Model tips & Tricks

The three C’s of a great shoot

At first it was a bit annoying when I went into a shoot with a preconceived idea of what I wanted and others would make suggestions.  Of course, there is a time you need to have a focus on a specific look and idea for a client.  But if you are shooting for the fun of seeing what you can do and honing your skills, this is what I’ve found makes a great deal of difference in the outcome.

Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity

A photo shoot isn’t a good place to be shy.  If you have an idea, speak up.  And no, not all of your or anyones ideas will be used, but often even a lacking idea sparks a thread of thought that creates better ideas.  I often let the makeup artist and hair stylist chat with the model and see what they have always wanted to try.  If they come up with an idea everyone is happy with we head in that direction.

For example, this mermaid shoot wasn’t something I would have actually considered.  I’d shot for 4 years and avoided the seemingly required ‘mermaid’ shoot but they wanted to do it and I figured it was a good place to get creative.  So sure.  It became a lighting challenge where I had to envision the final scene.  My creativity contribution.  This, for me, was a LOT of fun even though the model had to take my word for it.  Trust is good.


So, with some communications the ideas flowed.  Everyone was creative in their own way.  The makeup artist, Erika, brought bras with shells and pearls glued to them and did some neat little scale type patterns on Katrina, the model. While they were doing makeup I started digging around in the prop room looking for things we could use and found a net hammock that worked just fine.  And, of course, Katrina did some wonderful under water type poses with my explanations of how she will be in the water with light from above.

All three Cs were using full steam in this shoot.


In the pirate example above Rebecca and Raygan, her mother, collaborated with Rubii, the makeup artist/hair stylist and came up with the idea of a ship in her hair.  I had the ship!  So, we made it happen and it came out wonderful.  Another very creative day indeed.

Looking over any very creative shoot I’ve done it was full of communication between all involved and that lead to energetic collaboration in every aspect.  Everything from hair and makeup to lighting to props to what music we listen to while we create.

Then again, it’s those three Cs that set the mood and it becomes fun and creates the energy in the shoot.  And the energy is very important.

Acting or modeling…

Yeah, that’s a trick title.  They should be one in the same.

We see a lot of actors that would not make for interesting models because it’s their presentation, their passion, their character presented ‘in motion’ that makes them stellar in their art.977829_614379348574720_1396512585_o

Models have a slight advantage…or disadvantage depending on how you look at it.  One frame.  One walk down the runway.  Just a moment to express that emotion, that glare, that slight smile, the tiny tilt of the head.  As small a time frame that emotion or look has to be, it’s still very important that it happens.

I’m not saying that every shot has to look like a Shakespeare tragedy.

It can be as simple as taking a lot of deep breaths, shaking your body like a wet dog to relax, run around the block once if it’s fitness, something other than the OMG the camera is pointed at me look.

Models I love to work with know their jobs.  And yes, we all have jobs in a shoot.  Mine is easy…light it, compose it, and know what I want.  If I tell them what I’m looking for I can go back to my job and they just flat out make it happen!

Tips for modeling…

  • When asked to move something like your head or hand, do it ever so slightly.  Then the photographer can say a little more, a little more, until it’s where they want it.  If you make sweeping changes it’s VERY hard to get together on where we want you.
  • While you are posed you have two things to be working on.  Think about everything from the expression on your face, the tilt of you head to were your hands are to how your toes are poised.  And, you have to think about what you plan to do after the flash.  The next pose should be just slightly different.  Again, no Kung Fu sweeps.
  • Always know where the light is coming from.  It’s not always obvious and don’t be afraid to ask.  There is nothing wrong with asking to see a test shot so you can do your job better.

Have fun!!  Make art!

Planning a shoot..or not



So, how much planning goes into a shoot?  Well, if it’s for a client there is plenty of planning.  After all, there’s a goal in mind and someone is paying to get it.

How about a basic one-on-one model and photographer shoot?  How much planning is to much and how much is not enough?

Here’s how I do it.

First, I consider who I’m shooting.  Hair color and style, eye color, skin, freckles, dimples, just about everything about the persons face goes into the first pass in my mind.  What can I do to make those best features stand out and make it a shoot about them?  People should look at the pictures and either see that I brought something out in the person that they know, or sometimes even better is to show someone in a way no one has ever seen them.  Both are wonderful fun!




So, there are several models I’ve worked with for over a year now and have over a dozen shoots with.  Often we just plan a day and time and get together to shoot.  Very little planning other than some different wardrobe discussed.  We know each other and know the looks and styles we have to bring to the shoot.  We’ll just use the energy and imagination of the moment to come up with something on the fly.  It never fails to be fun, exciting, and far more creative than we expected.  Always.


These two shots are a good example.  Dawn and I have plenty of shoots together.  Probably more than anyone else.  Yet we get together and the ideas start to flow and we knock out a fine memorable shoot.  These two pictures are from one such shoot and there were many other looks in just that one shoot.

That, to me, is a key.  In about 3 hours we did 13 different looks…or what I call sets.  495 images total.  Mixing it up and moving from one look to another can be fun and it keeps the energy flowing in a shoot.  Then, when the shooting is done, I have a full bag of different looks to work with to create my art.

So, bottom line and advice that people might try….don’t plan so much.

Do you want to play in a sand box or a beach?

Stand back and put the camera down

We love to shoot.

It’s a passion and we certainly don’t do it often enough.  We tend to want to just start shooting away as soon as we have someone playing and posing in front of our camera.  It’s a natural instinct.

Then we get back to the computer and upload the images.  We go through them and often think…if we’d payed attention to all those needles in the snow we might have cleaned them up before laying her in the middle of them to shoot.  Or if the light had been just a little more to the left and down her eyes would have really popped.  It’s to late.  Sure, some of the shots are going to be fine.


This is when you have to ask yourself…is FINE what I was after?  I hope not.  I doubt you are reading this is average is what you are after.


I have a habit of stopping often and just standing there and looking at the model, the lighting, and the overall setting.  Yeah, it’s a little odd and I usually tell the model to relax while I think this through.  After all, I don’t want them to think I’m just staring at them and they are awaiting direction from me at this point.

So, stop.  Set the camera down.  Look at the light, where it’s coming from, how it will hit the model, and envision what the end shot will look like.



Envisioning the end shot is the hard part, at least at first.  Once you have experience you can look at something you take right on the back of the camera and have a fairly good idea of what you can do with it.  I’ve found more and more I look at a picture and get excited about the possibilities of the shot when everyone else looks and doesn’t see what I see.  Often my finished shots don’t look very close to the original so in my case it’s even more important to look and imagine what I can do with it.  So, it’s slightly more important to get it right…to take my time.  Unless the sun is going down there’s time.



Don’t get into the ‘spray and pray’ mode of shooting.  If you have a model that poses well from shot to shot, get everything working right and then let him or her go through 6-12 of their expressions and then stop.  I do often show them the first test shots to let them know what the lighting is like and how to angle their heads the best to take advantage of the lighting.  Then let them play as you shoot.  Those will be great shots.

So, take your time.  Enjoy being creative.  Train your eye to look at the shot in the view finder for a while before hitting that shutter button.

One thing I’ve done, even in the studio, is to wear the R strap with my camera.  Then, when I want to think, talk with the model, whatever, the camera is at my side.  And it’s not far away in those rare and fun moments in time when a perfect shot hits you in the face and you need to get it quickly.

To pose or not to pose…let’s pose that question

The hard part about photographing a person is getting a great shot of a pose that doesn’t look like a pose.  It’s not easy to do.  Actually, it’s damned hard to do and very often overlooked.  And it makes the difference between a great shot and a snap shot.

Now we know the first 30 minutes of a shoot is often a warm up period and little good comes out of it as far as a good shot.  So, use this time to chat with the subject as you are testing gear and getting some lighting ideas.  See how they change when the camera is pointed at them.  If their eyes get bigger, or they put on a pout, or flip their hair back every time…well, that’s a good sign you have some work to do.  Subjects who actively change when the camera is pointed at them are not going to look natural.  And it’s that natural look that makes a shot interesting.

I think the problem is that some think a picture isn’t supposed to echo life.  It’s supposed to have the subject looking different somehow.  What makes a great shot isn’t an unnatural pose, or a big smile, or some out of place prop.  It’s the look in the eyes, the definition of the light coming across their body, and that sense of voyeurism of being able to stare at someone without anyone feeling uncomfortable.

The natural pose should simply say ‘you can look at me’ and not ‘HEY, look at me!” 

So, when I point my camera at my subject I watch close to see how they react.  That’s my job to get something special, catch them in candid moments, any split seconds that would be moving enough to stare at for a bit.

I don’t shoot smiles often.  When I do they are natural…I never ask a model to smile.  There is a difference.

Like everything else in this or anyone’s blog, it’s an opinion.  It’s the way someone else sees some topic and you can agree or disagree.  Everything can be a learning experience if you have an open mind.

Focus your mind and camera

I’m sure you all run into this when shooting. Between poses the subject smiles a certain way, tilts their head into the light just so, looks down, up, or flips some hair that fell…and yeah, THAT was, or would have been, an amazing shot.

Dimity December 2012

I call this an ‘as shot’ because it’s exactly like it came from the camera.

I’ve learned to simply glance at the back of the camera once after a lighting change to make sure it’s what I want. After that, it’s keeping my mind and eye (and camera) focused on the subject ready to catch that impossible to plan shot. The one candid shot that really gives the viewer a glimpse at the real person. I use the words ‘freeze’ and ‘stay’ a lot. And I usually just give the subject some painfully general instructions on the pose. If the lighting is super critical I’ll share on the back of the camera what the shots are going to look like so they can plan their looks to the lights. Other than that, as long as I’m not battling the DITH look (deer in the headlights) it usually goes very well.

I now average 400-700 shots in a 2-4 hour shoot. Some would still look at that as ‘Spray and Pray’ but it’s not. I did that a lot when I was new so I know what that is. No control and you have no idea what you have when you upload. When I look at my uploads there are very distinct sets and multiple shots were trying to catch that smirk, wink, hair falling in the face, that shot that makes it real and interesting, or just fun. It gives the subject the freedom to play a bit in that set.

So, next time you notice you are spending a lot of time looking into the back of your camera, or sharing those shots with the subject, remember that you are loosing focus.