(Visual media courtesy of photographer, Charles Lucima)
Due to popular demand, we have model, Bekka Gunther, back with us exclusively from our last popular article (link).
What happens when you don’t get to work with the best models, what can you you do to get the most out of them? We received lots of questions on this topic such as:
- What can I do to get the best poses out of my model?
- What do I do when the model runs out of poses?
- What can I do to make the model very comfortable on set? (to break the initial ice so to speak).
- What can I bring or do on my end for the benefit of the model?
So she took the topic and ran with it. Enjoy!
Posing, is that what modeling these days is really all about? Should it be? Should the placement of a hand or an eye line be more important to the quality of a photo than the overall emotion and intensity? In my personal opinion, no. Yet posing is key to portraying emotion and intensity in your photos, whether you are a photographer or a model.
I will direct this article more towards photographers, but in hopes that models, stylists, hair and makeup artists and the like will all be able to take something away from it.
As a photographer, you will shoot a range of models throughout your career (or hobby). Some will be curvier, shorter, taller, blonder, darker or even prettier than others. But no matter who you are shooting, I would pray you would want the same result – an amazing photo that draws attention to whatever it is you are trying to sell, be it the model, clothing, accessories or a feeling. A good photo should capture attention and keep it there. As fashion photographers you will want to capture the best of both worlds – the model and the clothing. Now, imagine that you are at a long-awaited shoot with a beautiful model from a big agency. You are excited to start shooting, imagining the outcome will be fit to be printed in Vogue. Your finger is just plain itching to hit that trigger again and again. Well, reality hits when that “top-notch” model walks in the door, carrying her big reputation in with her over-sized purse but with nothing to back it up because, sadly, this girl can not pose. And when she does pose, it happens to be the same thing again and again. You are left bewildered. Isn’t she signed with Ford/Elite? Isn’t she 5’11” and 110 pounds? Don’t the clothes look good on her? Then what is missing?
The answer is that either one of the following (or all three) is missing - talent, confidence or intelligence about their craft (this is our job, shouldn’t we know how to be good at it?). I in no way mean to be demeaning or harsh, but I know you all have experienced something like this, whether or not you have shot with agency models. Even agency models can be stiff, believe me, just like non-agency models can rock it! There are no rules except for the following: a model is either cut out for it, or she’s not. Who cares if she’s agency represented? If she can move and emote, she’s good. If she can’t, then you have to be willing to help her along!
Keep in mind that you can only do so much. In the end, if the girl (or guy) won’t push themselves to try new poses or just can’t get comfortable in front of the lens then you will NOT be able to change that. But here are things you can do to make helping an uneducated* model along.
The most important thing is to make your model feel safe with you. This immediately means three things.
1. Do not touch the model. Ever. Not even a finger!
2. Do not stare at the model like they are piece of meat. This is the time to practice self-control, you’ll be able to stare at them through the lens, you don’t have to do it from the second they walk in the door.
3. Do not act crude/lewd. No model cares about how hot you think her body is or how amazing it is that her boobs are real (or fake, or non-existent).
Now that we’ve learned how NOT to be a creep, imagine this: A young model just walked in your door and is standing there awkwardly with her tote of clothes in hand, shuffling her feet a bit, asking you where she should set her things. She seems nervous, maybe even a little tired.
This is the time to start working on what we call “the connection.” To get amazing photos, there has to be a connection between the model and the photographer, at the very least with the photographer’s lens. Use your people skills and talk to her! Ask her how traffic was, thank her for coming so early (or late) and tell her how excited you are to work with her. Make her comfortable with you; you want her to feel safe enough to explore different emotions and take risks in front of the camera… and I’m not talking about getting naked.
Believe it or not, it’s very hard for some models (especially if they are young and still don’t know who they are as a person) to emote. To do anything different than a beautiful blank stare scares them because they are afraid of looking ugly, different or weird.
I would suggest spending a good 5-10 minutes with your model chatting it up before you go off to set up your lights or leave her alone with hair and makeup. No need for deep conversations, just stay long enough to let her know that you enjoy her company and are happy she is there. A model that thinks that the photographer is excited to be shooting with her will be more willing to push herself, because she is doing you a favor (or so you have her believing) and will have confidence.
If there is no hair and makeup and she brought her own clothes, do her a favor and don’t put down what she brought. I’ve had some photographers do this to me and it made me apprehensive to start shooting, because “nothing I brought was good enough.” Make it work. You should start stockpiling clothes, if you haven’t already, just in case your model’s wardrobes are consistently that bad. As a side note after the article, I will list what you should have in your emergency photo shoot closet.
Clothes don’t matter if it’s a test shoot; if you want awesome clothes then take the initiative and get a stylist in on the action but don’t ever make a model feel bad about her wardrobe – essentially you are insulting a part of who she is… and you expect her to exude sexiness, confidence and strength in front of the camera? You see what I mean? Everything counts.
So now your model is hair and makeup ready and has on her first look. Your lights are set up, the music is on and you are ready to shoot. In my opinion and experience the music should be on before she walks in the room, it should go on with the start of hair and makeup and it should always be what SHE wants to listen to… if you want good pictures you may have to withstand 3 hours of Lil Wayne. Music changes everything, never underestimate its power to help your model emote or feel sexy. Make it loud. Make it fun!
If this is a newer model, it might be helpful to have a tall mirror handy so she can check her angles and lighting. Don’t set it out at first; if she is good enough you don’t want her looking more at herself in the mirror than at your camera.
By now you’ve taken the first 25 shots and you should be able to tell what kind of model she is. Is she stiff; the entire 25 frames the same? Is she trying a couple new poses here and there but still hesitant to really give it her all? Has she already given you a large range of emotion and posing structure and is every frame different than the one before?
This is a raw breakdown of the three kinds of models you will encounter. Please do not take this too seriously. People can never be broken down into three categories like this, especially not models (everyone has their own style), but in general terms of posing, here they are.
- Category One – The Stiff.
This model either just has no clue what to do or has no ability to get out of her shell and try anything other than standing there. Maybe she is new and just isn’t aware of poses, angles and lighting yet. That is not the worst situation to be in, you can teach a new model and they will be eager to learn! BUT, if you sense that the model is so clammed up in their insecurities or fear, then it will be an uphill battle to get what you want. You may get some beautiful shots if they are blessed with good genetics, but there will be no emotion and no power.
If this model is new, then take the time to gently and nicely explain angles and how the lighting is making her face look. Explain that when the light is directly overhead, that she will need to tilt her face up in order to escape the unflattering under-eye shadows. Take a few shots and show her the result, then give her direction, take a few more shots and show her the difference. It will help her understand; once your model sees how much better they look when they turn their face up into the light they will be aware of it.
If the model is stiff as a board, lifeless and expressionless… you’re dealing with her insecurities- the hardest thing for her to take out of the studio and leave at the door. You will need to compliment her but try to be sincere. Find something you love about at least one photo – her eyes, her body language, and then tell her what you love about what she is doing. Explain that you want to explore several different emotions with her and ask if she would be willing to play along with an exercise you have planned.
Use these examples of exercises to help loosen up your stiff model. Tell your model that you’re going to turn up the music so loud and you want her to dance like crazy, to just let loose and to show you her best moves! Put on her favorite dancing song, turn off all the lights (if you’re in studio) and let her go crazy! This will help her shake off some nervousness and self-containment. It will also get her used to the feeling of being photographed while she is moving. Somewhere in the middle of her crazy dancing, ask her to slow down just a bit, because you “love what your seeing and want to get a few shots”. Make sure to make it clear that you want her to keep dancing and having fun!
If your model isn’t into dancing, then try shouting out different emotions (i.e. angry, sad, silly, sexy, jealous, surprised, etc.) and have her do her best to act like the word you said! If nothing else, it will be funny and help her to loosen up even more.
- Category Two - The Shifter
This kind of model has a few good poses under her belt and is semi-knowledgeable about lighting. She is called “The Shifter” because this model just makes small changes and shifts in her stance and in her poses. You will always have to ask this kind of model to up-the-ante, to take it up a notch, to try something new. The good thing about “The Shifter” is that she can take direction and is more confident in herself than “The Stiff”. You may still get the same 5 poses in terms of arm and leg placement but you will be more likely to get a wider range of emotion from this kind of model. This is when you want to have examples ready. Show her some pictures on your computer before you start of the types of poses/feel you want and let her interpret it as she will. Or make an inspiration board and leave it up in your studio, changing it out with every shoot. Put up some pictures pulled from magazines, etc. and leave them in a place where she can reference them frequently if need be. In the past, I have found it very helpful to have a picture to reference, as I can then determine what poses I want to focus on and what emotion I should be portraying. This technique works well with Category One as well.
- Category Three – The Mover
This is the model who knows what she is doing. She knows her light, what makes her look best and does it. She changes it up every moment, constantly changing it up and playing into whatever it is you are trying to achieve. She can take direction and makes suggestions, because she knows what it will look like. She portrays a large range of emotions, almost like acting. This is the kind of model that everyone wants to shoot. They are far and few between, but with the right direction, coaxing and self-confidence on the model’s part, “The Stiff” and “The Shifter” can easily become “The Mover”.
If your model ever runs out of poses, try the exercises I mentioned above, or take a time-out from shooting and look up some more inspiration online. Come up with a back-story to your shoot and let your model have input! Who does she want to portray? What kind of feeling is she interested in capturing? Communication is key! Always tell the model what kind of look and feel you are going for, and let her tell you her interpretation of what you just said, maybe she has a better idea! Fashion photography allows for creativity and expression!
There was a specific question that I was asked to answer: “What can I do to get the best poses out of my model?” Honestly, you could do everything right. You could make your model comfortable, put on her favorite music, talk to her about your inspiration and show her examples, compliment her and she could still NOT give you what you want. That is not your fault. That is just the way it will always be with that model. What you can do is learn what techniques do and do not work when it comes to loosening up the models you work with, and then stop working with the models who can never give you anything other than that blank stare and start working with the ones who can emote, take direction well, exude confidence and sexiness and have fun! I’m not saying that you should only shoot with “The Mover” models, shoot with whoever you want to shoot with, just be prepared. Guide “The Stiff” models along and help “The Shifter” models to learn more about their angles and lighting. You can get beautiful shots no matter a model’s “category” but sometimes it takes while for a model to loosen up, let herself go, emote and play around with the angles of her body and facial expressions. Always encourage and compliment your model at the end of a shoot. You have the extraordinary power to help make an okay model into an amazing one!
Emergency Photoshoot Closet List -
- White tank top
- Black tank top
- Leather jacket
- Bra and Panties Set
- 2-3 pairs of stockings (1-2 semi-see through, 1 pair completely opaque)
- 2 pairs of heels
- Jean Jacket
- 1 Cropped top
- A couple random accessories – maybe gloves with studs, a cool scarf, knee-high socks
You can add or take away anything that doesn’t fit within your individual style of photography. Just keep the basics and hope you’ll never have to use them because your model’s wardrobe will be that astounding! ;)
*Uneducated meaning that they are not aware of their body angles, lighting, how to pose or how to make the clothes they are trying to sell look the best.