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Newbie Tips for Working with a Model

Fashion photography model tips

If you’ve ever tried taking pictures of someone (or something) that isn’t extremely cute and fluffy like a baby or a puppy, you’ll know it can sometimes be difficult to capture people in a flattering way. Some people are extremely shy or don’t like getting their picture taken. Others really do like having their pictures taken. Some even make a living getting their picture taken. They are called models, and today we are going to consider what it is like working with models.

Where can you find a model to practice with?

There are two ways to go about working with a model.

One way to find a model to work with is by going to a model website like Model Mayhem that connects models, photographers, makeup artists, etc. In fact, Model Mayhem is the best resource for up and coming photographers to find models, because a lot of beginning models are on there looking to build their portfolio and will trade their time for pictures (see section below). Check it out today and see who is in your area, ready to shoot. Be clear and specific about times, what you want to shoot, and what they will be receiving. Some sites have a lot of models to choose from, and if you are courteous and professional through correspondence, you can connect with a model and set up a shoot.

Fashion photography model tips

Another way to find a model is to ask around your town or city. There is a good chance there is someone in your town who has the looks or aspirations to do some modeling, whether it’s on a national scale or a local one. If you don’t know someone directly, simply ask around or a make a call out on Facebook. I remember when I was taking a lighting class and needed someone on short notice due to a cancellation. I put out a request on Facebook for a model as replacement and I had two subjects willing to step in within an hour. Some people really love having their pictures taken, it’s simply a matter of putting yourself out there.


Either way, if you have someone who is interested in posing for you, now you have to decide what arrangement benefits both of you.

Trading Time for Pictures or Prints

There is a great rule of thumb that goes something like this – if the model is benefitting the photographer’s portfolio only, the model should be getting paid. If the photographer is benefitting the model’s portfolio only, then the photographer should be getting paid. But if you are both benefitting each other, meaning you both are trying to build up a portfolio of images and you are both more at less at the same stages in your career, then you can do what is called Time for Prints, or TFP.

Fashion photography model tips

Time for prints means the model is giving up his or her time in exchange for images at the end of the collaboration. This could be called a “trade” or, in the commercial modeling world a “test shoot.” It is not expected that you are actually printing images and delivering them to the model. I believe that is a term left over from the glory days of film.

Model Release

When working with a model, it would be wise for you to obtain a model release form. You can find them easily on the web (here’s a PDF you can download immediately), and there are even a few great apps that you can download. I use an app called Easy Release, which is powerful and lets you and the model sign right on your smart phone or tablet.”

A model release form, when signed by the model, grants you the photographer legal permission to use the photos online or in advertising.

If you don’t get a model release, the model has the right to ask you to remove images from websites and even sue you if you end up making money using those photos without permission. I’ve personally never had issues when I’ve forgotten to bring along a model release, but it is always better to be prepared.

Fashion photography model tips

Picking a Location and an Outfit

Now that you’ve done all the prep work, where do you shoot? What should the model wear? This is where the fun begins!

It makes the most sense to either start planning with an outfit or with a location (assuming you aren’t shooting in a studio). If you start with an outfit, say a summery dress on a girl, then the location should probably match the outfit. Maybe think about shooting in a field, or the beach, or in the forest. If you have an amazing location in mind, like a great old building with Victorian architecture, then think about what outfit would match that setting best, in terms of colors, shape, patterns, etc.

Just to give you a few ideas about location, I’ve shot in abandoned buildings, under piers, in wheat fields, in flower fields, at vineyards, against brick walls, yellow walls, graffiti walls, in studios, in parks, on carousels, in casinos, and more.

fashion photography model tips

Working with a Model

The next (and final) step in working with a model is to simply begin shooting. If you have an experienced model, you won’t have to say much to them in terms of posing, because they will already know what to do. The best models I’ve worked with will actually change poses or expressions every time they hear the camera click, so you’re never getting duplicate images.

If you have an inexperienced model consider getting some posing inspiration from sites like Pinterest,fashion magazines, and right here on dPS. Do your homework. Look at lots of images, practice those poses yourself so you can articulate what you want from your model. Here are a few to get you started:

A fun and easy rule to remember is “make triangles with the body” (see photo below). How many triangles can the model make using legs, arms, and body? This advice works better on women than on men, by the way. Sometimes working with models means stretching them in ways that might not feel natural but can look awesome. The best thing you can do is practice, practice, practice. The more you shoot, the easier directing models becomes.

Fashion photography model tips

Now let’s see some of those model photos, please share your images in the comments below and if you have any questions please ask.

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Phillip Van Nostrand
Phillip Van Nostrand

built his photography business in Santa Barbara, CA and New York City, where he has shot over 140 weddings, countless head shots, and events for the past 9 years. Currently living in NY, he manages to travel abroad at least once a year and is up to 30 countries traveled. Published in the New York Times, Huffington Post, New York Times Magazine, featured in Santa Barbara Dining and Destinations Magazine, Cretus Mag, and San Diego Style Weddings magazine. You can connect with him on his blog and on instagram.

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