Tips for Connecting with Photography Models

For many photographers, the task of working with others can prove to be just as difficult as figuring out the the technical intricacies of a camera and its accessories. Assuming a model knows what you want without communicating is ineffective, while barking out orders to talent can easily translate to unease on and off camera.

It’s important to cultivate a relationship with the individuals that venture into your studio. Ted Sim of Aputure Photo joins acclaimed photographer Kazu Okuda on the set of Contra Studios NYC to see just how that’s done:

While running through his photo shoot, Okuda offers five important tips for photographers learning to work with models:

Do your research

Before the talent even enters the room, do a bit sleuthing. Seek out the agencies representing them, their professional portfolios, and personal websites. This content can provide valuable information on a person’s looks, personality, and sense of style. Let that information influence your shoot. Lighting, color, angles, and more can strengthen the stories and ideas that you’re trying to communicate through your subject. Don’t get discouraged if you can’t find all that much on the model(s) that you’ll be working with; even the smallest tidbits are better than walking into set blind.

Make eye contact

This may seem like common sense, but all too many people overlook the importance of eye contact. The engagement that eye contact brings can easily make or break an image. Instruct talent to gaze directly into your camera lens. Don’t be afraid of breaking the “fourth wall.” In the end, you want your audience to connect with your images as much as possible.

making eye contact

Do a few experimental takes

Okuda makes an excellent point on this subject:

“On your first take, you’re also discovering the talent.”

Though you want to walk into a photo shoot with some idea of what your game plan is, it’s also important to remain open to change. After all, neither party involved in the shoot is aiming to create the same work over and over again. Think of yourself as less of a director and more of a collaborator. Give your talent some room to improvise and experiment. Ultimately, this will build comfort between the two of you and speed up subsequent takes.

Take advantage of props

Having a few props on hand is never a bad idea. When choosing items to work with, you obviously want to take into consideration what message you’re trying to convey through your work. But in addition to that, you can also take into consideration earlier research conducted on your model to concoct scenarios that feel natural.

models interact with props

Often times, having something that the models can interact with can ultimately make both of your jobs much easier. Even if it’s not the centerpiece of your shoot, it can very effectively keep things from going stale.

Be observant

Look beyond your talent’s looks. One of the single most effective things you can do on set is pay attention to how the people you are working with feel about what they’re doing. Don’t underestimate the value of comfort. Something as innocuous as a bright light can be hard to tolerate when it’s being shined in your face for hours on end. Small things like having water on set to keep models hydrated can be a great help in keeping them engaged and fresh. Furthermore, having stand-ins to help you figure out technical details like lighting can be crucial. Try to bring in talent only when necessary to keep them at the top of their game.

using stand ins

The biggest takeaway to be had from dropping in on Okuda’s set? No matter the circumstances, go in with open eyes, a creative mind, and plenty of compassion. With those three things at your disposal, you’re sure to rock any photo shoot.

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