Warning: The article below is over five years old. It may be badly written, poorly considered, immature, obsolete, no longer my opinion, or simply flat-out wrong.

Working with Models

There's hundreds of articles like this one out there on the net. So one more won't hurt. Here's some tips and hints that might, or might not, help the amateur photographer work with models.

Before we get started, we need to define who a model is. This article is pitched at the amateur who's talked a friend into modelling for them, or has been put in touch with a friend-of-a-friend, or approached by an aquaintance who wants some photos. If you're working with professional models, you probably know all this stuff already.

  1. Be professional

    So you might be using small desk lamps as lighting, your studio is your bedroom with sheets hung from the curtain rails, and your camera is older than you are. This doesn't mean that you don't have to be professional. Make sure you get model releases, and proof of age (take a snapshot of your model holding up her passport, although a photocopy of it's better). You don't have to be super-organised but keep them safe. You might be lucky, and never have to refer to them again. But if you do have to, you'll be glad you've got them.
    Be professional when dealing with your model, too. Turn up on time, and be polite and respectful.

  2. Be amateur

    Don't try and present yourself as someone you're not. You're letting your model down if you're pretending to be David Bailey but are really David Bellamy. It's all a learning process. If it's the first time you've worked with a model, let them know that, and ask them to be tolerant of any equipment failiures, things you haven't considered, and so on. Things will go wrong the first few times, and if your model is not expecting that it won't go down well.

  3. Bring a book

    Have a book on you at all times. Have one for your model, too. Chances are there will be delays: you'll be waiting for the sun to come up, or for people to wander off, or whatever. Even if you're shooting inside there's times when you'll be changing film or fiddling with your lights and so on. The cunning thing to do is to have a few well-illustrated photo books to hand. Often these will give your models good ideas, and can help produce more varied results.

  4. Bring more kit than you need

    Film is cheap. Time isn't. Make sure that you cart along all the film you need, lenses you might use, your light metre, your tripod, and so on. Better to have it with you and not use it than have a great idea and not be able to execute it because you're missing your red filter or the light's a little too low.

  5. Respect your model

    Just because they're showing their exhibitionist side it doesn't mean they're up for everything you can think of. If your model seems uncomfortable, don't pressure them. If you want to touch them to help them pose, ask their permission first, and if you can demonstrate it without contact then do so. Finally, don't hit on your model. Even if she seems up for it. If you want to see her outside of the model/photographer relationship, then arrange to meet up for coffee or something and make it clear that it's a personal (and not a professional) meeting. Things will get messy, otherwise, and if you're mis-reading the signals or just imagining things you could end up in nasty legal waters. Your model is in a vulnerable situation - even more so if you're doing nude shots - and it would be wrong to take advantage of that.

  6. Talk to your model

    Talking to your model will lead massive benefits. At the most basic level, you need to be able to explain what poses you want her to adopt. If you're trying to achieve a natural, unposed look, explain that, too. If you take the time to explain what you're up to then your model will probably seem more "alive" (as you haven't bored her) and you'll keep her attention longer.
    Talking to your models offers you another practical advantage. You'll find that people tend to reflect your moods in themselves - if you're looking for a light, friendly pose then you try some light banter with your model. Likewise, if you're after an impression of gravitas you should be interacting in a much more serious fashion. Finally, talking to your model gives you the opportunity to put them at their ease. If your model is tense, it will show up in the final photo.

  7. Talk with your model

    It's not enough to talk to your model; you've got to listen, too. Models often have good ideas that you haven't thought of, and can often suggest poses and settings that work well. Plus, taking an interest in people can only work to your advantage - if they feel like they're being treated as a human being, and not just a mannikin, they're more likely to end up with a positive view of modelling for you and so are more likely to recommend you to friends. A bad reputation is a hard thing to shake off.

If you think I've missed something, I probably have. Get in touch and let me know what I could add to make this page better.