Elia Locardi is Back

Making Your Beauty Model Feel Special Leads to Better Photos

Making Your Beauty Model Feel Special Leads to Better Photos

It goes without saying that creating a comfortable, safe environment while shooting beauty photography can go a long way towards building a strong working relationship with your model. Comfortable, however, is what I'd define as the "barrier to entry." What you really want to do is go beyond that by giving your model a slight boost in confidence. By building up the model's self-esteem you get her thinking positively, and that state of mind leads to fantastic moments which create a genuine spark of expression. 

When shooting beauty I'm not looking for intense expression or an intense blast of emotion. Instead, I'm looking for a relatively blank expression that has the subtle glint of a creative mind at work. I'm looking to recreate the fleeting moment of the day when the subject is relaxed while daydreaming about something they find really intriguing. A blank expression that has been broken by a subtle, unexpected feeling.

Don't Hit on Her

There is a fine line between building your model's confidence and giving her the impression that you are hitting on her. The moment your model begins to wonder if you are just trying to butter her up to ask her on a date you will instantly lose any potential benefit that confidence building can bring. For this reason, avoid things such as complimenting your model's breasts or her posterior, for example. This also is probably a good moment to review the things you can do to avoid coming off as a creep during a shoot.

Don't Lie

I'm going to preface this discussion by emphasizing the importance of honesty. Don't tell the model something that isn't true. That not only can shatter trust, it also almost always comes off as a flat compliment which can do more harm than good. Your goal isn't to compliment for the sake of complimenting, it's to get the model thinking about a very positive, genuine aspect of themselves so they stop focusing on being insecure.

Pick a Specific, Unique Quality

Every model I've ever worked with has at least one (usually many) aspects of her beauty that is quite rare and special. Often the model herself doesn't even know about these sort of qualities or is aware of them but has never given them much thought. By bringing her attention to it and showing her that it is an amazing quality of beauty, you can really trigger a feeling of confidence. An example of one I occasionally use is that once in a while a model has a dark ring around the edge of her iris. This quality is amazing because it is what we retouching types do in Photoshop to virtually every eye that we retouch. By darkening the edge of the iris in postproduction we are able to make eyes look as if they are deeper and have more intensity. I explain this to the model, then point out that she has this quality naturally which is why her eyes stand out so beautifully.

Pick an Aspect of Modeling That She Is Doing Great At

The majority of models I work with will tell me that they aren't very good at modeling and feel very awkward in front of the camera. Generally I find this to be somewhat true until I start coaching them, but I have also found that most models are naturally good at something specific. At the start of a shoot I'm often looking for that "something" so that I can tell the model about it to help dispel some of those feelings about being awkward. For example, in a recent shoot I could tell the model felt very self-conscious about her posing but was very good at being expressive. Thus, I narrowed her focus by complimenting her on her amazing expressions. She seemed surprised, as it was something she hadn't ever considered, but within a few minutes I could see the awkwardness in her posing start to drift away. Knowing that her expressions were amazing gave her the confidence to stop worrying so much about her posing.


One of the key factors in capturing effective beauty photos is in creating an environment that not only makes your model feel safe but also empowers her with a sense of magnificence. Make her feel like there is no other person in the whole world who is quite like her because she has these amazing qualities that make her extraordinary. Don't lay it on too thick though. It should be honest, genuine, and come out in the process of casual conversation as you shoot. The moment the model starts to think you are buttering her up is the moment she stops believing what you are saying.

What are some of your favorite coaching methods to help pull models out of their psychological cage so that they can show their best during a shoot?

Ryan Cooper's picture

Ryan is an mildly maniacal portrait/cosplay photographer from glorious Vancouver, Canada.

Log in or register to post comments

It's hard to verbalize, but here goes...

I try to get a read on a person's personality well before they're in front of the camera.
What do we have in common?
Music? Movies? Sports? Craft beer?
Okay, no one has ever said craft beer... but here's hopin'! ;)

Sometimes I can't find anything specifically (maybe s/he's shy or not much of a talker)... in those cases, I look for reactions to what I'm doing or saying and run with whatever works. Self-deprecating humor often works... it shows that you're relaxed enough in front of them to let your guard down... and usually they'll do the same.

I find it incredibly beneficial to get to meet someone I haven't worked with for a coffee and a chat well in advance of any shoot, in an informal relaxed environment like a cafe for this very reason. It's not always possible of course, but when it is, the difference when it comes to shooting and in the final results, is definitely noticeable.

I always liked to do that to until a friend of mine, who was also a model, mentioned that from her point of a view when a photographer asks to meet for coffee first she thinks of it as them making her go out on a "date" with them before the shoot and that it really puts her off wanting to work with the photographer. She told me many of her model friends complained about the same thing so I've stopped doing it. I think with certain models it can be super helpful and if they ever ask I always say yes but I've stopped asking models I don't know to meet for coffee before shoots for that reason.

PS: The exception to that rule is when the stylist or makeup artist is also attending the meeting so its not 1 on 1.

When working with a model I haven't shot with before, I generally choose the wardrobe/set which I like least to start the shoot. It takes time for the model to get accustomed to the photographer and vice versa. More often then not I get the best/genuine expressions and best overall shots at least 30 minutes after I start shooting with the model. So it also takes some time.

Tell them WHY you are asking them to do something and they'll feel less awkward about the sometimes weird poses we put them in. Like "could you lift your chin, I want to get the sparkle in your eyes." In keeping with the theme of the article, you can also throw in a compliment with it and say "could you lift your chin, I want to make sure we get plenty of sparkle in your eyes so everyone can what a beautiful brown they are."

And definitely NEVER say anything about butts or breasts. You have to treat them like the precious living sculptures they are.

Thanks for the article. There are some great tips there. I agree that it is so important to click with the model and I found that one of the best ways is to ask the model about her dreams and hopes as to her modelling career. How did she get into modelling and why? Does she have any long term goals? This can spark a conversation about her dreams which she will be passionate about and will relax her because you are taking a genuine interest in her future.