Working with models can be rewarding and frustrating, often all at the same time. For many photographers shooting falls more into documenting, even if you are composing the shot. If you think about it, wedding, engagement, family, landscapes, birding, photojournalism, and even macro photography are all ways to document what you see. Working with a model is vastly different, and can truly change how you approach photography and people. Over the last decade I've worked with countless people in the studio and on location for shoots, here's the lessons I've learned.
Partnership. It doesn't matter if the model is hired by from an agency by an art director for a fashion shoot and you're there to follow the ADs say-so or if the model is a 6-year old girl who is going to pose in her ballerina outfit for you, you're there in a partnership. The collaboration forged when you work together, despite stylists, hair, makeup, parents and even the art director at the end of the day comes down to the person in front of the lens and the person behind it. Don't assume you are the only one who will make a great photo.
Smile. I can't emphasize this enough. When you're done smiling, smile some more. This is paramount. Chances are good you're shooting someone you met that day, maybe even a few minutes ago. They need to feel comfortable with you, confident in what they are doing and relaxed enough to listen to your direction.
Explain your shooting style. Before any shoot with someone I'll take a few minutes to discuss exactly how I shoot and what I expect of them in return. This includes very simple things, such as their left and camera left and how I make every effort to always refer to their direction. Please move to the right, I want them to naturally move to their right, not mine. It took me a while to get used to this but I find when working with people it's far easier for them to instinctively move to their right than mine. I refer to turning in clockwise and counterclockwise directions, what a half step and a full step looks like, the importance of small movements. When I work with professionals I let them know ahead of time that I respect their input and after discussing how the shoot should look with the art director, I expect them to just work, not be told how to get into every single pose. When the strobes fire, it's time to get into another position, slight changes. When shooting a child, I'll approach things differently, each scenario has different ways to shoot it but I need my collaborator to understand how I work, so they can in turn work with me, not for me.
Read body language. This is something that's not easy to explain, nor is it easy to figure out, but reading the models body language is very important. If they are cold, hot, tired, thirsty or hungry the photos will suffer. There are often telltale signs for this, being a bit grumpy is usually one of them. The same goes for the photographer, who is often in the same hot, cold, wet or hungry state of mind. Having a clear mind and not getting distracted will lead to a more productive and better photo shoot.
Music solves almost everything. Whenever possible have a stereo around, preferably one that can be hooked up to an iPod / iPhone and ask the people you're working with what they want to listen to. This will set the tone for the shoot, proving to be happier, productive and in the end better photos.
What I've learned working with models isn't photography related much at all, it's how to be a better human. The relationships forged even on the shortest of photo shoots can often have long and good outcomes. Not only does it lead to great photographs, it leads to more work, better work and a happier life. Photography isn't always about the gear used and the end photograph captured, a lot has to do with the philosophical end of things, which aren't discussed often enough.