Steven Brokaw Photography

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Models Are Hard

So here I am your typical, experienced photographer trying his hand at something new. This time its model photography. I’ve dabbled in casual model shoots before, but recently was the first time I’ve hired a model specifically for a model shoot. At first you think, come on, how hard can it really be? You know your camera and kit, you know about lighting, you know about composition. How difficult can it be to photograph a pretty girl? Let me tell you, it takes skills. I have a new found respect for those of us in the photo community who can work with a model and come out with great images.

I thought I would give you my take-aways and tips based on my introduction to model photography. Think of it as my gift to you. No charge.

First, you MUST know your camera and equipment. Working a model is not the time to be fumbling around with your camera figuring out settings or how something works. My tip is to come prepared. I do this with other types of photoshoots, so why not when shooting a model. Consider what settings you want to use, what speed, what ISO, what WB, what about lighting, etc. Be prepared and then adjust from there. Sounds simplistic but plan ahead.

Directing a model is hard. Unless you are working with someone who has experience or a set of poses then it’s up to you to tell the model how you want him / her to move. This can be difficult at first, and honestly a bit awkward. I’ve always found this part of photographing models challenging so my solution was to come prepared with a number of photos of other models from websites and magazines to use as reference. I showed them to my model and she did a great job helping me out on her poses.

Don’t machine gun your camera. I’ve seen photographers just lay on the shutter release button and shoot in 5-7 shot burst hoping one will turn out. Personally, I think this is a waste. My workflow is to shot one or two photos to test lighting and to fine tune my settings (I tell the model to relax during these setting shots). I then take one or two shots and regularly check the image to make sure I’m getting what I like, move the model and shoot again. Before I know it I have 100+ images and it makes it much easier on post processing.

Focus on the nearest eye by default. I’ve heard others tell me to focus on the model’s nose, or ear, but I go right for the eyes. If necessary I’ll focus on the eyes and reposition my camera. There is absolutely nothing worse than getting back to your digital darkroom and cursing yourself because your images are out of focus. My goal is tack sharp.

Watch for things sticking out of you model in weird places. Watch for hair out of place. Are the models cloths lying properly? Does something in the background appear to be poking out of your model’s head? Be spatially aware and watch your background. Just like focus, it stinks to spend your post processing time cleaning up an image because you weren’t paying attention.

Think about lighting. I wasn’t going to mention this since I felt most people would think this is common sense, but you must plan your lighting correctly and check it regularly. Shadows in the wrong place or hard lighting when you need soft can ruin an otherwise good image.

Work out the details of how the model is to be compensated and what images he or she will get, if any, in advance. If it’s not a TFP or TFCD shoot, and even if it is, work out the details in advance. How is the model to be compensated and how much. I always pay the model on the spot, and get her to acknowledge receipt of payment on the model release after the shoot.

Get a model release. Just be safe, even if you not planning on selling or posting the images I recommend you get a release. You can get good examples off the internet. I get a model release signed even if I’m simply shooting for practice.

Tell the model in advance what you plan to shoot and how you want him / her to dress. Again pretty common sense, but if you want to shoot dark and moody; the vibe is ruined if your model comes in with a summer weight dress. Of course, I’m assuming you are not a pro and have wardrobe available. Anyway, if you did then you wouldn’t be reading this article. Also, make sure you give you model an idea in advance what type of images you want to shoot or what type of mood you want to capture. As an example I’m planning a night shoot with a model in a downtown alley setting. I told her in advance and she’s cool with it. Can you image what would happen if I sprung it on her at the last moment?

Communicate in advance and talk during the shoot. I don’t take myself too seriously so I like to chat up the model during the shoot so we both feel comfortable. Mainly what I’m doing, what I expect, how the images are coming out, etc. etc.

If the model is new she/he is probably as nervous or feeling as clumsy as you. Put him / her at ease (see comment above about communication). Compliment the model, talk to him / her and take breaks if necessary. Remind your model that you are new to this as well.

Be prepared. Common sense. Be set up if you are in a studio. If on location be there early and get set up. I plan to pay to shoot, not to have the model waiting around while I get ready.

Be a gentleman. I’ve seen guys treat models like a girlfriend or violate their personal space. Even to me that’s kind of creepy. I’m old school that way, sorry. Also, if you need to touch the model, i.e. move hair out of the way, ask FIRST. Anyway if I hire a model and she likes my work and my work ethics I may want to use her for a reference.

Bottomline, my goal is to get good at this.  There are more tips that I will save for later, but as you can tell much of this is simply planning ahead. So go out there and shoot.

Model Photography Tips From A Pro

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