Internet Models and Me: One Photographer’s Misadventures

A few weeks ago, I got a phone call from Playboy. It was Friday at 4:30 p.m. — and they wanted to see four nude images by Monday.

I don’t normally shoot nudes. I had been a photojournalist for more than 20 years and most of my subjects preferred to keep their clothes on. But I figured, “Why not?” So I began searching for a model.

The first Web site I thought to try — albeit with some hesitancy — was a popular Internet modeling site. It was a site with which I had become familiar.

Googling for Models

Sometime back I had a project for which I needed a model. I typed the word “model” into a search engine and got a zillion hits. One of these was a modeling site that seemed to be loaded with talent.

You could search for models by gender, state, height, eye color and much more. It was full of pretty girls who were short, tall, thin, not-so-thin, tattooed, pierced, smart, clear-skinned, opinionated. (There were men, too.)

I became a member. I have since discovered some great photographers on the site, and learned a few new tricks in the forums. I have met some quality models, too.

But I also have learned that, like the moon, the site has a dark side.

I’ve found a lot of models who want to get paid for their time, but few willing to pay the photographer for shooting their portfolios. The photographers often end up paying the models and giving them the pictures. P.T. Barnum’s words regarding the birthrate of suckers come to mind.

Gurus and Charlatans

And while I have found some knowledgeable folks in the site’s forums, the gurus are often outshouted by the charlatans.

For example, I recently read the wisdom of one 25-year-old expert offering to critique models’ “ports and profiles.” A line around the cyberblock formed, and after a quick review one model was given a grade of A-. Apparently, this was not because of the out-of-focus image with the light stand and cord in it, but because she was not smiling enough in her pictures. (My wife pointed out that “models” who do not smile often have crooked teeth.)

Over time, I realized that this modeling site was populated by people who would rather take easy advice from strangers than learn the hard facts about issues such as copyright. The forums are full of misinformation that people routinely follow. Discussions often devolve into personal quarrels, until a moderator is forced to intervene and put everyone in timeout.

The quarrels can be truly absurd. God help you, for example, if you don’t like Alien Bees lighting equipment. If they could, some of this site’s members would take a swing at you for making a critical comment about Alien Bees. I’ve seen forums locked because someone asked advice about lighting and all hell broke loose.

Booking an Internet Model

Now, as for the quality of the models on the site, I can only speak from my experience in shooting a few of them. I offer the following two pieces of advice when booking Internet models from this or any other site:

    1. Weed out the “models” who just want to play dress up before you shoot, or you will have more on your hands than you bargained for.

    2. Check the model for a valid ID to confirm who she is and have her sign a model release. In fact, photograph her with the ID and the signed release. Then photograph the release itself, so that it stays with the images on your hard drive.

To further enlighten you, let me share a couple of anecdotes.

One day a photographer asked me if I wanted to assist him on an out-of-town shoot. He told me to find an Internet model and shoot, too. We all agreed to meet at 5 a.m. and ride in his jeep to the location.

My “model” was 40 minutes late and 30 pounds heavier than she had stated on her profile. This might be OK for a driver’s license photo, but it was going to make my job difficult. There is a difference between a model who is plus-size and one who is simply overweight.

To make matters worse, she insisted on stopping for breakfast and inhaling two breakfast burritos and some sausage on the way.

During the shoot, despite proclaiming that she did not do nude work, she tossed off her top without prompting. Two days later, she demanded her pictures from me.

On another occasion, I was in Phoenix, shooting down the street from the Mormon temple and across the street from the mayor’s office. It had taken two days to get a photo permit.

My wife and I had to plead with the “model” I had booked to keep her clothes on. She thought it would be fun to get naked right there in front of God and country.

On yet another occasion, I was shooting three models in a downtown alley when they started getting a little too sexy with one another. Taking pictures is not a crime, but soon the cops were there and wanted to know why a middle-aged fat guy was hanging out in this alley with these amorous young women.

They did not buy my “painting with light” story, and the next thing I knew they were frisking me and checking for warrants. They asked how I knew these girls, and I said I had met them on the Internet. You can imagine how that went over.

At that point, I decided to cut back on booking Internet models. It’s kind of like walking barefoot in a yard where a big dog lives. You need to watch where you step.

My Playboy Shoot

All of this should help explain my hesitancy in turning to an Internet modeling site to find my model for Playboy.

Then again, it was Friday afternoon and I figured you can’t throw a rock on one of these sites without hitting a woman who wants to pose for Playboy. So, with the clock ticking, I decided to start throwing rocks.

I put out a casting call and almost immediately landed a makeup artist. She offered to lend a hand in finding a model. But the Internet modeling site came up empty; the only candidate who applied quickly enough looked like she had never seen an issue of Playboy — or the inside of a gym.

I ultimately booked a model who was a fitness instructor and had always wanted to pose for Playboy. She worked hard and posed naturally. She was a joy to work with.

And where did I find her?


10 Responses to “Internet Models and Me: One Photographer’s Misadventures”

  1. I'm not sure I'd look on facebook for a model, but after this story, why not? I am on OMP and MM, and keep tabs with the local photographers and models, often at social/networking events.

    Yes, we all have stories. Thanks Tony for sharing this one... But this doesn't sound like how Playboy operates... They pick a photographer but not the subject? They pick a photographer without a large portfolio of nudes? I'd like to hear the backstory on this one... (and how did they find you?)

  2. Is "shoot nudes" the new, PC way of saying "become a pornographer"? Is that what we say now so it doesn't seem so disgusting? You should be ashamed of yourself.

  3. This is hysterical. Thanks for the read, Tony.

  4. When Manet did it, they called it "painting nudes." Is that just Manet's sleazy way of avoiding being called a pornographer, JDD?

  5. @Duane Stevens, Playboy advertised for their upcoming reality series. They said to send in non-nude images and a resume. I thought I'd never hear from them again. Four days later they asked for a video taped interview. Then every couple of days they wanted something new. My Web stats showed that they had been on my Web site 4 times. I have no nude images there. Late one Friday I got the call. Did I make the show? No. I think they went with someone who is cool.

  6. I've som e of the nicest and people on facebook, yet also in alleys. Coincidences, I think not.

  7. Not only are you making money off exploiting women, you also portray them as fat idiots. Who would want to model for you ??

  8. No Shelley, not all women are fat idiots - only you!
    The sexy ones can stay!

  9. You have to love women' libbers - when women strip for you without warrant - you're exploiting THEM! I suppose Tony spent his whole life just for that moment. Never mind the professional equipment, talent in photography - not to mention talent in writing. Anyway, I've worked with pro models and scummy chicks - and it's good to know there are both kinds available, because some jobs require just a body - others require a talented individual. Photography is a business just like any other, some people belong in the mailroom forever - others will progress. It's sad to see so many disillusioned models on some of these sites. At least a photographer has to make some investment to even be mediocre. When a model isnt good at being a model, and is basically a 'stripper', she does a disservice to a pro photographer's time, especially when she asks to be paid for her non-professional manner. On one side, there are 'strippers' and 'sleazy photographers', true, but on the other side are professional and talented models AND photographers - let's not confuse the two sides. Thanks for being honest in your experiences Tony!

  10. This is just funny.

    I love reading about the wacky experiences photographers have.

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