shoot and the fact that they are giving so much without needing a great deal of direction. Then you start to suggest certain things that you think would “look great.”

Directing the Inexperienced Model

So, how does one deal with the inexperienced model when you, the photographer, have little to no experience in working with a model? You need to quickly get beyond any apprehensions you have about your lack of experience and completely take charge in a gentle way.

An inexperienced model may not be completely confident with their own skills and how to use what they have to the advantage of the photos. You may be seeing limbs at odd angles, the face or eyes turned away from the camera or even arms, hands and props blocking the face. This is when you will need to take control and direct without over directing. Over directing a shoot involves being extremely specific about each and movement a model makes. This slows down the creative process for you and does nothing to help the model’s confidence level.

You may need to make very specific suggestions for movement, poses and facial expression. You may need to suggest the mood the model should be feeling. While doing this, you also want the model to let loose and do what comes naturally to them so that you don’t end up with photos that look stiff and unnatural. You will want to give encouragement throughout the process. If a model starts to give you something that looks great or is inspiring, let them know as you shoot, that you like what they are doing.

You may also want to engage in some small talk and friendly chat while shooting. If you are now thinking “Isn’t that distracting to the model?” The answer is “Yes” and that is the point of it. When working with someone who has not yet built their confidence and is over thinking their poses, distracting them from the process and the fact that they need direction can help them loosen up and move more freely.

The skill of knowing how much to direct is one that develops with time and experience. After you have worked with models a while, you will develop a natural instinct for dealing with various personalities and experience levels.

Here are some key points to sum up the subject of directing:

The success of a shoot depends on a good collaboration between both the photographer and the model. You want to quickly establish a connection with the model, try to get a feel for what they are capable of doing and allow them to offer creative ideas and suggestions. Some of the photos I’ve been happiest with were the ones that I had not planned. The model just did something spontaneous or presented an idea that sounded good.

Allow your model to make creative suggestions and experiment, but always maintain control of the shoot. After all, the final results will have your name on them and they need to be something that you will be proud to show.

Organizing The Shoot

Some people may not feel the need to be as concerned about organization as I do, but when you are new to using live models in a photo shoot, fumbling around in search of the right accessory, article of clothing or deciding on the right backdrop can disrupt the relaxed, easy flow that you should have in order to be creative.

Since I tend to work on a number of different concepts and characters at any given time, my models are usually chosen because I think they have a look that fits numerous ideas. This means a number changes in costume, back drop, lighting and make up in each shoot.

To keep things moving smoothly and avoid wasted time for myself and my models, I like to spend time prior to the day of the shoot making notes that I will reference during the photo shoot. I will think about what is involved in each set of shots I want to do. How much make up, if any, what type of clothing or costuming, how will I want the hair to look and what colored back drop will I need for each shot.

I will then list the shots in the order in which they will be done and will have notes about clothing, props, accessories, the general mood of the shots and the back drops and lighting that will be needed.

In determining the order in which shots will be done, these are the things I keep in mind:

Make up:
If some shots will require heavy or special effects make up and others will require little to none, you will want to start light and add for each different shoot. Do you really want to spend the time to apply heavy make up only to realize that it all needs to be removed and redone with different colors? No. It’s best to do the photos that require the natural, fresh look first and cover it with the heavy black eyeliner and dark shadow for that Goth. Think ahead about colors and what can be done to save as much prep time as possible.

Clothing, Costumes and Props:
If I am providing the clothing, I will have everything laid out ahead of time in the order in which the shots will be done. This allows for a smooth transition with a minimum of time. Everything the model will need for the shots will be together. This includes any props or accessories. It doesn’t need to be exact. Often you will have a couple of different ideas for accessories or a few different shirts that may work with a particular pair of pants. You may not know for sure until you see it put together. This is fine. As long as the various combinations are out and ready, you can have the model put them together in different combinations to see how they work together.

If the model will be providing their own clothing for the shoot, you hopefully have discussed with them, ahead of time, if your concept requires certain types of items or colors. I tend to do lots of fantasy photos that require costuming that the average person will not have readily available. If you are doing some simple portrait shots or just want regular street clothes, it is best to have the model bring a selection of their won things that you know will fit and which will be comfortable on them. This does not preclude you from being able to do some pre-planning.

Backdrops and Backgrounds:
While giving some attention to the clothing, you should also think about the backgrounds of the photos and do some planning for those. If you are shooting inside and will be using backdrops, again, refer to your order of shots, know what the colors will be and what will work as an appropriate backdrop for each. Check them prior to the shoot to ensure they are clean and wrinkle free and have them ready to go so that you can do changes as quickly as possible.

Proper Etiquette

There are certain rules of etiquette that the photographer should always keep in mind in order to maintain a comfortable working environment in which the model will feel safe and comfortable.

The most obvious of these is to maintain professional behavior at all times. This is something that shouldn’t need saying, but I have heard some interesting stories from models who have been propositioned by photographers. The photo shoot is a professional work situation and should be treated as such. You should be friendly and keep the atmosphere as relaxed as possible, but there are lines that should never be crossed.

If you are looking for a date or sexual hook up, there are many ways to go about finding people who want the same. Using a photo shoot as a pretense toward that gives you (and photographers in general) a bad reputation. You’re name will get out there quickly and you will find that no model will be willing to work with you.

Here are some basic rules to follow:

During the shoot, don’t comment on your model’s looks or body except as it relates to pose and facial expression. Saying things like “you look really hot” or “You have a great a great butt” is inappropriate. Limit comments to how you need or want the model to move (turn more toward me, arch your back a bit, raise the left arm above the head).

Do not touch the model. If a certain pose is necessary, verbally explain or physically demonstrate what you want. There are times when some physical contact may be necessary. You may need to adjust an article of clothing or draping while the model maintains a pose. In these cases, let your model know what you are about to do and go about the task like a tailor, adjust the cloth without touching the body.

Where clothing or costumes changes are to be made, make sure your studio has a private area in which your model can change. If you are not equipped with a separate room, rig up curtains or sheets in a way that ensures privacy. Even nude models may not be fond of prancing around unclothed or undressing in front of the photographer. Normally a nude model will bring along a robe that they will leave on until they step in front of the camera. The photographer should have one on hand in case the model has forgotten theirs or, in the case of an inexperienced model, may not be aware that it is perfectly acceptable to remain covered until they in front of the camera.

Respect the limitations of any model that you are booking. If your shoot requires lingerie, swimsuits, nudity, etc, this should have been discussed prior to booking the model. Don’t wait until they show up for a fashion shoot and then ask them to do any of the above. It puts the model in an awkward situation. Anyone agreeing to pose for you should know exactly what you will be expecting before they schedule a shoot. This can include the way the model will be represented. Since so much of my work is artistic story and fantasy based, I like to be aware of any issues the model may have with character representation. Some of my models will need to be prostitutes, drug addicts, depictions of religious figures, etc. It is always in your best interest to find out before booking if there is any objection to any type of portrayal. You can then decide to look for someone else or work around the models personal limitations.

Pay attention to the little things within the studio environment such as temperature, having a place for the model to sit and take a break while you change backdrops and set up for the next shot, having non alcoholic beverages to offer, especially since posing under studio lights can be hot after a while.

In general, keep the interactions friendly and relaxed, but always professional. You are bound to get much better shots that look natural and end up with a model that will be willing to work with you again and recommend you to others.

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