Models are interesting creatures. They can very picky and complicated or they can be the complete opposite and need coaching and hand holding the whole way. Every once in a while, you’ll hit the jackpot and get that perfect person that knows exactly how to model while taking whatever suggestion you throw at them (within reason of course).
If you’re just starting with shooting actual models, it can be quite intimidating. You want the model to feel comfortable that you know at least a little bit about what you’re doing while at the same time being able to direct the model to get the shot you’re looking for. Also, you have to do all this while building a relationship with the model so they will let down their “photographic guard” for you. This is what I call it when someone is just posing for you instead of emoting, and it comes across in the picture.
In The Beginning
When just starting, I suggest using a service or website that allows for both beginning photographer and beginning model to meet based on mutual photographic interest. These are usually called TFP shoots, or Time For Print; essentially meaning you’re both donating your time free to get images to build each others portfolio. The benefit is generally you aren’t being held to paying client standards. The downside, neither is the model.
As I said earlier, one of the most important factors is displaying confidence. If the model picks up that you don’t know what you’re doing, it could change how they interact with you and ultimately affect the final images. That being said, you need to know how to dial in your settings and/or lighting in any scenario with ease. Fumbling with your equipment is one of the biggest giveaways that you are clueless. This is where your time spent shooting your children, family, or friends at countless occasions pays off ten fold.
The other biggest factor will probably be how much and how well you interact with the model during the shoot. More specifically, how you teach, coach, or suggest certain poses. I’ll admit this is probably my weakest link in the chain. Posing can be a hugely underrated skill, and this is magnified greatly when working with a new model. Many new models have just been told they are really pretty or handsome and “You should be a model”, all their life. Once they start actually modeling though, they find out quickly that there’s more too it than pointing their perfect face at the lens.
Tips And Tools
This is where the photographer has to come and coach them a little. But before you do that, you’ll probably have to do some homework on typical poses for typical genres of photography. I find a fantastic teaching tool are viewing the ads (and and sometimes the editorials) in the fashions mags. Magazines like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire, Elle, GQ, etc. are great learning tools. I have subscriptions to all.
Quick tip: you can get all these subscriptions through Amazon for much less than cover price.
Another tool is being mindful of ads on TV. You are viewing final products in a field similar to photography (video) at the highest professional level. Instead of hitting skip on the TiVo, try paying attention to styling and posing. Most of it will look beautiful in front of the still camera as well.
This may sound a little corny (did I just use the word corny?), especially for you guys out there, but one of the best resources on TV that I’ve found is watching America’s Next Top Model. Every show they have to learn how to pose and be a model (sound familiar?) and the photo shoot they do is always something super crazy. I can’t tell you how many wacky photo shoot ideas I’ve written in my idea book from watching this show. Plus your wives/girlfriends will give you mega props for watching it with her.
Some of you right now are saying, “But, I’m really shy. I can’t even talk to a model, let alone teach them”. That is exactly what I said in the beginning.
I definitely don’t have that open personality but you have to play to your strengths. I consider myself a pretty funny guy so usually I’m cracking jokes while on set. Laughter is a perfect way to get someone to feel comfortable with you. The only problem with laughter is sometimes you don’t want the model to smile in the shot so you have to wait for the smile to leave her face before you can hit the shutter.
Think about what you’re good at in conversation and try to bring that into your experience with the model. If you’re real in front of them, they’ll be real for you. Ask questions. By asking a question like “Are you in school right now? What’s your major?” will result in a real response from the person since they are just answering truthfully. Schooling, work, interests, modeling, etc. Great topics to talk about while on a shoot. Plus you might actually find something you both have in common, which leads to more conversation and more of a real exchange between you and the model, and ultimately your camera.
Simply put, a model is another human being like you. The first step is to just get out there and try. You think all the professional photographers that you follow right now weren’t in the same exact spot you’re in right now at one point in their career? Models aren’t some mythological creature that you should fear. You should interact with them just as you would with any other human. Foster a real relationship with them and your images will show this.
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