As a photographer, I use a lot of models. Occasionally I use them for a big project, like the Retro Patriotic PinUp Calendar that we created to benefit veterans suffering from PTSD and it's a huge day. More than likely, however, I'm using a model or small group of models for my own personal marketing project. A lot of photogs spend their hard earned dollars advertising in fabulous magazines like The Knot, or paying for space on someone's wedding website, or mailing out postcards and business cards. When I first opened for business a little over two years ago, I tried those methods. I put special discounts and pretty pictures in theatre playbills, paid for a blurb on the side of popular websites for actors who needed headshots, joined a small business wedding industry group and had them put a favorite wedding pic on a mailer that went out to 5000 area brides. I never got any feedback or business from those methods. People who choose me as their photographer do so almost exclusively via word of mouth from a previous client, or by seeing my work on my website, Facebook page, and/or Twitter. I've been so lucky that satisfied fans of my work have given me the supreme compliment of telling their friends & family about me. There truly is no higher trust, and I have been grateful for every referral. I find that people like not only to look at my work that I do for clients, but also what I do creatively in my spare time. I fulfill that artistic need by doing styled shoots. Basically coming up with a concept, whether it's based on a fairytale, a tv show, a painting, etc., and then bringing it to life on a very small scale.
It's an expensive endeavor. I generally rent an extra high end camera and at least one specialty lens (just having those for a few precious days costs $250-350)...I buy props & costumes...I pay stipends or do an exchange of services with hair & make up artists, etc. My average shoot costs me about $500, and I do half a dozen of them a year. It's so much fun, but it's also a lot of work. Sometimes it pays off in a big way (like when someone new is drawn in by the work and hires me for something big like a wedding) and sometimes the pay off is small, where I garner some new fans and hear some great compliments that are good on the ego.
As you can imagine, choosing the right model for each shoot is a crucial part of the puzzle. Even if I didn't have any props or special costumes, if I have a great model, together we can create magic.
Being a great model is about so much more than being pretty. In fact, some of the best models in the industry aren't what you'd call classically beautiful. Now for me personally, I've lucked out with some extraordinary looking women. They've brought something really special to each shoot, and I was able to focus completely on making art.
First order of business: when there's a casting call (for me I put out an announcement on Facebook when I'm looking for a new model), read it carefully. Look at what the photographer is looking for, whether it's a certain age, body type, hair length, etc.
I've had numerous messages over the years from would be models who were unhappy with my casting requirements. Here's the skinny, no pun intended. If I'm trying to do a shoot based on a tv show or movie, it's not unusual to want someone who resembles the actor or actress. Same goes for a painting, or a fairytale. I am not discriminating against models who are a larger size, or in their 40s...but sometimes I am going for something very specific and I need to honor that as closely as I can. Another important factor is that many times, I already own or have access to the costume/wedding gown/outfit I want my model to wear. And no matter how beautiful you are at a size 14, if you can't fit the size 4 dress I own already, I just don't have the resources to purchase something else. I wish I had a real budget for these shoots, but the fact is I don't. Someday, when I can get exactly what I want in any size, I will be open to so many more types out there. I have so many friends with gorgeous faces and bodies that I'd love to use. But please try to understand why I need a certain person to fill a role, and that it doesn't mean I think you're any less beautiful or photo worthy.
Another big thing: when the photographer gives you a specific way to contact them, please don't ignore it. I always ask potential models to write to me at my business email address. Why? Because it's gmail based and I have spreadsheets and tracking devices that I can employ, the same as I do with my clients. When you decide instead to comment on FB, or send me a text message, it's really frustrating. Recently I've stopped answering people if they aren't writing to my business email...I find that people who truly want to be professional and are serious about modeling will follow the instructions the first time. That may sound harsh, but in my experience, it makes the whole thing go more smoothly when everything starts off on the right foot.
Lastly, make sure that you understand what is expected of you. If you say you're available on a certain date & time, you need to mean it. Write it down in your date book or put it in your phone. For me, I'm not only renting the gear and getting the props, but I'm often scheduling a hair/make up artist as well, and also sometimes coordinating other models or vendors who are generously donating their time. It's not just me who would be inconvenienced if a model bailed on the shoot.
Ask what the shoot is about. If it's a specific character you'll be portraying, do some research. Watch an episode of a show or the movie it's based on...even looking up a Wikipedia page can help or clicking through google images. Think about what you want to bring to the shoot, not just what your photographer might ask of you.
Ask your photographer what you can do/bring with you. Sometimes that's as simple as having the right undergarments (usually nude or white undies and a strapless bra will serve you well, but definitely tailor it to what you'll be wearing for the shoot itself)...know if you're supposed to show up with a naked face or with your hair in a certain way.
Ask questions. But please don't ask all of them the night before or the morning of the shoot. My head is generally so full of all the things I have to get, bring, move, etc., that suddenly having an inbox or phone full of last minute questions that easily could've been asked a week before isn't the best timing. But if you have questions, write 'em down and make sure you ask them prior to the shoot. Let your photog know if you're concerned about anything, confused about anything, or if you have some ideas you'd like to try or things to bring with you.
Ask if you can help. Sometimes that could mean picking up a prop I'm renting or borrowing in your immediate area, or giving another model a lift to the shoot. I promise I won't put you to work scrubbing the floors or doing laundry...but it's always nice to be asked if you can do something. It's true that I'm very grateful to my models for giving their time and beauty to my shoots, but I like to think of it as a collaborative effort and the more we work together, and work together well, I think it benefits both parties.
Know where the shoot will be and make sure you have enough time to get there safely and arrive on time. Don't bring someone with you to a shoot (a buddy, a boyfriend, your kids, etc.)...unless you've cleared it with the photographer first.
Never post a sneak peek that you had taken with a cell phone or another camera before the photographer has had a chance to post their own professional sneak peek. Truly posting any photos from a shoot that was photographed by someone else is generally a no no, but after my initial pics are posted and I get the surprise element, I don't mind if you've taken a behind the scenes fun selfie that you want to share on your FB page.
Conditions might be rough. It might be really hot: I did a ballet shoot at dawn with Cassidy this past August. She danced en pointe for me in 96 degree heat for FIVE HOURS. No complaints, no need to even take a real break other than the occasional sip of water. She just kept working like she'd been a pro model for years, even though she's only 18 years old. I was blown away by her professionalism. Her photos remain my absolute favorite of any styled shoot I've ever done because she was so incredibly gifted in every way in front of the camera. She'd researched the story, and simply became the character I needed her to be, and every line of her body and face in every shot is so perfectly in the moment. The hours just flew by and I seriously could've continued photographing her all day and night. It was that magical.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, it might be really cold. This past March, I did a dawn cherry blossom shoot. Even though it was supposed to be spring, my two models, Robin & Jessica, were with me in DC at 530am, in 42 degree weather, wearing light sundresses and had bare feet. Looking at those pics, you'd NEVER know...the two were consummate professionals, not once complaining, or asking for a break. They completely embodied light, sunshine, and the sweet spirit of spring.
Be aware that time and lighting is everything in photography. If I ask you to go somewhere, get there and strike your post, face & body camera ready. There's generally a rhyme & reason to what I'm doing, and if we stop to chat a lot about it, or fiddle with the costume, we could lose a crucial moment. I get into a zone when I shoot, and I want to create an atmosphere and a spell when we work together. A photo shoot often feels like a symphony and we need all the instrumentalists following the conductor to make the best music.
Always tell your photographer if you're uncomfortable with something. I don't want a model getting hurt physically, or feeling bad emotionally because of a shot I took. Now, if you've signed up for a pin up shoot but are prudish and think being sexy is dirty, you probably shouldn't sign on for the shoot in the first place. :) But if there's something that feels wrong to you, it probably is. I try very hard not to ask anything insane from my models but I may not know all of YOUR personal boundaries. Of course, sometimes I make suggestions and then my models shimmy up trees in their gowns or hang precariously over the water...because they're insane AND awesome. :) But seriously...talk to me. I want you to feel good about what you're doing.
Most important of all, come with a good attitude. Come ready to work, and to have fun. With me, I need my models to be focused, but I also really, really want it to be a positive experience for them. We keep the mood light because guess what? We're getting to make something really beautiful. If you're in a bad mood for personal reasons, try to keep focused on what's happening. Generally you only need to be "on" for 2, maybe 3 hours...if you don't want to be there, it'll be written all over your face & in your body language and the photos will end up looking less than stellar.
I get inspired because of what my models are doing. I prepare for days ahead of a shoot in terms of what photos I want to capture, what new shooting techniques I want to try. Many times, my specific ideas go right out the window when a model gives me a look, or tries a pose. I LOVE not having to direct models too much...so much more fun to let them find their own strengths within the character they're portraying and unlock their own creativity. I want you to challenge me in a good way...don't be afraid to ask if you can try something during the shoot...I'm not an ego maniac and I don't have all the answers or the ideas. I come with the canvas, the brushes, and the palette, and my models fill in the pictures and bring them to life.
The last thing that I ask is that if you've modeled for me, USE your photos. Put them as your profile and cover pics and rotate them as new favorites come in. If you're having issues with FB cropping, ask me to resize a photo so that the integrity isn't compromised (I carefully frame each photo and when FB cuts it in half, it really ruins the effect). Give proper photo credit (either by naming me as your photographer or giving a link back to my page/website). Share the pics and encourage your friends to visit the photographer's site or Facebook page. It's by this that I gain new fans, which translates to new business, which translates to the shoot paying for itself. Be really positive...get excited about seeing your gorgeous self in the pics...your enthusiasm is contagious, especially on social media. I find that when one person comments in a positive way on a photo, more people follow. They are often just waiting for someone to get the ball rolling.
I don't know if I have encouraged more people to sign up for modeling gigs or scared them away. I know it seems like an awful lot, especially when you're not getting paid for the shoot. I do allow my models to use their photos for their portfolios, and they receive a discount on one future shoot with me if they'd like to have one (headshots for their career, couples shots with their significant others, etc.). It's a big responsibility to help a photographer market their business, but it can be a really rewarding experience for you as well.
A very important topic: presents. I accept diamonds, cash, trips to Paris, etc. :) Just kidding. I did recently have a model give me a gift to symbolize our shoot and it now sits on my "table of special things" in our bedroom. I cherish those little things, not just because I enjoy getting gifts but because the model had a truly great experience, and wanted to commemorate it in a nice way.
I'll end this by sharing some of my very favorite photos from my styled shoots over the last two years. I hope you enjoy. Please feel free to comment if you have anything positive to add. :) P.S. Click the horizontal images to enlarge them. :)
Last but absolutely not least, I couldn't have done these shoots without the help of several amazing vendors whom I use regularly and believe in with my whole heart. Here are links to their FB pages:
Best Face Forward Make Up & Hair Artists
Ann Leslie Designs
Loda Floral Designs
Beau Monde Boutique
P.S. Next styled shoots on the Blog will be the Snow Queen Maternity & The Ice Princess shoots, featuring lovely pregnant model Brina and adorable teen model Kaitlyn. :)
P.P.S. Next year, styled shoots will include themes of hit tv show Once Upon a Time, beloved book series Anne of Green Gables, Waterhouse painting replicas, "Classically Frozen", and a Roaring 20s Flapper Girl shoot. Plus a calendar of unknown theme to benefit something charitable. How's that for specific? :)