So over the past several months I’ve been doing some photo work with professional models. For someone whose previous work primarily focused (heh) on birds and cats and rusting objects, this was new and interesting territory.

Oh, I’ve done photoshoots of people before, of course. I’ve had friends pose for me so I could play around with lighting and style and explore the human aspect of photography. But a few months ago I joined a website called ModelMayem, which connects professional and semiprofessional models with photographers and other professionals. Through that site, I’ve met some remarkable people, who also happen to be both amazingly good-looking and talented at their craft as well.

Ivan Bohman

Ivan Bohman

And modeling is, in fact, a craft that must be carefully honed. Any ol’ body can stand around in front of a camera and smile and have their picture taken: what I’ve learned is that modeling is about more than that. A professional model knows their body, knows how to move, and knows how to work with a photographer to achieve both professionals’ visions.  It’s not a naturally-occurring skill, but one that comes with experience and careful self-awareness. (I am also keenly aware of my body and its motion in space, which is why I stand on the viewfinder side of the camera, thank you.)

Andre Chambers

Andre Chambers

Photos taken with nonprofessionals can be and often are exactly what’s called for. When I’ve worked with models, though, the experience is more efficient, easier, and (this is true) more creative.  So here are some things I’ve learned in my admittedly brief history working with models:  three basic rules to live by.

1. Relax. My best experiences with models are when everyone’s comfortable and relaxed. This is particularly important if at some point one of the parties will be wearing less clothing than the other. I’ve met models for coffee before a shoot, just to chat and get to know each other better away from the backdrops and umbrella lights. Even if I don’t meet them beforehand, I make sure to welcome them as a guest, not a client or coworker.

Javoroce

Javoroce

2. Be clear about what you want to have happen. I learned very quickly that it’s much easier for a shoot to work well if I’ve written down generally what I want the model to do, and shared that information with the model. That list has become more specific the more I work with models.  Being inspired by the moment is very nice, and sometimes happens, but it’s both more professional of the photographer and more respectful of the model to have a plan. So have a plan. It doesn’t have to be shot-by-shot or pose-by-pose, but should at least give everyone a roadmap of what you’re looking for. The more the model knows about the point of the shoot, the more likely he’s going to not only be able to deliver, but be able to contribute to the creative process as well. Working with professionals has proved to be a symbiotic creative process. Because the model has experience with a number of other photographers, they know some stuff. If they’re relaxed and if they know about what you’re after, they often have really interesting ideas to share. Listen to them. (Of course, this assumes that the model is working for you; if a model has engaged you to do photos for their portfolio, or headshots, or whatever, then they’re the boss and you absolutely need to listen to them.)

Aaron

Aaron

3. Be respectful. Models are not, contrary to popular opinion, emotionless hunks of meat on which a photographer gets to hang bits of cloth or twist around into interesting positions. Not all models are willing to work nude, for instance, and the photographer should not pressure them to change their minds. It’s perfectly acceptable to push an artist’s limits, of course, but no so far that they are seriously uncomfortable. This rule goes hand-in-hand with Number 2: if you’re clear about what you’re looking to do up front, the model has the opportunity to decline the job or suggest acceptable alternatives without anyone wasting time. The same rule goes for models, too, of course. A model should remember that they’re working with a human being, and that the person behind the camera may in fact have something to offer other than the ability to push a button.

James

James

There’s a fourth thing, but that would interfere with my nice tidy threesome, so I’ll handle it separately, even though it’s the most important:

The Release

Any model/photographer relationship absolutely positively must include a written, signed release. I say this not just because I went to law school and thing I’m all smart and lawyerly and stuff, but because it just makes sense in a potentially complicated legal relationship: the model is the owner of his or her image, and the photographer is the owner of his or her photographic work. So a photo done with a professional (or nonprofessional, it doesn’t matter) model potentially has two equal owners: the maker of the picture, and the person whose image is captured. That’s never a good thing, and has the potential for disaster and calamity written all over it. To avoid future distress and misunderstanding, then, this little legalistic nicety must be observed. It’s often just the slightest bit awkward (i.e., you’ve established a relaxed relationship with your model, and welcomed them as a guest in your studio, when suddenly everything comes to a screeching halt when you whip out the release—kind of like following up a romantic marriage proposal by presenting the prenup with the ring, I guess). But don’t be fooled: the photographer/model relationship has a business component, and businesses work because of legal relationships.

The release simply states who has which rights to what, regarding the photos. A release can be pretty one-sided (“the photographer owns everything” or “the model owns everything”) or a mutual exchange of rights (“the photographer owns the nude photos for portfolio purposes but can’t sell or distribute them”). A release gives the model the opportunity to clarify the terms of the engagement, and can of course be negotiated. Below is a simple release, admittedly very one-sided, that I use. But first, this:

PLEASE NOTE THAT I AM NOT PROVIDING LEGAL ADVICE, OR MAKING ANY REPRESENTATIONS THAT THIS RELEASE IS APPROPRIATE OR LAWFUL IN ANY JURISDICTION. YOU MAY USE THIS FORM AT YOUR OWN RISK, AND YOU HOLD ME HARMLESS FROM ANY LIABILITY FOR, OR DAMAGES ARISING FROM, THE CONSEQUENCES OF ITS USE.

Yeah, I kinda have to say that, in order to (a) protect myself and (b) to ensure that you have absolutely no confidence in me or anything I say whatsoever—usually a safe bet anyway. So here’s the form I use:

Model Release

In consideration of my engagement as a model, upon the terms herewith stated, I hereby give to ______________________, his heirs, legal representatives and assigns, those for whom the photographer is acting, and those acting with his authority and permission:

a)  the unrestricted right and permission to copyright and use, re-use, publish, and republish photographic portraits or pictures of me or in which I may be included intact or in part, composite or distorted in character or form, without restriction as to changes or transformations in conjunction with my own or a fictitious name, or reproduction hereof in color or otherwise, made through any and all media now or hereafter known for illustration, art, promotion, advertising, trade, or any other purpose whatsoever.

b)  I also permit the use of any printed material in connection therewith.

c)  I hereby relinquish any right that I may have to examine or approve the completed product or products or the advertising copy or printed matter that may be used in conjunction therewith or the use to which it may be applied.

d)  I hereby release, discharge and agree to save harmless _________________, his heirs, legal representatives or assigns, and all persons functioning under his permission or authority, or those for whom he is functioning, from any liability by virtue of any blurring, distortion, alteration, optical illusion, or use in composite form whether intentional or otherwise, that may occur or be produced in the taking of said picture or in any subsequent processing thereof, as well as any publication thereof, including without limitation any claims for libel or invasion of privacy.

e)  I hereby affirm that I am over the age of majority and have the right to contract in my own name. I have read the above authorization, release and agreement, prior to its execution; I fully understand the contents thereof. This agreement shall be binding upon me and my heirs, legal representatives and assigns.

Signed:________________________________

Dated: _________________________________

Shane Hammontree

Shane Hammontree

Note that the Model Release is not the same as a contract for the shoot. Payment for the model (or the photographer), waiver of fees, form of compensation (hourly, time-for-photos, a nice blueberry pie) and expectations regarding the model’s access to the photos (digital or print, quantity, media) should all be discussed and agreed upon prior to when the model arrives.

Shane Hammontree

Shane Hammontree

So anyway, that’s my current wisdom on the subject. I’m sure I’ll learn more as I do more work with models, and being not especially shy about such things, I’m sure I’ll share that wisdom as it occurs.

James

James