Tips on making models comfortable on photoshoots

I work with A LOT of models as you probably know. Furthermore I work with a lot of young models ranging from 15+ and I surprisingly hear a lot of stories about other photoshoots they’ve been on and uncomfortable situations they’ve been put in, not just the young ones I might add; but all round.

Male photographers, you guys have a harder time, I’ll give you all that. Photographing young beautiful women can put you on the back foot for sure so I’ve asked a range of my models how they feel comfortable with male photographers and female photographers too (I’ve heard just as many stories about female photographers making models uneasy), or what certain photographers who had made them uncomfortable could have done differently on the photoshoots.

Let’s face it, we don’t talk about it enough.

  • Talk to your models. Seems like a no brainer right? But honestly it’s one of the main complaints I hear! That a model arrives, a makeup artist starts and no one interacts with the model so they feel like a glorified clothes hanger rather than a person. I personally spend ten minutes making tea, chatting with them about modelling, their jobs, experiences and generally aim to get them chuckling a bit before we settle into things. Especially if they are new to it all.

  • Making your models laugh during the prepping stage is so important to me. It raises the energy but also relaxes everyone. I talk about funny things that have happened on previous shoots, like models falling over or there was once when my make up artist accidentally smacked one of my models in the face with a branch because it slipped from her hand, has everyone in stitches. (The model was not hurt in anyway and actually cried laughing about the whole situation). It instantly puts new models at ease and they feel more connected with the group.

  • Encourage younger models especially to bring a friend or family member. Honestly it helps SO MUCH if it’s the first time shooting with them. It’ll put them at ease too to have someone there, in a supportive role. I’ve heard of photographers not allowing models to bring someone, even that would make me uncomfortable.

  • If you’re planning on doing something nude, semi-nude, artistic or even just SUGGESTIVE. Tell them BEFORE hand. Send over visual inspiration so they can be prepared of what is expected of them. They might be fine with it but if you expect them to do these things without warning it can make a ton of even experienced models uncomfortable because it’s not what they were expecting.

  • If they don’t want to do something, DO NOT TRY AND COAX THEM INTO IT. In ANY regards. Even if you don’t understand the reasons they don’t want to do anything, even if it seems really random that they won’t, please don’t try and gently bully them into it. I’ve had models not wanting to pose with fake guns, for their own personal reasons. Also models who don’t want to swing their hair, it makes no sense to me but who am I to ask why and bully them into it? Just move on to the next shots.

  • This goes on from the last one. If your model is clearly a bit uncomfortable, in any way whatsoever or seems hesitant. Please please don’t carry on and act like they are over-reacting, making a deal out of nothing etc. It’s hurtful. I’ve heard of this recently from a model who was encouraged to do underwear shots anyway with no warning, then encouraged to take their top off, by a female photographer who kept insisting “It is fine! We’re all girls here, it’ll be done tastefully!” This is not something a photographer should ever say, it’s bullying. It’s not ‘fine’.

  • If you have a pose in mind you better be able to show them how to do it, I mean it. Practise in the mirror and don’t be afraid of being laughed at. I’ve been laughed at more times than I can count and that’s cool with me, if my model is laughing, they are having a good time and that makes a difference.

  • If you’re expecting your model to bring certain clothing, even just wearing a nude bra for under costumes etc please tell them, they are not mind readers. Tell them what makeup you want if you don’t have a hair and makeup artist. Be specific. Them turning up and sensing that disappointment is such a killer.

  • Take charge. New models especially, won’t know whether to move between shots, what thing you are looking for and are generally not as confident. Have poses ready, even print outs are handy. I sometimes show them previous shoots I’ve done and show the poses I’m looking for and tell them to move between every two or three shots. It’s clear, simple, precise and we both know what is expected. I also have points I get them to look at. Window, clothes rail, door, down and across. Etc etc. Then I just shout out the points and they automatically know where to look.

  • Always have a break on longer shoots. Get to know them, let them hydrate and have some food. I’ve heard of some shoots going on over 6 hours without a break. Models by the end of that are grumpy, hungry and dehydrated, they will not be cooperative with you after that.

  • If it’s cold, take a hot water bottle. A hot water bottle has saved my photoshoot before. Not having one has also ruined many a shoot too. Cold models do not work well. Ever. Their skin puckers, they go blue and or red, they lose that light of engagement in their eyes and their lips often get very dry and blue-ish too. Hot water bottles are the way forward along with a good coat or blanket for breaks and in between shots.

Models and fellow photographers, do you have any tips of your own to share? I’d love to hear!