A Guide To Working With Male Models

A Guide To Working With Male Models

It was something I’d been thinking about for a while. Casually admiring others and how they went about it so naturally. Watching from afar, admiring the differences between them and me and wondering if there every was going to be a day when I was comfortable enough to do it myself. The more I watched, the more interested I became. Soon, I began visiting websites, looking at the photos and day dreaming what it would be like when I had the nerve to do it myself.

When the moment arrived, I was nervous, but I think anyone else would be, too. I mean, it was such a drastic change from what I’d been doing and how people knew me that I was afraid that by admitting my interest was more than just a passing fancy, the change would be too much and my regular circle of friends would no longer accept me. What were people going to think? How would they react? What would my friends and family say when I told them I wanted to shoot male models?

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All kidding and references to decades-old stigmas aside, the decision to work with male models was a bit more difficult than I expected. As it was a pretty decent sized departure from what I’d been shooting, there was a bit a trepidation in setting up my first agency test. But once I got past that first bit of nervousness, I found that it was perhaps one of the easiest and certainly the most rewarding types of shoot I’ve done. In this article, I’ll illustrate how to work with male talent from inspiration and concept development to contacting agencies, wardrobe styling, the importance of working with a groomer, and finally, my post processing technique and why/how they differ from working with female talent. 

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Inspiration (Why Male Models): 

There are many reasons why we do what we do. I choose to shoot Lifestyle because I find it both challenging and especially rewarding because looking through a finished set, I know they’re single moments that, even under the same circumstances, will never happen again. I shoot women’s swimwear because, well, because I uh, love the beach… I chose to shoot with male models because in addition to being a fan of casual male fashion, I find that the photos of men have the ability to tell a story in a much different way than portraits of a woman in that while the story of a woman is in her eyes, the story of a man is written on his face - from the lines,to the scars, to the furrowing of his brow. What you see on their face depicts a much deeper story than what shows up in the frame whereas, in my opinion, a woman’s story is told both through her eyes and through her body language. Shooting males is a challenge and an adventure and it’s something that, even if you’re not specifically shooting fashion per se, I recommend at least trying it from time to time as it’ll sharpen your skills much more than say, not shooting will. 

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Concept: 

In addition to what I talked about above, one of the things I enjoy about shooting males is that doing so allows for the transcendence of time (to some extent). Women’s fashion, makeup, hair styles, all come and go, but the look of a man, for the most part, is somewhat impervious to the changes of time. While clothing certainly comes and goes, the stoicism, strength, and in some cases, the grit has been around forever and, in my opinion, will continue to stay with us long after our current concept of “photography” has evolved into something new. That said, the concepts that I like to plan and shoot with my male models showcase these simple, basic traits. 

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Wardrobe: 

In the case of shooting female models, I’ve always felt it necessary to bring in a stylist and/or have outfits planned/pulled out ahead of time. When I shoot male models, while it certainly does help to have a stylist, I find it much less necessary to have what many would consider a proper wardrobe as shooting in an old v-neck, dirty jeans, a ratty rolled neck sweater, and/or simply shirtless will certainly yield the results I’m looking for (and then some). For me, I was lucky in that I was able to pull some clothes directly from my own wardrobe. 

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Grooming: 

In addition to wardrobe, I find that in most cases, grooming, which is the male equivalent of having a makeup artist for a female model, is unnecessary as often the look I’m going for is that grittiness that comes with natural, unshaven, almost-just-out-of-bed look that some men can pull off almost effortlessly. In the case that you want something a bit more elaborate, it’s important to find one who is at least somewhat familiar with grooming men and/or is interested in learning the sometimes subtle, sometimes not-so-subtle differences between prepping men vs prepping women for camera. 

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The Shoot: Posing

One of the things I like to do when I shoot anyone is to start off with some test shots. I find these useful for a few reasons, but mostly because it tends to break any tension that may exist. In addition within those first few shots, I’m testing out my models ability to act in front of the camera as well as deciding which direction to push and which direction to abandon. john-schell-lifestyle-mens-fashion-dylan-caleb-white

In posing, I find that with men, unless they’re super high fashion, the natural poses are often the best posing. In prepping for some of my first men’s shoots, I studied a lot of movie and promotional photography from the 1950s and 60’s because I wanted to capture man at what I felt was his most manliest - Steve McQueen, Robert Duvall, Robert Redford, John Wayne, Sean Connery, Elvis Presley, and of course, James Dean. All that old school bubbling testosterone that I wanted to incorporate into my shoots. I tend to go with poses that are relaxed and natural, as I find they best express the story I’m looking to convey. 

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Lighting: 

If you’ve been following along, you know that the majority of my work is shot in natural light. While I have nothing against off camera lighting and or strobing (no, really), I find that when it comes to male models and men in general, I firmly believe that shooting in natural light is best (your opinion may vary, of course).

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What can I say, I’m a fan of faded black and white. For me, nothing sets the tone quite like it. I don’t usually process too much - I do have some presets that I created in Lightroom, but honestly, they’re nothing too involved. With a little bit of perseverance, you can probably figure them out on your own. 

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Wrap: 

Admittedly, working with male models was not an easy step to take, but it was one that I am happy to have made as I believe it taught me a lot about the way I shoot as well as helping me see the importance of differentiating some of the posing techniques between the men and women that I work with. In addition to that, I was able to get a realistic view at the stigma that some folks like to associate with shooting males. Additionally, in doing so, I forced myself to question my own initial hesitation, which I thankfully discovered was based on the preconceived ideas of others, and not any real fears of my own.  If it were the case, I would be happy and proud to be considered a photographer who shoots only male models. Thanks for letting me share my experience.

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11 Comments

Great images. I'm sure there's some feminist theory/social commentary on why your standards (mine as well) vary between shooting women vs men, but no one can argue you haven't captured what you set out to capture. Thanks for the article.

Great tips man! I'm working with a male model tomorrow afternoon. I'll definitely take these tips into consideration.

I will say that the beginning of this article was written in such a way that it made me feel awkward haha. I felt like it was a "coming out" kind of article. Not that anything is wrong with someone coming out.. Just saying that it seemed like some of the intro was unnecessary for the rest of the piece. With all that to say, I really enjoyed this post.

Additionally, in doing so, I forced myself to question my own initial hesitation, which I thankfully discovered was based on the preconceived ideas of others, and not any real fears of my own. http://goo.gl/gpKS7D

E Port's picture

If you can invent a sport where half naked hyper-straight men look forward to grabbing each other for 10 minutes (MMA), you can also be excited to shoot male models without feeling insecure. I'd honestly be way more frightened of seeming like a creeper for doing boudoir photography.

Hey John, you got some great images there. I was wondering just where you found this "movie and promotional photography" to pull inspiration from.

John Schell's picture

It was basically just a few well keyworded Google searches for male leads from the 50's and 60's.

Haha, admittedly the first time I shot with a male model (2 weeks ago) I didn't tell anyone until after the fact. My girl friend took one look at the pictures and said, "well I can see why you wanted to shoot with men!" I realized that men who shoot female models must get that all the time. But no one questions when I shoot with female models. (The gender double standards in this business are more than I have experienced in my years in construction).

I like the photos quite a bit. The masculine energy is really strong without being over the top and appeals to both men and women.

Great post... The other great thing about shooting males is that if you are doing a trade shoot and you book four male models, usually all four will show. If you book four women for a tf shoot, you're lucky if two show.

Also, men generally show up and do what you tell them, without being self conscious about the poses or camera angles. A lot of female models, especially new models, always seem to have certain hangups about their body or face that only they seem to notice. So they will say they don't like certain shots that are awesome from a photographers standpoint, because you got their "bad side"

Jon Winkleman's picture

The stigma around shooting male models is both real and absurd. Once in a discussion with photographers about whether or not short men could have a modeling career. I brought up Mark Wahlberg's Calvin Klein ads with Bruce Weber. He is 5'8" and though that is too short for high fashion where designers want a tall lean armature to drape clothes off of, size was less important for underwear, swimsuit and physique modeling.

The immediate response was to dismiss this example because it was a "homo-erotic" campaign ignoring the fact that a topless Kate Moss was in half of the CK images Walhberg shot.

David Vaughn's picture

The thing though is that they have to be a male model or at least have some sort of natural modeling ability (I have dancer friends who are very in tune with their bodies and how they look in certain poses).

What I've noticed is that if you have a male and a female with the same modeling abilities (IE: none), it's generally easier to model the female because she's....less awkward? More comfortable being in front of a camera? Something. Yes, this is a generalization, but it's been my experience. The general population of men are much more "What do I do with my hands?" *shoves them in pockets and stands straight to the camera*

There's also the phenomenon where decently attractive dudes try to emulate what they think being a model looks like (there are a lot of women who fall into this category too). Pouty lips does not a model make.

I wish there was a larger male model population in my area. There are like two smallish modeling agencies but they only cater to female models. I mostly just ask friends who kind of know how to pose (lots of dancer friends)

Yes! Very much so. I don't do shoots with models, but having done senior pictures and photojournalism, I find males are very awkward during photoshoots. I remember one young man in particular who struggled mightily with the simple act of relaxing. I told him just to lean against a wall like he was waiting on class to start. He looked like he was trying with all his might to push the wall down! On the other hand, I did the homecoming photoshoot with the entire female homecoming court, and I didn't even have to give them instructions. They had tons of ideas and pretty much posed themselves.

On the other hand, I have had some vanity issues with female subjects. One woman that I photographed insisted that her hair was thinning (she was only 30) and would only take pictures with a hat on. I also went to take a simple head shot of a local high school girl who had won an academic award, and she asked to see the picture and made me re-shoot it about five times before she decided it was "okay."