Some photographers go their entire career without deliberately photographing people. However, most of us, at some point, will want or need to photograph people in specific situations. If you’re not used to working with models, here’s some helpful advice on how to go about it. Whether you want to learn portraiture or need to shoot a model for a specific job, this guide will be of use.
Dealing with other people correctly and respectfully is important, and photographing models requires professionalism and trust so that everyone involved feels both safe and comfortable. I can say from personal experience working as a photographic model that it’s very unpleasant if you’re made to feel uncomfortable by someone you’re shooting with or asked to do something you aren’t comfortable with. I also asked some currently active models for their input in this article, specifically on how they would like to be approached and worked with, as well as some rare horror stories. I intend this article for those considering photographing with models, rather than well-established photographers with a mature network of contacts.
Where To Find Models
Asking friends and family to pose for you can be a great way to get used to photographing people. You might even be fortunate enough to know some actual models. You’ll be more relaxed around people you know, and cost won’t be a factor. The downside to shooting friends and family is that they are unlikely to be experienced models, so be prepared to direct and pose them far more than you would need to pose an experienced model.
There are also plenty of online sources of experienced models you can contact and potentially work with.
Instagram: There’s an abundance of experienced and inexperienced models on Instagram. I have sourced several models from Instagram, and I try to use models who have worked with photographers that I know and trust. I’d rather a personal referral than many online reviews.
Facebook: Groups on Facebook are also an excellent source of models and creatives to work with. There are many groups on Facebook for photographers and models to network. I am a regular user of both local and national groups with many active users. These groups can be an easy way to connect with other creatives in your area.
Purpleport: Purpleport is a popular online service for models and photographers to connect. Trustpilot rates Purpleport 94% excellent with many positive reviews. Some users comment that the site has started to feel more like a social media site than a professional portfolio site. There’s a huge number of models on the site with a wide range of experience and different looks. The Purpleport website is fairly easy to navigate and use.
Model Mayhem: Trustpilot rates Model Mayhem poorly, with only 3% of users reporting it as excellent and 77% reporting it as bad. Many reviews suggest the website heavily prioritizes glamour or nude female models and many accusations of inappropriate language or behavior in communication prior to and during shoots. The site is dated but fairly easy to use, with premium account options available for photographers.
There’s also the option of contacting a professional modeling agency to book models for a shoot. Using an agency is a more formal process and can be much more expensive. Modeling agencies are better suited to supply models for commercial shoots where an experienced model with a specific look is required.
Initial contact is important, as this will probably be the first impression a model has of you. In the modern world, initial contact is more likely to be an email or other online message, rather than a phone call. It’s also worth considering that because of the large number of online platforms available to promote themselves, many models now manage their own bookings rather than booking through an agency or other third party. This means that your initial contact message will almost certainly be read and responded to by the person you are hoping to photograph.
Before you even start writing a message to a potential model, take the time to read their profile and look at their portfolio of work. There may be information on where they can work, or what they will shoot, or many useful pieces of information that will help you decide which model would be best suited to the shoot you have planned. Most of the models I spoke with noted that they are often asked questions on subjects clearly noted on their online profiles.
Whether you are a hobbyist or paying your bills with your photography, approach potential models professionally. Try to avoid speaking to them as if inviting them to a social event or arranging a night out with your friends.
As obvious as it may sound, sending a model a DM on social media which reads; “Hi, you look gorgeous. We should set up a shoot soon” is not a good way to present yourself as a legitimate and professional person. Instead, you might open with “Hi, I’ve seen your portfolio online and I love your work. I think you’d be great for a shoot I have in mind…” You can be positive and excited at the prospect of working with someone without being creepy.
Be sure to introduce yourself, explain what you have planned for the shoot, including dates, times, locations, fee (more on this later), styling, clothing, makeup, how many (if any) images you intend to edit and supply to them, whether you will choose the images to retouch or allow the model to do so, these are all important details to establish. Give as much detail as possible to your model so they know exactly what to expect.
Make sure you have a plan, even a loose plan, before approaching your model so that you can give them all the necessary information when making contact. Another pet peeve mentioned by some models I spoke with was photographers messaging them simply to say “let’s shoot soon” without including what they’d like to shoot, where it might be, or when. A model is much more likely to be excited to shoot with you if you have a compelling concept in mind, as well as making you come across as more prepared and professional.
Who Pays Whom?
Photography is a skill, and photographers should expect to be remunerated for their time. Modeling is a skill, and models should expect to be remunerated for their time.
On a commercial shoot, this isn’t an issue; a client who wants specific images will hire a photographer and hire a model who will both be appropriately compensated for their time. When the arrangement is just a model and photographer looking to create images for their own use, it’s not always as simple.
Money can be an awkward subject and potential source of tension. It’s very important to clear up details of payment early in your conversation with a prospective model.
When looking for a suitable model, you may come across the letters TFP or just TF. This stands for Time For Prints (Time For Photos), or simply Time For. This means that a model will give their time in return for images. TFP is a splendid arrangement when you’re starting out photographing models. You may find that models can be very selective on who they do TFP shoots with, so don’t be surprised if they ask to see your portfolio before agreeing to shoot with you. After all, you are asking them to give up their time in return for images you take. They will expect the images to be of a good enough quality to be of value. Shooting TFP is absolutely not shooting for “free,” as both parties have something of value to the other. It is a mutually beneficial arrangement. We shouldn’t ever undervalue our time or the time of others. Personally, I like to operate based on need; if I need a model for something that I want to do, then I should be prepared to pay for that person's time, although I will often inquire about TFP initially.
If a model wants specific photographs taken for their own needs, they should be prepared to pay a photographer for their time, but I won’t be offended if they inquire about TFP. This rule of thumb has worked well for me in most cases. Someone reminded recently me that not everyone works this way, so make sure you discuss the subject of payment early on.
Earlier this year, I saw an Instagram story from a model that I follow asking if any local photographers would like to shoot in the coming weeks. This model has been photographed by some other local photographers and was recommended to me. She has a great look but doesn’t have a great deal of experience yet. I responded to her Instagram story by introducing myself, sharing my portfolio, giving a rough indication of my availability over the coming weeks, and asking what she had in mind. The model responded she had a specific outfit, which she wanted photos of herself wearing. I was happy with the concept and suggested some dates and locations. The model replied with “is this a paid shoot?” I had completely neglected to mention that I’d heard she was worth working with and was happy to work TFP. This should have been in my initial contact. I was still glad to get the fee cleared up early in the conversation. The model responded saying that she was only doing paid shoots at the present. This confused me, as she had publicly asked for photographers to shoot her in a specific outfit, then expected to be paid for the shoot, which primarily benefits her. I simply said thank you, wished her all the best, and that I hope we get the chance to work together in the future. I’d like to add that, despite a clear misunderstanding, at no stage in the interaction were either of us rude to the other, and I genuinely wish her well in her career. It simply wasn’t something that had enough value to me to pay for.
Create a Comfortable Environment
When you’re starting out in this area of photography, there’s a good chance you won’t yet have your own studio space or a full crew of people alongside you on every shoot. It’s entirely possible that you will plan to meet and photograph a model on your own, regardless of age or gender. If you’re planning to meet a stranger from the internet alone, take precautions to protect both of you. In the interest of safety and making your model feel at ease, it’s sensible to suggest your model bring someone with them. A friend, partner, or a parent might like to come and help with outfits or makeup. The first time you meet your model, you should consider where you’re meeting and where you plan to shoot; meeting somewhere public, then going to a location may be preferable to suggesting a model come to your home or offering to pick them up from their home. When shooting either in the studio or at an indoor location, I always prepare a private area with a mirror for outfit changes. Even when shooting outside of the studio, you can create a private area using some cheap backdrop stands and opaque material.
Putting on music or engaging in conversation with models is a good way to create a positive and enjoyable atmosphere for everyone involved.
During the shoot, you may be required to adjust their hair or fix their clothing without the model moving. If the model has a friend or relative with them, this is a good role for that person. If you’re on your own with your model, you should always inform them you would like to adjust something, then ask if they are okay with this. It’s good practice to get informed consent before any kind of close contact. This can go a long way towards ensuring your model is comfortable. Discussing outfits and clothing before shooting is also useful. Some models said they have been asked several times to remove more clothing than they were comfortable with or been asked to shoot implied nudes or lingerie when that was never discussed beforehand.
The models I spoke with were all able to share some negative experiences with photographers, although they said it was not the norm and they generally feel safe and comfortable on shoots. Being courteous and respectful can help a starting photographer get a good reputation for safe, enjoyable shoots.
Hair and Makeup
Another consideration when working with models is hair and makeup. This can be the difference between a good shoot and a great shoot. Having hair and makeup professionally done can also save you a great deal of editing time by fixing stray hairs and smoothing out skin imperfections before the image is captured. Having a model who is competent in doing their own hair and makeup is ideal, but not always possible. You can usually find stylists and makeup artists in the same places you would find models; alternatively, you can ask your model for recommendations.
Many hair stylists and makeup artists will work TFP if they like your concept or have a good relationship with the model, but you should be prepared to pay for hair and makeup by an experienced person in the same way you would expect to pay for an experienced model.
Do you regularly photograph models? Have you got any advice for finding and photographing models? Let me know in the comments.
Thank you to the following models for your valuable insights: