We have been fortunate not to have these things occur. Yet, we hear about them all the same. We’ve had a misunderstanding or two over the years. Who hasn’t? Usually it’s about start times and styling choices. Even after all these years there are some things we still simply refuse to photograph. There can be a great deal of finger pointing when things go bad on or after a photo shoot. When the pictures aren’t of the quality and caliber of what everyone expected then who is to blame for that?
Is it the subject, the client, the photographer, the creative director, the makeup artist or hair stylist, the agency, the wardrobe stylist, the retoucher or the booking agent’s fault that these images are so horrible? There are several people blame can and will be assigned to.
The photographer wants to blame the agency for sending him such an inexperienced model. He says she doesn’t understand his instructions or that he has to almost babysit the model and take him or her thru every single pose like a baby having to be guided through taking it’s first steps. Or the model came unprepared, she didn’t bring the right clothing discussed, she didn’t wax, she was unable or unwilling to do the required looks. I’ve also heard photographers say the model simply can’t model. She can’t pose or move. Everything was jerky or incomprehensible and out of context with the theme. It happens but is that all the model’s fault? Read on.
The stylist or booking agent might say that the modeling agency sent the wrong model. Or the agency will say the model is exactly what the creative director asked for. But someone will complain that she's too tall. She’s not expressive or that she doesn’t have the dress size or hair color we requested. Is it the stylist’s fault or the agency? Read on.
The model blames the photographer. He was too pushy. He was weird. He spoke too fast. I couldn’t understand him. He was not communicable. He was too quiet. I didn’t want to do lingerie. I thought we were doing lingerie but he wanted swimwear. I told the agency I only shoot nude. I don’t shoot nude; why was I asked. I was cold the entire time. I was too hot. The location was far away. He wasn’t good with lighting. He focused too much on lighting. The list goes on. Could she be right? Read on.
I think you see where I’m heading with this post. Everyone has a complaint about someone at some point in time. The simple answer is that it’s your fault your pictures are terrible. What do I mean by “your” fault? I mean anyone reading this. In short, it’s everyone’s fault. It is no single person because pictures can’t make themselves. If there are humans involved in their creation and a human is on both sides of the camera then it took both and all involved to create that image.
Most of the problems associated with photo shoots is a lack of preparedness and a failure to manage expectations. This all starts with communication which is why I cannot emphasize enough of knowing and preferably having an open dialogue with everyone involved with your project. Blind photo shoots are like blind-dates in that you don’t know who you’re getting. Why set yourself up for failure? Study a port. Look for inconsistencies in shooting styles. Models, check the photographer’s work ahead of time and look into the ports of the models he or she has worked with in the past. Message one or two and ask how he shoots, if he’s communicable, if he’s difficult and then decide for yourself if it’s worth your time. Ask how long it takes to get pics, do you get to choose them, how will they be used, how much are his or her photography rates? Ask if you’re expected to bring your own clothing or will you have help.
Models… go further and ask the photographer if you can bring an escort ahead of time if you need one. In fact, for many photographers its a deal breaker. Not because they’re up to no good but largely because they can manage one stranger in their home or business but not two. Additionally, that’s one more distraction he or she doesn’t need. Don’t surprise us. We hate unexpected tagalongs. A photographer shooting from his home or basement isn’t unusual. In fact, it is common. If that freaks you out then choose another photographer. But you better believe some of his best work was created in that same garage or basement. Do you believe every single image the photographer created was in a $20,000 per month ocean-facing loft studio? A great photographer can create an incredible image almost anywhere if they have enough space, enough light and a willing model. But if someone is too high brow for a basement then go and pay someone with a huge posh studio willing to shoot a start up model with zero experience. You never know. Maybe you’ll get lucky that way. Besides, that option is readily available to you here as well. But that is what portfolios are for. If you saw a scene you like in his portfolio then ask about it ahead of time. Be clear that’s the kind of look you’re interested in and communicate that is what you’re expecting within your level of resources. If that isn’t possible with your resources then be sure the photographer communicates that to you. Don’t assume they can and will do that just because you brought it up. If you wanted a twentieth floor ocean front balcony view as your background image and you’re not paying the photographer, you haven’t spoken to them or referenced them with another model or artist that may have worked with them, then you have reason to be suspicious; but that’s on you. You have reason to be concerned if you’ve been told escorts aren’t allowed and you’re being led into a dark basement in the middle of Idaho looking for the ocean. Some things are just common sense.
Ask for examples of ideas ahead of time that the photographer or director expects you to do. If you’re working through your agency then ask them to be specific. If they can’t be specific then adapt but don't complain. Beforehand and if applicable, ask if you need to sign a model release and what is in it. If you don’t then why or why not? Ask your contact about image use and how many images within reason you can expect. How long will it take until you get images? How will they be delivered? As professionally as possible ask the photographer if nudity is expected or if implied is okay? Provide a visual example of your level of nudity that you find appropriate or inappropriate. Ask the photographer if there is a changing room or if there are bathroom facilities there. Exercise due diligence and work with creatives that consistently gives the kind of quality and performance you want from the beginning. Even if it means working less or collaborating less - choose high quality projects and be deliberately discriminating on your choices. It only takes one bad image to ruin a reputation and scores of extremely good ones to recover your reputation if it can be recovered at all.
Agencies… what can I say about an agency? They’re very good until they’re not which is to say most often they’re not. Call the agency, email them a call-sheet with the ideas along with the model you’re requesting. Ask the agency if they can send the model’s current pics (this should be automatic and already current but don’t assume) to be certain her look hasn’t changed. Be sure to cover the aspects of how the images will be used and share your expectations to them as to what you expect them to do and the model that you are expecting to arrive. Confirm arrival times and duration of the project. Do this all and do it twice more. Agencies can be notoriously selectively forgetful and inconsistent. Furthermore, agency turnover is atrocious so who you spoke to this week may be a different person the following week. Therefore, manage your expectations by keeping a trail of documentation of your correspondence.
Make up artists and stylists… share, share and share again. Make sure you know exactly what the creative director or photographer expects of you. Be sure you are familiar with the look and have your kits and your clothing accessories on par with what was shared, planned and discussed. DO NOT assume autonomy over how the makeup and hair will look. Chances are the people you’re shooting with will want full creative control over the end result and how it got there. Ask ahead of time which looks will be first and the order of shooting those looks so you're prepared. Suggest but don't demand a sequence more efficient for your application. Why not demand? Well demanding is rude for one and there are things beyond your station in-play. In cases like mine, I've had to take into consideration tide forecast times levels if we're shooting on the beach. If it's the tide is too high when the model is there we're doing indoor looks first if it's on the menu. As it the tide subsides, there are areas we can now get to they were not available when the tide was at the maximum level. Photographers have to consider sun position. Backlit images are best for certain parts of the day. That means shooting a certain look may need to be earlier or later. No one should assume they know everything that's going on. You have to ask, email, call and/or message each other. You’ve probably been given a mood board of a plethora of styling ideas supporting the theme you’re expected to execute. If you're not sure who you’re reporting to then ask. There is no shame in getting it right and asking questions if you don’t know. Too much pride is often times are greatest enemy. Ask your primary project contact about what you’re expected to do and what, when and where you’re doing it. Ask for a mood board and ask specifically how much latitude you have on the look and who will manage your applications.
As you can see, most problems can be addressed before a shoot ever begins. When that image didn’t turn out like you expected it to then it’s probably something you didn’t do or neither of you talked about. When model’s tell me that they worked with a terrible photographer and the images weren’t that great I have to wonder. Did the model even look at his portfolio? I mean really really look as in study it? Did the model reference other ports of models that this photographer worked with? Were they prepared for the shoot or did they just bring what they had or what they wanted to shoot without discussing it with the photographer? Quite frankly I wouldn’t work with a photographer I didn’t know well if he or she didn’t ask me what I was bringing. Wouldn't that photographer want to be reasonably prepared for what the model was bringing even if it’s something casual and carefree. I would want to know which background I need to put up or even if I should gas up the car for a location shoot on a collaboration.
When the photographer says a model was stiff and inflexible and just overall inexperienced and haughty, I think… did he meet her first? Has he spoken to her at all aside from her “Hello, I love your work; let’s shoot this weekend,” messages many upstarts let themselves get entrapped by because they're so eager to get pictures of a beautiful new model they haven’t worked with before.
Let me level with you on a little secret. Photographers are prideful and models are even more prideful. They really don’t like contacting one another for advice on a model or photographer. They want everyone to see, believe or think they did this all on their on. Yet, the regional photographer and model community is a small one and people talk - if not now then soon. Eventually every nuanced thing, bad habit, good habit, preparedness, lack of professionalism, flirt, whisper or word of encouragement gets passed around. So why not, just manage those expectations, talk to each other and share your experiences to improve your projects. I’ve been more than disheartened about how many photographers fail to contact us about models. Yes, it has been several over the years but you’d think it would be dozens of times a week at least. Then they complain and whine about what they didn’t shoot or couldn’t shoot. Or they whine about a lack of image quality or that the model was this or that or didn’t model lingerie when they talked about lingerie. Well I might have told you she would do that. Well that’s the photographers’s fault. We’re the one’s pulling the proverbial trigger. Even though it’s everyone’s responsibility, the pressure is on us to perform despite the circumstances that led to the bad images or lack of images.
Retouchers retouch. Stylists style. Models model. Photographers manage, direct, orchestrate, adjust, manage people, often times style, produce, help to design sets, and create the circumstance by which the entire project will be executed. It stands to reason that we would take every single measure to insure the results are nothing short of stellar. Sometimes despite our best efforts, something or someone falls short. But it’s not our time to point fingers. It’s everyone’s fault but ultimately we have to get up, dust ourselves off and see what we can do to keep such things from occurring again. I have found that in the end, it still comes down to communication, preparedness and managing expectations of every single project.
In conclusion, whose fault is it when an image fails? It’s everyone’s fault. I can’t take a picture of another person all alone without the other person.