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Working with a Model For the First Time


At DPS we get a lot of questions about working with Photographic models. In this post reader Andrew Mills from www.andyphoto.co.uk shares some tips on finding and working with models for the first time.

Hiring a model for the first time can seem quite daunting, possibly even scary! There’s nothing to worry about though, they are just people like you and me and many are more than happy to work with amateurs and professionals alike.

Where to find a model

The easiest way is to use one of the many portfolio sites such as Net-Model. These types of sites are dedicated to bringing models and photographers of all levels together, as well as other “creatives” such as make up artists and stylists. There are other ways such as placing an advert in a local paper which will not guarantee you will get a reply, let alone one from an experienced model; or you could go through a modelling agency. However, while you should be assured a reliable and professional model from an agency, it may work out too expensive for the first timer.

Most portfolio sites are free for basic use with upgrade options for more heavier users. So you do not have to invest in paying for an account to find a model.

Finding Your Model

You will usually have two or three ways of finding a suitable model – you can use the site’s search function and browse their profiles, then contact them directly. You can also post a casting call outlining your needs, either in a forum or a casting call section, or both, and wait for models to reply. Which of the latter two depends upon the site.

What to Look For

I know we should not be obsessed by looks in today’s world, but this is an area where looks do matter (photogenically speaking), so you need to be happy with the model’s look. Read through her profile – not only will it often contain important information that may be relevant to you, but you can also get an idea as to whether or not she is suitable for your needs. You are shooting for yourself, so apart from budget concerns, you can be fussy if you wish (you could conceivably hire someone like Adriana Lima if you can afford to!)

Is her profile current and her photos up to date? Check that she lives close enough to you, or is somewhere you are willing to travel to. Models will expect travel expenses, so the further away she is, the more she will expect. Does she have any feedback on her profile? Read it as it helps you establish how competent and reliable she is.

Is her complexion and hair good? Although, this is not always reliable as the photographer may have “cleaned them up.” It may sound overly fussy, but I have found myself spending hours on photos where I’ve had to remove blemishes in post production.

Does she do the levels (the “level” to which she will shoot, whether it’s fashion, swimwear, lingerie or more adult related) you want to shoot? If you want to do lingerie or glamour, there’s no point in contacting a model who does not do these levels.

To Pay (and how much) or Not to Pay

model-1.jpgYou can sometimes be lucky and find a model who will work for you for just the fun of creating images. However, most models expect remuneration for their time and skill as a model – oh, and let’s not forget (which many people do) their own expenses which include make up, keeping their hair well maintained and keeping their wardrobe current. At this level, these things are usually sourced and dealt with by the model. You can start hiring make up artists and stylists later on if you wish, but it can add a significant cost to a shoot.

You can expect to pay for their time in either good old fashioned cash, or by TFP/TFCD (Time For Prints or Time For CD). The TF* option means that you supply the model with a number of images from the shoot for their portfolio either as a print, or as digital files on a CD or delivered to them online. However, unless you have photographed people before, do not expect to do TF* shoots as most models only do them if it benefits their portfolio, or they are beginners themselves.

As a beginner, I would recommend you pay for an experienced model. You will have no pressure on you to deliver satisfactory photos to her, and you will not have to worry so much about directing her into flattering poses – she should already know how to do this. You can also find that as she has worked with many photographers already, she can pass on some tips to you – never be too proud to accept advice from a model.

How much you pay them depends upon their look and their experience, and the “level” you are shooting. For fashion or portraiture you can expect to pay a lesser experienced model about £10 an hour – an experienced model expect £15 – £20 an hour on average, with some costing more. As a general rule of thumb, the less clothing the model is wearing, the more you will pay…

What to Say, or not to Say

Models expect to be contacted, so don’t worry about writing to them. Be up front with them (never lie or be pushy, there’s no need to), tell them you are a beginner and what you want to do and achieve in the shoot. Now, they may not have said in their profile, but some higher end models maynot work with amateurs as they will not want less than flattering photos of themselves floating around. Do not be offended or defeated if this does happen (or they just don’t reply) – just move on and contact someone else.

Some things to make sure about before you shoot:

  • Confirm her rates and travelling expenses.
  • If you are working to a higher level, confirm she is happy to work to the level you want.
  • Confirm dates, times and locations.
  • Confirm that she can do her own hair and make up or if you are supplying a make up artist and/or stylists.
  • Discuss and confirm what clothing/outfits she will bring.

How Long?

model-5.jpgMy first shoot was for four hours and I did find that a little too long. I’d recommend 2 hours for the first shoots you do – it’s long enough to allow for her to get ready, set up, and do a range of shots, yet short enough where you’re not as likely to run out of ideas or steam.

Please note that if you do book a model for four hours, and only shoot three, she will still expect to be paid for four hours (unless you have made some agreement on this beforehand).


The model will feel safer and more relaxed in a public place with a newbie photographer who isn’t known and doesn’t have a reputation built up. A good choice is a local park, which will have loads of props that you can use whether it’s a tree, bench, statue or even a wall covered in graffiti.

You could use a studio, but this will require you have knowledge of studio lighting or the help of someone who can set up the lights for you. A studio can cost upwards of £25 an hour, although many do discounts for four or more hours.

What to take

Your camera (obviously), a lens of around 80mm in focal length for head and shoulder portraits), plenty of memory cards, fully charged battery(ies), drinks and/or food if it’s a long shoot. One extra that you will find invaluable is a reflector – you use this to shine some light back into the model’s face to avoid dark shadows. It does also help if you have someone to hold the reflector, but it is possible to manage without.

During the Shoot

These are some tips on what to do and what not to do:

DO NOT TOUCH! This is the number one rule: Keep your hands to yourself. It may be okay with some models to adjust her hair or something slightly, but if you need to do so, ask first! Something like “do you mind if I adjust your hair?” is all you need to say. If she says no, let it drop and let her do it.

  • Do talk to her, ask her questions, try and make her laugh. It will help her relax and you’ll get some better facial expressions.
  • Do be courteous. You don’t have to go overboard, but your reputation will depend upon how you treat her.
  • Do leave her some space and alone if and when she is changing outfits.
  • Do show the model a pose by doing it yourself. If you have a pose in mind and the model is not sure what you are after, adopt the pose yourself.
  • Do not be crude – what seems an innocent joke to you may come across as crass and insulting to her.
  • Do not push her to do levels she does not do. If she does not do lingerie or art nude or higher, don’t push the issue. There are plenty of models out there who will do the levels you want, so there’s no point in alienating yourself.

Model Releases

model-3.jpgThis can be a sticky area and causes many arguments as to whether or not one is needed.

The short answer is that in the UK, you do not need a model release in most cases. If you are not selling for stock or are just publishing to your portfolio (or general editorial use), you do not need one. If you plan to sell an image to a magazine or for stock, they will require a model release. If you are shooting a higher level a model release can help prove the model was happy to shoot to that level and that she is 18 years of age or higher.

And Finally…

Remember to have fun!


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