Playing Vice-Versa: Models Give Advice to Photographers

Playing Vice-Versa: Models Give Advice to Photographers

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.

A Pinterest mood board for a denim shoot in the streets.

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.

When you got your frame covered, it's best you let your hairstylist fix the hair before you shoot.

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.

You are here to shoot. Get your team to work for what they are here for.

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.

From a shoot with model Katia Moochooram. Sharing your images on set will help a model improve on her poses.

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.

Be sassy and make the cars stop! (And they did stop!)

Going with a more natural pose.

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.

Choose your images wisely.

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!

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18 Comments

Dev Ghan's picture

Great article Khatleen.

Ok the last one comment I recently had a problem with, with one model doing a tf shoot. It's not up for the model to have rights to an image produced unless they pay for the rights of an image. I don't mind getting feedback on my images but at the end of the day there are reason why we as photographers choose an image to be used. Also the model needs to understand, they chose the photographer to work because their style, and they're not out there to change their style. The only exception I see, is if it's a shoot for a business paying for the images.

The model asked me to take an image down because she didn't like it, no explanation as to why she didn't like the image and before even posting the image on instagram she received all the edited images and text me they look great. This is After I allowed her to choose 5 images she liked and I chose 5 to add on for myself. Most photographer I've talked to or know don't even let model choose images for them to edit.

Now it's completely understandable if there's something wrong with the image(s) where model's natural appearance is in question, be it a mole or birth mark of some sort but to say you don't like an image based on opinion and demand an image to be taken down isn't cool with me. That was the second experience I've had like that and I've been shooting with models for over 6 years. The majority of model I've shot with, I've shot with multiple times, but that situation bothered me

Honestly, I love working with make up artists more because they understand so much more than most models do. Also most have the same ability to understand the perspective of a photographer's eye.and also I can understand what they do when they are working on a model. We get feedback from each other during the shoot and after and makes it so much easier to produce great images.

Khatleen Minerve's picture

I actually understand your point because it happened to me. A model asked me to take some pictures down because she was putting her model career behind her but I didn't agree simply because a model release was signed and the rights do not stop because you stop working as a model.

Models who do their job should expect to have their image used in manners they agreed upon, and whether they like the final images or not, we need to remind them what they have been hired for. Photographers should however do a good job at showing their models under the best light. But it they are not comfortable with the way they look, there is nothing that we can do about that! They need to work on their self esteem issues!

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

"Photographers should however do a good job at showing their models under the best light." I disagree with this statement. All that photographer needs to do is to bring his vision to life. Sometimes that will involve creating picture that will show the model in not the best light.
The question is, when the model is a model, and when she/he is a client... Obviously there are different type of agreements between models and photographers, and all aspects of the agreement should be cleared before the shoot.
I have every model sign the release, and I explain it like that:
"You can read the release, but what it boils down to, is that I can do whatever I want with the pictures and you will have no rights to it other than to display it in your portfolio/social media."

Khatleen Minerve's picture

What I meant by "showing the model in the best light" is to act within the perimeter of our agreement. I agree not to distort their image and to respect their integrity but i have a concept and a vision and I'm here to realise it. But i do add in my release that yes, i can alter an image in any way i see fit, if it serves the job and as long as it still fit the boundaries of the contract. Having studied law, I am always cautious when it comes to those terms. So all in all, I actually agree with your opinion.

Interesting.." Just so many what ifs.. i do know that i am not happy when an art director forces me into producing a product that is sub-par to my standards.. i lost a gig because someone else viewed a project that i did, but was out of my control. I wanted to scream, " but that's really not my work!" i make sure i am comfortable with the art director, and anyone else who can make decisions about the quality of work that i will altimately produce.. I can only imagine a model feel so the same way. Especially if she/he may be judged in the future with a negative take on this work. It is a tough one, and everything needs to be upfront and expectations communicated. (This is my opinion.)

Justin Berrington's picture

Did you take the image down or use it anyway?

Khatleen Minerve's picture

I kept it of course! I told her I would and that having paid for her services, that I am entitled to use the photos to promote my work. ;)

Justin Berrington's picture

Yes! Good for you! I was however asking Jeremy since you had already stated in your post that you didn't agree with the model.

I not only took that image down, I took all of the images down. She unfollowed and took my images down on her instagram. Most of the time when models work with me doing tf shoots, other photographer that follow me pay. I'm not saying I don't pay models. I pay model when I'm getting paid for a project. Otherwise, I love creating awesome images with everyone who is involved, so we all get paid from others.

It's an awesome feeling when someone tells you, or you tell someone that you're getting paid jobs from a portfolio shoot. And, I understand you may not like an image someone puts up but someone else may like it, and that can lead to them contacting you for a paid project.

Justin Berrington's picture

Sounds fair to me!

david squire's picture

Solid advice for us amateurs, great article! I was a guest on a video and still set yesterday and was talking to a guy that mentioned they always tried to have some food around- not always possible, but it's something that's always at least considered. Lastly, I couldn't agree more about getting your model to laugh, that's somewhat underrated, but it's so true.

Khatleen Minerve's picture

I agree about the food! I actually wrote something about it but my article became so lengthy! But yes, feed the model and always have some snacks ready in between if one is being delayed for lunch.

Food is great especially in a state park area after hiking for a while. Also music too.

Emma Grigoryan's picture

an article worth the time being read

Jay Jay's picture

I agree with Jeremy Thomas in that it's not up to the model to to determine how or if an image is edited, especially if it's TFCD or the photog pays the model. However, if the model hires the photographer, that expectation should be discussed and both signed off on their contract (You'd be surprised how many photographers don't use or have models sign a contract). Mine explicitly states that for TFCD, the model isn't guaranteed back any photos at all and any produced or given is at my sole discretion (An unnerving incident prompted that clause to be added) But there should NO expectation to the final output of the photo (edited/semi-edited/unflattering/flattering) unless agreed and signed off on- and even then, again, results are going to be subjective.

Just like a doctor or lawyer or any profession, there should be reasonable expectation that a photographer should do and produce the best work they can. That of course, is subjective- what one photog thinks is a great photo, the model may completely disagree on. On trades, i go over all the photos at the end of a shoot with the model and we pick the ones we both like. That cuts out on the model coming back later saying they don't like some of the photos.Sometimes i cant go over them because of time, in which case, i pick out the most flattering photos. Any photog who has worked with female models *should* have the experience as to what is flattering and what is not (not always true as i've seen several long term photogs near me who consistently fail in that area)

One tip i can add for models- always practice and memorize your best poses for every combination of shoot- standing, leaning against something, sitting, on the ground, hand gestures, facial expressions, etc. Nail it and have them ready, because while some photogs will give you guidance and feedback during a session, a great many will give absolutely none and leave you in the dark- having your poses and gestures and poses ready to pop off will not only overcome this, but save your shoot since you at least know your poses will be spot on.

Jay Jay, completely agreed. I've worked with some models who are on point, and some amateurs. I don't mind working with amateurs who willing to learn and be taught.

I'd like to offer another perspective on taking down a model's images. On two occasions, models I have worked with decided to leave the industry and in another case, the model stopped posing nude. In all three cases, I had compensated the models and had full model releases. I asked each of them if they wanted me to take down images from my online portfolio. Two of them were very grateful. The third didn't care. I had every right to continue to use the images, but I chose to honor their wishes.