One dispute that seems to come up for me, over the years that I’ve been a fashion photographer, is the treatment of the models. Or better still, what to do with a model who isn’t giving you what you need. So here’s the dilemma: you cast a girl who you think fits the look you’re going for on a particular shoot. You organize the team, putting together the best hair stylist, make up artist and stylist for the job. You rent or find the location. You go over and over the details with your team before you even get to the set. You leave no stone unturned: all the details are complete. You’re finally ready to shoot and the girl just won’t emote. You’re playing her iPod, everyone is happy to be there and in a creative mood, food has been offered and eaten. And the girl just won’t give it up! What do you do?
I have a dear friend in the industry who has been doing this as long as I have and he and I have completely opposite viewpoints on this. I won’t say he’s famous for being a “screamer” but he’s one of these photographers that will definitely get angry with the model if she isn’t emoting or giving him what he needs to get the shot. He’s been known to make the models cry or have them walk off set to call their agents. His take is that he’s put all this work in to the shoot to create exactly what he wants and if the model isn’t emoting, the shoot is a waste. I agree with that….it is a waste if the girl just stands there or if the girl is giving you those Model 101 poses. It is totally frustrating and debilitating.
If she ain’t got it, she ain’t gonna’ get it. At least not in the 6 hour time frame I need her to be “on”. And maybe because I’m a woman and I’m against berating other women, I just can’t find it in me to be a jerk and start yelling at the model. I feel like the reason why she really can’t emote is because she’s shy or insecure in the first place and screaming at her isn’t going to do anything positive for her already low self esteem. To make the shoot more interesting, I’ll end up moving around the girl myself and shooting at angles that add interest and don’t necessarily need her to emote that strongly. Or, if I have to, I will take her aside and make sure she feels comfortable because maybe someone along the way in production (like the make up artist or the hair stylist) did or said something that upset her so I’ll clear that up so hopefully we can move past it. But when all possible reasons why the girl isn’t emoting have been checked off and she still won’t move, I basically walk away with a shoot that wasn’t all I was expecting. And sometimes I’ll admit, the shoot is a wash. At least in my opinion.
More often than not, if it’s a job, I don’t have the final say on the model choice. And while I can tell the client what’s happening, that the girl isn’t moving or emoting, at the end of the day, the client doesn’t really want to hear it they just want results. I try to keep the set lively and happy and positive and pull out what I can from the girl. I’m fairly good at it at this point. But I don’t scream and yell and reduce the model to tears.
But I know other photographers that do. While I thought I was taking the higher ground by not being a “screamer”, you can see by the short video from our Fashion Photography Exposed DVD when I interview modeling agent James Charles from Photogenics that he doesn’t necessarily agree with me. He thinks that the girls need to be trained and taught that when they are on set with a photographer they need to give that photographer what they’re looking for. So by all means, you gotta’ do what you need to do, to get the shot.
I know that not all of you are working with professional models yet and that the new faces or girls from sites like Model Mayhem can be extra challenging because they too are starting out and may not “know” what emoting even is or how to do it.
One is to ask them if they want to hear a particular kind of music. Ask them if they brought their own iPod or iPhone with their iTunes on it so they can hear the kind of music they like listening to. Music is a great motivator to get people “moving” and happy. It’s a mood elevator. And I use it often to get everyone to loosen up and start enjoying themselves. After all, this job is really supposed to be fun, right?
Another thing I try to do, and I’m not always in a position to do it, but I try to hire make up, hair and stylists that are relatively easy going and fun to work with. A Diva hair stylist can intimidate a new model like you wouldn’t believe. That won’t help your cause, so try to work with non-Diva-esque people.
Another trick is humour. Everybody loves to laugh. So try to get the model to laugh. That will help loosen her up. And lastly, SHOW her what you want. Get up there on the cyc or on the seamless and show her where to put her legs or what expression you’d like her to give. If you feel awkward showing her yourself, gather your mood board or have some pictures on hand so you can show her, “This is what I’m looking for, smile (or frown or wink or snarl) like this girl”. Having a reference point will often set them on the right path.