Tips and ideas to lead models during a photoshoot

Giving directions to models isn’t always an easy task.

I have been doing photography for few years now and went through enough photoshoots to share some of my experience in the matter.

Leading a model implies to interact with people, which is obvious indeed but you need to be at ease with strangers, and this wasn’t the case for me at first.

I remember, a decade ago already, looking for jokes to tell my models in order to make them comfortable… Awkward! Although going through this helped me being more confident and giving clearer directions about what I wanted to achieve.

I will share with you what I have learnt all these years taking people in photo.

1. Prepare your photoshoot

Unless I want to test ideas or how it feels like to work with someone, I try to prepare a moodboard. No need to stress about that part, you can save some photos or inspiration you like in a folder or within a board in Pinterest (for example). Make sure you have a defined idea about what you want to do, depending the type of the photoshoot you might not be able to go exactly according to plan since many surprises can happen.

2. Contact your model

There are many ways to contact models. You can find a lot of dedicated Facebook groups in your area (plenty of them where I live, in Sydney), or through specialised websites such as modelmayhem.com.

Always be respectful when you get in touch. Be clear with your expectations, what counterpart you are offering. A lot of experienced models will ask for money which is fair if you have nothing to bring to their portfolio. When we talk about collaboration (exchange of good services) we talk about TFP which stands for « Time for prints » (but don’t worry, no one really expect you to print your files after the shoot, but you need to share the best of them at least).

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3. During the first minutes of the session

Break the ice!

Always expect the first minutes (~30min) to be a bit tense, but don’t stress, it will get better. Unless very experienced, it’s quite hard to be at ease with someone we don’t know, from the photographer side as well as the model’s one. It can be a good time to review your ideas, communicate about your expectations etc.

On my end, I have a tendency of (over) talking about things, trying to get to know the person, joking around and making sure the person feels at ease with me. Another trick is to play music, it will be better than nothing specially if you’re in a studio.

4. About poses

Something I noticed along the way, but there are few tips to help your model pose better. If showing inspo of poses from your photos doesn’t work, you can ask your model to break the balance.

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What does it mean? Just imagine someone standing still like in the photo bellow. Because a photo is in two dimension and « frozen » as opposed to the vision we got from our eyes, we need to add a bit of dynamism in order to make it more interesting to the viewers.

You can ask your model to lower one of their shoulder, raise a hand, put a foot forward but not the other one, etc. The idea is to not have asymetrie (unless that’s what you’re going for, of course).

We often say that the devil lies in the details. Watch out for these small things that make a good or bad photo. It can be a hand in the wrong place, the eyes looking away, a bad angle, etc.

5. Tips for the head

Whenever you shoot outdoors, you want to make sure the light falls nicely on your model’s face, but it’s not easy to verbally explain how to move their head.

I have a little tip, I always use 3 key points along with 3 dedicated verbs.

  1. The chin: I will ask the model to move it up or down.
  2. The nose: I will request to turn it left or right.
  3. The forehead: I will say to tilt it to the left or right.
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With the help of these 3 points, I can adjust their face to suit the light as well as possible. Remember that everyone has one best side profile.

6. Explore angles

Sometimes you have to lower your point of view, or get higher. Remember that you can make a photoshoot more interesting by adding variety to your composition. Explore, try and learn from it!

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7. Hands down

Last but not least, the hands. Always beware of the tensed ones. Avoid the spider syndrome where the model shows their claws.

Hands can express a various range of emotions, this can create a soft and delicate image or can express rage or stress, up to you to manage that.

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Finally…

Thank you for your attention, I hope you learnt few things from this short article. I am really passionate about photography and I will probably share more of my little experience here.

This article is a translation from an old one I wrote in French few years ago. Camille helped me by posing and illustrates this article.