Directing Models


One of the biggest challenges for any photographer starting out is finding the confidence to direct. I often get asked how to overcome this fear and my honest answer is: I don't think the fear has ever gone away I’ve just learnt to disguise it better. The only way to achieve this, is by getting out there and shooting as much as possible, gaining more experience until it feels like second nature.

It’s important you remember, that most of the time, the model (especially new ones) are FAR more nervous than you are! They think you're an expert fashion photographer, and they don't get to find out any different until you send the images a couple of weeks later. They, however, are instantly in the spotlight, performing to a roomful of people with all the attention on them - so try to create a confident, comfortable environment where you all start to relax have fun and the shots will come.

Take time to study poses that you like. Learn what works and what doesn't. There are plenty of books out there on the subject. One I always suggest to new models is Photographing Models: 1000 Poses This is an excellent resource showing many different types of pose and explaining the reason why they work.

Remember if you are just starting out, learn to walk before you can run. Spend time with a new model or even a family member or friend emulating famous images or just copying ideas from the above book to discover the style you prefer to use in bigger shoots.

I actually often prefer working with new models. Its almost like a blank canvas and in a way you can mould them, which makes me feel I have had more creative control in the final image. It can be frustrating if a model is shy or stiff and doesn't know what to do with their bodies or expressions, you must take charge at this point and control your visible frustration. A model sensing your not happy with things makes it worse as their anxiety sets in. If you feel this is happening always suggest a small break, an outfit change or new lighting set up to break the tension and come back relaxed again.

I always find suitable music helps. If they hear some of their favourite music, people tend to start dancing about as you check your images in-between shots, helping them to relax more. I always encourage the model to mess about while I do a few light tests to warm them up. Then fire off 10-20 warm up shots with no intention of using the images and providing a lot of positive feedback. Just be careful of your terminology, constantly using terms like 'thats great', 'perfect' as there’s a fine line between fashion photographer and Austin Powers!

Give the model personal space and never move the model physically, always use verbal commands or demonstrate. I always encourage their chaperone or my MUA/ stylist to make any wardrobe adjustments. I might move the odd out of place hair etc, but never without permission first.

Whilst on the point of chaperones - I always encourage these. I know some photographers don't like them as they feel they interfere with the shoot, but I disagree completely. I find they help to make the model more comfortable and by interacting with everybody; including the chaperone the shoot becomes a much more relaxed atmosphere. Obviously there will always be the bad one, the jealous boyfriend or interfering parent that thinks they know all the best poses, but the reality is these are by far the minority and a model, in general, will usually choose somebody that they are comfortable around. If it’s feeling like the model is acting embarrassed in front of the chaperone then I just make a joke about it and ask if the model would prefer them to wait in the dressing room- failing that you can always ask the chaperone to make everyone a cuppa!

I have a few popular poses in an album on my iPad and sometimes I find it good to use this and discuss the positions and looks. This isn't always a great idea though as some people work much better making their own shapes, the minute they try to emulate a pose they can become confused and try too hard, making it look fake. If you do decide to try this then I find its better to show them a pose then take the image away so they make their own version of it rather than try to place every finger in the exact same position!

Try and get the model to flow and change poses naturally in between shots but sometimes look to catch them off guard. I often find the best shots are always the more candid micro movements between poses.

One thing not to do is mumble and whisper to others in your team, this makes the model feel they are doing something wrong but nobody is telling them. (Lets face it, whispering is point blank rude anyway!). I can own up and say I'm actually rubbish at the mumbling bit and always warn my models that I talk to myself a lot so to ignore it. I'm not mumbling about them,I just think out loud all the time and usually going over light or camera settings to myself!

Finally, I'm afraid to say, sometimes you just have to get up there yourself and show the pose. This usually causes much laughter (which is good) and at least they know they can only improve it after my attempt!