The other day at 10PM I realized I didn’t have photos for a blog post I’d written, and mentioned it on Facebook. One of the models I previously worked with contacted me within the hour, and I had the photos shot and edited 24 hours later. Creating relationships with enthusiastic, creative people who are excited about your projects is one of the best ways to stay energized and inspired about your art- but how do you avoid the frustrating no-shows and unanswered emails?
Start by being worth it
I hear it all the time on forums: “Models are unreliable.” “No one ever responds when I contact them.” “Model Mayhem doesn’t work around here.” But you know what? Most of the time, it’s not them. It’s you.
Models deal with a lot of crazy, nasty stalkers and even more just-plain-terrible-photographers who want to “trade” services when, frankly, they have nothing of value to trade. So as a photographer approaching a model, your goals are to establish credibility and value. There are two ways of doing this.
Contact a reputable modelling agency and pay a professional. You’ll get someone with measurable skills and experience, who is likely to be reliable and easy to work with. If you’re running a workshop or have some other high stakes project this is your safest play. As photographers we get pretty entitled sometimes, but the reality is, just as in the photography world, if you want a real professional you should be prepared to pay for one.
The bonus: Working with a professional is fun and easy and it is so easy to get great photos that it feels like cheating.
The Personal Ads:
That’s not how most of us do it, of course. What most of us do is go to Model Mayhem, search for models, and offer to trade services. This is a fun way to meet new people and can save you the cost of a model for personal projects, but the way most people approach it doesn’t work. Here’s how to do it right.
Be approachable. Your personality should come through clearly in your initial contact message. Be genuine, respectful and fun. Make them like you and give them a reason to work with you. They should be as excited as any client!
Show value. Refer them to a well written profile on the modelling site that showcases your work and your personality, as well as your up-to-date website and Facebook page. Offer treats at the shoot the way you would for a client. If they are an experienced model, be prepared to pay for their time, and if they aren’t, be prepared to help them enhance their portfolio and skills in front of a camera.
Be safe. Offer references and a chance to meet for coffee first (if you take the time for coffee you’ll also learn a lot about the reliability of the model you’re considering). Be open to having an escort present, and if you’re a male photographer, insist on having your own female assistant there.
Be clear. Be upfront about your expectations and what the model can expect from you, and when. Treat them with the respect due a professional, but realize that much of the time they won’t be- if you’re trading services you’re usually working with starting models who have little training. Don’t expect them to know what you want if you don’t tell them.
Be legal. I let models know in advance that I need photo ID for the model release. I use the iPhone app EasyRelease and where it prompts me to take the model’s picture, I photograph their ID. The last thing I need is to find out too late that a model lied about their age.
Another note: take the time to look at a lot of profiles when you’re building your roster of models. Ignore the quality of the photos, and look instead for connection with the camera, a variety of facial expressions, and good body movement. All that can be taught, but it’s a lot easier to look for models who come by it more naturally. Pay attention to bone structure, body type, the angles that seem to work best for the model and whether those will be right for your project. Be aware that hair colour, length and style may have changed. And when you’re reading profiles, look for enthusiastic people you think you’ll click with.
I’ve had great experiences with models in the past, and just sent out a half dozen messages to potential models for my summer creative projects. Of those I expect to work with 2-4; some will never respond and may not be active members of the site anymore, and for some the realities of scheduling and locations may not work out. But if I treat them well, the ones I work with will have my back creatively for a long time to come.