I always shake my head when younger or inexperienced photographers criticize a model for a bad or weak photo, claiming they "did not know how to move or pose".
Truth is, they have this whole thing bass-ackwards...
It is, and has always been the photographer's responsibility to know how direct a fashion model through poses and movement. Also, how to evoke emotional responses from their talent, to better capture believable expressions in their shots.
In an odd way, I like that these skills of interacting with and directing models are not always intuitive, and often very hard to teach someone. They have nothing to do with the newest cameras, or most expensive lenses, or state-of-the-art lighting equipment, or even great styling.
In this digital age, where cameras and software are easily available to everyone, I still feel the importance of the human factor gives me a bit of an edge. The intangibles are often just as, if not more important than the technical framework of a shot.
People skills - and directing models certainly falls under that - are often what set the really good fashion photographers apart from the mediocre ones. And deftness working with your talent will almost always show up in your results.
That's a rhetorical question. Of course it does...
Asking or expecting models to automatically know how to move, or somehow figure out how you want them to pose, is no different than expecting movie actors to direct themselves.
And yet a film's director is as important as anyone on a film crew.
And, much like a filmmaker or movie director, a photographer's job is to be a storyteller - interpreting the ideas or concepts created by the fashion stylist, publication Art Director or Editor, or the client. Or, in lieu of anyone else being involved in a shoot, coming up with ideas themselves, and making sure the model understands what to do and how to do it.
Blaming your talent for something that is your responsibility is simply an excuse.
Here's a perfect example. The fun images above are two of the final photos from a concept fashion test shot a few years ago - a collaboration with Central Florida makeup artist Mike Burt, titled The Vampire Brides.
My beautiful models Elina, Samantha, and Anna Lisa, while certainly looking the part, were not professional models - not a single one - and were very unsure of themselves in front of the camera.
Any one of them individually could have been a nightmare of a challenge for me to photograph. Then consider my odds with the three of them together - all having to pose and look perfect for the money shots.
And yet, you can see the results.
This was one of my proudest moments as a photographer, and one where I will absolutely take credit for how well the shots from that session turned out.
I did a few very important things that helped insure my success. One, I started by photographing each of them individually, slowly warming them up, all the time giving each of them nice feedback on how good they looked. I also tend to joke a bit as I work, and that almost always puts a model of any experience level more at ease.
Finally, when the time came for the group shot, I made sure to take complete control and direct them, leaving no doubt in anyone's mind I knew exactly what I wanted and how I wanted them positioned.
My responsibilty, not theirs.
At this point, they had all had their individual moments in front of the camera, and were used to the rhythm and timing of the electronic flashes going off.
They were having fun.
I started clowning around with them - and the rest of the styling crew chimed in as well - to get them to finally bare their fangs revealing their true nature.
And that's how it's done.
I am not suggesting that models shouldn't learn how to move. Far from it. The basic advice I give all beginning models is to - if possible - study both dance, to help them learn to move, and acting, to help them harness and project emotions.
What I'm saying is photographers should never assume or rely on a model being highly skilled at posing, and certainly never blame them for any issues with the photos that are better attributed to a lack of direction.
The ability to move in front of a camera is an acquired skill. For some models, it comes naturally. Others develop it over time. Some never quite get the hang of it, and need to be very specifically directed and posed.
If you want to have any kind of consistent success as a fashion photographer, you need to be able to know how to work with any skill level model, and to be able to make up - with your direction - any posing abilities they lack.
Do you have any experiences with challenges or problems on shoots because of inexperienced models? How did you handle it? I'd love to hear any stories in the comment section below...
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All photos and original content ©Steven Paul Hlavac. All rights reserved.