"Shut up and model!" - One Model Place (online model directory) company slogan
"I have to say, 'Shut up and model' is probably the stupidest slogan I've heard in this business. I want my models to talk to me during a shoot. I value their ideas..." - photographer Steve Hlavac
Having run a commercial photo studio in South Beach for over ten years, not to mention having learned my craft in one of the largest and most competitive fashion markets in the US, Miami, I have to smile (when I'm not rolling my eyes) at some of the so-called "rules" beginners, posers, and wannabees come up with in small markets like Central Florida, where I live now.
Two that I find particularly irksome, mostly because they are somewhat ego-driven, and completely counter-productive to a successful photo shoot, are: 1) an experienced model should "know" how to pose without being told; and 2) models should be seen and not heard.
The two of these could not be further from the truth...
I'm not going to get into the nuts and bolts of posing today. Suffice to say that, while an experienced model is likely more comfortable in how he or she moves and poses, it is absolutely the job of the photographer (or stylist if they are running the shoot) to direct the models, know how to move and pose them as needed, and evoke the proper emotion or attitude (which includes body language) from them to get the photos to look they way they need to be.
Passing this huge responsibility off on the model is a total cop-out, and a lot of young shooters use that as an excuse for why they didn't get the shot, or why their work doesn't look as good as it could.
But the "shut up and model" way of thinking, to me, really makes no sense, and that's what this post is about.
It goes completely against everything a commercial fashion shoot is suppose to be - a collaboration. A meeting of the minds that brings a group of creative people together for a single purpose. Separate individuals that each, to quote Liam Neeson in Taken, "have...a very particular set of skills."
Now don't misunderstand me. Someone needs to be in charge. And your typical fashion shoot will most likely have one of three people running the show: the photographer, the fashion stylist, or an Art Director. A client may bud in as well. It usually depends on who hired who for the job.
I'm not suggesting that everyone at a shoot has an equal say in how things are set up, the ideas being tried, and the schedule being kept. That sounds like anarchy, and would usually result in a complete breakdown of the production, or at the very least an incredibly inefficient way of working.
Crew members overstepping their boundaries are like a mutiny on a ship, and allowing that is a quick recipe for disaster. Too many cooks and all that...
What I am suggesting is the photographer create a comfortable and creatively fertile environment at a shoot that allows for all of your crew members to share ideas. Simply be sure to set the ground rules ahead of time.
This all comes back to the fine art of working with people, a critical skill for a commercial photographer, but something many inexperienced shooters either never consider, or whose work will never rise above mediocrity because they aren't quite able to master the ability.
People skills and problem-solving are more crucial to a photographer than many realize. Just as important, at some point an experienced photographer realizes that sometimes the reason they even get hired is because of these skills, and not necessarily those with a camera.
Now, the silly episode depicted in the photos above of model Olivia Martin (from our vintage clothing shoot last year) actually lies at one end of the spectrum, as her ideas were not profoundly edgy or incredible fashion art. They were simply fun. An unexpected moment. Some spontaneous frames that ordinarily would be considered outtakes or behind-the-scenes shenanigans. The blooper reel...
But the very thought of a young woman, many decades ago, having the same mindset as today's kids - to take a selfie - I think is actually a really clever idea that connects the old technology to the new. And so, to me, this "outtake" was strong enough in its visual message to become a concept for a separate fashion shoot on its own.
My point is, Olivia was made to feel like her input was valued from the moment she arrived on the set, even though the rest of the crew was older and much more experienced than her. And I'm convinced the atmosphere I strive to create not only puts a model at ease so they can do their job more efficiently, but increases their motivation, knowing their opinions are taken seriously, and their ideas may actually contribute to the final product.
Also consider the very real possibility that a suggestion from one of the crew members, or one of your models, may surprise you and end up being a fairly stunning idea. It's happened to me. Extra sets of eyes on a shoot never hurt, as long as the photographer's pride or ego do not get in the way.
So my advice would be this: when you shoot, decide early on if your stylists and your models are highly interested in your shoot's theme or concept or not. Many times they aren't, and that's ok if they still do their job, and do it well, and can follow direction.
But if they are, let them know that you welcome their input, and value their feedback. Your work will almost always be better for it. Just be sure to put boundaries on group participation.
Remember, too many cooks...
'Photo Asylum 101' is a regular feature of Steve's blog that offers mini-tutorials and real-life advice on photography and other industry-related topics.
You can follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Vimeo, YouTube, and Pinterest! Social media icons are to the left beneath of the site's main menu.
As always, your comments and suggestions are more than welcome!
All photos ©Steven Paul Hlavac. All rights reserved.