Sitting someone down in front of your camera for the first time can feel quite daunting – let alone talking to models! Many new photographers clam up and concentrate on the shot – while it’s not a bad thing to do, it’s important to remember they’re human too.
I’ve prepared a little guide on talking to models – new and experienced – to get the best expressions possible. Whether you are shooting with an agency model or just a family friend, all these points are useful.
I am an experienced portrait photographer and have spent years shooting with models, new and pro, and the stories I’ve heard about new photographers coming to the industry and clamming up after 5 minutes is cringeworthy.
Portrait photography requires an affable personality to talk to your model. With that said, if you’re meeting someone for the first time do some research on them.
Many models will have an online portfolio of previous images. There maybe a bio about their career, what they like etc. Make a little note of this and use it for points of conversation.
‘I’ve seen from your portfolio you’re into painting?’
Simple openers like this show you’ve taken an interest in their work and you want to break the ice. But this may not always be the case, so how do you otherwise start from scratch?
‘How long have you been modelling for?’
‘What type of modelling do you want to pursue?’
‘Do you have other creative hobbies outside modelling?’
If your model is more of a friend, simply adapt the conversation to things you know about them or give them an opportunity to talk about themselves. This allows you to concentrate on the composition.
Talking to models who have never posed before requires more effort from you as the photographer. If its your first time too then you need to do a good amount of prep work beforehand.
Scour the net, places like Pinterest are amazing for model poses based on your subject and theme. Take lots of screen shots and refer back to them during the shoot. If you get stuck don’t be afraid to say something.
‘Right I’m just going to take a second to have a look at what I want to do next’
Talk to the model and share with them your ideas. The more involvement they have, the more relaxed and understandable they’ll be.
If they’re struggling to understand a pose, then demonstrate it for them. If you’re not the most graceful then it could make for a comical expression on the model’s side – if so, get the camera ready.
Take regular breaks, add in props, costume changes and above all – remember to show them your shots. Of course, hide any weak ones you know you’ll get rid of, pick out one or two that look brilliant. This helps build confidence in your model. The more confident they are the easier the expressions will be.
If expressions aren’t coming naturally though then you’ll need to offer some prompts.
‘Think about your ex-partner’ (for an angry face perhaps?!)
‘Close your eyes, imagine you’re on holiday, lying on a beach’ (for that peaceful look)
‘Think of the rudest thing you’ve ever done, but don’t say anything’ (for a cheeky glint)
Or crack a joke – make it appropriate though. It’s not rude to talk from behind the camera as long as you’re audible.
If all else is failing in terms of talking to your model, then fall back on the tried and trusted technique – of talking about yourself.
I’ve done it many times, not because I’m egotistical, but because dead air during a portrait shoot kills energy, rhythm, atmosphere and concentration. Don’t be afraid to talk about other shoots you’ve got coming up or other ideas you’d like to try in photography. You never know it may prompt an interest or response in your model.
Even make it more sociable and ask, ‘did you see that movie last night?’.
Working with more seasoned models or friends who are comfortable in front of the camera does honestly easy the awkwardness of conversation. But while they may know more about posing and expressions, it’s still important to chat to keep the tempo and atmosphere upbeat.
Modelling is 99% confidence based, so you need to keep praising your subject where possible. Use the talking points I’ve outlined early for general chit chat. I bet they’ve got lots of funny stories they can tell about other photoshoots they’ve been on.
Keep control of the photoshoot too. Experienced models can naturally repeat poses and look they’ve done before, but that may not be what you want. While it’s great for a new photographer to just practise, if you’ve got a certain look you want to achieve remember to jump in and make suggestions.
‘Can you just try that again, but this time do….’
‘Would you mind changing your position a little bit and doing….’
This just shows you care about the images you’re creating, and it helps you build confidence too when controlling your shot.
If you aspire to go further into portrait photography – wedding photography would be a great example for this – then learning to talk to and direct subjects is vital to success.
Fingers crossed we’ve helped squash the nerves of how to talk to models to bring out the best expressions for your portrait photos.
If you’ve got any further tips based on your experience, then let us know.