How Photographers Can Deal with Unprofessional Models

Once in a while, despite our due diligence and training, we all end up in circumstances where we must handle a difficult situation. As a model with a wide range of experience, I have a large network of professional photographer friends and have seen first-hand how unprofessional my fellow models can be. Here are a few ways to handle a variety of sticky situations without compromising your reputation as a respectable industry professional. 

The model agrees to compensate you but “forgets.”

First of all, I want to apologize and say I am truly sorry you are in this situation. One way this situation can be avoided is to ask for all money up front, if this is a paid shoot. Sometimes, the price can be high, and you agree on half before and half after the shoot is complete. It is your job as a professional business person to ensure you are paid early or on time. I know many photographers who are introverted, and asking for money can make them feel uncomfortable. If the final payment is not received at the shoot, shoot the model a message reminding him or her that he or she must pay. If you ask multiple times and receive no response, you have the right to take legal action, but many options are expensive and aren’t worth pursuing. In the future, update your payment policies so this is no longer an issue.

The model hits on you.

Sure, we hear tons of stories of creepy male photographers hitting on innocent female models, but what about the other way around? There are thousands of female photographers out there who work alone with models. Although this problem certainly isn’t strictly a female issue (men can be sexually harassed too!), it is a predominantly female issue. If a model is acting in an unprofessionally flirtatious manner and you are uncomfortable, be friendly, but decline their advances. It is not rude to firmly state your lack of interest. You must understand that “no means no” and if they continue to push your limits you are 100% at liberty to promptly end the shoot and leave. If the situations appears dangerous or you feel like the model may follow you home, call your mother, a friend, or in extreme cases, 911.

The model starts discussing something that makes you feel uncomfortable or upset.

Personally, nothing offends me. I come from a family of nurses and literally no topic is off limits. I love cursing, talking about religion, debating politics, and discussing sex. However, this is NOT the case for many people in the world. Maybe you are a very religious, conservative photographer and openly talking about abortion makes you uncomfortable. Perhaps the model is discussing something that is a trigger warning because of PTSD you have experienced in the past. Whatever the case may be, stay friendly and avoid getting angry. If something offends you, I have learned that it is best to gracefully change the subject. If you become upset or angry and the subject still hasn’t changed, excuse yourself for a brief moment alone, breathe, and explain that this isn’t something you will be discussing any further.

Just because I'm open to discussing any and every subject doesn't mean you are! You have a right to feel comfortable at your own shoot!

The model is trying to “sneak” something past you that was not agreed upon or you are not comfortable with.

Ever pose a model and then the second you get back to your camera, they already move? This may be the sign of a newbie who isn’t quite sure what is going on, or it could be an unprofessional attempt from a model to take charge of the shoot without discussion. If you begin to notice a pattern, by all means, bring it up to the model. If the model continues to disrespect your wishes, you have two choices: 1. To finish the shoot and never work with the model again or 2. To leave immediately.

Nudity makes some people feel uncomfortable. That is completely okay. I have seen MANY instances where shoots start off fully clothed, and end up with the model romping around in the nude. Maybe your husband/wife/significant other isn’t down with you shooting nude people. Maybe your religion doesn’t allow for it. Maybe you just plain don’t like it. No matter what, you are in charge of the direction of the shoot and have the ability to stop it at any time. If a model tries to pull something along the nudity lines that makes you uncomfortable, politely but firmly explain, and then reiterate your limits. If the model continues to push your boundaries, end the shoot.

The photographer for this shot was okay with this amount of skin. If the model tries to get naked and you don't feel comfortable, you have every right to speak up.

If you must call off a shoot, the only explanation that is required is “I don’t feel like you are respecting my limits or the agreed upon terms. I am sorry but I just don’t feel comfortable but I need to go home. Thank you for your time.”

The model begins to harass you for edited photos the second you get home.

As I stated above, I am close friends with numerous professional photographers and I have seen so many unprofessional attempts from models to get photos it isn’t even funny! I’m sure you have experienced some situations in your day and it isn’t enjoyable. If a model is blowing up your Facebook or text messages immediately, respond to her/him in a respectful manner and tell him/her that you loved working with him/her and will let him/her know when the photos are completed. Of course, in many cases, this will not be enough to calm the model down. I have even seen models send "?????????" to photographers randomly for weeks at a time! If this continues, reassure the model you are working on their photos, and give an estimated time limit. If the model keeps harassing and messaging, don’t dignify these childish acts with a response at all. Finish editing, send proofs at the agreed upon date, and turn off your notifications in the meantime.

 

Generally, these situations can be avoided with stellar communication before the shoot, but life is unpredictable and it is better to be prepared. Do you have any crazy stories about unprofessional models you have worked with? How did you handle it? I would love to hear about it in the comment section!

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16 Comments

Ben Perrin's picture

Great article. I enjoyed reading it as it was written from a different perspective which is always welcome.

Chris Adval's picture

Great read thanks for sharing that. I've experienced some not a lot as I do send a lot of information to a model I've chosen to work with on a TF project. But now I try to keep it straight forward and simple, at least with the inspiring models who know they're getting a great deal of savings by working with me on a TF project. So I tell them they get photos for their time and likenesses (TF release), and I don't generally give them an estimate time when "all" images are done because in projects its many things from experimental to non-experimental type shoots. Non-experimental and its practice and building on specific type of looks to add to my port then I can say an X to Y range of time. But I generally give 1-2 images the first week, most are okay with that, in my area at least and inspiring models. Working with more "experienced" models they have demands that can easily destroy a photographer's reputation like asking for literally all images unedited, even watermarked or unwatermarked (had both experiences) and was told "its to learn what they did wrong", and a week or 2 later its "edited" or just posted unedited online EVEN when they signed an NDA contract saying if they did they'd get a $10k fee charged to them. Happened only once, but I didn't have the means to even bother look into it because it costs money to enforce anything. So I have to become the "mean type" of photographer who "isn't flexible" which makes it even much harder to get projects done and develop my skills and portfolio and further. I got advice from others to just do it or it will destroy me, after talking to Clay Cook about it I will even if I have to ask 100 "models" for a shoot in NYC to get 1 and agree to my terms. I just have to suck it up.

I used to make models read pages of terms but didn't have enough models to work with so I had to make it more flexible and easier to shoot with me than I previously did in the past. But now doing that, especially with "experienced" models taking advantage of me I have to now spend weeks to months to finding a perfect talent for a TF project. Well that's my story there Victoria, hope it helps others too.

Bill Irwin's picture

I had a model who wanted to work TF for a few shoots. After the first shoot I asked him to sign the model release. He said he wanted to discuss this at the next shoot. I said ok and held back giving images until he signed. We did second shoot and discussed the model release. He said he had a problem with it and demanded that he should get 40% of profits from any sales on the images. I was like "what?" then he start talking about how he wanted to have me go half and half to pay for a calendar print run.

Nothing I hate more than a model who refuses to sign model release and changes the terms of agreement.

This model was a musician and I would have thought they would understand copyright issues. It seems their "model agency" taught them some weird ideals of copyright laws. What he stated might apply if he was famous or their agency was approaching me. As it was... I walked away from that one.

Chris Adval's picture

Wow, 40%... he must have like 1+ million followers on instagram to get a big head like that lol. I offer 10-15% just to be generously a nice guy and somewhat fair if I do sell images for stock or such uses.

Chris Adval's picture

Even if its the agency approaching me I would NEVER give 40% to them even if they offered me with "free models" or made some kind of other type of agreement. I still wouldn't! 10-15% a bit more reasonable, 40% is kicking you in the face with disrespect and clearly have no value for you or other photographers.

Chris Adval's picture

Victoria, I know its not traditional to do this, but what do you think of signing a model release BEFORE doing the shoot (TF shoots) and agreeing to all terms before hand, before even talking and spending the time/energy on coordination to that shoot?

Chris Adval's picture

nice 5 likes... so I'm hoping to see Victoria's response :-)

Victoria Yore's picture

Yes! If you typically have models sign releases (never a bad idea) have them do it ahead of time! When I worked Brooke Shaden's convention I signed my release weeks ahead of time! If the model is professional, it shouldn't be an issue :)

Chris Adval's picture

Awesome! Thanks for that insight Victoria!

Garren Pryce's picture

My craziest story I did a TF shoot for a model in which i stated how many images she would get and how long it would take to get them but the next day she was literally calling me every 15 minutes for them and went as far as crying on the phone and saying she needs the pictures because she has a cancerous tumor in her breast n will have surgery the next day n doesn't know of she would live to see the edits. Ended up giving her a few proofs so she'd stop calling and texting me. The next day I saw she took the proof and removed the watermark that said proof (poorly) and posted it on instagram although i told her not to and she gave me her word she wouldnt. She ended up blocking me after I said something about it and I ended up not giving her any images.

Dave Kavanagh's picture

Wow, that's a serious level of crazy right there. Reading all these stories makes me thankful the majority of models I've worked with have been lovely and professional.

Kristin Tsafos's picture

Was her name D (or Danielle)??

Garren Pryce's picture

No her name was Makida

Victoria Yore's picture

Crazy! Sorry that had to happen to you! A few of my photographer friends are harassed by models on the regular too! It is very unprofessional, but nothing has gotten this far!

Todd Boyer's picture

The nice thing about shooting cars is that I don't have to deal with a lot of this stuff. lol

Mike Patrick's picture

Great article. Thanks!