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Find and photograph your first model

I've recently been contacted by several photographers, including Tony Kieu, my cousin in Australia, wanting to start taking photograph of models but just don't know where to start with. As most of us at the beginning, they started to take portraits asking their wife or a family members to pose for them, then, after a little (or big) while both parties can sometimes start to loose interest and the photographer just wants to get into something more challenging: photographing a model.

Taking pictures of a friend, of your wife or of a family member is something easy. It's a person you're going on well with so it's easier to be open and do some crazy things. Meeting and photographing a stranger is something else. For a lot of photographers it can be a really big challenge which can get worse with the time if they don't make the jump and try it.

Hopefully, with the help of the Internet, you can prepare and liaise with models online which makes it easier to arrange a meetup for a photo session.

A first difficulty is to find that someone and convince him/her to pose for you. The difficulty is actually not to find that someone. Finding someone to photograph is just a matter of going out and ask a person in the street. And you will be surprised that most of the time people won't decline your invitation and if you get a denial then what? Just go and give it a try. The difficulty is yourself, in your head! As this is your first time you will lack of self confidence and think you are not good enough, you will be afraid of what those strangers would think about you, be afraid of a London security guard or police officer would come to you and ask what you are doing (I'm a photographer not a terrorist). This lack of self-confidence is the biggest obstacle for you to deal with. But if you make up your mind and decide to give it a go, you may get a nice surprise. See this video from photographer Clay Enos:

Now if you really are not ready for this and your nerves are starting to crack just by the thought of going out the streets and ask strangers then there is an easier way to get a model. The internet is one of the best invention ever, it allows people from around the world to get in touch with each. Websites such as ModelMayhem.com or PureStorm.com are social networking websites that bring photographers, models and make up artists (mua) together. I started that way with ModelMayhem.com (my MM account, add me as your contact), not that I wasn't confident enough to go on the street, but at the time that did not even hit my mind that I could go there and find people to pose for me...

I can imagine you are thinking "models?! huh, but... I can't afford one! And even if I could I'm not experienced enough to direct one..." Well, again, you are under-estimating yourself. Never look down on yourself! Just give it a go it will be a great experience anyway. Can't afford one? Some models listed on those websites are also beginners, some have never met a photographer and are dying to find one, but all of them will sooner or later need to update their portfolio and can't afford a pro photographer. You need a model, a model needs you so why not help each other? That what it is commonly called TFP (Time For Prints) or (Time For CD). This basically means a collaboration between a photographer, a model and a MUA giving out their time for free in order to get some images they can use for self-promotion. Few things to remember:

  • you lack of experience? Your model may lack of it as well. But working together and get the first photo session will help boosting your self-confidence. And you are not bound to some contracts and needs to deliver top level work for your first photo shoot. The objective is to gain experience. That was my case with my first model Abdul Rehman.
  • don't avoid professional models though. Some of them might need some update to their portfolio and a pro model experience is invaluable, he/she will make your work easier. It happened to me as I met Sky Bliss. Sky contacted me asking if I would like to take some pictures of him, I was so impressed of his work but I did not chickened out and accepted the invitation. And that was a great decision. Beside being a great model, Sky was a great person. He knows what he is doing and does it great. He never treated me as a beginner but knowing my lack of experience he guided and advised me during the whole photo shoot, I learned a lot and I'm very grateful.

Right, you've fought your fears and decided to jump for the adventure. You have contacted a model you like and hopefully he/she has accepted your invitation. Now what? First thing is to decide a date, time and location. You don't have to own or hire a studio. The world is full of great locations for you to shoot. Try to find a place with not too much people around to avoid disturbance. But don't go to some too isolated place either, you might scare the model (remember that you don't know each other).

Few tips:

  • very important is to show confidence so that the model is also confident and calm, especially if the model is a beginner too. The more confident and calm the model the better he/she will look in the pictures.
  • be professional. By this I mean be respectful with the other person, be on time, be friendly and smile. Consider this as a professional assignment.
  • before the photo shoot, go sit down for a coffee and get to know each other, share pictures from previous works (if you do have any), try to know the personality of your model. Be cheerful.
  • during the photo shoot, make the model be comfortable by being calm yourself, giving positive feedback. Even if your shot is crap, just say it is great and shoot some more frames to correct your mistake. Without feedback or with only negatives ones (even not directed to them) they won't know what is happening, if it was their fault or because they don't look good. All those questions in their head will make things go worse, they will start to get nervous and tensed and your images will start to degrade.
  • talk, talk, talk. Don't be silent. Be full of energy because this energy will be absorbed by the model who will in turn reflect it back to the image and to yourself in a circle.
  • when directing the pose, try not to radically change a pose. Get a pose, and slowly change bit by bit. See what needs to be changed to get a better one. I strongly advise you to watch other photographers' photo shoot videos and see how they direct. One of my favorite is Damien Lovegrove, his instructional DVDs are very inspiring.
  • when you get a great shot, let the model know. Don't show the image right away, take some couple more frames trying to make the shot even better. One mistake is getting a good pose, an interesting mood from the model, the perfect lighting and get so excited that you break the moment to show the picture. You have broken the flow and once you've showed the picture you may not be able to recreate the same situation. So calm down, quickly analyze the picture and see if it can be improved: is the background good? nothing is sticking out of the model's head? does her outfit or hair need to be corrected? etc... then shoot some more shots before showing them to the model and compliment him/her that way she will know what you are looking for and how to get better.
  • don't forget to ask the model to change outfit if she did bring more than one, you might be so concentrated in your work and end up with the same outfit and look. This is also good for the model and you to have a little break.
  • don't forget to reposition yourself, change angle (shoot higher, lower etc..) stop for few seconds to look around you and see if there isn't somewhere else that could work great.
  • if it's your first time or the model's first time then it can be stressful and you will get tired quickly. So my advice is not to have a too long session. 2 hours should be enough.
  • don't forget to Google for some model release templates and have the model sign a copy. This to protect yourself and the model.
  • if you liked the model, offer to organize another session. Of course you will send the pictures of the day before that 2nd session. Now that you've done a shoot together, seen the resulting work, a second session can be a bit longer if you wish.

I've found few videos that might help you with on how to pose a model:

I hope this will help you. If you have any question please use the comment section below.


Very useful

Very interesting post, thanks for writting it!

Thanks for the post

I found the video really beneficial.

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