While recently working on my Halloween album, I kept thinking about the ‘rules’ for photographers as they relate to working with models. The rules kept running across my mind because I was ‘touching’ the models more so for these shoots than I usually do for any other shoot. Most of the ‘touching’ involved painting fake blood on body parts (or helping remove it), moving hair a bit, or moving a limb or hand in a certain way. I think being a criminal defense attorney also played a part in my hyper-sensitivity to certain ‘rules’. So it got me thinking, what are the rules and do they even make sense? Here is a list of some of the ‘rules’ photographers are supposed to follow when working with a model and my own personal opinions on them.
Never Touch The Model!
Probably considered the Golden Rule, this is the rule that repeatedly ran across my mind for some of my Halloween shoots. There are generally two reasons for this rule. One reason is that there is simply a personal space issue that most people can probably understand. Having someone touch you can obviously violate your personal space, even if it is for a photo shoot. The second reason, and probably the more obvious reason, is the creepy photographer or pervert issue. I hear story after story about so-called photographers getting models for a shoot as a pretext to touch the models in ways that might, or might not, appear to be legitimate for the purpose of the shoot. Even if the photographer isn’t touching someone with the intent of being a ‘perv’, it could still be interpreted that way by the model. As a lawyer, I can completely understand why having a base rule of no touching eliminates any mistakes by either party. Allegations alone can cause a lifetime of misery. Many models will insist on an escort for the first few sessions with a new photographer until they feel comfortable shooting alone with them. I personally have no issues with escorts although some photographers will not permit them.
Ideally, if something needs to be adjusted with the model during a shoot, the hair and makeup artist is supposed to be the one to make the adjustments. If no hair and makeup artist is available, the model should make the adjustments. But what do you do when the model physically cannot make the proper adjustment and there is no hair and makeup artist? As the photographer, I will typically make the adjustment explaining to the model before I make the adjustment, exactly what I am about to do. This way, the model knows what I am about to do and why. If it is a model I have worked with a lot in the past and we have developed a familiar working relationship, I feel more comfortable touching them as compared to a model that I am working with for the first time. If you have a shoot you think might entail having to touch the model a fair amount, have that discussion upfront before the shoot – maybe even suggest they have a friend come along to help if needed (which I have done on occasion). Generally speaking however, this is a sound rule photographers should follow.
Praise The Model Often!
Praise the model often. Everyone enjoys praise and I think this just makes sense generally. Photographers can still cross the line in giving praise though. It’s probably not a good idea to tell your model they are ‘hot’ or ‘sexy’ during a shoot. Probably also not a great idea to make statements like, “Oh yea, baby” and all the other ridiculous statements you can think of. The best praise you can give any model, is the sound of your camera shutter. Seriously!! If you are snapping away taking tons of pictures the model knows you are getting some really good shots and that you apparently like what they are doing. A model will get more nervous when they hear a single click followed by long stretches of silence. Praise them with your shutter clicks! The occasional, “Perfect!” or “That’s a really good pose. Hold that”, tend to work great as well.
Talk With Your Model!
Yes, definitely. Even if you are shooting with an experienced model, talking with them helps put them at ease and helps create a relationship that aids in creating amazing images (this is one reason why short boudoir sessions can be so difficult). In addition to creating general rapport, inviting the model to help in the creative process is a great way to spark a conversation. When I shoot a model that also happens to be a photographer, our discussions will tend to lead to joint collaboration anyway and it generally works out for the better. Including them in the creative process can sometimes help newer models not focus so much on whether they are posing right and what they should or should not be doing with their hands. Once a model starts over-worrying about posing or what to do with their arms or legs, it can be very difficult to get them relaxed enough again for great images. Having said all of that, some models prefer direction and really are more comfortable letting others direct the shoot. Either way, still a topic to discuss with your model.
Share Images During The Shoot!
Lastly, show your model the pictures periodically during the shoot. I am HORRIBLE at this!! I try and catch myself and let the model have a peek at the back of my camera, but I just as often forget. Regardless if I communicate that the images are coming out awesome or not, seeing is believing. When a model can actually see the images and how they are turning out, they gain confidence in the images and themselves. That confidence relates to even better images going forward. If they are taking the time to shoot with you, they are probably just as invested in the final images and want to see how they are coming out. Give them the opportunity to see images periodically during the shoot. This can also lead to discussions about what they really like about the images or what they don’t like and want to change. Good rule to follow. Now, I just need to learn to heed my own advice!
These are by no means the complete list of rules photographers should follow while working with a model, male or female. These are simply the rules I think are the most important. As with every rule, there are always exceptions but you probably need to know the rule to know when the exception is appropriate. If you just use common sense, typically everything will work out just great. A portrait session is not a dating opportunity or an excuse to touch another person. Sadly, there are ‘photographers’ out there that use their camera for those very purposes. Don’t be that guy (or gal). Reputations spread very quickly in the photography/modeling community and it could result in something far worse than just a bad reputation – take it from an attorney.
Keep the interesting parts of life in focus.