Saturday, December 24, 2011

Magic: The Right Model

Revisitation Rights. Ashley. D3/24-70mm f/2.8G. 1/200th, f6.3, ISO400 @48mm.

I was originally going to go straight into Magic: Model Interaction and suddenly realized that the entire premise of Magic rests on a very specific photographer-model interaction with the right model.

Didn't want to hear that? Thought that you could simply throw in a few key ingredients and just make magic with any random model? You and I both wish!

Let's face it, having a ModelMayhem page doesn't make you a model. And likewise, being signed by an agency doesn't make you a good model. And even if you're a working model that books work regularly, that doesn't mean you're a good model. In fact, the obvious elements of modeling (industry standard looks/measurements, being agency-represented, and having experience) are far from the most important element of finding the right model for Magic.

The single most important factor for Magic to happen is when both photographer and model want Magic to happen. What does that mean? That means the first and foremost rule of model selection is finding a model that wants to be there and wants to make Magic happen.

What do I mean by wants to be there? If you've shot enough models, especially models that you book directly from modeling agencies, then you know that models don't always want to shoot unpaid tests. Shocking isn't it? As a photographer you can book a test through an agency where the agent tells the model when and where to show up for a test. But that model may or may not have any interest in actually testing and/or testing with you. The best case scenario is that the model wants to build his/her portfolio and is openly looking to test with photographers and when you book him/her the model actually researches your work and then actually wants to shoot with you.

But boy that's a lot of conditionals.

The worst case scenario I've ever encountered is when you request a model through an agency and that model doesn't want to test and has no desire to shoot with you but shows up anyway because he/she is contractually obliged to do so. Or even worse, when the original model you wanted to shoot has now booked another job and the modeling agent is then scrambling (maybe even on the day of the actual test) to find a backup model. This (backup) model not only knows he/she wasn't your first pick, but now has to shoot with you on hours notice. If I were that model, these circumstances would certainly affect my predispositions towards the ensuing shoot, most likely in a negative manner.

And as a photographer you expect to shoot magical images with someone who is not only flustered but probably doesn't want to be there? Really?

Can it happen? I'm sure some photographers will argue "Well, I've gotten great images from models who originally didn't want to be there. If you're a good photographer you can win them over. If you're a good photographer you should be able to shoot anyone and make Magic".

I didn't say it wasn't possible. You can run a marathon with one leg, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea. You can also jump out a three-story building and not break any bones, but that doesn't make it a good idea. There are so many things working against you in this world and I'm trying to help you maximize your odds of getting better images. If this concept doesn't register correctly, you can stop reading right here.

When a model wants to be there and wants to shoot with you, a world of opportunities open up. I'm talking about Magic, not the run-of-the-mill type imagery. I'm talking about ideas, angles, lighting, setups that neither you nor the model considered prior to the shoot. I'm talking about the organic stuff that comes from spontaneous and pure inspiration. When both the photographer and model are motivated on the same wavelength, all sorts of amazing ideas and potential looks can arise at any point in time. I'm not talking about getting "great images", I'm talking about creating epic images.

So how do you get the right model for Magic? The short answer is "It depends". Since the idea of Magic is predicated on the model wanting to shoot with you, then as a photographer you need to give models a fundamental reason to want to work with you. Usually that reason is that they respect your photographic talents. Sometimes that reason is that they respect your status and reputation within the industry. But the underlying reason for a model wanting to work with you should never be money because monetary gain isn't the right motivational tool for creating Magic. Why? Because any photographer can pay a model to shoot with him/her. But if a model shows up for monetary gain, then he/she isn't even in the proper mindset for creating Magic. Then it's just a job. And even though monetary gain is a powerful motivational force, it's simply the wrong motivational force for creating inspirational images. The vibe is wrong. The mojo is off. In your mind you might even question whether the model actually respects your work, which leads to doubt and I don't have to tell you that doubt is a debilitating force that consumes confidence... confidence that is necessary for creating inspirational images. Besides, at the end of the day, people try a lot harder when they simply want to do it rather than when they're paid to do it. Because the fundamental problem with paying a model to shoot is that the model does not have to respect your talent as a photographer to shoot with you. That basic respect of talent is key in getting a model to A) trust that you know what you're doing and B) give you "more" than the average set of ordinary looks.

And the truth is, the right Magic model for you does not have to be an agency model with agency measurements. He/she does not even have to have plenty of experience in front of the camera or know how to pose/move/flow. All that is really required of the model is that you specifically want to shoot him/her and that the model wants to shoot with you. That's the right model for you at any given point in time because you can get epic images from anyone who is willing to vibe with you on set. Mutual respect + desire to create Magic = better odds of creating Magic.

On that note however, I personally have a preference for models of agency standards with plenty of experience and great posing skills. Those things help inspire me to create better images but they aren't prerequisites to creating emotionally-charged images. But they're all secondary considerations. The primary consideration is finding a model that wants to be there.

So how do you find a model that wants to create powerful and evocative images with you? Simple, you let them ask to shoot with you.

Can you still make Magic with a model that you solicit first? In other words, if you ask first (before they offer) is it still possible to create Magic? Yes, of course. But when you ask first, you never know what the response is going to be. The model may or may not like your style, they may or may not be looking to test, they might simply give you their rates etc. But when a model asks to shoot with you, he/she is expressing interest and that interest has lots of implications for future interactions. Strategically-speaking, the ball is in your court when a model solicits a you for a shoot. It changes everything because out of the thousands of photographers out there, the model sought you out specifically. That's a powerful statement. And that power usually translates into an openness and receptiveness to new ideas, looks, concepts, setups, etc... a better chance at creating Magic.

How do you get models to ask you to shoot them? As we discussed before it's usually a question of talent and or status/reputation. I suggest building a strong portfolio of powerful and evocative images. Images that models want to have in their portfolios. I suggest shooting better models, preferably agency-represented to create a more desirable portfolio. I suggest getting in bed with modeling agencies. I suggest connecting with industry professionals on social networking sites such as Facebook and ModelMayhem. I suggest consistently outputting powerful images.

Just so we're clear, all of these things are just to get you more chances at creating Magic. Just because a top-tier agency model offers to shoot with you does not mean that you're necessarily going to get emotionally-evocative images. But will it increase your chances? You betcha.

Now that we've talked a little more about the right model, we'll examine the details of model interaction next.

These are the concepts that drive the Fashion-Editorial Master Class I'm teaching on January 21-22, 2012. Oh, and I get that the whole workshop concept is at odds with organically creating Magic. That doesn't mean you can't practice the fundamental actions and acquire the necessarily skill sets to produce Magic going forward. Besides, the models at my workshops are inherently magical.


  1. Hey Charles, Merry Xmas;)

    What would you do in this situation:
    - Got an agency represented model whose portfolio/work/poses you like pretty much
    - She likes your work, would have liked to work with you, knows your style, etc...
    And on the day of shooting:
    - She didn't afford what you asked, despite she has known your style and seen the mood board refused the fashion nude/implied posing or wearing sheer materials.
    Again, she saw the stylist's mood board, she know what kind of design she should have worn.

    It's happened with me and I didn't do anything later.
    I talked with her agent but I wasn't harsh just complained gently... so I guess it was an another mistake to playing the nice guy:/

    Thanks for your answer;)

  2. Gabor, are you saying that you scheduled this model through the agency? Were the primary communications through the agency or through the model?

    I have been fortunate enough to never have encountered this situation. I'm always very clear about what we're shooting beforehand so we're all on the same page. That's just an unprofessional situation and outcome.

    What I would do depends on how badly I need the shoot to come together on that day. Can the style be altered reasonably or would it ruin the storyboard? If we assembled a team for a specific storyboard/concept and that required the model be nude but the model refused to shoot nudes, then I would cancel the shoot. On the day of the shoot, I'm flexible to change at a moment's notice but it depends whether or not that will suffice.

    For example, I recently had to shoot a spec editorial and the magazine required the model had to be topless and implied bottomless. The model arrived and somehow misunderstood the situation and thought she was going to wear nude underwear. But fortunately after explaining the magazine's requirements, she obliged.

    But if she refused, we wouldn't be able to shoot the concept because it's required by the magazine.

    I would probably not work with that model again. If I scheduled the model via the agent, I would need to have a firm discussion with the agent about what happened but the agent is typically helpless especially after the fact.

    Good luck going forward though!