How to Work with Models

By Andrew Hudson Published: June 7, 2011 Updated: November 26, 2013

For most people, public speaking is the scariest thing. For photographers, it’s working with models.

Put a photographer with a shark, or hanging out of a helicopter, or on an icy mountain, and they’re fine. But ask them to talk with a strange and attractive person that is paid to be there, and they freeze.

Of course, that’s not going to be you. Let’s break some ice.


Dialogue is key. You need to somehow get a conversation started and moving along. Of course, that is easier typed than done. But it is possible.

Conversation is (unfortunately for some) part of the photographer’s job. Photos of happy people sell best and making models look happy is ultimately the photographer’s responsibility.

Get your models relaxed and happy by talking back and forth with them. Find something that you share in common. Coming from England, we always had the weather to talk about. On some point other than photography your lives cross, and that can spark a conversation.

Here are some ways to propel the talking.

Ask Questions

It’s difficult to think of something to say when all that is in your head is “er,” “um,” and “my brain is empty.” So don’t think of what youmay want to talk about, think what the model may want to talk about.

Many people just love to talk about themselves. All you have to do to start the fire is lob in an open-ended question that includes the word “you” and they’ll do the talking.

Here are some starter questions to break the ice:

  • How are you doing?
  • Where do you live?
  • What other modeling have you done?
  • What TV shows do you like?
  • Have you seen any good movies lately?
  • What sports teams are you into?
  • What do you do when you’re not modeling?
  • What do you like to do for fun?
  • What is your dream job?
  • What’s the best vacation you’ve been on?
  • Where are you from originally?
  • Where else have you lived?
  • Where would you like to travel to?
  • Who’s the most famous person you’ve met?

Questions to Avoid

Notice that the phrasing is important — these are not questions where the answer could be yes or no. For example, the first four questions could be phrased the following way: “Are you OK?,” “Do you live in…?” “Have you modeled before?” “Do you like…?” The answers, in each case, could be a succinct and conversation-stopping, “yes.”

If you’re a man and the model is a woman, avoid potential dating lines like “so, do you have a boyfriend?,” “are you married?,” and “what are you doing tonight?” You may as well ask “Do you come here often?”

Start Early

Try and start a conversation before you even meet. If you’re hiring a model online or through an agency, you should be able to get their email address. Send the model an email to explain the basic goals and location of the shoot, and include an open-ended question.

Ask a question such as:

  • What other modeling projects have you done?
  • How long a drive is this for you?
  • What clothes or props can you bring?

Anything that can start a conversation is good. Even if you’re not interested, you can pretend to be. Hopefully you can find some common ground to build on.

Seek their Opinion about the Project

You can always fall back on the project itself. During your email exchange, and/or when you first meet, describe what it is you’re trying to achieve with the photo shoot. Show some similar pictures that you’ve done or someone else has done. Ask the model for their opinion on parts of the project. Anything to make it sound like you’re conversing.

Some questions you could ask about the shoot are:

  • What clothing do you have that would look good for this?
  • What poses do you think we should set up?
  • Are there any props you can think of that we could include?
  • What situations do you think would look good?

Hire a Chatty Assistant

If this is all too much, then pay someone else to do it. Think of an energetic and talkative friend you could hire to be a photo assistant. If you’re a man working with a female model, hiring a woman as an assistant can help make things feel less awkard. If you’re working with children, hire someone who has children of a similar age.

If you have an assistant to do the talking, you can do the shooting.

Kids are People Too

Treat children as though you are on the same level as them. Ask about things they might be into.

Questions to ask kids include:

  • What TV shows do you like?
  • What cartoons do you like?
  • Who’s your favorite superhero, princess, or character?
  • What’s your favorite movie?
  • Which school do you go to?
  • Do you do any sports?
  • Where did you go on vacation?
  • Do you know any good songs?
  • Do you know any funny jokes?

Offer a Gift

People love being given something — it’s a sign of respect and gratitude. Anything connected to you and/or the job will do.

As a gift, you could give:

  • A print of previous work you have done
  • Something to do with the project you’re working on
  • A book or magazine you admire
  • Flowers or chocolate
  • A cup of coffee

Be Professional

At all times, dress for success and act as the professional you would like to be.

Arrive early; have everything prepared ahead of time; welcome your guest; shake hands and look the model in the eye; be courteous, caring, respectful, and relaxed; allow time for the model to settle in; offer them some bottled water available; let them know where the bathrooms are; show them around your studio or location.

You are a terrific host.

Part on Good Terms

You not only want the model to be happy during the shoot, you want them to be happy after the shoot, so they will want to work for you again and recommend you to their modeling friends.

Allot some time after the photography to chat with the model and tie up any loose ends. Make sure they are comfortable with the model release. Show them some photos from the shoot — they will want copies for their portfolio. Offer some water. See them to the door and their car. Be a good host to the end.

Follow Up

The following day, send an email to say thank you. Just a line or two is sufficient to show your appreciation of their time and respect for their work. Add some photos from the shoot if you can.

Remember, to get a good model, be a model photographer.

Model Releases

Ooh, that reminds me, before you let your model go, make sure you get them to sign a model release.

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