It staggers me how little the input of a great model can be valued. It's even more bewildering when this negligence comes from new and/or improving photographers! I will say with no doubt that the biggest influence on me having any clue what I am doing with my camera and myself on a photoshoot comes almost entirely from working with amazing, and just as importantly, honest models.
I am not sure if the issue is insecurity or ignorance or something else for that matter, but who better to discuss the subject of how to get the most from your shoot with a model, than the models themselves! This was definitely an eye-opening experience!
So I asked several very prolific and experienced models from differing genres and who work within different markets for their opinions on what photographers of all abilities can do to improve themselves and their work. What are they most commonly doing wrong and how is it hindering their own, or the models ability to produce the best work.
I will not be naming these models for more than obvious reasons and I would like to state that all of the forthcoming advice and opinions have been offered up by models (both male and female) asked one simple question;
What is the most common mistake made by photographers you have worked with?
So let's dive into these answers...
- Fatigue & freeze:
Holy shit did this one come up a lot. All varying degrees of the same complaint. The photographer is cosily working away in is warmest duck-down coat with a thermos of coffee whilst expecting the model to work uninterrupted for vast periods of time in the freezing cold, usually wearing nothing close to what is appropriate. Even when the temperature is a little more model friendly, it may be worth keeping in mind that models do tend to be human and could occasionally do with being fed and watered (or at least be allowed time feed and water themselves). Some things that would help with this are;
1. Getting to know your gear, so you aren't faffing whilst they are freezing!
2. Maybe not wrapping up so warm whilst expecting the model to suffer in next to nothing. I make sure I am always experiencing the elements as much as the model, it makes me work faster and builds a sense of togetherness and compassion!
3. Save the summer shoots for the 3 days of summer that we actually get in the UK!
- Rush hour:
Adopt the considered approach. Rather than machine-gunning 3k+ frames of as many lighting setups and styling changes as you can fit in just to get "value for money", try making every shot count. Every model that brought this up gave me a sense that they just get so demotivated and down about a creative experience becoming nothing more than a numbers game! A disinterested or demotivated model will show in the images and as one model put it; "I can't understand wanting tons of average or worse images over a few vastly better images"! So what can be done?
1. Have a rough idea of what you want to achieve before the shoot starts and try to communicate this as best you can with the model! (More on this later!)
2. Don't panic! Easier said than done, yes, but it's actually really simple to learn this behaviour. Take a moment before, during and after each set to look through and discuss the ideas and images with the model. Not only will this slow you down, but you'll get wonderful amounts of input into how the shots could be improved!
- Secret secrets help no-one:
Sounds a strange one but stay with me on this. Almost every model talked in some part about the photographer either having no idea what they wanted to achieve or (and possibly worse) expecting the model to telepathically learn the mood, theme, expectations and framing of everything without so much as a disgruntled disapproving shrug from their apparent colleague. In addition to this, there were MANY(!!!) complaints that expectations of levels were either purposefully or ignorantly withheld until the eleventh hour as it were. What to do? Well, let's start;
1. Informing the model of as much information as we can. Working levels, expectations for posing, styling, expression and so on.
2. Show them the back of the bloody camera. Don't expect them to know the frame they are within or how the lighting looks. Work together for goodness sake!
This just sucks to even have to discuss, but it applies to everyone from new, amateur photographers all the way up the food chain. It's 2017 and it is really depressing to read so many people talking about being spoken to like an idiot or like they are a piece of property. IT'S 2017 FOR FUCKS SAKE!
1. Manners cost nothing. They usually also result in better working relationships, shockingly.
2. The more someone resents you, the less they will be willing to give any effort or understanding and that will effect the main reason for anyone being there, the image!
- Inappropriate language:
I cannot even begin to understand how this is still an issue for some people to understand. Did I mention it's 2017...
When speaking about parts of the body, there are words that work substantially better than others to not only communicate your point, but also allow the model some dignity. Why that option wouldn't be taken is beyond me, but hey, it apparently is demonstrably not the way for some. So, in short;
1. Yes: Shoulders/hips/chin/eyes/legs etc.
2. No: tits/arse/pussy/fanny/fat etc.
3. This applies to social media and photo comments, don't make others uncomfortable and yourself look like a joke!
- Silence is the enemy:
I am a quiet photographer! I don't shut up most of the rest of the time, but when my camera is to my face, I am very quiet. Silence can be very off-putting and create a sense of things not going well. Being in front of a camera takes a tremendous amount of confidence even for a veteran model. When shooting, have some music playing. Loud enough help instil the mood, but not too loud that direction goes unheard.
1. Play music that matches the mood of the shoot, i.e. uptempo music for edgier fashion, soft music for more sultry or thoughtful expression.
2. Keep the positivity flowing by assuring the model as you go.
- Inadvertent insult:
So this one is actually really an important one to bear in mind. A few of the models I have heard from have pointed out that on several occasions a photographer will be chatting nonchalantly about another model or a even a celebrity and make disparaging remarks. The interesting thing is, often the photographers comments will accidentally but directly insult the model they are talking too. Either insulting their looks, their previous work or, in one case, their lack of accomplishments.
Here's one story...
"I was shooting with a really lovely photographer for the second or third time, we'd never had a previous issue of any sort. Half way through he started taking about how any model who isn't with an agency is just an "Instagram whore" and too lazy to get a real job. I informed him I wasn't agency signed and actually work really hard at what I do. We haven't shot together since."
- DO NOT TOUCH:
I am just going to leave this quote here...
"...touching the model without asking, most professional models won’t mind when it’s a hair or a piece of clothing etc. ,We know not everyone is a pervert and it’s all about the shoot but generally we don’t like it and big no when your nude modelling. I once had a ‘photographer’ put his hands on me to try and pose me while I was semi-nude on the floor without asking, If you can’t commutate what you want, sit and have a chat with the model to discuss, show her some images of poses you do want etc., don’t physically touch her especially when she is nude. You’re a stranger; she doesn’t know you and touching her could be seen as sexual/creepy."
- No means no-confidence:
Nothing can be more demanding on the model than to be working hard to get the images the photographer wants, only to be shot down with a disrespectful "no" or "thats not good, do something else" or one I've heard on far too many workshops, "thats not working, can you just...". Yes it is vital to communicate how you want things to go and your expectations generally, but when a model is doing her level best only to have her confidence knocked by ill-mannered disapproval, that sucks! Here's how that can be avoided;
1. Don't use negative language, shoot off a couple of frames, and steer the model in the right direction.
2. Say something like, "ok cool, how about we try it with your hair down" or "alright these look great, can we try it like this...". Simple enough to get around and doesn't require anyones feelings to get hurt or confidence to be knocked!
Give the model a space to call her own. Don't go in the dressing room unless asked, its just poor form. Obviously this applies tenfold when you both know full well he/she's changing! Interrupting someones personal space is rude, creepy and often down right threatening! I'll just leave another quote here...
"I once had a ‘photographer’ ask me why I am changing behind the screen when he has already seen me naked….creepy."
- Control freak:
I can totally understand that everyone will have their own style and personality when it comes to directing the model. As previously stated, I am a very quiet shooter. I use small phrases or express basic moods to get my point across. For others a more detailed directional approach may work best. But a common theme with the advice I was offered from models for this was an issue with micro managing a models posing and expression. Many said that the more they were controlled down to the last detail, the less the shots worked and the more enthusiasm the model lost for the set. Now i know that the inevitable comment will come from you that, if the model is less experienced, they will need the help. OK, but would I have asked less experienced models to advise photographers on something they are still finding their feet in? Nope.
Here's one of many quotes I could have posted here...
"I'd say overdirecting and overcontrolling the poses. I really feel that when I have the freedom to pose and get into a flow then that helps when creating great images. If the photographer spends too long forcing you into a particular pose and micro managing then it can become stale and can end up feeling restrained"
And here are a few honourable mentions...
- Models talk to each other, a bad reputation is nothing to be proud of!
- Booking a model for a genre that they don't suit i.e. a fashion model for a glamour shoot etc.
- Making politically, racially or generally discriminative comments.
- ver complimenting to the point of it becoming uncomfortable and personal.
- Thinking that owning a lot of gear makes the photographer any better/more impressive.
- Bashing other photographers work. (This was common and the definitely didn't seem to impress those that mentioned it.)
- Persisting on a request for something the model wasn't comfortable doing.
- Having a mismatched portfolio/no consistency in their work meant that the model would be less inclined to want to work with them.
- Obsessing over followers, likes, online awards, comments.
I just want to say a massive thank you to all of the models who gave up time to offer advice. It may seem some of these are difficult to swallow or even wrong. But I would urge any and all photographers to take these points on board and think about how they can be utilised to improve your work and your working methods!
What do you think? Do you have any that could be added to the list? Let me know in the comments.
I will be writing a blog in response to this, asking photographers their thoughts and advice for models, should be interesting...