12 Guidelines for Working with Models

November 07, 2010  •  1 Comment

Communication is the basis of all successful relationships.

Naturally, the more time you spend with someone communicating, the better potentially, the relationship. Communication can make or break a photo shoot faster than your light.
Communication establishes the reality, what’s expected, what’s to be done, what the mutual goal is and so forth.
That said, here are some basic guidelines which may assist you in photo shoots. (You can skip to the end to read the summary if you don’t have the time to read it all.)
0) Figure out WHAT type of product you want to end up with and plan your shoot accordingly. Then choose your model. Conversely, you can choose a model and plan a shoot based on that model’s looks and ability to model (number of poses). Do the preliminary prep work which includes procuring props, location scouting, location permit (if applicable). If you model requires make-up or hair stylist procure this for the date. Some models will have a preference on who they work with, some will provide their own, and some will do their own make-up and hair.
1) Start your photoshoot by communicating with the model.
Yep, the opening of this article stressed the importance of communication. Before you shoot it’s good to open up and get the model to open up to you and that’s best done with communication.
You can ask them whatever; just don’t get too personal with someone you don’t know. Some people may find it uncomfortable to discuss topics which are somewhat personal.
After you’ve broken the ice, established good communication, now would be a great time to go over what you expect to get out of the photo shoot, and also get what the model wants to get out of the shoot. Establish goals for the shoot, even if the goal is as sporadic as “whatever happens”. At least get some agreement on some kind of goal.
2) Be patient, clear and concise when directing the model.
Models aren’t born telepaths. They aren’t necessarily going to strike the exact pose YOU are thinking every time. The direction, “turn right” isn’t very descriptive and if the model turns completely right, when you meant for the model’s head to turn right such miscommunication can slow down the shoot. When the model hits the right pose, tell him or her. “Yes, that’s it, hold that a sec!” click click. You get the idea. It’s good to validate and acknowledge the model when they hit the correct pose or if they strike a great pose on their own. It reassures them, it makes them feel like they aren’t wasting YOUR time (and theirs).
Try to be clear and concise. And polite.

3) Observe the stray hair, the missing jewelry, the lint, the face which went from it’s make-up’d look to sweaty or needing a touch up.
Try to observe the little things in the photo which while many of these things can be corrected in post, it’s always best to get it right the first time. I don’t really know any thing that takes less time to correct at the time of the shoot than it does in post. I guess I am more of a photographer than a photoshop specialist.
If you are working with a hair stylist or makeup artist they usually will catch these things for you and correct them. I’ve had these people on my right or left waiting to run forward between clicks and adjust certain things. If you are alone, don’t overly correct. This introverts a model’s attention and can close down the creative flow.
But ultimately, you are the Master and Commander. The photographer is the most responsible (for the finished product) person on the set.
4) Take a break, keep your model fed and watered.
After an hour or two, it’s great to take a break. Some models smoke so the breaks will come more often. More important than food is water or drink. Plus just as your arms may get tired holding your camera for a good stretch, imagine the model. They are “on stage” holding certain poses and yes it is tiring. Relax, stretch your legs, get some fresh air. You’ll be surprised how new ideas can sprout when your body has had a chance to rest a moment.
5) Don’t touch your model.
It’s very simple. Just don’t. Doesn’t matter if they are the same sex or opposite. If you have a hair stylist or make-up, wardrobe, whatever, have them tend to something you’ve seen which needs correction.
But especially when you are alone, don’t don’t don’t don’t touch your model. It’s rude, it can put them on edge, make them nervous about you and can break down what you spent time building up with communication.
If you do see something, point it out to them and have them correct it. If you see lint, tell them where, or point, don’t just grab. If the model asks you to help them with something, such as a clasp on a piece of jewelry or a strap on the back, then sure help them. But never assume you have a right to touch your model.
6) Don’t hit on the model!
Compliment yes! But don’t overly compliment because it will start to make the model uncomfortable.
Don’t ask if they are seeing anyone, dating, married, etc. It’s data NOT needed for a photo shoot. It’s off topic. And it’s rude.
Need I say it? Don’t ask for their phone number. Allow your model to volunteer such. Hey you probably already have the model’s email. If you are uncertain and your AREN’T trying to score a date with your model, you can always ask “is your email address the best way to get a hold of you?” The model may or may not then offer their phone number.
If you end up with such information do not abuse the privilege by calling them obsessively, or at strange hours, or leaving them strange messages.
In fact, if you HAD to be told anything under guideline 6 that you didn’t have in your mind already as common sense, maybe you should consider shooting mannequins.

7) Keep some magazines or posing books available.
Sometimes you have a particular pose you have in mind and you haven’t figured out how to communicate it. A picture is worth a thousand words. Show your model what you mean. This can sometimes turn ordinary into Win!
8) Don’t be afraid to ask your model for ideas.
Some models have their own ideas about what they want or they are experienced enough to know that they look good in certain poses. Get their input as well, it can add to the creative process.

9) We know you are going to chimp – so share the joy.

You just shot a great photo right? Show your model! Models want to know they are doing things right. In my experience, even models that are there on paid terms still retain interest in how things turn out. With a newer model, a great shot can do a lot to build their confidence.
10) Never make negative comments about the model or their poses, body, clothing, hair, etc.
It’s rude to make introverting comments even if you weren’t intending to. You know, “well that dress makes you look fat in the legs” or “your hair is too thin for this kind of shooting” or “that pose is unflattering to you” … instead try something like, shoot the bad pose then ask the model to change the pose and later you can delete such bad pose.
Ok, your model’s legs look big in the dress they brought. Fine, deal with it. Shoot them in a way that pulls attention away from the legs, or at an angle that brings them into better proportion with the rest of their body. You’re in control. The importance to grasp here is don’t do things that make the model self-conscious, upset, or lose self-confidence.
11) Bonus Tip: Always be ready. Sometimes when a model is adjusting their clothing or hair or are otherwise distracted, you will get that special moment of candid perfection. Be ready to take your shot. I’ve been in shoots where some of the best pics were those candid, model distracted shot between the “official shooting moments”.
12) One last thing. Always get a model release. This sets the terms of how the photos can be used after the shoot. Some models don't care how they are used. Some models are paid not to care where or how they are used. It's best to have these terms agreed to in writing. You really only get into trouble in two places from my experience and that's using photos positioned with some sort of product, group, etc., that the model may not like and for which you had no permission to do so and if you published a nude or otherwise compromising photo without permission. The model release can specify use and distribution. It can protect you the photographer and it can protect the model as well.
1) Plan your shoot and get your “ducks all lined up” in a row.
2) Begin and maintain good communication before and during your shoot!
3) Give your model directions on their posing in a clear and concise manner. Always acknowledge the good poses! Be polite.
4) Observe the little details, such as stray hair, clothing malfunctions, etc and work with the model to correct them.
5) Keep everyone fed, watered, bathroom and take breaks. With models that are also my friends, I usually provide wine or something better than water! I wouldn’t for a stranger because it may make them uncomfortable.
6) Don’t touch your model. Keep your hands to yourself!
7) Don’t hit on your model. This is the verbal aspect of #6.
8) Keep magazines or tear sheets around for ideas or to convey a particular pose.
9) Don’t be afraid to ask the model for ideas too.
10) Share the Joy! Show your model the truly good/great pics DURING the shoot.
11) Never make any comments that makes a model self-conscious or uncomfortable. Do the exact opposite. Make them confident, make them feel good about their ability.
12) Always be ready. The moment you set your camera down, your model will strike the best pose of the day while she adjusts her hair. It happens more than you might guess.
13) Model release. (ok I lied, it's 13 guidelines))
All of these guidelines are easily figured out if you simply act like a professional. In fact in situations not covered above, just ask yourself what a professional would do. (Portrait) Professionals don’t just have confidence, technical know-how, experience, but also manners and a great ability to communicate with their subjects. Be a professional photographer and not a professional creep, professional amateur and make some art!

Happy Shooting!


This is awesome advice. Too many photographers either go silent during the shoot or think they have to be overbearing. Having worked in a large professional firm for many years, I long ago realized that people do their best work when they like you, trust you, are interested in what you're doing, and feel like you like them, trust them, and are interested in them as well.
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