Five Tips for Getting the Best from a Model

The relationship between a photographer and a model can have its challenges — particularly when one or both are early in their careers. New models, for example, generally must work in front of the camera for a while before they become aware of their body, hands, lighting and facial expressions.

Photographers have things to learn also — starting with the type of model they want to shoot. There are many types of models, such as fashion, commercial, hand/foot and fitness. If you want a high-fashion look, for example, don’t go with a fitness model who might appear too muscular for the delicate flow and softness that you want to depict.

If you begin each photo shoot with a clear objective and an open line of communication, in time you will discover models that you love to work with, and who love to work with you. To help make your models feel comfortable and to get the best from them on assignments, here are five tips to incorporate in your shoots:

1. Use Tear Sheets

Prior to shoot day, dig through all types of magazines and rip out the pages that illustrate an atmosphere, pose or makeup that you like. For models, tear sheets are a great way to capture a mood and demonstrate what you might have in mind. They can depict creative new poses and facial expressions that tell your story.

When working with a new makeup artist or stylist, tear sheets ensure that you are all on the same page. You can show a makeup artist whether you want a natural look, smoky eyes or old Hollywood glamour, for example.

For stylists, tear sheets demonstrate the look you are going for, so they know what types of clothes to pull for a shoot. If you’re not using a stylist, the tear sheets will allow your model to dig through her closet and come prepared with a variety of wardrobe options. (As a side note, make sure your model is prepared with the proper undergarments and shoes.)

2. Get Creative Help

While models are often asked to bring their own wardrobe options and do their own hair and makeup, I strongly encourage you to hire a makeup artist and stylist if you can afford the extra cost. It will take your shoot up several notches in quality.

The problem I had as a model doing my own hair and makeup was that I wasn’t as experienced and didn’t have all the tools a makeup artist and hair stylist had. I pretty much had one way to do my makeup and only a few ideas on how to do my hair. This is fine if you want a look that is natural and captures the model as they are — but if you want a shoot that is dynamic, I don’t recommend relying on your model to do anything more than pose.

A model might not be aware if her hair is sticking up in the wrong place; this means the photographer has to stop the creative process and step in to fix the hair. It makes it a bit awkward for the model. She also might be nervous that she didn’t apply her makeup evenly.

A wardrobe stylist, meanwhile, will ensure that clothing is not too wrinkled and fits in all the right places.

If you want a variety of looks and peace of mind, get a makeup artist, hair stylist and wardrobe stylist. This allows the model to focus on their body positions and facial expressions. To save money, often you can find a makeup artist who does hair and wardrobe as well.

3. Give Models Encouragement and Direction

Models need feedback — but don’t talk down to them. If a model is doing something you like, let them know. If you don’t like something, don’t just say its not working; offer a solution.

When directing a model, be aware of these five things:

Hand positioning — Make sure your model positions her hands in a way that is natural and not awkward. Watch out for “the claw.”

Face positioning –- A good trick is to have the model stick her face out just a little, as it makes the neck look long and lean. Also, watch for the eyes. You don’t want the model looking so far off that you see more whites than iris.

Body positioning — An old modeling trick is to turn the torso slightly to the side, creating a slimming effect. Watch out for slumping or forced positions that cause distortions.

Facial expressions — Let the model know whether to look bashful, sexy, melancholy or laugh out loud funny.

Lighting — Let the model know where the light is and the general area in which you want them to work.

4. Show the Results

Between looks, show your model some of the shots. This allows them to quickly see what is working and what is not. When they prepare for their next shot, they can think about what to do better or how to be different. Digital photography is a blessing.

5. Set Up the Story

If you are seeking to capture a specific energy or mood, it helps the model to create a back story. This way, they can get into a precise mindset and discover their emotions naturally. A storyline encourages the model to explore new ideas and find poses that don’t appear forced. It creates a natural flow of thoughts and direction for trying new ideas.

In practice, you may not be able to apply all of these tips in every situation. But whatever the assignment, remember to have clear objectives and clear communication. Know what it is you are looking for. Help the model to find the appropriate emotion. Then, let them live in that moment and capture it.

[Photos by Fadil Barisha for Jovani]

[tags]Larissa Meek, modeling, photography assignments, photography tips[/tags]

5 Responses to “Five Tips for Getting the Best from a Model”

  1. Hi Larissa:

    I have a niece that is interested in the modeling field and I have passed your address on to her. Her Mother my sister, is trying to provide guidance to the youg lady. I enjoy your site so keep me posted.

  2. All of these are useful- and to be thrown out the window.
    You can get amazing shots by embracing reality- the ugly hair, the lack of makeup, the awkward poses.

    It depends on what you want to see.
    Weakness can become the greatest strength if you ride it all the way through.

    Freefall sometimes turns into flight, but you have to be willing to take a risk.

    Will tearsheets allow you that freedom?

  3. Good article. I completely disagree with Alex's comment. Ugly hair? Yeah, right. That won't sell. Making a story and guiding your model is ideal.

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