Establishing and maintaining a high level of quality with so many new faces entering modeling and photography every single day is challenging. It can be difficult knowing what you’re going to get and what their level of talent is. Often times this new wave of models and photographers can sometimes set themselves up for problems later on. But there are a few habits we’ve developed for ourselves over the years that has help improve quality immensely. The key is setting reasonable expectations of quality and putting in place a mechanism to insure that you meet them.
Here’s a moment where you want to slow your roll. A new model has entered the scene. You have been receiving praises and compliments galore about how beautiful and high quality your work is in this email from him or her. Then at the end of the email the model says I’m available tomorrow afternoon. Then the model says, “I can come in later today if you need me to.” Whoa! Pump the brakes. First let me look at your port and see if there is anything implying that we have mutual collaborative benefit. Let me see the other photographers you’ve worked with and what they’re shooting to see if you’re consistently shooting with quality photographers or choosing at random to get your port numbers up. Let me determine whether or not you’re skilled and talented enough to go through the looks and challenges. Let me take a moment to read your profile and see if there are complaints you’ve made or an endless list of things you don’t want to do as a model before I even decide to consider working with you. Maybe just maybe I want to write one or two of the photographers and see how you were to work with. How did you interact with makeup artist and stylists and so on? Were you shy, condescending, rude, timid bold and/or confident? I also would want to see if there is a style or type of image you’re seeking to get in addition to seeing if I even need or want that type of collaboration. In other words, we need to establish mutual creative want or need.
Now let us change the scene. You received an email from a photographer near you. His or her profile picture on their port is amazing. He says he’d love to do a trade with you. Why? He says you’re perfect, beautiful, gorgeous and you have a great port. He also says he’s available tomorrow or this coming weekend despite it being Thursday night. He even says you can bring an escort if you want. You swiftly look thru his port and you’re nodding your head “okay” not Vogue but it will do. Besides you’re thinking I need the new pictures anyway. “RED FLAG” moment; the photographer never asked what you’re bringing to the shoot. Expectations and limitations were never discussed. The when, where, how and why were never addressed. More importantly, skimming thru the port more thoroughly would have revealed that there is no real consistent quality and no sense of fashion or beauty being emphasized. Is there a lighting style that appeals to you as a model? Or are you so focused solely on that gorgeous profile pic and thought, Wow! that’s a beautiful image - failing to see or realize that the image was likely taken at a Photography Workshop where the photographer didn’t even set his or her own lighting. More to the point, the photographer was likely under instruction on how to set said lighting, put the looks together or build the set. You didn’t really look deeply into the port to see if all the images were consistently as awesome. More importantly, does anything this photographer has done or will do by your estimation further your modeling career ambitions? Will they make your port incredible or are they just more pics to fill up space? Did you ask how the images will be used or if you’ll need to sign a model release? If so, did you ask for the gist of it or are you planning on just showing up?
These are very common scenarios that always get photographers and models in trouble. Misunderstandings occur - arguments ensue and no one gets the product or service they intended to get. The result - mediocre to very bad images, upset models or photographers, image misuse, copyright violations or a lawsuit threat. Why? Because no one practiced due diligence in setting expectations of quality and behavior. It doesn’t mean that misunderstandings won’t occur. Despite the fact that you take every conceivable precaution, you will still have a few hiccups along the way.
The questions I would expect from a model or photographer are as follows: Where is the shoot? What time is shoot? Will there be a makeup artist or hair stylist or should I come prepared? Are escorts allowed (if applicable)? Is clothing, shoes and accessories provided? What should I bring? What kinds of looks are we shooting? Are we shooting lingerie, fashion, beauty, nude or implied? If so, should I send an example or image of the clothing, makeup or styling I have or expect? Or will there be a mixture of styles? Will I need a model release or do you have your own? How will the images be used and how will I receive them? What are the rules on image use? Will we be shooting in a studio, home, on location, outdoors or other environment? If you’re a new model and you sent this to me as a list, I would probably block you and consider you difficult to impossible particularly when you haven’t established yourself at all as a model. This applies to photographers as well. Yet, most if not all of this information is derived over the course of the conversing via email, phone or text messages. If not there, then most certainly on a CALL SHEET; which we almost always do as of late. I may tick off a few photographers when I say that if I were a new or experienced model, paying client or basic creative collaboration, I would seldom if ever consider a project where a photographer I’ve never worked with didn’t ask me what I am bringing to the shoot or at least briefly discuss what we’re shooting or want to see some sample of it. It doesn’t make sense to me to not be at least mildly prepared for what I’m to shoot.
The point is, you need to be reasonably prepared. No one expects you to ask everything. Besides, that would come across as snooty and a bit pretentious. The best models and the most booked photographers produce consistently high quality results while also being easy to deal with (in that order). Personally, I would never take on a project of any sort without first having at least a vague idea of what I’m shooting. How could I possibly prepare and expect to deliver the quality you deserve? If we’re shooting dresses then I probably need a different lens or camera for that. If it’s lingerie then I may need a different type of light modifier. If I am to do beauty shots then I would need a different style altogether for that and potentially different backgrounds. How could I possibly set an expectation of quality and delivery that to you without asking a couple of questions first?
But keep in mind, we’re not production shooters either. I don’t yell “NEXT” for the next person to enter. We prefer the carefully crafted projects designed to maximize the best of a persons attributes and gifts. We’re plenty spontaneous when we need to be. There are a handful of models that could call me tonight and say “I’ll be there tomorrow if you’re available. I have this great idea we need to shoot now and you’re the guy or team to do it.” But that’s after a history of established trust and still I may want some brief idea of what preparations are to be made and what we’re shooting. If you think I’m being overly cautious then take a visual surf around ports online. All things being equal, you can probably tell which images were taken with little to no prep; images where few to no questions were asked or images when a new model and a new photographer planned carefully and took amazing images together.
Today anyone can take a picture which is why the industry is overflowing with both unqualified and highly skilled talent of both sides of the camera. But those that stand out have highly recognizable refined styles that make them considerably more successful. You might say they have the eye for art, or great lighting skills or even natural ability. But I would say that somewhere along the line they did a bit of sketching (even if last minute) to know how to set their lighting, the get the right color balance for the environment and chose the proper equipment to give you that quality you deserve. Even if minutes before a shoot they took a look at the wardrobe and laid it all out, developed a shooting sequence and lighting style on the fly. But that takes extensive skill and years of experience coming from both sides of the camera to master. I know a few models that I could easily do that with and we work with them repetitively.
I’m far from an expert but if you’re starting out, I hope you can take away some of my counsel. Avoid the pitfall of being overly eager and set yourself up for success by making reasonable choices and setting quality expectations for yourself and your collaborations.