Essential Skills for Working with New Models

Working with new models is an important part of any portfolio-building process. Whether they’re a new face from an agency or a freelance model looking to build their book, there are a few key aspects to pulling off a successful shoot that both of you are happy with.

1.     Get to know your model.

Many of my favorite images came from shoots where I had a strong connection with the model. A photo shoot can be a very intimidating environment for a newer model and you’ll have to put in some effort to make sure she feels comfortable. Ask questions and get to know your model while she is getting hair and makeup done, put on some music that she likes, and maintain a casual, upbeat attitude. If this is her first shoot she’ll likely be nervous, but keeping conversation fun and light will put you both at ease. Creating great images starts here, before you even pick up your camera.

2.     Be a leader.

This is a situation where your leadership skills are incredibly important. Give your model a clear idea of what kinds of images you intend to shoot. A mood board or a few inspiration images will help to make sure you are both on the same page.

3.     Offer direction.

Shooting with a new face is a learning experience for both of you. You’re learning how to bring out the best in your model, while she is learning how to interact with the camera. Offering clear, concise direction will go a long way. Keep an eye out for poses that look awkward and physically demonstrate how you want the pose to look (this can feel silly, especially if you’re a guy, but often gets you both laughing and puts her at ease). Watch for poor posture, un-relaxed hands, tense arms, and a clenched jaw. Asking for a relaxed mouth or elongated fingers will make a huge difference, and fashion clients notice these small details. Oftentimes, your model has no idea that she is pressing her arms to her body or that her hands are in fists. Learning how to pose well is hard work and takes time to master. Providing a learning environment helps her build her skills and results in better images for both of you.

4.     Know what you want.

This is not the time to jump into a shoot blindly, with no idea of what kinds of images you are looking to create. You may be able to get away with this with an experienced model, but a new model is not going to be able to simply move in front of the camera without any input. Create a shot list of 5-10 poses that you want and help your model into those poses with clear directions.

5.     Maintain your professionalism.

While a studio environment is ideal, there is no reason you can’t create great images out of your home or in a public setting, like the beach. No matter where you are shooting, it’s important to maintain as much professionalism as possible. If you’re shooting at home, make sure your place is clean and comfortable. Oftentimes, a parent or chaperone will accompany your model to the shoot, so make sure there is a space for them to relax. Offer water or snacks. Hospitality goes a long way and makes everyone feel cared for. If you’re out in public, bring along some bottled water for everyone and make sure you have a space for your model to change (I use a changing tent).

6.     Keep it age-appropriate.

A lot of new models are underage. This is a subject you must treat carefully. Make age-appropriate clothing choices, and do not coach an underage model into overly sexy poses. Not only is it inappropriate to ask a young girl to roll around in the sand in a bikini, but it also has the potential to give you a very bad reputation. I’ve seen too many photographers abuse their position and use the eagerness of a new model to create photographs that are far too adult for the models age. This can unfortunately make a photographer come off as creepy, regardless of their intent. Walk this line very carefully, especially if you are a male photographer, and lean towards modesty if you are unsure.

What are your tips for working with new models? Share in the comments below!