Working with models in photography, as opposed to landscape, street or even wedding and senior portraiture is a skill all unto its own. Unlike most other types of photography, you aren't shooting a model in most cases, you're working with the model. Building a rapport with the model you are working with will result in better photographs. Here's some tips to get get the best working experience when shooting with models.
Have a set game plan
It doesn't matter if you're shooting for a client, shooting to build your portfolio or shooting to build the model's portfolio, having a game plan before you even get to the location or in the studio is essential. Of course each scenario will be different, but prior to shooting you should have a rough idea of the goals for the day will be, how you'll achieve them and what you expect from the model. Chances are pretty good you've never worked with this model, and may never again, so having a time line with expectations and discussing them ahead of time will give the confidence to the model that you know what needs to be done and how they can best help you accomplish the overall goal of the shoot.
Introductions and expectations
Photo By Gabriela Goldman
Once you arrive to the location, or in your studio, introduce everyone and have a meeting to set expectations. Hair, make-up, assistants, stylists, designers, escorts with models, they all have names and should be address by them, so be sure to introduce everyone. Set the expectations for what you plan to accomplish and the time-line for each task.
Listen to what everyone has to say. If hair or make-up will take longer, or can be done faster, adjust on the fly, but more importantly, get the models input regarding the poses, emotions and feelings you expect. If they tell you they cannot give you the look or pose you want, you either need to figure out what can be done to accomplish this or, an alternative shoot. Again, listening to the models here is crucial, while your client or the stylist might have one set of views on how the day goes, the model can only do what they're capable of, sometimes a little more. It's best to find out these limitations ahead of time.
Everyone on the set should be treated with equal respect as if you were working in an office. Leave the profanity, off-color jokes and overall rudeness at home. Talk with the model, even if it's not related to exactly what it is you're shooting.
Be a human! Models are not just moving hangers for clothing, and you'll build more confidence and get the look you want from having some actual interaction with them. Likewise, they need a break, food and water from time to time, even if it's rumored models never eat, they do! Additionally, don't touch the model, ever. If there is a flyaway hair, ask the hair stylist to fix it, if the clothing has wrinkles or is bunching, ask the stylist to fix it.
Contribute to the mood of the shoot
This can be a bit tricky for some photographers to do, since they are worried about gear, lighting, camera angles and everything else, but the mood of the photos needs to come across with your voice too. If this is a fun, happy and jumping around the set type of shoot you too need to be full of energy and encouraging the model in an upbeat and happy tone of voice. The mood of the set should be electric, so the model feels exactly what they are trying to show you with their face and body positioning.
Get to know the model
If the shoot allows for a break (which any shoot over two hours should), get to know your models, and do more listening than talking. Find out where they are from, what they're interested in, how they enjoy the modeling lifestyle and what their goals and aspirations are. In some sense, it's the same type of information you'd ask on a first date, without the flirting. Models are human, humans like interaction and as soon as we feel comfortable with each other, better photographs will almost always emerge.
Compared to shooting a wedding or high school portraits, where you are shooting someone for the purpose of remembering that moment in time, working with models is often a byproduct for another purpose. To sell something (the model or whatever they are sponsoring), or your services. With portrait settings, you would hope to get more business by people seeing your work, and thus hiring you. Working with models your work will obviously be out front, but since they are in the industry and not a consumer the way a high school senior is, they are more likely and willing to suggest to another client that they enjoyed working with you and thus drive more business to you via word of mouth. Models are your co-worker for the length of the shoot and hopefully an associate for the rest of your career. Treat them as you would any other co-worker and you'll earn their respect and build a rapport that will last a lifetime.