One of the best ways to step up your photographic game as a portrait photographer is to improve the quality of your subjects. There are a variety of ways to do this ranging from improving your ability to coach strong expression, working with better makeup artists, or improving the quality of styling. The easiest method, however, is by working with experienced models who are practiced in interacting with the camera and already know the fundamentals of posing and expression. Finding a strong model to work with means the shoot becomes more of a collaboration that provides you the opportunity to elevate the quality of your work.
It goes without saying that having the highest quality relevant portfolio that you possibly can is a pre-requisite to attracting talented models. That topic is one far beyond the scope of this particular article but just know you should be making sure the model is able to look at your existing work and be able to predict the sort of images he or she will receive in return for shooting with you. That prediction should be a positive one.
1. Offer, Don't Ask
Finding models was never particularly hard for me, even when starting out. I associate this largely with my personal aversion to "asking" for what I want. In life this can be a pretty bad thing in many ways and is something I continually work on. In a nutshell, I always feel incredibly guilty about asking for things. In order to mitigate this, I got in the habit of offering instead of asking when approaching models. Enter each potential collaboration from the point of view that you have something of value that the model would want and structure your approach in the form of offering them that value. "I'd love to offer you a free shoot" is far superior to: "Can I do a photoshoot with you?" This works well because it shifts the point of view from you asking the model for something of value (their time) to offering them something of value (strong portfolio images.) It transforms the request to shoot into a mutual exchange of value where both parties get something they want which is the foundation of any good transaction in a free market.
2. No Ulterior Motives
Unless you are a master snake oil salesman do not even consider using photography as a tool to get something else. (And if you are one, please change, your actions ultimately do harm to the entire community, including you!) When asking a model to shoot you are looking to create amazing images. You are not looking to go on a date. You are not looking to seduce the model for sex. You are not looking to take advantage of the model in any way. You are offering something very honest and leaving any other motives at home. Not only will this ensure that you remain genuine throughout but it will also protect your reputation. We live in an era where a single allegation of misconduct, whether true or false, can obliterate your reputation indefinitely. There is no reason to ever take that risk.
3. Act Like a Pro
While you probably aren't a pro if you are having trouble finding models there is no reason that you can't act as if you are. (This isn't a manipulation technique, don't actually lie.) Acting like a pro means bringing mature professionalism to every interaction with the model. Always appear to be confident in your ability to shoot, even when you are not. Always speak directly and eloquently. No swearing, no crass jokes, and certainly nothing that makes you seem immature. Your goal is to act in a way that the model is able to draw on your confidence and reliability as a source of security. Being a model means voluntarily becoming vulnerable in front of someone you hardly know. That becomes much easier if the photographer is radiating calm solidarity through each interaction.
The best advice is almost always the simplest. Even if you ignore all of the above follow one simple rule: be nice. You have a responsibility to your work to treat each shoot with respect. Focus on making your shoots as professional as possible and you will see undeniable improvements in the quality of work as you will attract creative teams with greater skill to work with. Put yourself in your model's shoes and ask yourself how you would feel most comfortable if you were the one being approached for a shoot. Generally speaking, it isn't hard unless you make it hard.