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Working with people can be one of the most rewarding things about photography, it can also be one of the most frustrating and painful experiences too. This guide is designed to give you some tips to work with models, but is applicable to anyone you may shoot, so you get the best photos possible for yourself and for your client.
1. Build a rapport. I've found that one of the quickest and easiest ways to shoot with a model is to talk with them like they are a real person, because they are! Whether it's 10 minutes before the shoot or a week prior at a coffee shop, establishing the verbal relationship will allow communication to flow easily before and during the shoot.
2. Establish expectations. There are two main reasons you shoot, either for yourself (building a portfolio, for fun, for your client, etc.) or for the model (to build their portfolio, for their fun, for their client, etc.). Going into the shoot with a well thought out plan will allow you to utilize time and be efficient, but it will also allow the natural flow to go much better. Knowing what the end result is before you start will take out many of the headaches during post processing when you try to fix something you could have simply shot a different way.
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3. Your model is co-creating with you. Don't forget that! They are not a prop, they should be interacting with the camera based on the desired outcome of the photo. Allow them some freedom for input and your end result will benefit.
4. Clearly explain what you need them to do without being condescending. While a model co-creates with you, they still rely on direction and most photographers double as art / set directors without even realizing it. I always explain prior to shooting what the pose or situation is I'm looking for and further that with letting them know what I specifically mean when I ask them to twist, turn and tilt their head, shoulders or body, rotate clockwise or counter clockwise and that I specifically ask for small, controlled movements most of the time. Additionally, I've become used to asking a model to move to their right or left, not camera right or left. Every photographer works differently, don't assume the model will know what you mean when you say step right.
5. Compliment and give reassurance. I've had the pleasure of working with some of the best models in the fashion industry and I've also taken some wonderful photos of my friends, both need to be told they are doing a good job and that they are giving you what you need and expect. Don't assume that an agency represented model will perform the way you want without the aforementioned open dialog and expectations, tell them when they've done exactly what you've asked. It boosts moral for the model and everyone on set when everyone is in a good mood and the end result will benefit.
6. Pay attention to details. One common thing I always see with new photographers shooting models is the lack of attention to detail. Look for things that may be out of place, such as rings or earrings that don't match the outfits, or necklaces that shouldn't be in the shot. Is the model's nail polish chipped, did some hair fall out of place or is one sleeve of their shirt longer than the other? Looking at these small details truly helps separate the professionals from the amateurs.
7. Take a break. Shooting isn't a five minute job, there is a lot of time put into and executing quality work, even more so when models, hair and makeup artists and set designers are involved. Taking a few five minute breaks so everyone can drink water, relax for a minute and unwind will not only help your model perform better, but give your arms a break from holding the camera up for hours on end. Keep water on set or location too!
8. Never touch the model! It's that simple. Clothing malfunctions such as the end of a shirt sleeve rolls up or a dress strap becomes twisted, don't fix it, bring it to the models attention and ask them to. Same thing goes with hair falling out of place, random eyelash or even lint on clothing, don't touch the model. If you don't have a production assistant on set with you, or a hair / makeup artist who could potentially help and the model didn't bring a friend or agent, you can, in certain situations politely ask to make the needed adjustment. Be professional about it.
9. Business and pleasure do not mix. A photo set is never supposed to be doubled as speed-dating. Not only will you gain a bad reputation as a slime ball, you could lose business and lots of potential income. Stay professional. I personally also try my best to eliminate swear words and casual discussions of politics and religion too, just to be safe.
10. Get shot yourself. I've spent more then 10 years shooting and until the last 6 months or so had on less then a few occasions ever actually been on the other end of the lens, surrounded by lights and being told what to do and how to move. I found it oddly frustrating and totally thrilling. While I personally took direction horribly the first time, being shot allowed me to see first hand what models must comprehend when photographers give them direction and try to get their vision across through the poses of a model.
For me, shooting with models is one of the most rewarding ways I enjoy photography. The communication and ability to collaborate with someone, share ideas and try things maybe I would have never thought of is amazingly gratifying. Following these rather simple tips will ensure your next shoot with a model goes smoothly and you get the best possible photos from it.