by Art Piccio . July 16th, 2016
Have you ever noticed why it seems it’s so much easier to take great candid photos of people, but a huge pain in the neck to nail a posed shot? We could pin most of this to the Hawthorne effect, a phenomenon where we humans alter our behavior unconsciously, based on whether or not someone is watching. This phenomenon is a perpetual issue in psychological and social experiments, but can also be observed directly by photographers who need to take posed shots of live models.
Despite what popular culture might have you believe, modeling isn’t just about having a pretty face or a frame that clothes look good on. A lot of it has to do with a model’s ease and confidence in front of a camera.
The truth is, good live models may even be as rare or rarer than good photographers and most people who have to pose in front of the camera will need every little bit of help they can get — usually from the photographer.
Let’s face it, if you’re reading this you probably don’t do that many big modeling shoots, and don’t really have access to professional models. This makes the following all the more important. And even if you do have a shoot with a pro, these basic principles will still apply.
This helps both you and the model identify any potential issues before the shoot happens and helps create some familiarity, hopefully making the model’s shoot more comfortable. Some familiarity can go a long way to eliciting more natural poses!
It should go without saying that if you’re planning to take photos in a professional capacity, a contract is always important to avoid any potential issues that may result during the shoot and the kind of compensation either party may receive. Going without a contract in most cases is just all parties asking for trouble.
Even outside of a contract, it still remains important for both parties to set expectations by actually discussing them, verbally or face-to-face if possible. Setting expectations is perhaps one of the most basic, yet often overlooked requirements for any photographer who takes pictures of live human models. Not setting expectations can easily cascade into all kinds of miscommunication. Ask any professional photographer or model — it’s really not worth it most of the time.
Even the best models are not psychic. This becomes apparent in most shoots because you’ll very rarely get exactly what you’ve envisioned in the first few shots. Since they can’t read you mind, specific instructions are often more useful than vague ones. This may be less of an issue when both your and your models are sufficiently familiar with each other, but the principle remains the same.
Specific direction can also be critical as very subtle changes in positioning can throw off the mood of a shoot. You can see the effect a lack of subtlety has in many so-called bad stock photos. Something as simple as a mouth that’s slightly too open or a head tilted back in the wrong way can make the model look ridiculous.
This doesn’t mean you have to position your models with calipers, though you might occasionally want to move them around manually. Be sure to ask permission before you so much as touch your models
We’d be here all week if we had to make a list of behaviors that could be taken to be creepy. Needless to say, don’t do or say anything that your model may take to be harassment, or that would expose them to unnecessary danger.
If you need to anything that might be cause discomfort, take the time to explain the rationale for it, preferably before the shoot begins so it’s understood that you have the model’s consent. This applies whether or not you’ve worked with the model before.
Most photographers will probably not regret taking a modelling class. When it comes to shooting live models in posed shots, the difference between a photographer with no training or experience in modeling experience and one who has is massive. It will often be necessary to show your model what you need them to do, rather than tell them.
This is especially crucial if you’re not working with professionals. This kind of specific knowledge will also help you develop the empathy necessary to understand what your models might be going through, and help you give better direction.
If you’re all going to be out in the sun for example, make sure to ask your model to bring sunblock, sunglasses or whatever else would help them feel comfortable between shots. Have them take a coat or blanket if you’re shooting summer scenes in early spring or fall, as actually happens quite often. If the venue allows it, have a boombox or phone play something in the background to help put them in the right mind mindset for the vibe you want
This is also partly about keeping things comfortable, but it’s also mostly about helping create the right dynamics for your shots. Awkward silences may affect your models’ performances, so keep things moving along by offering direction or at least some encouragement. This will also help keep shots flow a bit better, rather than forced and static.
Being disinterested will nearly always negatively affect your interactions with others, especially if it’s someone you’re supposed to direct. This will also help you not inadvertently turn off your model from working with you in the future. If you have to fake it though, don’t be too obvious.
A post-event analysis is always in order after a shoot, not just so you find out what you did wrong and can do better, but also to build relationships with people who you may very well be working with after.
Taking time to discuss what happened after the shoot isn’t just good for you either – it will also help your models learn what they may have to work on, in the event they may want to continue working with your or other photographers in the future.
At some point, even the most introverted photographers will have to interact with whomever they’re shooting, and this really goes without saying for anyone who needs to shoot a professional portrait. Hopefully with time, you’ll develop the right kind of social aptitude that not only gets you better shots, but better repeat business as well.
Got any better ideas for how to talk to photo models? Comment below!