Notes on shooting models / by Paul Kelley III

This is just a mess of notes and advice I'd give to my fellow photographers and creatives on shooting models. I'm by no means the be all and end all of guidance and/or photography. But after being apart of this community as long as I have and the horror stories I've heard. I definitely think I have some knowledge to drop. They aren't in any particular order, though some are more important than others...

1. Keep your hands to yourself. The most common sense and basic dictum I could offer, it is still one photographers grapple with. Unless asked, and unless absolutely needed; don't touch your models. 

2. Avoid the square peg/round hole problem. Don't try to coerce a model into doing something that they are uncomfortable with doing. Don't beg and berate a non-model into shooting. Don't beg and berate a non-nude model into shooting nudes. Don't beg and berate a nude model into shooting something erotic. Etc, etc. It's extra and unnecessary. There's a lot of people out there who want to shoot a variety of different things, so there isn't reason to have to coerce and convince someone to shoot something they are uncomfortable with.

3. Always say yes to the escort. An escort is there to make your model comfortable. Models of all skill levels will ask to bring escorts, just say yes. There is an expectation of professionalism on all sides, so anyone serious with their modeling won't bring someone who would disrupt and distract. An escort will establish a certain amount of comfort and security for your model, because most likely you, the photographer, are just a person that they have communicated with on the internet only. Don't take it personally. Don't flaunt having an excellent reputation. Don't flaunt good references. Model safety is paramount, and an escort can secure that.

4. Never demand a professional model to work with you for free. Never trot out the "I spend thousands on equipment, training, blah, blah" excuse. If a professional traveling is someone you'd like to work with... then you're gonna have to pay. That is their trade and that is their living. Usually experience dictates who pays who, but that's a bit more complex than I'll get into right now. But respect models that have rates.

5. If you accept money from someone, then you are beholden to their expectations. Either the expectations you set for yourself or the expectations they hire you to fulfill. Make sure you and your model are agreed on what you plan to shoot and what the results will be. This is a transaction now. If you promise a certain amount of time to shoot, a certain amount of looks, a certain amount of edits... then best believe you should meet them.

6. Don't ghost. It's common decency. I know I wouldn't want models to ghost on me, so I don't ghost on them. There's no harm in stating that you aren't interested in a shoot or gig. You might not have time or it might not be something that interests you; be a good communicator and communicate that respectfully. If you've progressed to planning a shoot, definitely don't ghost on that. If you need to cancel or postpone, message your model as quickly as possible. Don't leave anyone hanging when they expect you.

7. Know your camera and equipment. Learning on the fly with your model probably isn't the best time to figure out your camera or your flash. Sure equipment issues pop up, and that can create havoc, but I am talking about familiarity with your tools.

8. Make good work. Good work is the ultimate passport, photography is essentially a meritocracy. People will want to work with you and it'll open up lots of doors to you. And it's a simple rule. I mean unless you like wasting people's time and making crap, then ignore me here. 

9. Post production is just as important as any part of the process. Never return SOOC jpeg's to your models or clients claiming them to be finished. If you are hitting your shot 100% every time, then why are you reading my advice? Give me advice instead. I'm not an advocate of constant over editing, but at the very least crop and color correct. Take some pride in your finished product.

10. Edits should be sent out professionally. When you send out edits make sure you use a professional quality file sharing service (Google Drive and Dropbox are damn near universal and free under a certain amount space used). I use Google Drive, when I share edits with a fellow Google Drive user, then can simply add the share to their drive on the browser or android device (iOS users have difficulty with this, don't ask me why). Email can be a finicky way to deliver edits because of attachment size limitations. Definitely do not text edits or Facebook message edits. A real horror story is when models have to screenshot and crop an Instagram post to get an edit off of a photographer.

11. Give good, clear direction. I think of photoshoots as collaborative efforts; we are in a boat on the water and we get to where we are going if all the oars are in the water and paddling together. When I first started my skills at communicating the types of poses and movement I wished to see in my models was poor. It has steadily improved. Not every model needs a lot of guidance when it comes to posing, but direction is important. Bonus, if you can keep your lefts and rights correct when giving direction.

12. Watch your language. Language is a very powerful and succinct tool, using it properly effects a person's perception of you. Texting and typing in full sentences sounds and reads more professional to a client or a new model. Your choice of words is also important. Take the phrase "turn your chest to me", doesn't that sound much better than "point your tits my way". When it comes to body parts, I try to use the least vulgar word available, and I try to avoid objectifying body parts in general.

13. Open and upfront about usage. Maybe this is common sense, maybe it isn't but be agreed and open about where you plan to post the images you make. Posting your work to different sites and platforms is a great way to spread it, but let your model know and consent to where you post it. Whether it be Instagram, Tumblr, Ello, Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, Patreon and so on and so forth. Something as casual as "Hey is it ok to post these on X, X, X or X" is fine, but then respect your model's choices.

14. Be open to the input of your collaborators at all stages of work. This means planning, shooting and post production. People other than yourself have great ideas and sometimes it is a very positive experience to let your model or other collaborators build on your idea. It can usually be enhanced. This applies during a photoshoot as well. I'm not saying to always take the ideas of others as gospel and that you should always take another's input. But damn, be open to it. As it applies to post production, I remember back to the first time I shot with Bridget and we got onto the subject of highlights in a picture... Turns out she preferred her highlights a little blown out and that influenced the editing in a positive manner.

15. Don't be a creep. This really relates to providing your model with a safe and comfortable setting to be shot in, and relates heavily to your own professionalism. Don't make sexually charged comments, don't sneak shots of your model, and don't involve other people who would do anything like that. I really know in your heart of hearts, that you know what I mean by don't be creepy. I mean if you are a creep then you definitely know what I mean. If you stick with photography enough you'll hear plenty of things like "Oh so and so wouldn't send me edits unless we hung out again" and "so and so kept asking me to send nudes before our shoot 'as a preview'". The "so's and so's" I allude to, totally know they are creeps, so don't be like them.

I certainly hope some of these have enlightened you today. All these points are rooted in professionalism and model comfort & respect. Maybe I'll type out more in the future, but let's start with these fifteen.