6 Golden Rules for Photographers Working With Models

in Tips For Photographers

Model Shannon on a Shoot

Working with people or models is often a challenge when a ‘for fun’ photographer tries to switch gears from landscape photography or still life photography to portrait, fashion or lifestyle photography.

I’ve got 6 golden rules I follow whenever I work with a model. If the model is my best friend or a complete stranger I am always careful to follow these six rules because they have become habit and I think following them has helped lead to my success with shooting people!

Rule #1 Never Touch Your Model

If your models strap becomes tangled or tag is showing or hair is out of place, it might be your first instinct to fix it. Don’t!

Instead, ask them to fix it, say “Your right strap is twisted, can you untwist it” or “you have an eyelash on your left cheek”. If they are having trouble taking care of the problem then you can ask permission to help them, with something like “do you want me to help you with that.”

Why shouldn’t you touch your model? It’s a personal space issue, most models will bring an escort to their first shoot with a photographer to make sure they feel comfortable, you approaching and touching your model in any way might make them uncomfortable, just hedge your bets and assume they will be uncomfortable if you touch them and always ask – even if they’ve said yes before, ask again before touching or adjusting them in any way.

Rule #2 If Your Model is Uncomfortable it Will Show in the Photo

By this I mean emotionally uncomfortable as well as physically uncomfortable. If your model is lying down on some rocks it’s not going to be comfortable, if you ask them to move their arms and legs in ways their body usually doesn’t naturally go it will be uncomfortable.

I always start by having my models find a comfortable position and ask the to move and make minor adjustments through suggestions like can you move your hand up to the wood, or can you put your left leg out further and lean forward with it. When statements are phrased as questions the model will feel more comfortable saying no or suggesting alternatives if it’s an uncomfortable pose.

Sometimes you need your model in an awkward position to extract the right uncomfortable facial expressions for a specific mood – so don’t forget to use the opposite of these rules to your advantage as well.

Rule #3 Talk to Your Model

Get to know them as a person. As you learn more about this person their personality will begin to show more in the photographs. You will be more aware of what defines them as a person and they will feel more comfortable and open with you to sharing parts of their soul, which strangely enough some people say them camera steals from them.

I have a few questions I ask all my models as we start to get to know each other and develop a relationship during the shoot:

  • What do you do for work?
  • How did they get involved in the community you connected with them through?
  • What do they hope to accomplish with modeling?
  • What made them get into modeling?

Most conversations branch off naturally from those topics.

Rule #4 Encourage Collaborative Ideas

If your model has an idea for a shot that you know won’t work out – try it anyways, if it is doable. You’re better off giving your all to every possible idea than to disregard a persons idea risking missing out on their next brilliant one. If you don’t think a shot is working suggest variations on it – collaboration is the best way to come up with great ideas.

Rule #5 Show or Explain What You are Doing and Why

This mostly applies to beginner models or people who are still new at being in front of the camera.

If you ask a model to change their hand position, tell them why – this way you won’t have to continue to correct something about their positioning as often since it’s something they will become more aware of.

How many times did you mom yell at your to take your muddy shoes off at the door?

Letting your model know to move their leg out so it doesn’t look like they’re one legged, or to leave space between their arms and bodies so they have a more defined shape is a great way for both of you to make each others experiences a bit easier throughout the shoot.

Rule #6 Praise Often

No it’s not about booting egos – it’s about encouragement. Phrases like – wow that’s a great expression can you hold that for a few more shots, or that was pretty when you moved your hair or perfect pose can go a long way. It goes without saying over praise can get lame but if you think it looks good – tell your model – they want to know too.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Carmen April 4, 2009 at 7:40 am

Hi Terri, stumbled on your blog through browsing twitter. This is such a great article! I’ve been intimidated to set up shoots with models who have approached me on MM and this article has helped a little. I’ll be sure to continue browsing your blog for other great tips and articles! thank you!

Stuart May 25, 2009 at 2:59 pm

Such good advice! Thanks so much for taking the time to share.

Liz Gibson December 9, 2010 at 9:26 pm

I disagree with Rule #4. When I work with models I have a very defined image in mind that I want to capture. The model knows in advantage what the theme will be and what I expect from them.

It’s horses for courses; some photographers want ideas from the model and some don’t.

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