How to find a model
A guide to human relations
by Adam Marelli
A Reader’s Question
Last week a Ed Mixon, a website regular, asked for some help. He said that:
“I have had a terrible time getting someone to use for modeling. Seems everybody is afraid of something I don’t have any idea of….any advice?”
A special note to street photographers: Street photography and shooting models do not typically overlap, though it is something I encourage everyone to do. One is the art of candid, unplanned moments while the other is usually associated with the glossy pages of fashion magazines. But when we consider how often people play an integral part in street photography, it makes sense to train with models. Without the understanding of the individual parts of a street scene from people to architecture, the novice street photographer can only ever “hope” for a successful shot. Its useful to look at how Cartier-Bresson divided his time between portraits and street scenes. The portraits were a regular practice that allowed him to reach incredible heights with his street images. My advice to all aspiring street photographers is to know your material…All of it, inside and out.
Ed, first I would ask…why are they afraid? Finding a model is like picking up a date, only much easier because unlike dating, you and the model only need to tolerate each other, not fall in love. If their reaction to you is “fear” you might want to look at the approach. Obviously from this end of the computer I can’t hear exactly what you are saying, but I have propositioned everyone from 5-85 years old for a picture and I can say that if they feel comfortable, you will get more yes’s than no’s.
Here are some helpful tips on how to find a model and how to get their permission.
Finding a Model
There are three simple ways to finding models. Unless you live in rural Mongolia or the Outback the odds are there are more potential models around you than you could shoot in a lifetime. Finding a model is not like sniffing out platinum. Models, both professional and non-professional, are so abundant that a photographer who can’t find a model is as ridiculous doctor saying they can’t find any sick people.
The Local Find
The easiest place to find a model is at your local coffee shop, bar, or restaurant. If you live in a decent sized city, there is a good chance that someone, on the other side of the counter, is an aspiring _____________ (model, actress, musician, artists ect.) Odds are they like being in front of the camera, they probably need an updated head shot, and they enjoy the attention. If you are not sure…ask. Its really easy.
Not everyone is going to be the next Kate Moss. Some models are not interested in high fashion, but still like being photographed. Websites like Model Mayhem are set up as a forum for photographers and models to connect. Since the format allows you, as the photographer, to view models pictures in advance, it gives you a great opportunity to actually cast someone that is of interest to you. As an example, I have a One on One student who has red hair and freckles. He wanted to make a series about freckles. When he sent out emails asking if any models were interested, he got more responses than he could actually handle.
This may sound obvious, but if you want a model, call a modeling agency. Many modeling agencies have men and women in all shapes and sizes. As long as you steer clear of the really expensive female fashion models, the rates can be reasonable. What’s responsible? Many agencies will have someone you can photograph for less than $500 for a half day (they won’t advertise it, but some could be as low as $50 an hour). If you book through an agency and you are not a professional, just say that you are doing a photography course and you need a model for 3-4 hours. That should be enough to ease any anxieties they might have about sending someone your way.
How Do You Get Permission
Lets run through a hypothetical situation to look at some of the questions that you are bound to get if you ask someone to model and how to deal with them properly.
Even if you are only photographing for fun, act like a professional. Follow mom’s advice…be nice, mind your manners and say your pleases and thank you’s.
Dont’ be a pervert.
I go to photo functions frequently. And all too often I meet people who just give off the vibe that they have they have secret torture rooms in the basements. Don’t do this. If you want to shoot nudes be totally up front about it. Say that you are interested in shooting nudes or better yet pornography. If thats the case, just say it. None of these “I’m into artistic human landscapes…” Its bullshit. Do like Richard Kern and say, I love shooting naked girls playing with themselves. Its fine, there is nothing wrong with sexuality or perversion for that matter. But be honest about it.
While modeling may seem like the easiest job in the world, the reality is that working with a photographer can be exhausting. Be efficient with your models. Do test shoots, have your lighting already set up (if you use any), and scout locations in advance. Any model will be more willing to work with you again if the day goes smoothly and they are not sitting around as you fiddle with minor adjustments. They are there to model, not to play on their iPhone.
Finding a model requires confidence. If you sound unsure of yourself, there is no way someone will model for you. Don’t grovel, beg, or stare at the floor while asking. Looking them in the face and ask them. If you are confident, they will be more likely to say yes.
Here are a few different ways to approach a potential model.
1. The Student
“I am doing a photography class and need to take some portraits.”
This one is pretty much a no fail. If the person has free time and you have a decent rapport, most will say yes to help out a student.
2. The Aspiring Photographer
I am working on a series about ____________ (fill in the blank) and think you would be great for it. Can we do a few test shots to see if it works.
Be prepared to show some examples of your work. An iPhone can be good enough, better would be an iPad or website. If they like the work, 9 out of 10 you will have a model.
3. The Casanova
If any part of your approach has to do with telling someone that you think their eyes, smile, or body parts are nice…you are on your own from here. It works, but I am not advising this approach unless you know what you are doing. Chances are if this is your approach to your photography, it is also your approach to many things. No advice needed.
If this is new to you, be prepared to duck or deal with angry boyfriends, husbands or parents.
4. The No Game Approach
This is very similar to a style of picking up a date referred to the “No-Game Game.” This is an advanced version of not actually knowing how to ask someone for a date. Essentially you get into a conversation with someone about your photography and eventually, through no skill of your own, they say “Hey, I could model for you.” Its a rather passive approach, but for some it works.
While this approach is quite easy, it is notorious for a very low yield. There are faster ways to find a model than wandering conversation.
5. The Group Game
This is an adapation of a game I use to play with friends in college. While traveling through Europe we played this in every country. Its amazing how often it works. In this case, replace my college friends with some photographer friends of yours.
The other members of the group select a potential model for you to talk to. Then you need to go an engage the model, with your friends watching to insure that you do not back out. The success rate is staggering. I think that it actually has more to do with accountability than anything else. Most people, if they are left alone, will make up excuses as to why things won’t work out. But when you have a group watching you, its a pass fail situation and you just do your best.
Make sure your friends aren’t laughing. The deal is that they pick the person for you to talk about, but they don’t blow up your spot. They have to let it play out naturally.
Keep in mind that most people need pictures. Whether its for a Linkedin Profile or a Facebook pic…we live in a picture heavy world. So you might be doing them a huge favor. Be prepared to give your model back something in return. Usually I send someone at least 1 picture from the shoot as a thank you, no strings attached. It leaves them with a good impression and if you need to call on them again, they will be willing to model again.
In the next entry I will talk about a few helpful tips on how to have a smooth shoot no matter who you are photographing. Tomorrow I am off to Las Vegas for the first time to speak at the SXWS Conference on “Creativity and Entrepreneurship.” This will be my first time in Las Vegas…so I am looking forward to it. More details to come.
Note: The models in this article (Lucie Pustova and Klara Jozakova) are represented by Czechoslovak Models and were photographed as a part of the Prague Workshop with Adam Marelli + Leica Store Miami.