Yesterday we heard from model Miss Voodoo Valentine on the best ways to make a partnership between a model and a photographer work. Today, I wanted to share some tips for when you're not working with (pro or amateur) models, but when you're trying to get the best out of your subject who hasn't had any modeling experience (although some of these tips may still apply to model shoots as well). These tips are primarily focused for scheduled portrait sessions, whether you're in a studio space or on location.

Prior to shoot day:
  • Meet with your client or subject in person. The better they know you, the more comfortable they will be. The more comfortable they are, the better the photos will come out. If you can not meet in person, be sure to talk to them over the telephone instead of just sending an email.
  • Discuss ideas and concepts for the shoot. Give your subjects a preview of your work, and explain what they can expect during a shoot with you.
  • Make sure you know a little about the subject: their posing/modeling history, their interests (if it pertains to the photos), and their comfort levels and boundaries. Knowing their comfort level is especially important for boudoir and maternity shoots.
  • Talk about the “paperwork” ahead of time. Be sure to explain any rules you may have as far as payment, late fees, copyright, etc. goes. This way you get most of the intimidating and sometimes confusing and uncomfortable talk out of the way. Some of this of course may need to be discussed on shoot day, but doing what you can ahead of time is best.


(getting subjects to loosen up... it's hard not to smile when you're jumping)
On shoot day:
  • Make sure your location is as comfortable as possible for your subjects. This mainly pertains to studio type locations, and may include things such as temperature, cleanliness, and spaces to get ready and sit down.
  • Always be kind and welcoming. Tell them at the start where they can get ready, use the restroom, and sit down. Offering something to drink, even if it's just water is always polite and welcoming behavior.
  • Set the mood of the shoot. If you need your subject to have high energy and are expecting them to jump around, putting on appropriate music may help to get them in the zone.
  • Keep spectators at bay. If you have a bunch of people running around, it's distracting and can make subjects feel uncomfortable if a bunch of people are watching them.
  • If you have someone that is having a hard time loosening up, do a fun exercise. I will sometimes do little warm ups such as having them jump up and down while taking their picture, or doing something that is silly and fun for the subject to participate in. Once they get warmed up to you and the camera this way, they are typically much better at posing for other types of photos.
  • If you're asking for a specific facial expression or pose, don't assume the subject understands what you want. Explain it to them with descriptive or feeling words, and if you can, show them.
  • Tell the subject if they're doing a good job and point out specific things that are especially working. This helps to build their confidence.
  • Once in a while, show the subject an image on the back of your camera (if shooting digital). This reassures them that both parties are doing a good job.
  • When the shoot is over and your subject is getting ready to leave, be sure to tell them “thank you”, and give them an expected time frame when they will be receiving proofs.