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Photographers new to working with models

By Russ Freeman, written 1363200717


  • Improve your skills by finding a mentor or getting some photography tuition.
  • Work with professional models to gain experience and a valuable portfolio.
  • Be polite and courteous when contacting models. No txt spk.
  • Know what you want before you try to arrange a shoot or push the shutter button.
  • Be clear and concise in your communications.
  • Getting no reply to your work offer essentially means "No thank you" so move on. Don't argue.
  • Don't touch the model without permission or make lewd comments - remember modelling is their job so behave like photography is yours too even if it's your hobby.
  • Make sure, prior to the shoot, everyone knows what is expected and everything is agreed.
  • Now...start arranging shoots and create some fabulous images!

Also, check out How to Start Working with Models - Tips & Advice for Photographers posted on The Purple Blog. This guide is perfect for photographers who are new to working with models, with practical tips and advice to help you get started in the model-photography industry. 

Improving skills

If you’re new to working with models and your only experience has been shooting landscapes and the occasional holiday snap of friends or relatives then the first thing you probably need to do is improve your photography skills.

Light and composition are fundamental to your images no matter what the content but when shooting people, whether portraits or full nude, your skills at managing light and creating interesting compositions will be key.

Our advice is either to use the Search feature of PurplePort and find a local mentor who is willing to help you or to seek out tuition. There are plenty of talented photographers on PurplePort, and elsewhere, that provide tuition courses on every aspect of photography and it’s a great investment in you.

There are also plenty of books available that will help you. A post in Photography Chat asking for advice is sure to yield some helpful comments.

Whilst you're learning it's a good idea to take notes of your lighting schemes and camera settings. These can be invaluable later when you are trying to reproduce a previous successful shot or build on a failure by trying to correct it.

Practice makes perfect. Don't restrict yourself to just shooting models. Take your camera everywhere you go and take pictures of just about anything and anyone. Don't worry if they are terrible. You'll get there eventually. Just keep practising!

Accepting your limitations and working with them

Sadly not every photographer has a portfolio of images that models aspire to have in their portfolio. Accepting this can help reduce knockbacks and rejection, and will help you to progress.

All professional models have to make a living and it’s a simple fact of life that professional models will work trade/collaboration/TF with you ONLY if you will improve their portfolio. Understanding that, and the fact that a model’s portfolio gains them paid work, will make your life easier. It’s something to aim for. 

Until you have a portfolio of stunning images you will have to pay models, and make-up artists, for their time. Don’t skimp, hire the best you can. After all you have paid hundreds if not thousands for your camera equipment so why skimp on one of the most important aspects of your images; the subject!

Working with professional models also almost completely eliminates the likelihood of the model not showing up. That’s not to say hobbyist models who don’t charge you won’t show up but when someone is doing it for a living they tend to want to work with you. It’s common sense.

Don’t be afraid to contact fabulous professional models and ask for a shoot. It’s their job and they will generally be happy to discuss it.

One of the benefits of working with, and paying, professional models is that you don't need to deliver any images. This massively reduces the pressure associated with a shoot and of course frees you up to both experiment with photography and focus on it much more.

Finding models to work with

If you are new to model photography try not to jump straight in to nude or adult shoots. Most people take a dim view of this. Instead start off by taking portraits, headshots. Move on to beauty shots by hiring a MUA...and go from there. You'll learn a LOT about communicating with models during shoots, lighting, post processing and practically everything to do with shooting with people plus you'll develop some essential skills that can be used with family and friends too.

Use the Search function of PurplePort to find models to work with - it's very powerful. Take a look at the Casting Calls section, set up a notification to get emails for model casting calls or create a casting call yourself. If you do create a casting call then don't be shy with details. Be as specific as you can about what you want to achieve with the shoot, how long it's for and what compensation is offered.

Also, use the Studio Days and Events group to find studio days to attend. These can be great opportunities to work with fabulous models and meet other photographers in a comfortable environment. Usually the studio owner is on hand to help set up lights and help with ideas - attending a single studio can be a massive boost for both your confidence and knowledge and is great for networking. Studio Days are also often advertised in Casting calls. Look out for the studio days where you get 1-to-1 opportunity to work with the model(s).

Contacting models

It goes without saying that you should be polite but it really needs to be emphasised. A polite, well written message will go a lot further than an abrupt and badly written one.

If your shoot proposal is rejected move on. No need to labour the point or try to persuade the other party that they are wrong.

If you don’t get a reply to your message or shoot proposal then consider no reply to be “no thanks” and move on.

Don’t use txt spk. Do use a spell checker. Use paragraphs. Read your message at least twice to ensure it makes sense. There is nothing worse than an incoherent message.

Be specific about your shoot ideas. Models absolutely love being prepared and you telling them what you would like to shoot is all that’s needed. It allows them to bring or buy props or outfits for the shoot. It also allows them to decline the offer of a shoot before the day rather than turning up and you telling them your shoot ideas only to find they don’t wish to shoot them!

Tell the model the date, time and duration of the shoot. Describe what you would like to shoot and what props/outfits you’d like them to bring. If you aren’t hiring a MUA do mention it or ask if the model can competently do their own hair and make-up. Ask for rates.

Try to avoid euphemisms such as “babe” or “hun”. Be professional in how you communicate. Find first names where possible.

Do not try to take communications offsite to email, MSN or Facebook. It’s often looked on as suspicious and if something goes wrong with the shoot or the pre-shoot communications and there is a dispute we can’t do anything about off site communications and will not accept it as evidence.

When the shoot is booked and terms agreed swap telephone numbers. This is for emergencies only. Do not call your model to chat about the weather, don’t text asking how they are. It’s for emergencies only and once the shoot is done generally you’ll have no need for it.

Chaperones and studios

If you are new and have no references to check then many models will want to feel safe when shooting with you.

There are fundamentally two ways to help a model feel safe; Book a studio or allow a chaperone on the shoot.

Booking a studio is incredibly easy. Either search for one or, which is quite likely, your chosen model will know of some you can use.

Allowing a chaperone on a shoot can be troublesome as sometimes they can interfere with a shoot but if you have no references it may be the only way you'll get to shoot with models.

Always discuss whether a chaperone will be allowed prior to the shoot and what their role will be. They can be very handy for carrying things, making tea and holding reflectors, and they may only drop off and pick the model up. As long as everything is agreed beforehand then everyone should be happy.

If shooting under 18's then a parent/guardian must be present.

Shooting with models

Behaviour - be on your best 100% of the time - models talk, in fact everyone does. The model/photography community is relatively small and gossip/news spreads fast.

When talking to a model, or anyone you are working with (because you should consider it working even if it’s just a hobby), talk to them in the same way as you might a boss or a customer. Sleazy or lewd comments very rarely go down well.

Touching is a touchy subject. It’s fine to move a label or brush some hair out of the way if and only if it’s prefixed with “Do you mind if I...”. Launching in and grabbing hands, feet, tucking in labels or any touching without warning will very likely earn you an instant bad reputation.

Shoot levels need to be clearly defined before the shoot. If you have agreed to shoot lingerie then that’s what you’re shooting up to. Asking if the model minds getting nude for a shot or two, especially if the model doesn’t advertise they shoot nude, is level-pushing and will again earn you an instant bad reputation. If the model suggests it during the shoot then it’s your decision.

Basics of creating good shots

Aside from the basics of good photography - focus, managing light/exposure, composition - which are all fairly easy to grasp - the number one thing that will help you get good shots is having a clear idea of what you want to achieve in the first place.

It’s no good turning up to a shoot with a model and having no idea what you want. A clear idea, with inspiring/mood images will help you achieve good shots, and help you to improve shoot after shoot, more than any other single thing.

Sure, some people are good enough to just turn up and get awesome shots but if you’re new, and you wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t, then you will benefit enormously and see continuous improvements time and time again if you know exactly what you want achieve before you push the shutter.

It’s better to be good than lucky as a photographer otherwise you’ll waste a lot of money on kit, studio hire and hiring models, and you’ll waste a lot of great opportunities for awesome shots by just hoping you will get great images!

Post processing your images

Post processing refers to editing your images after the shoot.

It’s a popular topic for debate with people mistakenly falling into two basic categories; Those that like it and those that don’t.

It’s a mistake to assume that back in the day when shooting large format onto glass plates there was no editing. Many of the tools we use in digital editing are based on slow, laborious and difficult processes with film and prints.

The short answer to whether you should post process your images is “yes”, always. If you want your images to shine like those you see and would love to shoot then you have to accept this.

Knowing what you want before pushing the shutter, and then later editing your images working towards that goal, helps a lot.

Do fix pimples and anything else you think is wrong. Take your time when editing. There’s no rush.

Don’t try to make a bad shot into a good shot. Accept the failures of the shot, learn from it, and then shoot it again.

There are thousands upon thousands of tutorial videos on YouTube.com for post processing techniques and many more web tutorials. There is no shortage of advice around. Ask in the Photographers Chat group if you struggle.

Shooting TF(P/CD)

TFP/CD - Time for Print/CD. Working on the shoot in exchange for prints/images.

To work this way both parties must gain something. It might be just the experience but mostly it’s for portfolio-worthy images to help both parties promote themselves.

It’s entirely up to you how many images you deliver to your fellow collaborators but you must agree the terms, who gets what and when, before the shoot as everyone will quite likely have different expectations. Read our article about TF expectations and agreements.

It’s up to you how long you take to deliver the images to your fellow collaborators BUT generally speaking if you take longer than 2 weeks then you are doing it wrong. Anything longer than 2 months will likely mean the images are useless for the model and they could have grounds to seek monetary compensation. Anything longer than 2 months or not delivering the images at all will at least earn you a bad reputation within the community.

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