How to work with models

Richard Stevens

Richard Stevens from The Old Bakery photo studio gives us his tips for getting more from model shoots

We have a small working studio in Ferndown in the lovely county of Dorset, known as The Old Bakery photo studio, where we run events to help up-and-coming photographers get a chance to shoot what they wouldn’t normally have the chance to. This obviously leads to the use of a number of local and not-so-local models, so I have put together a few hints and tips based on my journey for others to put to good use.

Model portrait
© Richard Stevens. Model: Ewelina Krassowska

Build a relationship
I’ve found that one of the quickest and easiest ways to shoot with a model is to talk with them from the start. Whether this is 10 minutes before the shoot or a week prior over a coffee, establishing the verbal relationship will allow communication to flow easily before and during the shoot.

What do you want to get out of the shoot?
There are two main reasons you shoot: either for yourself (building a portfolio, for fun, for your customer, client, etc) or for the model (to build their portfolio, for their fun, for their customer client, etc). Going into the shoot with a well thought out plan will allow you to use your time both efficiently and enjoyably, but this will also allow the flow to go much smoother. Knowing what the end result is before you start will take out many of the headaches during post processing, too, when you try to fix something you could have simply shot a different way.

Your model is co-creating with you. Don’t forget that!
They are not a prop; they should be interacting with the camera based on the desired outcome of the photo. Allow them some freedom and your end result will benefit from their input.

Clearly explain what you need them to do without being condescending
While a model co-creates with you, they still rely on direction. I always explain prior to shooting what the pose or situation is I’m looking for and further that with letting them know what I specifically mean when I ask them to twist, turn and tilt their head, shoulders or body, rotate clockwise or counter clockwise and that I specifically ask for small, controlled movements most of the time. Additionally, I’ve become used to asking a model to move to their right or left, not camera right or left. Every photographer works differently, so don’t assume the model will know what you mean when you say step right or you will end up repeatedly saying “other right”.

Compliment them
I’ve had the pleasure of working with some excellent models and I’ve also taken some wonderful photos of my friends, but they will always appreciate being told they are doing a good job and that they are giving you what you need and expect.

Pay attention to details
One common thing I always see with new photographers shooting models is the lack of attention to detail. Look for things that may be out of place, such as rings or earrings that don’t match the outfits, or necklaces that shouldn’t be in the shot. Is the model’s nail polish chipped, did some hair fall out of place or is one sleeve longer than the other? Looking at these small details truly helps separate the professionals from the amateurs.

Take a break
Shooting isn’t a five-minute job; there is a lot of time put into and executing quality work, even more so when models, hair and makeup artists and set designers are involved. Taking a few five-minute breaks so everyone can have a cup of tea or coffee, relax for a minute and unwind will not only help your model perform better, but it will also give your arms a break from holding the camera up for hours on end.

Try it yourself
Put yourself in their place now and again and be a model for a friend. I’ve spent more then 8 years shooting and until the last 12 months or so had on less then a few occasions ever actually been on the business end of the lens, surrounded by lights and being told what to do and how to move. I found it both frustrating and totally exciting. While I personally took direction horribly the first time, being shot allowed me to see first hand what models must comprehend when photographers give them direction and try to get their vision across through the pose of a model.

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