5 steps to getting the best from your model

One of the models I’ve worked with, Sinopa Rin, recently created a blog post titled “5 steps to getting the best from your model“. What can a photographer learn from a model? Well quite a lot actually. Her post struck such a chord with me that I decided to write this post as a direct response, but from the photographer’s point of view.

Admittedly I have little experience, time wise, working with models. My first photoshoot, yes with Ms Rin, was a little under a year ago. However, in that time I have managed to squeeze in 35 photoshoots, working with 27 different models along the way, and feel that I have picked up a few hints and tips for a mutually beneficial working relationship that I will share with you now.

1. Treat the model with dignity and respect at all times

This is incredibly important, hence the position at number one in my list. Something you shouldn’t need telling, but alas it would appear that some people need to have this spelled out to them.

Of course you should offer this basic human right to everybody that you meet, but if you will be working with this person, during the shoot and hopefully again in the future, then you should make a special effort.

First off, never touch the model. This is a cardinal rule that cannot be said enough. Some models will tell you they don’t mind you adjusting their clothing, hair, or removing a stray twig stuck to their backside. This is irrelevant. You tell the model about the clothing, the hair, and the twig. You do not touch another person you’re working with unless it is to save them from danger.

“Please” and “Thank you” go a long way. There are photographers who can get away with calling their models “rat bag”, but these are exceptional people with tons of idiosyncratic credit and talent; very few and far between. This does not apply to the likes of you and I so courtesy is always the order of the day.

Be kind, be nice, be polite.

If your model feels safe and protected, if they feel respected, if they’re comfortable, then it will show in the confidence of their poses.

Bottom line: Be nice. Be courteous. Always.

Sinopa Rin
Sinopa Rin

2. Communicate

Communication, both before and during the shoot, between the photographer and the rest of the creative team (model, make-up artist, stylist, etc.) is vital for an effective photoshoot. This post is aimed at the model, so I’ll focus on them (no pun intended).

Before the shoot you should be in regular contact with the model about the shoot. Let them know any ideas you have for the shoot. If you have no ideas at all, then let them know this too. I do this a lot.

It is my firm belief that effective pre-shoot communication reduces the risk of cancellations and no-shows. I’m not saying you should pester you model each and every day, but draw up a shoot plan together. Decide upon the location together. Check in with them a few days before to ensure that they’re ready for the shoot. Any last minute issues that may have arisen can be dealt with at this stage. It pays to keep in touch.

Bottom line: A well planned and confirmed shoot is much more likely to happen than one where you have hardly been in touch with each other.

Beau Divine
Beau Divine

3. Ask, Listen, and Involve

Take the time to involve your model in the creative process. If you are lucky enough to have a model who can help you from a technical side then grab that chance with both hands (don’t touch the model), but if not at the very least you will have somebody who is interested in creating some great photos. Models I’ve worked with have been dancers, artists, creatives, poets, fire breathers, singers, actors and photographers as well and modelling. They have life experiences to draw on, and they also have a good understanding of what looks good in a photograph. An appreciation of art is not limited to those that own cameras.

I’ve had models create mood board on Pinterest that acted as a reference for us both, before and during the shoot. I worked with a model recently who upon hearing my request for suggestions of some images to create came up with three awesome sets that we put together during the shoot. I asked, I listened to the suggestions, and we created art together; a great collaboration.

Bottom line: Every photoshoot is a collaboration. Work together for better results.

Amy Stout
Amy Stout

4. Home comforts

Take the time to ask your model is there are any snack or refreshments you could bring along to the shoot. You bringing lunch or a snack, especially if they’ll be working in an unfamiliar environment may be a great relief to them. If you’re shooting in an indoor location or studio consider bringing some music along. Ask the model what kind of music they like. I’m currently compiling a playlist of “80’s rock and pop” for a studio shoot tomorrow. The model has a fairly long journey to make tomorrow and I’m keen for he to be comfortable when she arrives. Her favourite music will help here. Very much worth the effort.

The models you work with will have varying degrees of experience. I’m sure the ones who’ve been doing this for many years will have a set routine, or be able to organise themselves, but if you’re working with a model who’s only done a handful of shoot, or possibly this is their first, then there will be things they forget. Whilst an inexperienced model is worrying about bringing the appropriate outfits, or spent all night practicing their poses in front of the mirror, they may have forgotten to bring a drink, some lunch, or even some straws to drink through – essential for not smudging lipstick. If you can bring these things along to the shoot you’ll be a hero, and you will have a grateful model. If they don’t want anything then you can eat all snacks on the way home. It’s a win-win situation.

Bottom line: A happy model is better to work with, and will work better than an unhappy one.

Lydia and Lillith
Lydia and Lillith

5. Be nice

If you are our on location, check with your model if they’re warm enough. Are you traversing a rocky outpost to reach the next location? Offer an arm for them to hold on to if they need it (never touch the model, but they can hold on to you for support if required).

I have been witness to an episode where a photographer was pressurising a model to rush her lunch.  She had a few salad leaves and radish left on her plate when his allotted time for the shoot started. He was worried about missing out on five minutes of his two hours time with her if she didn’t stop eating immediately, or at least rush the remnants of her meal. People need to eat, even models. If you allow a little leeway, show the model that their needs are important, they will work so much harder for you, and this will show in the results.

At this same photoshoot the model I was working with actually encouraged me to continue shooting even though our booked time had expired and we were technically into her lunch break. “Let’s just do five more shots … Ok, they’re really good we’ll do another five … I like these, just a few more and they’re the last ones”. I had to say to the model that we should stop and she should go and eat. I’m wondering if Mr You-Must-Finish-Eating-Now got this extra effort from his model.

I’m not suggesting that a professional model won’t work hard if you even if you are a stickler for exact timekeeping, but I am saying that if you give them some leeway, treat them well, then they’ll go that extra mile for you.

Bottom line: If the model is happy they’ll work so much harder, and you will get much better images.

A happy model
A happy model