Working with Models: Tips From a Model Turned Photographer

I’ve been modeling for the last 7 years, and it took me the first year or two of non-stop photo shoots to realize what really works for my body type. When I transitioned from subject to the photographer, I had an advantage from being in front of the camera. I also realized that no two people photograph the same, which is pretty obvious, I suppose. I learned as a model that two different photographers could photograph me completely differently. One could make me look tall and lean, and the other could make me look way shorter than I actually am. It’s really all about the angles and realizing what angles work best for each person. The more you shoot people, the more experience you’ll have shooting different body shapes and sizes, and you’ll develop an understanding of what works best for each.

Sometimes it takes me an hour to warm up with a new client. It takes time to understand how a person moves, what makes them feel comfortable, and their angles. That’s why a lot of photographers prefer to do a test shoot with their models ahead of time. As a photographer working with non-models, you don’t often have that same luxury and have to learn all these things quicker.

These are some basic tips that work with generally every subject and are based on portraiture work. In my opinion, there’s a lot more room for experimentation in fashion, editorial, and more artistic concepts. Photography is an art form, and it is based on opinion. As art, some rules are meant to be broken. I’m always experimenting, trying to catch moments or see things that others might not see. Photography is about pushing yourself and expanding your vision. As you shoot and experiment, here are a few tips to help you capture the best representation of your subject.

 

 

Communication

Talk to your client. Communicate what you want, what looks good, and direct them into poses. You’re working with non-models, which often means working with people that don’t know how their body photographs. Find a few things they’re doing really well, and use positive reinforcement to boost their confidence. Confidence translates to the camera. Make sure your comments are sincere, appropriate, and in no way can be taken negatively.

Communication can make all the difference in a photo shoot; the more you shoot with one individual, the more comfortable the two of you become, and the more you’ll understand what works for the other person. I’ve been photographed by a few people for 7 years and I can tell you, the photos we first took compared to the photos we take now are not even in the same category. In the recent photos, we have far more of a connection, and you can feel the comfortability and confidence in the images.

Chin Out And Down

This is the best position for a straight-on portrait to help elongate the neck and make the jawline appear stronger. Be aware of your light source to help accentuate those lines. I photographed Nicole and Cliff both in hard sunlight which worked in their favor and helped accentuate their jawlines. Hard light doesn’t work for everyone, though. I suggest only using hard light on individuals with really great skin.

 

Keep Hands Loose

The hands should always be relaxed and loose, the term is “ballet hands”. Even when you have to hold an object you still want to keep the same idea and not have the hands clenched into little fists. They should be soft and delicate. Rivi and Sarah were my favorites to photograph for their hands. They understood completely how to keep their hands relaxed. I’ve worked with a lot of dancers, and they are really great at performing fluid, graceful movements, void of rigidity.

Stay Open, No Squished Arms

Pay attention to a subject’s arms against their body, and their legs against a chair.

For arms: Separate a subject’s arm from their body by bringing their arm out slightly to restore dimension. This will help help the subject’s arm look more relaxed and thinner.

For legs: Have your subject sit on the edge of their chair to reduce the flattening of their thighs.

Focus on keeping the body “open”, always provide space between the arms and torso. This space helps show the natural shape of the body in photographs.

 

Direct The Eyes, Avoid Over Rotation

Try to pay attention to where your subject’s eyes are pointed. Sometimes, I tell the subject to follow their nose with their eyes. This leaves a minimal amount of white showing on the eyes. Even though I love this photo of David, his eyes probably could have been moved a little bit more towards me. The same goes with the other photograph. Both may have turned out even better had I paid more attention. (See, even I don’t abide by certain rules).

…Actually, I love breaking rules. 🙂

Movement

I love giving a subject an action to perform; It takes them out of their head a little bit and makes them loosen up. Capturing a natural movement provides fluidity, which is my preferred style of photography. I do not like photographing anything too structured or posed. I like to mix fashion with documentary work, so a lot of it depends on the subject. I like my photos to capture natural-looking behaviors of the subject.

Also, using the natural wind outside can work really well in your favor to bring movement to your photos. Consider adding a fan to bring movement to a studio shoot.

 

Hand Pick Your Gear

There are many other factors in play than just the way your subject poses. Different lighting, sets, colors, cameras, and gear can all affect the way a person looks. For example, a wide lens may work well on one person, like Tim Walker, to give a more artistic storytelling approach, and could just as easily enhance parts of another person that are unflattering. Use your gear to your advantage by hand picking it based on the individual you’re photographing, and the story you’re telling.

 


 

 

So I’ll leave you with this: Find freedom in your art, learn your subject’s angles, and build a relationship with your client to produce the most striking, authentic, and flattering portraits.

Hattie Watson

Hattie Watson

Hattie Watson is a Portland based photographer and model.