How to Direct a Model

In fashion photography people bring life to art. As the focal point of most photos is the model and their movement; this makes their capacity to perform in front of your lens a critical component of the final product. It is important to make them comfortable in expressing mood and tone on set. I have found that the on-set mood can dramatically affect the quality of the images, and in some cases can make or break the success of the final images.

Model Pose SampleIn the beginning of your career you are often required to work with new or inexperienced models, who may not yet be comfortable in front of the lens like a seasoned pro. It’s these particular situations where knowing how to direct a model and how to set the tone is a very important skill to have. Particularly if you would like to build a quality portfolio in as minimal a time frame possible.
A great place to start is creating an image reference, find photos online or in magazines with a particular emotion or movement that you want to capture. Have them on hand in case you need a reference.

sharing a sampleDo some homework! Use these image that you found earlier and re-create the poses yourself, figure out what you would have to do to get there, if you can’t figure out how to pose the model, they may not be able to generate the results you want. Use that experience to figure out how to describe and explain it.

how to poseSo how do you get that emotion or vibe without blatantly explaining it (which can sometimes yield forced or contrived results)? A great way to do this is through music. If you need someone jumping around with lots of energy, give them upbeat high energy music. It’s the same as if you are at the gym listening to your iPod, you probably wouldn’t be listening to a slow jazz number trying to run a 10k on the treadmill, you likely will be listening to a high tempo song with a strong beat. Having some sugar on set doesn’t hurt either.
Crafting a strong playlist that will appeal to more than just yourself can sometimes be a bit challenging. Not everyone loves certain genres. So a great tool is Spotify. It’s a membership that is well worth it with lots of selection. Pick a theme and go, if it still not working pick another, or better yet try and describe the mood to your model or show them with your mood board and let them pick the music. Make them feel comfortable.

Black and white poseIf that doesn’t work use your prepared homework and give some verbal or visual direction to your model. Bonus points for doing a few poses yourself.
If after further direction you are still not seeing the results you want, move on try something else an come back to it. There is no point pushing things if they are just not working at that moment in time. If things have started to become tense or frustrating or if you have been going for a while, take a break. Make the best of it, take a breather and lighten the mood. In the end keeping things positive will be the best way to produce good results.

behind the scene on locationThe most important thing is to realize the situation your subject might be in, and what will it take to allow them to create the character that would be suitable for the shoot. The entire team tends to wake up quite early for a shoot day, some travel quite the distance to get to set. When your model arrives, sometimes she has to go through 1-2 hours of intense hair and makeup. For those who don’t think it’s intense, try to curl your hair for an hour straight, it gets pretty tedious. Since the set is orchestrated at times by the photographer it’s important to make sure everyone is there to have fun. Because at the end of the day that’s why we all show up to work.