|What Do You Say To
A Naked Model?
Working with glamour models, Part II
by Joe Farace
As a young photographer I asked my mentor, Jay Perskie, what was the worst thing I could do during a photo session. My guess was going to setting the camera on M-synch when using electronic flash (remember that, old timers?) or a similar technical glitch but to my everlasting surprise, her said, "not talking to the people." To repeat what I said last month, if you don't talk to the models you're photographing you're never, ever going to make good images.
If you've ever participated in a group model shoot, you know what I mean. Photogs using their longest possible focal length lenses-hey, that's what Sports Illustrated swimsuit shooters do-blast away with smoking memory cards or film cans and occasionally, the smarter guys will holler, "hey you, look here!" Of such posing directions, masterpieces are created. You could always use the directions my friend Matt uses ("Do some of that modelly shit") or you could try something that might help you produce more successful images.
Even in a group shoot you should introduce yourself to the model and when you do, be sure to ask and use her name. I can't emphasize how important that is. Models relate to photographers who care about them and trust them to make good photographs and will often play to you before the other photographers who haven't made the same effort.
To show a model how to stand or place her body and hands, I put myself in the pose but let her give me her interpretation, which is always much better. From camera position, I refine the pose, after explaining to the model that when I say, "look left" or "look up" what I mean is to move her face gradually and slowly in that direction. Then, I'll tell her when to stop. After working with the same model after one shoot, I find we can often communicate with hand signals because I prefer a quiet shooting environment. Oh sure, there are some models you want to shoot in a studio with a Linkin Park CD playing at eardrum shattering decibels, but you will find that the models who do their best work under these conditions are few and far between. I've only met two.
Some glamour models, such as Dawn of the Rockies and Michelle Monroe, are so "larger than life," that they can be intimidating to newer or younger glamour photographers. When working with a drop-dead gorgeous model, some shooters have a tendency to forget everything they ever knew about photography and just take pictures. Instead, you should take your time, making sure she looks her best even if it means creating fewer but better pictures. Some photographers get so tongue-tied when photographing exceptional models that they make mistakes and even damage equipment. I'd never broken any camera gear before I made the next photograph, but I've always been clumsy. Let's blame it on that.
Once I did a shoot along with two famous glamour photographers and was struck by the differences between how each of us worked and our approach to working with the model during session. One guy talked to the models before they did anything but once they started shooting never said another word. Since he had already told her what he wanted, after each exposure, he made a small grunting sound (no kidding) that was her signal to move onto the next pose they pre-planned. The other photographer was a deliberate medium format shooter who gave her specific directions to the quarter-of-an-inch of a pinkie pose and wouldn't make any image until he thought his composition and her pose was perfect. One of the images I made at this session is below.
There is no one way, no "my way or the highway" approach to photographing models. These are just a few tips to help you get started making better glamour images. If there is any one secret to how to talk to a naked model, it's to be interested in them. Listen to their suggestions (although you don't always have to take them) but stay in control. If the model takes over the shoot, no matter how well intentioned they may be, it's no longer your session. Glamour photography is collaborative. You need to take the best of your talents and the best of hers have them form a synergy that makes the sum greater than the parts. To do that you need to be polite, friendly, fun and above all respectful and ethical in everything you do.