What I Look For in a Model

September 6, 2015

A pretty face and an attractive body are not the most important criteria that I look for in a model. Yes, that is the conventional perspective of “model photography”.  But after several years of shooting women, my ideas of what I want from a model have crystallized and go in different directions.  So what is it that I value in a prospective model for my personal creative projects?  Here’s a list of my top 6 criteria:

Enthusiasm – being in love with the idea of the shoot, and showing it!


(Model: Chelsea B www.facebook.com/pages/Chelsea-B)

Perhaps the most important attribute, for me, of a model for a creative session is that they show enthusiasm for the shoot, that they are in love with the concept and what we can do with it.  Enthusiasm is infectious.  It builds into a wave of joint creativity, overcoming all the inevitable minor setbacks that occur in any shoot, and especially ones like mine that are often dependent on the weather, light and state of the location.  Rather than being work, the process becomes one of pleasure, the setting one where laughter can fill the moments between sets.  I have always done my best work in such an atmosphere and, as I say to all my models “if you aren’t having fun, why are you doing this?”  There are much easier (though not always rewarding) ways to make a living.

Enthusiasm also means doing whatever it takes to make the shoot work – even if it means immersing yourself in glacier-fed water or clambering over water-soaked cold ruins, if that’s what you think will make the killer image.  People who have shot with me know I never ask models to do something potentially painful… but I am grateful for those whose enthusiasm leads them to push the limits!

Valuing creativity, originality and expressiveness over prettiness


(Model: Chelsea B www.facebook.com/pages/Chelsea-B)

I am a photographer primarily because it is the best medium for me to express myself artistically.  My intent, with a model, is always to create something “artful”.  I want a model that wants the same, one who values creating something original, something magical that will speak to someone of a feeling, sensation or a story.  It’s true that a standard “model” photograph, with a fully lit sharp image of a beautiful woman in a classic pose, without a distracting background (and especially with minimal clothing) will always score highly on social media and be appreciated by many people.   Such an image, however,  gives me no artistic charge and increasingly, as a photo, irritates me with its banality and predictability.  The models I am after do not want endless repetitive pretty and sexy pictures of themselves, but instead creatively seek artistic affirmation.

Knowledge of and commitment to their craft


(Model: Kenya Esqueda www.facebook.com/Ken.nyta.SteGarEsq)

A photographer needs a solid grasp of the tools and techniques of their trade,  to be able to consistently produce quality work under varied conditions.  So does a model.  For a model, the tools are their body and face, and the muscles within that can evoke shapes and expressions that communicate.  The techniques include knowing how to control the body and expressions to match the desired mood or feeling, how to position to look effective in the two dimensional world of the camera, and how to use lighting to bring out the desired features and effects, and to hide the flaws that all of us possess.  I find that people who work with their bodies in some way, for example as a dancer, actor or Yoga practitioners, often have a head start in being able to play their bodies as a model.  Some aspects, such a being photogenic, are to an extent a gift you either have or don’t.  The rest… Developing an open repertoire of effective poses and knowing how to play with light takes commitment, practice and study.  I love to work with someone who understands this, commits to it, and is charged by it!

Craving collaboration


(Model: Jai Padilla www.facebook.com/jai.padilla.santos)

I don’t want an interchangeable doll to pose and place in a setting to bring my fully formed vision to life.  It’s actually really hard to have a fully-formed vision anyway, when, like me, you mostly work in uncontrolled settings!  Instead what I want is a partner in art.  Someone who will suggest ideas, will spark off my ideas, who will build something together with me that is probably better than either of us could do alone.  So, if you want to work with me, fire me ideas, build on mine prior to the shoot, and don’t be afraid to suggest things when on location and we have a feel for the environment and the volatile ambient light.  Yes, I will suggest poses and settings.  I may even demonstrate the type of idea that is bubbling in my head (which usually is a sound basis for invoking laughter).  But I expect you to be able to run with it, add your twist or new direction.  If you are more comfortable simply being directed, I am probably not the photographer for you!

Versatility – and selectivity


(Model: Kenya Zarate www.facebook.com/kenyaa.yo)

I like working with the same model over time.  It helps to develop a good working rapport and to be able to experiment without fear of failure.  To do multiple shoots, though, means we have to create totally new looks and styles of image – or I will get very bored!  So, for me, a model who has great range and versatility, who can be a chameleon of looks, can transform into different characters and show many different emotions, is a gem to be treasured.

As a very personal associated criteria, I am far more likely to see potential in working with a model when I can see evidence of selectivity in photographers they shoot with, and in what they include in their portfolio.  Creating images is, for me, a collaborative exercise.  If someone has already demonstrated that they like to stretch themselves, and that they lean towards artistic expression, it makes me warm to the idea of collaboration.  Personally, nothing turns me off faster than being seen primarily as another photographer to add to a collection, or to see a portfolio padded with repetitive pretty and unoriginal photos, however well executed.



(Model: Janelle Lee Model www.facebook.com/janelleleemodel)

I commit my time and energy to creating images, and I expect my models to do so too.  Much effort goes into a shoot, including planning themes, outfits, locations and logistical arrangements.  Often I have to drive over an hour to get to a shoot location.  Although common in the amateur modelling scene, it is very frustrating to have a session cancelled on you at the last moment, or, even worse, just not have the model show.  The last criteria I have, therefore, for a model I want to work with is that they are reliable.  They turn up, unless really sick, on time, and ready to work as planned.

Many photographers have a “one strike” rule.  In the past I have been quite lenient, but now I have adopted that approach unless there are evident mitigating circumstances.  Fortunately, I am blessed to have some incredibly hard working and reliable women model for me!

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