Photographers Dating Models in the #metoo Era: Uncomfortable Truths and Possible Solutions

I was photographing one of the most beautiful women I’d ever seen.

And she was into me… I could feel it. She was laughing at all my jokes, playing with her hair, biting her lip, and making nonstop eye contact. So I said “hey, we should grab a drink later on.” And she gave me a look I’ll never forget — the look of a woman that maybe just threw up in her mouth a little.

I was thinking about that shoot the other day, and how it only took one sentence to make an ass of myself. So I decided to write this guide to inter-talent dating in the photography industry — an important topic in the #metoo era. It’s normal for photographers to be attracted to models, and vice versa. Plus, many people find their mates at work. So it’s only natural that photographers and models will date and even get married.

But if you misbehave on a shoot, you could make your model very uncomfortable, or even be guilty of full-on sexual harassment. So if you’re a photographer wishing to date a model, you should proceed carefully to ensure you don’t get creepy.

Full Disclosure: I’ve only dated one of my subjects. She asked me out, and then ghosted me after our first date. But that’s another story for another time…Now, let’s start out with a very uncomfortable truth:

Photographers and Models Are Bound to Feel Some Chemistry

If you photograph people, you’re going to be attracted to some of your models. And some of your models will be attracted to you. Unless you’re a robot photographing other robots, it can’t be avoided. Think about it. Most people meet their partners at work. In this regard, photography’s not much different than accounting.

Plenty of legendary photographers including Irving PennRichard Avedon, and David Bailey married models. (and in some cases divorced them…) Plus, you choose models at least partially based on looks. And generally speaking, you will go for people you find attractive. This goes across all genders and sexual orientations.

I’m a straight man and I find many of my female subjects attractive, the same way a gay man might find his male subjects attractive. But that energy has to be contained because things can go wrong in so many ways. That’s why my #1 rule is…

No Flirting on the Job

Portrait and fashion photography can be very intimate, and it’s easy to confuse the energy of a shoot with sexual chemistry. You can be having fun and laughing with your model, and you start to think “maybe she’s into me… “ This is where things go off the rails.

You think she’s flirting. You can feel it.

“She likes me.”

But here’s the reality: she’s performing for the camera — not you.

If you’re reading this, then you know it happened to me. And you can guess what happened next — she went ice cold and I felt like a real doofus. That’s why I don’t do any flirting on set, period. I want to be thought of as a funny friend, not as a guy looking for a date.

The more comfortable your model is, the more she’ll open up for the camera. That’s when you’ll get really natural smiles and expressions.

Related Reading: How to Talk to Your Portrait Subjects

So what do you do with that pent up attraction? Simple:

Put Your Feelings into the Photo

Are you in love with the person you’re photographing? You can’t make that feeling go away, but you can harness it for the greater good. Channel that energy. Let it push you to make a more powerful portrait.

Imagine you’re letting the person know how you feel through the picture. Make it a visual love letter. So let’s talk about sexual harassment since it’s such a big topic in the #metoo era.

Sexual Harassment in Photography 

Here’s the thing about sexual harassment: doing it on purpose is bad, and doing it by accident isn’t much better. Maybe you think a model’s into you, or you’re just playing off her banter, so you crack a joke that pushes the boundaries. To you, it’s just good-natured ribbing. But to her, it’s full-on sexual harassment. Your intentions don’t matter, because the damage is done. So it’s better to play it safe and avoid the possibility of harassing someone.

Things get especially tricky when here’s real money on the line. A model may put up with a photographer’s creepiness because she’s afraid of losing out on future work, or of getting a reputation of being difficult to work with. That’s an awful position to put someone in, even if you do it by accident. If you are a genuine creep, I don’t know what to tell you besides PLEASE STOP. And if you’re an accidental creep, it’s easy to become one of the good guys.

Just treat your subject or model like a colleague you’re friendly with.

How to Pursue a Relationship With a Model

Now, if you’re really interested in dating your model, all you have to do is one simple thing: WAIT! Wait until your business together is done. That means after everyone’s been paid and the final images have been delivered. This way, there’s less pressure on her to say yes against her will.

Let’s say you have a great shoot with a model that you really like. If you ask her out before you give her the pictures, she may become concerned that you’re holding the pictures for ransom. That she has to say yes to get them. (I’ve heard horror stories confirming this.) And if you want to date a model (or makeup artist, hairstylist, art director etc.) that you work with on a regular basis, you had better set up some ground rules ahead of time, because that could turn messy fast.

How are you going to handle a breakup? Heck, how are you going to handle staying together? Can you stay professional on with a long-term partner that you go home to every night?

These are hard questions to answer.

Conclusion

It’s 100% normal to be attracted the people you work with, especially when you have a strong connection on a photo shoot. But if you conduct yourself professionally during and after the session, you minimize the risk of any awkwardness or hurt feelings.

And oh yeah… don’t be a creep. Be cool instead!

This is a syndicated blog post from OnPortraits by Micahel Comeau.