How to find (and keep) models
While many photographers want to expand their range by doing formal portraits or glamour shoots, they may not have patient family members or friends willing to put up with experimentation. Finding a model can be very difficult for an inexperienced photographer. This article provides some tips on how to find a model and how to retain that model for future shoots.
Finding a model
Your first option for finding a willing subject is to look in the mirror. No, you may not find yourself alluring enough to grace a magazine cover, but it's a great way to experiment with lighting a human subject. Hang a mirror somewhere convenient (preferably with good window light) and use the reflection to check out various ways to pose yourself. Use the self-timer to take the photo and build up a small collection of pose and light combinations that work well. Now you're ready to tackle another subject.
Friends and Family
Your next option is to solicit family and friends. This is a bit of a double-edged sword. You may find subjects willing to sit for you, but they may quickly grow tired of your requests. Try to come up with a few lighting and pose combinations that will give you a few good pictures very quickly. Your goal should be to have some decent pictures for your portfolio. Occasionally, you may run into a friend or family member who adores the camera and is willing to pose as often as you like. This gives you more opportunity to experiment and learn.
After soliciting friends and family for a suitable model, ask them to spread the word to their friends. If you can demonstrate that you have some worthy images, you may entice a few more willing subjects and add to the variety of your portfolio. Having good photos in your collection is the best way to pique the interest of any potential model.
If you are well connected to social media networks, solicit "friends" here as well. Demonstrating your ability with good sample images increases the likelihood of getting positive responses.
On-line bulletin boards
In addition to recognized national brands like craigslist, many cities and smaller communities have buy/sell/swap sites for people to post. These services are truly hit or miss, but if you craft your request carefully, you may receive a few responses. Posts like "Model wanted for photo shoot" won't get you very far, but a sincere request for a subject willing to help you improve your photographic technique will produce better results. Do not expect to get a real model to reply to your ad. Don't even expect an attractive model. Don't turn down models who do not meet your minimum standard. Should you ever go pro, you may be expected to shoot all variety of people, so hone your skills now. Try to apply what you've learned about posing and lighting and do your best to create something your subject will be pleased to show to friends. It's those friends you are want next. Your new subject will likely know people who could use some new pictures. Rinse and repeat!
Photography clubs and public studios
If your town has a photography club, check it out. It may well consist of seniors who photograph sunsets and cats, but chances are there are one or two who pursue portraiture. Get friendly and see if you can join a colleague on a shoot. If the club is well established, they may do organized shoots. Most of those will likely be at the local botanic garden, but occasionally clubs will organize a model shoot with a real live professional model.
Photographic studios that avail themselves to the public often offer workshops and courses. The number one subject for these are bona fide models. Not only do you get to shoot a model, but you get to learn how to shoot a model. Using professional lighting is a great opportunity for adding professional looking images to your portfolio. It's also a good way to meet the models and decide if you can afford their rates. However, it's also a good way to meet other photographers willing to split the cost of hiring professional models for a collaborative shoot. These studios may also arrange "meet and greet" events where they invite photographers and models to come together socially. You may think it's an opportunity to meet models; it is, but it's a better opportunity to meet collaborative photographers.
Depending on your skill and budget, this is the first place or the last place to go to find a model. If you have the money, you can locate a professional model and arrange a shoot as easily as having a TV cable installed. That is to say, choose your provider carefully. A good professional model will have an extensive portfolio with work from dozens of photographers. Full-time models have to maintain a good reputation and are much less likely to cancel. They do charge a premium for their services, however.
If your budget is tight, some models are willing to do TFP (time for pictures). They pose for you in exchange for some lovely images. Any "goof with a camera" can create a profile and offer TFP shoots, but if you want to attract a model, you have to have something to offer. This is where your portfolio is vital. If you have a variety of good pictures, models are more likely to work with you.
Models just starting out are more willing to shoot TFP as they try to build their own portfolio. Use the site's search function to find models who have recently joined. If their portfolio consists of snapshots, offer to do a shoot with them. Note that many "models" sign up on a lark and never bother to return. Many more will get your message and not bother to reply. A rare few will respond and only a fraction of those will agree to do a shoot. You're working the numbers at this point; keep sending out requests and hope for a positive reply. Correspond with the model to discuss ideas and availability.
It's also worth connecting with other local photographers who use the model site. Befriending photographers with similar style or taste may lead to collaborate efforts (two photographers hiring one model). Fellow photographers may also recommend dependable models. These sites are excellent for networking.
Dance studios and theaters
Most members of theatrical organizations and some dance studios are more than happy to get new photographs for their portfolios. However, they are not likely to work with a photographer who has a mediocre portfolio. These locations are best saved for when you have a good collection of images as proof of your ability. Subjects from these organizations can be the most rewarding, though, so it is worth pursuing. Dancers and thespians know how to move and how to express themselves; they make excellent subjects.
A technique that works only for the most skilled and self-assured photographer is stopping people on the street. If you spot a particularly attractive person, you might love nothing more than capturing their countenance with your camera. People generally do not like being so accosted on the street so you better have a good sales pitch ready to go. It also helps if you have a portfolio of excellent images on your portable device to assure them you might be legitimate. If you are able to get a phone number or e-mail address, you are doing well. Giving them your photographer's business card might lead to them contacting you, but unless you have amazing presence, it's not particularly likely.
Agencies serve a singular purpose: to make money. If you are going with an agency, you are going to pay. You usually get an experienced model, so it might be worthwhile. However, you may also be barraged with questions you had not considered (who will see the finished product, what are the specifics of the model release, will the model/agency have any control over the image use, will the model/agency receive copies, will there be a stylist, etc.).
Picking a model
Don't be too choosy. If you're starting out, be willing to work with models who do not fit the model stereotype. Learn to emphasize their best features and disguise whatever flaws they may have. Recognize that you are no Richard Avadon or Annie Leibovitz and your model is making a sacrifice, too.
Discuss the shoot well in advance of the date. Let the model know what you are shooting and why. Explain what they will get from the shoot (how much money or how many images for their time). Go over the style and location then review clothing, accessories and make-up options for the model. Make sure the model is comfortable with your concept. Ideally, make sure your model is excited about your concept. If you get a buy-in from them, they're more likely to show up.
Be prepared to deal with flakes. A lot of models are flighty; they will agree to a shoot at a time and place and never bother to show up; a lot of models. The model recommendations of fellow photographers are a good way to minimize your contact with flakes.
Attracting a model is only the first step. You need to create a healthy working environment that will bring out the best in the model ... and encourage return visits.
Dealing with escorts
Many female models will want to bring an escort, particularly if it's a first shoot with you. A love interest is usually a bad idea for the shoot as your model may concentrate on him (or her) and not your camera. A friend or family member may not be much better as the model may feel judged and not perform as well.
Some photographers refuse escorts by not accepting the shoot or by having the escort wait outside. If you do allow an escort, they may prove some value as an assistant. Put them to work holding a reflector or watching for stray hair and wrinkled clothing. An extra set of eyes acting as a stylist can really help improve the shoot.
Ready your gear, ready your space
Make sure you have everything you need and that it is easily accessible. Nothing screams "Novice!" like a photographer fumbling for memory cards and batteries and whatever else you need. Make sure your gear is clean, charged and ready to go. Impressing models with your preparedness will build their confidence in your ability to get good photos and make them perform to your professional standards.
Whether it's a small studio or a picturesque park, be familiar with everything in your shooting environment. Outdoor spaces can be particularly tricky as you try to balance the light and the background. Wandering around the trees trying to find a good shooting spot is not impressive. Scout locations in advance and have a plan in mind for when you arrive.
Review the plan
When the model arrives, go over the plan for the shoot. You're both strangers at this point so you want to break the ice and get comfortable with one another. This is a good time to examine the clothing and accessories for the shoot. Solicit ideas from the model; a collaborative effort can provide unexpectedly good ideas.
Handling a model
Don't handle the model. Seriously. Touching is one surefire way to creep out the model and dump a bucket of ice-water on the shoot. Verbal instructions work well, but visual instructions are much better. Demonstrate the pose you want by mirroring it for the model.
Experienced models will go right into their posing routine and you will be delighted by the excellent expressions and body positions they produce. Inexperienced models require guidance. Make sure you know something about posing before you bring on a new model. The information can be gathered from educational material like books and model instruction sites, or gleaned from looking at the work of professionals. However you acquire the knowledge, you need to pass it on to the new model if you hope to produce good work.
Every model wants to know if they're doing a good job. Don't just click away and let them do their thing. Tell them what you like and what doesn't work as well. Positive feedback is particularly important. Even if you can only grunt, grunt in an affirmative manner. If nothing else, review the images in your camera so you can both see the results of your mutual efforts.
Support the model
Modeling can be very difficult, whether it be holding a pose for a prolonged period or just being under lights blasting their retinas, give your model a break occasionally. Just a couple of minutes to sit down or check text messages is most welcome. It's also a good time to solicit ideas from the model and make use of their creative potential. Remember that this is a team effort.
Have drinks and snacks available. A couple bottles of water, apples, bananas, or a few granola bars can be worth a lot of good will. A dehydrated model with an empty stomach will not produce excellent results.
Inspire the model
Few models can really act. If you don't pull some emotions out of them, they'll give you the same expression picture after picture. It's easy enough to get them smiling or laughing, but it takes a bit of imagination to get them looking wistful or melancholy. Evoke different expressions and emotions by having them recall some person or event.
One expression you will probably want is a flirty or seductive look. This can be particularly difficult for a new model at the best of times, but trying to look flirty or seductive in your direction can be unnerving. Direct the model to concentrate on the lens, not on you. Have the model imagine spotting this oh-so-hot piece of glass from across the room and be instantly smitten. Have him or her ignore you and try to attract the attention of the lens. Make it a game and let them know they can go over-the-top with their expressions.
Following up the shoot
Setting up a shoot is time consuming. The shoot itself requires much creativity and flexibility, but is very rewarding. What you do after the shoot will determine if you get a model to return, or attract new talent.
Showing your work
Most models are as keen to see their photos as children are to open their birthday presents. The sooner you can show them, the better. A lot of models will request a copy of all the photos from the shoot. Few want to do anything more than just look at them so explain in advance what they will receive. Contact sheets are an excellent way to provide them with thumbnail-size images to review. Many image management applications provide the ability to make PDF contact sheets of your pictures.
Some photographers never reveal the complete image set and only show the best photos. Make sure you inform the model which strategy you use. Whether you make the choice or the model chooses, edit the selected best images and get them to the model soon. A big complaint among experienced models is photographers who take forever to finish the images. If you turn around your work quickly, they are more likely to work with you again.
How are your editing skills? Editing a model is nothing like editing a landscape. If you don't know what you're doing, find someone who does or do some training. You might find a photographer friend with glamour experience or you might check the modeling sites for retouchers willing to prepare your images for a nominal fee or in exchange for including your work in their portfolio. Even DPReview has a cadre of members willing to tackle fun editing tasks (just be sure to explain why you are looking for help).
Get a recommendation
If the model is impressed with your style and your finished work, ask for an endorsement. Post the information on your model site profile page or social media site. Glowing reviews from models is a great way to attract new models.
Set up the next shoot
If you had a great shoot and the model is pleased, strike while the iron is hot and book another date. Don't try to repeat the shoot you just did, but suggest a different style or location. If you've studied the model's portfolio, you should have some good ideas on how to improve it with different images. If there is no interest in shooting soon, find out if the model has friends in need of new images. Offer to shoot non-model friends just for fun.
Build that portfolio
Your portfolio tells people what kind of photographer you are. Only include your very best images. It's better to have a portfolio of six excellent images than it is to have a collection of twenty pictures with six excellent images included. Quality over quantity!
Before trying to solicit a model, know something about posing and how to work the light. Practice by shooting yourself, then relatives and friends. Use on-line resources to recruit models for TFP shoots. Don't be too choosy; work with what you have. Provide a good working environment and support the model with instructions and feedback. Get the best images to the model quickly. Keep only your very best pictures for your portfolio. Get referrals and endorsements from models.