Whenever I am working with models on a shoot, I always have their best interests at heart. You may say I care too much about my models, but I am alright with that. No one badmouths a caring photographer. I have seen firsthand how some models are treated badly on set and it saddens me to see how bad attitude from photographers can ruin the photographer-model relationship and also lead to bad photos. Knowing how to build a relationship upon meeting your model and engaging in a photoshoot with the latter is a must and I asked a couple of models for advice to write this article.
Before the Shoot - Brief Your Model and Team Properly
Whether you are shooting for a client or for yourself, it is essential to expose the ideas you want to realize. Tell them how you work. Your model is no mind-reader and to understand your client’s vision or yours, the best thing is to lay out a mood board and a timeline. The mood board is fairly easy: group photos of your location with the type of shots you’d like to do there, along with a note perhaps on the lighting setup or angle you will go with. I also like to include photos of the clothes the model is going to wear if that’s possible. If you do not have time for a collage, then Pinterest is your friend. It’s so easy to use, and you can just pin the images you want to a specific board, and share it with you team. A model and friend of mine told me she does not mind at all that a photographer with a hectic schedule sends a Pinterest board to illustrate his ideas for a shoot. Whether it’s a collage or a Pinterest board, it’s useful to any model to have an inkling of what’s expected on the shooting day.
Now I mentioned a timeline above. Sending your model a timeline with the time at which you are going to shoot X or Y image can help coordinate a big team. It will help the model, the make-up artist, the hairstylists, and the rest of the crew know where they should be and what they should be doing.
Michael, another model I worked with, told me that he found it very helpful that the photographer puts the whole team in the same email or group chat prior to the shoot. He explains that it helps them to get to know who is who, to easily get along. He tells me that on one occasion, he had sustained quite a bruise in a fall and that he was still black and blue a few days before the shoot. Because the photographer had put everyone on the same email, Michael contacted the make-up artist to tell her that there would be an additional job to be done to cover the bruise on his shoulder. The time allocated for make-up was therefore changed.
To resume, mood boards, timelines, and emails prior to a photoshoot are all about communication, and communicating, as you can guess, will avoid confusion and lead to a more fluid shoot with your team on the shooting day.
During the Shoot - Get the Right People to Help You
Often for a small shoot, many photographers do not hire hairstylist or make-up artist. Models are asked to do their own make-up and hair. It is especially true for personal projects. Another model and friend of mine, Katia, tells me that while for small personal shoots doing her own make up is fine by her, she still asks that the photographer hires a make-up artist and hairstylist. It boosts a model’s confidence to know he or she is in the hands of experts.
Katia also says it is frustrating for a model that attention is not paid to details. For example, she might strike a great pose and the photographer clicks the image only to realize much later that the hair or the dress was not right. Some things can be fixed in post but any good photographer wants to avoid more work in post. This is partly why it’s necessary to have a hairstylist, fashion stylist, and make-up artist on set to adjust everything before the photographer clicks.
Having been in the business for some time now, Katia adds that the experienced photographer might notice right away what is wrong and ask for his team to correct the issue. But the untrained eye of an unexperienced photographer might not notice a wardrobe malfunction, messy eyebrows, or jewelery not placed correctly. It is up to photographers and the team to spot and adjust what’s off for the model to look good.
During the Shoot - Sharing the Images You Shoot
I asked Katia more about the things she would encourage photographers to do on a shoot. She says she appreciates it when she can see the photos on set. Now, many photographers when shooting won’t show a single image to the model; They have their reasons and that’s alright. The models will just have to trust those photographers to do a good job. But others do not mind showing some of the photos to their models, perhaps because they are happy with an image and just want to show the model how amazing he or she looks. But the real benefit you get from doing this is boosting your model’s confidence and making them feel more at ease on set. Seeing an image, they might know how to improve on a pose. A model who sees an image and sees the fine job that you are doing, will provide more efforts to achieve even better images especially if they like how you portray them. It enables the model-photographer relationship further more.
Conversely, showing your photos to a model, while recommended, poses one issue: What if they like Image 1 because their face looks better in it, but you tell them that even if their face is not entirely perfect in Image 2, you like it better because your light is just the way you want it? In those frustrating circumstances, I tend to go with my own choice because some models might not like a picture because they hate their nose or because they hate their freckles being so visible. But to the other people, their freckles and nose look fine and that’s how I know I can go with my choice. If they had pointed at their nose out saying the angle elongated it in a weird fashion, then I would admit to shooting an unflattering photo and choose another image.
In other circumstances, it’s also possible for a model not to have any say in what pictures are chosen. An art director or the client himself may be the ones who will choose the best photos with the photographer.
During the Shoot - Guiding and Addressing Your Model Correctly
I believe knowing when and how to guide your models is necessary during a shoot. Every month, I shoot a number of portfolios for a local agency in Mauritius and you can guess that the models who come my way are inexperienced. I try my best to give them concise advice because at this point, they are just eager for any tips that will make them better at their job in the future. In those cases, it is essential to be professional, but friendly. Firm, but not bossy. Any model will tell you that a photographer who makes them laugh will make them more comfortable. But every now and then, try to give ideas on different attitudes they can try and tell them to “act” with those in mind. It is best if you want more natural looks from them and Ben Sasso can tell you all about that.
However, when working with experienced models, we all expect them to come prepared with poses in mind. Katia and Michael, the two models I mentioned above, agree that they welcome information on the kind of light a photographer is using. Photographers tend to set up their light for the look they want to create and will then tell their model to stand there and pose. But explaining your light setup to the model might help establish the direction of the shoot and make them pose accordingly.
Katia, who has worked extensively in Mauritius, India, and Europe tells me that while guidance is welcomed, a photographer should always have a good attitude. One should not let a model take over completely and make you forget what your initial job was. She adds that some photographers can easily be intimidated by a model with a fierce personality but they should learn to assert themselves. Now, being bossy can be both bad and OK. If you’re bossy, yet still polite, a model might not mind. But be bossy and rude, and I guarantee you will be building a wall between your model and yourself. So try to be tactful and polite in your exchanges. Your model will appreciate it and your team will have more respect for you.
After the Shoot - Choosing the Right Picture and Editing Correctly
Models often tell me that while they may like the images they saw on a shoot, it’s not always that the edited images please them. Katia opened up to me about an editorial she did for a magazine with a popular commercial photographer. She says she saw some incredibly beautiful photos on set, but what appeared in the magazine were unflattering images of her. And she even says that some photos deserved a good crop and that they clearly lacked skin retouching. For a fashion editorial and a cover magazine, she admits to be being very disappointed. She says a photographer should always make it a point to choose the right images, and should at all times provide a complete editing for all published pictures. And they should make sure not to edit out the particularities of a model, like a mole. A poorly retouched image will not just say that you did a botched job but will also put the model in a bad light.
All in all, models love a photographer who instills a good mood on set and who behaves correctly with the models. Make sure to communicate with them before and during a shoot. A happy model will most certainly guarantee great photos and that is good for business!