Photographing people often requires a completely different bag of tricks compared to photographing landscapes or static objects.
As someone who personally loves taking candid shots, it’s taken me a lot of practice to get used to working with models in such a way that I get the perfect look and feel I want for my photo shoots every time.
If you’re looking to improve the way you work with models on photo shoots, we’ve pulled together some helpful tips to help you get great results, whether you’re photographing clothing and makeup, or you’re simply photographing those wonderful creatures we call human beings.
#1. Choose the right talent
Before your shoot, be sure that you have a clear idea in your head of the final result you’d like to achieve with your shots. Think about the concept, theme, and ‘story’ behind your shoot, so that when agencies send you their models’ portfolios, you can view each one critically and really think about whether or not a particular model’s ‘look’ works well will help achieve this intended outcome.
A petite blonde, cutesy looking model may not be your best option for a super badass tough-chick, leather-jacket-clad, biker-gal themed shoot in the back alleys of New York, but she might be perfect for a beachside shoot in sunny Sydney.
Choosing talent isn’t just about always picking experienced models either. If you know someone that your trained photographer’s eye thinks will potentially look great in photographs, go for it! Bonus: you can take credit for discovering them later down the track if their career takes off.
#2. Clearly explain the concept behind your shoot
As we’ve mentioned, most fashion editorial shoots will have a theme or a concept behind them. It’s important that all of your models are properly briefed about the tone, mood and theme of the shootbefore you even start thinking about pressing that shutter release button. Will the shoot be dark and dramatic, or will it be lighthearted and relaxed? Just like an actor needs a character background and storyline to work with, so too does a model, and it’s your job as the director to give them enough to work with.
I once had a model show up on set and start throwing sultry, sexy, “come-hither” bedroom eyes at the camera. This would have been great, had the idea behind the shoot not been “three cheeky kids running loose playing dress-ups in an antiques center”.
#3 Give constant direction and feedback
Even if you’re working with professional models, it’s always a good idea if you give constant direction and feedback as you’re working. I find that positive encouragement is always best, and don’t be afraid to get out there onto the set and demonstrate what you mean by all those wacky directions you’re yelling out either. If you’ve ever heard yourself giving directions like “can you please put your right elbow down towards the side of your body and lift your wrist slightly further up to your ear then slightly bend your right knee and lower your eyebrows”, stop right there. Just show your models what you mean.
#4. Take breaks
When you’re caught up in the excitement and enthusiasm of the shoot, it’s sometimes easy to lose track of time. For the sake of your models, stylists, makeup artists, yourself, and anyone else working on set, be sure to take regular breaks throughout the day. Otherwise, you may find yourself facing a grumpy team who’d rather take a nap than keep posing for you. Similarly, try to keep the day as relatively short as you can, to ensure that models don’t get tired and start looking ‘flat’ and unenthused.
#5. Keep your own energy up
I find that if I make a pointed effort to stay completely high-energy all the way throughout a shoot, it really helps to encourage everyone else on set to stay motivated as well.Believe it or not, some models may actually be shy, so making them feel comfortable by staying positive and happy (even though secretly your trigger finger is killing you and your back hurts from standing up all day) will keep their expressions and poses fresh and natural looking.
#6. Use lighting correctly
Often, you may find yourself shooting editorials where the model’s face is the focus of the shoot. In this instance, and speaking from experience,I usually recommend studio lighting rather than relying on natural light alone. Read our tips on how to best set up studio lighting for shooting portraits.
If natural light is your main source of lighting, make sure you don’t find yourself trying to get your models to squint into the sun, just because you really want that particular concrete wall as a backdrop…
#7. Be aware of the elements
Take it from me – shooting a beachside scene in the middle of summer in Australia on a scorching 38 degree-celsius day is a sure fire way to put everyone on edge. Look out for the health and wellbeing of your team at all times, and bringappropriate safeguards against the elements like water, portable shade and sun protection, andwarm clothes (if it’s cold).
#8. Don’t forget candid shots!
Remember – Don’t stop shooting the second your models stop posing.As the photographer, you have to always be switched on. Look for those moments when your models aren’t acting for the camera. Look for the times they’re just standing there naturally looking pensive. Look for the moments when they’re midway through a fit of laughter. If you get that one perfect candid shot, it will always end up looking way more natural and striking than anything you tried to force.
Above all, remember to relax, have fun while remaining professional on the day, and you’ll end up with happy models and great photographs. A win-win for everyone!
About the author: Marina Pliatsikas is a trained journalist, photography fanatic, and ballet dancer. Don’t ask how this last skill qualifies her to write articles about taking photos, but it sure as heck proves her passion for the arts. She’s been writing, interviewing, travelling and photographing for as long as she can remember, and she’s also the managing editor over at Clew Magazine, a Sydney-based arts and culture online magazine.