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Working with models is a great way to experiment with photos that you couldn’t take on your own. It often leads to even better photos as you have someone to bounce ideas off.

This post covers everything you need to know about working with a model and how to act professionally around them for the best results.

Before the Shoot

The first step is to find a model. This really isn’t that hard and you basically have two options: paid or unpaid.

Professional models can provide better results, are easier to work with and less complacent but, from my experience, you can get equally good results with amateurs and friends.

If your shoot has a budget for one, you may as well hire a pro. These can be found in a variety of directories through google – just be sure to include the area in which you’re working in the search term.

Occasionally you’ll come across a model willing to work for you for free to improve and update their portfolio, but this is rare for amateurs, unless the models themselves are amateurs too. This is often referred to as TF (Time For) modelling.

Once you’ve found the model you want to use, talk to them about what you want to get out of the shoot and what they’re comfortable doing.

This step is especially important if they’re a friend of yours – if it’s a swimsuit shoot, they’re going to want to know that beforehand. For a professional model, this kind of information will be laid out when you’re hiring them but I always like to go through it one more time to make sure they’re comfortable.

Here’s a few points you will want to discuss:

  • Confirm pay rates, travel expenses and accommodation
  • Date and time of the shoot
  • The sort of photo’s you’re going to be taking
  • Who’s supplying the clothing and make up

If you’ve never worked with a model before, I strongly suggest finding your best looking friend and talking them into doing some photos with you while you’re still learning. Some techniques can be time consuming to begin with and it’s best to use a forgiving friend who’s not charging you by the hour to be there.

The final thing you’ll want to do before starting is to find a location.

I personally don’t like using studios for photography as I find that the results tend to be sterile and boring; there are much better locations where you can work compositional techniques into the photos.

That’s my 2 cents anyway but, whatever you choose do, make sure you find a good location. If it’s outdoors, make sure you have a dry alternative. It’s best to plan this in advance so that you’re not wasting time on the day and you have an idea of the sort of photos you want to take.

Ok, now that you’ve found yourself a model and a location, it’s time to start shooting.

During the Shoot

Rule number 1: don’t be a perve.

This should really go without saying but I’ll say it anyway: respect the model’s privacy – your reputation depends on it.

Make sure that your model is comfortable in their environment and has everything they need. Whatever you do, don’t touch them without permission and if you want to adjust something, make sure you ask them first.

If you want them to adjust their clothing or take something off, don’t be afraid to ask so long as you’re being professional about it. When it comes to them getting changed, give them space to do it privately and stop taking photos of anything while they do it.

The best results come from a happy and relaxed subject so, when I’m working, I try to help them relax by talking to them and making them laugh.

Ask them how they are and try to be as funny as possible – the more comfortable they are around you, the better the results will be. This is a great technique for the beginning of the session, just don’t carry it on too much or you’ll end up with a lot of photos of them mid sentence – not ideal.

Model’s aren’t stupid and are experienced in what looks good on them; if they have an idea about how to pose or where to take a photo, they’re usually worth listening to.

I find that my best photos tend to come from combining ideas with my model in an effort to improve on the last photo taken. If you have an idea of how you want them to pose but struggle to describe it, adopt the pose yourself, no matter how stupid you may feel.

Looking stupid yourself will only help to relax the model and break the ice; taking the pose yourself will help get the shot you want sooner.

If you want to explore underwear/bikini/topless/nude photography, make sure you don’t dive straight in – take some photos with clothes on first so that they’ve warmed up to the idea and feel more comfortable around you.

The photo below came at the end of a session; the model suggested that the shot might work better if she didn’t have a top on.

After the Shoot

Ask the model to sign a model release form stating what you can use the photos for.

If you’re small time, you may not think of this is as a big deal but you never know how your relationship with the model may change if one of you becomes more successful. It’s always best to cover your ass now so you don’t have to worry about it in the future.

If you’re happy with your model, make sure to recommend them, or tell the organisation they work for; this small gesture will go a long way and the model is likely to be more comfortable around you in the future. If you agreed to share the photos with the model, make sure she gets them and thank her for her time.

A small note to end on: I love working with models.

The human side is good fun and allows more creativity in my results with someone who knows what they’re talking about to bounce ideas off.

I don’t typically use the same model more than twice as this will result in your photos looking a bit too similar. If you’ve never shot with a model before, grab a friend and spend the afternoon with them, with the incentive that they’ll get an “awesome new Facebook profile picture” from it.

How to Work with a Model and get Great Results

A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:

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Josh

Hey I'm Josh, I'm Photographer in Chief here at ExpertPhotography, and I'm in charge of making sure that we provide you with the best content from the most knowledgeable photographers in the world. Enjoy the site :)

  • Jorge

    Hi, i really like your writting (Blog). And i’m n love with your model. 🙂

  • Hey,

    I really liked your model as well.. great choice..her eyes are what sets her apart.. I also really liked your photography and the information you provided, although it seemed to be common sense, it was provided in a clear, clean, way.. very attractive website.. kudos!

    • Thanks Joey, really appreciate it!

  • Jonathan

    This was great, it was informative like all of the articles on this site. It was also very helpful since I had just agreed to do a model shoot with one of my friends and nearly every aspect I was thinking of doing was covered in this article.
    thanks.

  • JD

    I really like all the information you provided. I just went last week to a photo shoot at the beach with one of my friends to get the experience. I’m starting with my friends so I can get more used to working with people and taking portraits. Is there another note that you might talk about different poses because I don’t have money right now for a model but would still like to know which ones work out.

    • Hey JD, I’m not a model so I couldn’t really say just yet, but I recommend experimenting as many positions as you can (after all, it is digital), and really having a good look at where you’re taking the photos. For example, the last photo in this post was meant to be an example of contrast and it’s shown by the distinct differences in the curved body of the soft skinned girl and the sharp, harsh jaggedness of the rocks. This position worked for the location i was working in, but may not work where you’re shooting so have a good look around and have fun with it. Thanks, Josh

  • I like this article and think you touched all the bases. I do disagree with you on signing the model release after the shoot. I have the models sign the model release form, before the shoot.

  • Nargis Martin

    Was there a Need to strip her naked?

    • No, but she suggested it and it worked with what we were doing. Thanks, Josh

  • Great article. I’ve just started portraiture Photography and I wanted to add a comment about using pro or friends. On my first studio shoot I hired a pro. My reason is friends of mine have never posed for cameras other then holiday snaps. I’m not sure how to direct people to gain the shot I’m after, so by hiring a pro, means that she just ‘pops’ into a cracking pose every time. When it comes to experimenting, well, I would have told the model I’m new to studio work. This wasn’t a problem. But i wasn’t going to worry about keeping the flow going. This might sound wrong, but the model is getting paid for her time, whether it’s posing in front of the camera or waiting in the wings while I sort out lighting. This is also a time time for a chat, ask them about other work they do, or hobbies. Its also a chance to tell them what you’ve done in the past. Don’t get too personal though, don’t expect them to tell you their life story. I asked my first model for example, about her shoot on Nuts magazine although ive not seen the shot of the model i hired in the magazine, i found out just how experiened the model was. With that relaxed, non pressured chat, everything bacame relaxed and the flow naturally kept going. I will also regularly compliment the model – all girls like to be told how good they look.

    Graham.

  • I always enjoy reading your articles! I am an amateur photographer, and right now I mostly do nature shots, but I’ve done a little experimenting with portraits and your posts always help me. Thank you so much

    • JoshDunlop

      Thank you!