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A Guide to Working With Models

If you are interested in portrait photography, then an important element of your shoot is going to be your model. Where to find models, how to approach them and how to work with them on the day are all important lessons to learn before you get started and develop as you grow in this field. Without models, portrait photography wouldn’t really be possible, so being able to work well with others will be an incredibly important tool in your belt and allows you to get the most out of each shoot. Depending on the size of your shoot you may also have stylists and makeup artists involved, being able to work well in these teams so everyone gets what they want from the final images is a skill in itself. In this article I will talk about how I go about my portrait photography, some lessons I’ve learnt along the way and a few tips to help you become a better team player in these situations.

Step one is finding a model, there are many ways to do this but personally, I use Instagram and Facebook the most. There are also websites like Purpleport that are dedicated to putting people together for all sorts of work but most often for portrait photography, personally I don’t use it much but some people get a lot of their work from there. Finding models on Instagram is normally quite easy, just search for a local model hashtag, eg: #manchestermodel, and you will see a whole load of people who are hopefully in your area and consider themselves models. On Facebook, there are often local groups where models and photographers can connect, share work and post casting calls. I have found some success in these groups; they are also a great way to see what other creatives in your area are doing.

Once you’ve found your group of models, through whichever method you prefer, the next step is to reach out to them and suggest working together. Something to note here is are you planning to pay for your models? Or will the shoot be a collaboration? Many models work in this industry full time and will not take on unpaid work, especially with a photographer who is just starting out, as modelling is their main source of income. If you have the budget to hire models and you are wanting people with experience to produce professional quality shoots then you can message these models and ask for their rates. Often they will either be by the hour, by the half day or full day. Travel costs will also be extra so keep this in mind when selecting who to work with. If you don’t have the budget or you don’t want to spend your money when you are just starting out and learning the basics then TFP (time for prints) is the way to go. This is when a model and photographer collaborate on the shoot so no money changes hands and both parties can use the images in their portfolios. This is a great way for new photographers and models to both build up experience and put together a portfolio that will start to attract paying clients. Often on Instagram and in Facebook groups, there will be plenty of models who will be more than happy to shoot TFP as many people are in a similar position and need to get those first few shoots under their belt before they move onto paid work.

To reach out to models you want to be polite and friendly, I normally say something along the lines of ‘how are you doing? I really like your work and was wondering if you would be interested in collaborating on a shoot with me’. If they are interested then I will say that the shoot will be TFP and then work with the model to put together a shoot that we are both happy with. This normally involves sending a few messages back and forth discussing time and location, putting together a mood board on Pinterest and finally selecting outfits. I always tell models to bring more outfits than we need so we have options, it’s better to be over prepared than to realise you don't have enough styles to produce the images you wanted. As I’ve mentioned in my previous post, creating a mood board is incredibly important to the shoot and working on it with the model is a great way for both of you to put together your ideas and plan out exactly what you both want to achieve. When I first started doing this I often didn’t bother with mood boards and it leads to some awkward shoots where you don’t really have a plan, neither of you knows what they should be doing and the outfits aren’t what I had wanted. All of this can be avoided if a proper plan is put in place long before you ever meet and you will find the shoot much easier and the end results much better.

Now that you’ve found your model and have made your plan, it’s time to shoot! On the day you want to make sure you are punctual and if possible arrive at the location early so you can scout around, see how the light looks and finalise in your head what pictures you want to take where. When you meet the model you should be friendly and professional, you are both there to work but you also want to have fun. It is important to spend a bit of time getting to know each other before you start shooting, sit down and have a chat for 5 minutes just to put you both at ease and make the whole situation more comfortable.

Once you have gotten to know each other a bit you can start actually taking pictures. While you do you should keep talking and being friendly, if you are able to, put on some music so there are no awkward silences. Try and direct the model as much as you can, if you are just starting out this can be both difficult and daunting but it is important you learn. When I first started I often worked with models who had a fair bit of experience and so I never needed to direct them, this led to me not knowing how to do it properly and when I shot people with less experience I had no idea what to say. Even saying things like ‘That’s good’ ‘Perfect’ etc will help keep the model engaged and give them feedback on how the images are looking. As you work you should take breaks to show the model how the images are turning out and refer back to your mood board so you can come up with directions, plan the next poses and discuss things to look out for. While you're caught up shooting you might not notice a label hanging out of the clothes or some rubbish on the floor but the model might pick up on it when you look through the images. It’s much easier to reshoot a few images after fixing the issue than to have to edit the image and fix everything in post processing.

The last part is editing the pictures after the shoot. If you have done this shoot on a TFP basis then the model will want to be sent the final images so they can be put into their portfolio. Try to get this done in a reasonable timeframe and let the model know how long it will take. We all know life can get in the way sometimes however so if you are falling behind then just keep the model updated. Try and edit a fair few images from the shoot, this will not only be good practise for your editing skills but will also give both of you a greater selection of images to pick your favourites from. Some models will ask to be sent the raw images without any editing, sometimes so they can pick which ones they want to be edited and sometimes so they can edit themselves. In the first case, this is normally fine and if you have an easy way of showing the files collaboratively then this can be a good thing to do. I use google drive to share things so we can both easily access the same files. In the second case, I personally don’t let people edit my photos themselves anymore. When I first started a few models did it but editing is part of your process. If people see the images on the model's feed and don’t like how the model has edited them, this reflects badly on your work. If your model is insisting on it then it is often better to keep your working relationship healthy and just send them the files, just ask them to tag you as the photographer and themselves as the editor in any images they post. On your own socials, you can then tag them as the model and yourself as the photographer/ editor to make a clear distinction between the images.

Hopefully, after reading this you feel ready to get started on your portrait photography journey. If you need any more practical tips on the photography side of portrait work then check out my previous post. Working with models is great fun and allows you to collaborate, learn and grow as a photographer while producing some really cool work. Meeting other creatives in your area, whether models, MUAs or stylists is also a great way to build your network which will become very important once you start looking for paid work. If you enjoyed reading this then leave me a comment below or message me on Instagram. If you have any topics you'd like me to cover next week then let me know! I’d love to hear your ideas. Thank you for reading and good luck on your photography journey.


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