We all start somewhere and if you’re a new photographer learning the ropes, you’ll likely prefer to get some practice in without having to hire a professional model for every single new idea or piece of kit you want to try out.
Don’t get me wrong, I highly recommend you pay for models when trying new ideas, as this can often remove a lot of the stress from a shoot. Paying for a model often means you’re paying for their expertise in posing and angles, and this can mean it’s one less thing for you to worry about. You’ll likely have enough going on with technical traumas, lighting placement, exposures, camera operation and much more, so paying a professional model who knows how to pose is always a huge help.
But what if you’re starting out and simply don’t have the budget just yet for a professional model?
By now your family and friends have blocked your number, the kids are desperately checking to see if you’re technically breaching any child labour laws by forcing them to model all the time and the dog tries to hide behind the washing machine as soon as they even think you’re glancing at your camera. So if you don’t have any wiling models around you, the next best thing is to reach out to aspiring new models who may be wiling to offer their time in exchange for a few nice photos. These new models, like you, may be inexperienced when it comes to preparing for a photoshoot, so here’s a few tips for them to consider and for you to watch out for, as you get ready to work together.
Be sure to discuss what makeup is needed or not needed prior to arrival. Note to photographers: GREAT MAKEUP TAKES TIME TO APPLY. Some shoots will have a makeup artist (MUA) on set and some shoots won’t. If there is going to be a MUA at the shoot, make sure the model isn’t arriving with a full face of makeup on as this will only need to be removed and reapplied by the MUA prior to shooting. Doing this can often result in extra redness to the skin especially around the eyes that can further add to your retouch time. If an MUA is going to be present, a clean, moisturised face is all that’s needed from the model.
If you don’t have an MUA, consider whether your model will be arriving with makeup or not. Maybe they have to travel a long way, maybe they’re travelling via public transport, if so, they may prefer to apply makeup once they arrive so it looks its best prior to shooting. I’ll say this again; great makeup takes time to apply. If the model is arriving without makeup and will be applying it there, be patient and be prepared for this process to take around 45 minutes. Obviously this figure will vary based on the look you’re going for, but just be patient if you’re looking for something specific or more complicated than simply ‘smoky eyes’… you know who you are ;)
I will encourage you to approach this subject with caution, as respect and understanding is needed if you choose to include this in your shoot prep. Firstly, you need to be clear on what you aim to shoot with your model. Will this be a regular portrait with shirt and jeans, or will this be a lingerie or swimwear shoot? If you are planning to shoot lingerie and swimwear, there is clearly going to be a certain about of skin showing and one area that can dramatically increase the retouching time of a lingerie image, is excessive stubble or shaving rashes. This is rarely something you’ll encounter with experienced models, but understandably, some newer models may overlook this. Like I said, be sensible when approaching this and if possible check their previous images to see if they ordinarily shave legs, armpits etc. Secondly, remember there is no need to bring this up if you plan on simply shooting jeans and shirt fashion and doing so will almost certainly freak a new model out.
One way to approach this in prior communication is to simply mention that if you plan on shaving legs etc prior to shooting, be sure to do so several hours beforehand so as to avoid any shaving rashes appearing in shots. Granted this is a very passive-aggressive approach, but it simply reminds them about shaving under the guise of a handy tip.
This one seems super obvious, but I still encounter this today, even with very experienced models. The issue I’m referring to is those little annoying marks that appear on the skin after removing tight clothing. It’s most commonly seen with tight bras or even socks and tight jeans. This can be seen as normal and unavoidable, but if there is any way you can at least minimise the issue, I recommend you do so as retouching out all of those little red marks and dents on the skin is a real pain.
One suggestion you can offer new models, is to advise them to arrive in very loose fitting clothing. There has been numerous occasions where my experienced models have arrived in pyjamas and or dressing gowns so as to avoid these clothing marks and it makes your retouching life so much easier.
Essentially, if a model turns up in their pyjamas, it’s a sign of their experience, not their lack thereof.
Remember, its not just the marks themselves, but the skin indentations are nearly always accompanied by redness and this again is timely to reduce in post.
Advise on loose fitting shirts and tracksuit bottoms and if you’re shooting lingerie, consider either no bra or some sports bras as they can leave less skin marks too.
This topic is likely going to be one that you’ll need to decide for yourself, but do you want the models personal items to be present in the shot? Personal items can be anything from wedding rings, piercings like navel and nose rings and even bracelets and necklaces that the model may always wear and not even consider taking off.
Is there an issue with personal items in shot? Again think about the context of the final image, is it a portrait that’s personal to the model? If so, then really any personal items should of course remain on the subject. Is it an editorial fashion shoot? Maybe we don’t need the distracting elements of big wedding rings or cheap piercings to be visible. One area that you’ll also need be respectful of is religious symbols being visible in shot. I’ve only personally experienced any push-back on this in the U.S. but I tend to ask for religious necklaces to be removed in commercial or editorial shots and although this is often not an issue, be respectful if someone refuses.
Why remove personal items? Again, this is going to be very dependent on the shoot and the story being told with your image. I personally don’t like how visually distracting some rings or piercings can be in an image, especially if they catch the light, and I will often politely ask if the model would mind removing them. Some models refuse to remove certain piercings and I respect that and simply move on. Their reasoning for not removing certain items can be numerous, but sometimes its simply that they don’t want a piercing hole to close over. If that is the case, I may follow up by asking if they mind me retouching the item out afterwards. ALWAYS check with the model before retouching a personal item out in shot. Just because you don’t like something, doesn’t mean you can simply remove it under the banner of ‘but it’s my personal vision’.
I’ve understandably saved the most irritating, most distasteful and most abhorrent offender for last. This item has caused me countless sighs and eye-rolls over the years, as I’ve often loaded up raws to edit, only to hang my head in shame and despair as the unsightly offender is clear and plain to see. What’s worse is the fact that it’s the one item I had the most control over avoiding right from the start.
It is of course, the despicable hair tie!!
It never cease to amaze me how often these little accursed bands of fabric slip past the scrutiny of entire teams of creatives to somehow miraculously appear in the final shot. Like condemned spirits of the accessory realm, these textile manacles only appear once photographed and once again, under numerous heavy sighs of retouchers everywhere, they must be exorcised time and time again in our shots.
What I’m essentially saying here is, please, please, please check your model doesn’t have a godforsaken hair tie on her wrist before taking the shot. Your former photographers have failed up until this point to spot them, but that doesn’t mean all hope is lost in the continuing battle to ban and remove all hair ties from set! We all wish you luck in this seemingly impossible mission.
Some of these tips may seem glaringly obvious to some of you, but to others these may be new and areas you hadn’t considered as something that you may like to avoid. Some of you may already mention these, along with other tips to your newer models, but if you’re looking to include these suggestions in your communication with newer models moving forward, I urge you to be respectful when doing so.
All of these areas can be seen as very personal to some models, where as other models may not see it as that at all and will often gladly welcome the free advice. Some models wont leave the house without a full-face of makeup on, whereas others love and welcome the opportunity to not cake themselves in makeup. Some models may be reluctant to remove personal items like religious symbols or piercings and some models may be more than happy to do so. There’s no right answer here, you likely have a final vision in mind for your shot and there is no harm in politely asking if your subject is willing to help you in achieving that goal. If they decline or refuse, ask if they’d mind you removing it in post, but if they’d still prefer you kept it in shot, please respect that wish. It’s just a photo at the end of the day and it really isn’t worth you upsetting anybody over it…… apart from the hair tie. I’ll cancel a shoot on the spot if a model was insane enough to not want to remove a hair tie from the wrist. My politeness has its limits!
About the Author
Jake Hicks is an editorial and fashion photographer who specializes in keeping the skill in the camera, not just on the screen. For more of his work and tutorials, check out his website. Don’t forget to like his Facebook page and follow him on Instagram, too. On Jake’s Facebook page, you can also tune in for a livestream livestream every other Tuesday night. You can also sign up for the Jake Hicks Photography newsletter to receive Jake’s free Top Ten Studio Lighting Tips and Techniques PDF and be sure to download his free 50-page studio lighting book. This article was also published here and shared with permission.