Photoshoots are one of the most difficult things I have ever had to confront in my life. I know that sounds odd, since I’m a photographer and I do a lot of shoots these days, but at the beginning it all seemed so difficult, so incredibly hard that for the longest time I felt like I’d never be good at it.
I found shoots difficult because I was painfully extraordinarily shy and introverted. For those of you who didn’t know me from years before, it may be difficult to picture me as shy, but I assure you it’s true.
One of the most important reasons I ventured into the world of photography was the camera helped me emerge from my shell, get out from behind my force fields, and get around the 90 foot thick concrete wall that I built to protect myself from the rest of humanity.
This all came to mind because I was having a conversation with a friend of mine who, as part of her job, had to take part as a model in a shoot recently. For her this was not a good experience. The photographer was arrogant, treated her harshly and pushed her around. For this lady, it was not the correct approach to getting good shots. The very business-like, harsh approach might work for experienced models, but even then, I suspect this guy wouldn’t ever get great pictures. My friend came away hating the photographer and remembering it all as one of the worst experiences of her life.
Something many photographers miss, and this is what made it so difficult for me, is their subjects, their models, are human beings and need to be treated that way. A shoot, especially for an inexperienced model, is going to bring out all of the negative feelings that a person has about herself. Every flaw, every blemish is going to be magnified a thousand percent; every bit of nervousness is going to be exaggerated; and every slight movement or comment by the photographer is going to be interpreted in the worst possible way.
So what I found as I ventured into the world of photography, was the best way to get the absolute best staged photos was to work with the model, to actually, for a few minutes, become friends with that person. It’s the little things like smiling at her as soon as you see her, introducing yourself, giving her a sincere compliment, ask her how she’s doing and so on, that help to relax her, put her at ease, and allow her to pull herself together and give her best for the shoot.
For the inexperienced model, it’s a good idea to coach now and then; for the experienced model, it’s best to get that out of the way and just let her know what you want. Too much coaching will just annoy a model who has been trained and done this time after time. But I don’t worry about it too much; I’ve found those models who have that experience either make it obvious, or they have no problem telling you they don’t need so much special care.
But for the model who has little to no experience, explaining, briefly, why you want her to sit a certain way, helping her relax and demonstrating now and then what kind of shot you want goes a long way.
I think the most important task at the beginning is to get the model to relax. This doesn’t need to take a lot of time. A simple, quick conversation about what you are trying to achieve and what you expect might be all that’s needed. A few words of encouragement is always good, and even a short conversation about her and her experience (or lack thereof) can help.
So I might tell my model that I’m trying to create a very sensual look, accentuating the natural curves of her body with the camera and the poses I ask her to get into. As I ask her to get into various poses, I might briefly tell her why I’m asking her to stand that way or put her arm in that position.
And always, always, always acknowledge her. If you just shoot without acknowledging, she’ll start to wonder if she’s doing something wrong, and that will, believe me, show up in the picture.
It’s very simple. “Please push your left hip out, yes, but a little more. A bit more. That’s it! Perfect. Very sensual.” After you take a few pictures, thank her, then move on.
If she looks a little puzzled or hesitates when asked to do something, that’s the time to explain. Tell her you want her hip swung out a bit because it makes a nice feminine curve which looks good in a picture. Once you take a few pictures, show her what it looks like.
I’m learning more and more about how to do a good shoot every day. It gets more complicated when you add additional models, a backdrop, motion, the complexities of the camera, lighting, and hundreds of other variables. And since my preferred shoot is out in the world, usually in a public place, there is the added complexities and randomness that life produces such as other people and things that show in the background.
One other thing I’ve learned: for both photographers and models, take a few classes. It won’t hurt to have the knowledge. But by far the best way to become good at this is to go out into the world and do shoots. Experience is the best teacher.