Featured Photography

Mostly Lisa’s Guide to Photographing Models

The move from photographing Whiskers, the neighbourhood cat to Bianca, the 17-year-old leggy Italian model can be traumatic for both you and Whiskers. That didn’t make sense. I digress…

I’m not sure why people love shots of scantily clad female models. I find the subtleties of the western marmot’s feeding pattern a lot more interesting, but I’m guessing most of you will disagree with me. That’s why as a photographer /slash/ model who has experienced enough horror photo shoots to fill a pretty hardy paperback, I feel that it is my duty to inform you of some basic tips to help you take awesome model shots and avoid embarrassing, and often times, permanently scarring, photo shoots.

1. Hire a professional model.

Your girlfriend may be lovely, but unless she is a trained model, your shots will always look amateurish. Plus, asking your sweetie to pad her bra with tissues, suck in her gut, and angle herself so her butt doesn’t look huge, will never lead to relationship bliss.

If you are just starting out, then grab all your modelish friends, by all means, but modeling actually involves skill and if you want to take your shots from “Oh that’s really pretty” to “BAM! That could be in a fashion magazine”, you need a professional model.

What to do: Start by developing a relationship with a local modeling agency and offer to do a few “test shoots” with their up & coming models for free or a small fee. Beginning models will jump at this because they need to fill their portfolio as quickly and cheaply as possible. Because of my schister of an agent, my first test shoot cost me $900. Exactly. So if you take awesome shots and don’t act like a giant douche, then you’ll quickly move up the ranks and will be able to work with the more experienced models.

2. Hire a good makeup artist.

Details matter in this industry and bad makeup and hair can ruin your pictures. Unless you are a PS pro and can make Rosie O’Donnell look like Gisele Bündchen, then you need to get it right when you shoot. And if you are like most photographers you might not be completely in the know when it comes to picking the perfect shade of lipstick.

Oh I dunno, I much prefer “Innocent Starlet” to “Sassy Schoolgirl Scarlet”. I bet you didn’t even know lipstick had such lame and sexually stereotyped names did you? Exactly. That’s why you need a makeup artist.

What to do: Well, first don’t go down to your local department store and hire the first overly perfumed Chanel girl with black nail polished finger nails. Trust me. I mean really trust me. Not a good idea. Hire a proper makeup artist from an agency or professional salon. This will probably cost about $40. It’s worth it. If you don’t have the coin, check out the recent grads a professional makeup school, they are usually willing to do makeup for free for a print for their portfolio.

3. Hire a photo assistant.

No model will be impressed when you hand them a huge pelican full o’ gear and ask her to lug it over beached logs and heaps of sand. Trust me, it’s in your best interest to keep your model’s hair and makeup as fresh as possible. And that ain’t gonna happen if she’s truckin’ all your gear half way across the desert.

Ditto with holding the bounce. It’s awkward enough jamming yourself into crazy poses, let alone trying to hit those wacky poses while holding a huge white board in front of your face. Plus, if you are dealing with umbrellas and flashes and heaps of pricy gear, you’re gonna want to keep your photo gear protected from the elements, both weather and thieving humans.

What to do: If you don’t have the funds to pay for a qualified photography assistant, ask at local photography schools for someone willing to assist for free, or wrangle one of your friends or the model’s friend to help. Also, check out the bulletin boards at local camera stores. There are heaps of biz cards that might lead you to a good helper.

4. Don’t be creepy. Period.

Photogs who frequently hound models to drop their bikini tops, even in jest, get bad reputations with models and their agents. There are a lot of really awkward situations between a model and a photographer, i.e. changing clothes on a beach.

What to do: If you have a female assistant, ask her to hold a towel over the model or suggest that she changes in your car if it’s available. If none of these options are doable, make sure you bring a large towel, XXXL tee, or robe for the model to change in and make sure you keep your eyes in the opposite direction.

Also, be careful how and what you say when directing your model to move parts of her girly anatomy. “Hey darling, give your tits some love will you, I need perky perky for this shot!” And before you ask, yes someone said that to me. One more point, asking the model out after the shoot? Yeah. Not so much Creeperson.

5. Bring these things to photo shoots:

Bottled water to keep her hydrated. A snack if it’s a long shoot. Fainting models aren’t fun. A long puffy jacket or bath robe to keep her from freezing. A towel or blanket for her to sit on between set-ups. A water spray bottle to wet hair in the case of wind or to get that sexy dewy wet look. Hair spray because she will always forget and fly aways are PS hell. A lipstick or sample from the makeup artist so you can do touch ups during the shoot.

There you go! You’re on your way to become a photographer models love to shoot with and not that jerk she calls Pervy McPerverson to all her gossipy model friends.


Oh and if you’ve had any model photo shoot horror stories, you know I want to hear them.

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  • Reply
    Nuno Neves
    September 12, 2008 at 4:11 AM

    My guide:
    Hire Lisa and buy a nice camera. She will do the rest ;)

    Keep up Lisa!

  • Reply
    Kevin Williams
    September 12, 2008 at 5:01 AM

    Rock on, Lisa. Sorry you have had to deal with creeps. Some guys are just jerks. Some guys just look creepy but are nice – you know, geeky near 40 white guys with receding hairlines and big cameras.

    Excellent perspective in this article. Now it needs a complimentary article on models from a photographer’s PoV to balance it out, don’t you think? ;-)

  • Reply
    September 12, 2008 at 5:49 AM

    I lawl’d pretty hard at the “Give your tits some love” You’d have to be a wicked douche to say something like that.

  • Reply
    September 12, 2008 at 5:49 AM

    This is very handy for people to change clothes in public places and not having to worry about anything getting out.


  • Reply
    Ed Lau
    September 12, 2008 at 5:55 AM

    This seems to be directed at male photographers from a female model’s perspective. I’m actually a little curious if any of this stuff happens the other way around. Ever hit (or at least wanted to) hit on one of the male models, Lisa? Heh…no, I’m serious. C’mon…from one pro to another, we’ve all had the models that we’ve had great chemistry with but all our professional photog instincts are telling us to back off.

    Fellas, by the way, DO NOT HIT ON THE MODELS. Seriously. It’s just a bad idea. They’re models. They’re like the pretty girl bartenders. They’ve probably heard it all.

    However, if they hit on you, then all’s fair. :) Photographer is a sexy job…and they’ll like you better if you act professional.

  • Reply
    September 12, 2008 at 6:21 AM

    Ditto on the creeps. I once walked out on a shoot because of a photographers unprofessional manner.

    My personal advice: extreme conditions are not ok when the models health is at risk. Meaning, don’t let the client talk you into using their warehouse for the shoot in the middle of summer to save money on studio hire. It was 50°C in there without the lights, I passed out a total of six times during the ten hour shoot due to the extreme heat. The photos suffered because of it.

  • Reply
    September 12, 2008 at 6:28 AM

    Ed I didn’t know you were pro? Where about can I see your shots?

    Lisa good article! Did you have a recent issue with a local photographer or is this from a friend? Curious what would bring this up :)

    I’ve done some nude photography and it wasn’t the girlfriend sort of thing either like in a private place hidden away from everyone . It was set at a local bar after hours and the only people that were there were bar staff.

    As for model shots the more you do it the better and easy it gets. I haven’t done much but if you don’t know how to have the model pose then it can be a bit slow going. I’m sure with a more experienced model they can pose themselves but isn’t it up the photographer to help chose how they should pose?

  • Reply
    Fred Hill
    September 12, 2008 at 7:55 AM

    Gee I can’t believe that a guy would say such a creepy thing like that. Shocks me. I am sorry Lisa what most guys can be jerks, sometime I feel like kicking them in the nuts.

  • Reply
    September 12, 2008 at 9:04 AM

    Not shocked in the least. Generally speaking, guys are jerks, and I’ll never be upset or offended by a woman presuming that I’m one too before I’ve had a chance to offer evidence to the contrary.

    Great photo at the top, BTW. Excellent lighting and bokeh.

  • Reply
    Clayton Bruster
    September 12, 2008 at 9:32 AM

    Loved it Lisa. All good points and very entertaining. I also like to have music playing when shooting so I ask the model to bring what they like or just tell me and I have it playing for them. Anything to make the model more comfortable helps make the shoot more enjoyable and more productive.

    Kudos on your blog.

  • Reply
    Nuno Neves
    September 12, 2008 at 10:10 AM

    Yeah i agree with you guys. That first comment is not very nice…

  • Reply
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  • Reply
    September 12, 2008 at 4:32 PM

    If you’re a photographer, and you’re THAT nice to the model… she’s going to think you’re hitting on her! LOL (just kidding)

    Thank God i shoot skaters… they never ask for water or bath robes : )

  • Reply
    September 12, 2008 at 5:45 PM

    Hi Lisa,

    Great blog.
    I’m photographing a professional model in a couple weeks that is way more experienced than I am. Any advice? How do you feel when on a shoot thats clearly a lower budget production than you are used to?

  • Reply
    September 13, 2008 at 1:24 AM

    Lots of awesome tips! Thanks Lisa. :D

  • Reply
    September 13, 2008 at 7:05 AM

    Lisa, this is a wonderful introduction to a complex topic. While technique and method are all well and good, I think the human side of things that you have tackled here is under represented in most tutorials and guides. Good job!

    Now on to the really important topic. Feeding patterns of the Western Marmot vs Scantily Clad Female Models:

    Be fair! You’re comparing apples and oranges here. While some marmots do have that star quality about them, having to add a trainer and a duly notarized representative of the SPCA to the shoot just complicates things unnecessarily for not enough payback. Then there’s the whole issue of signed model releases … a animal rights quagmire if I ever saw one.

    I will wholeheartedly agree that I find the feeding patterns of the marmots a lot more interesting that the feeding patterns of scantily clad female models, but I’m going to need some more convincing to sway me towards an all-marmot fashion shoot anytime soon. In anticipation of that, at least, I’ll be sure to check back here often. :)

    … On the other hand, their feeding patterns might actually be very significant here. I hear they work for peanuts.

  • Reply
    Christopher Blunck
    September 13, 2008 at 6:17 PM

    I thoroughly enjoyed this post.

    I don’t shoot models because of all the work you pointed out above. I’ll stick to sports where the “models” are 300lb linebackers named D’Qwell Jackson. They don’t require lipstick, robes, or look at me funny when I ask them to squeeze their tits together… ;-)

    Great post!

  • Reply
    September 14, 2008 at 6:03 PM

    Lisa – was taking a look at your Flickr photos and saw the one with the setup you used to shoot yourself. You mention using a Gorllapod. Do you have the Gorillapod SLR Zoom? And if so, how do you like it?

    Nice post!

  • Reply
    September 14, 2008 at 6:51 PM

    Another thing to note (mostly for the guys), make sure you ‘prepare’ yourself when taking pictures of highly sexy or nude women. Best not to suddenly get ‘something’ up during the shoot. Not only will it be awkward but the model might get the wrong idea, and you want to avoid trying to think of dead puppies or something awful which takes away from your concentration.

    And thats all I’m going to say on the matter.

  • Reply
    Scott Bourne
    September 15, 2008 at 9:59 PM

    Wonderful post Lisa. Sometimes, people (photographers of the male variety in particular) just don’t realize they’re being creepy. But after reading your post, it’s obvious that they now have no excuse. I’ve photographed hundreds of models. I’m proud to say I’ve never asked one on a date. Although when I was younger, I had one ask me :) I still decided to be professional and said no.

    One more tip for the fellows – if you need to position the model by touching her, always let her know you intend to touch her. Tell her how and where so she has a chance to object or move herself. Something like:

    “Okay Lisa, now I need your face more toward the light so I am going to touch your right cheek with my index finger so I can get you in the perfect position.”

    The more communication the better. And one more thing – I know Lisa. Don’t go creepy on her or I’ll send the gear gremlins after you :)

  • Reply
    October 3, 2008 at 9:14 PM

    It would seem that pro models would have agreement forms dictating what is expected and what is and is not acceptable, particularly behavior, and working conditions. Maybe I’m wrong. But I think it’s something that should be done.

  • Reply
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    March 30, 2009 at 11:35 AM

    Love this article – have been shooting models recently – and this will come in really handy!

  • Reply
    April 14, 2009 at 3:58 AM

    Hi thanks for the guide, took me abit of googling to find the subject, I do photography as a hobby and am looking at making it a career in the near future, An amateur model friend of mine needs some new pictures for her portfolio on the very cheap as in free, I will definitely make note of the tips on this page,but i was wondering if anyone had more technical info i.e, best lenses to use( i have, 50mmf1.8, 35mmf1.4, 70-200 f2.8 , 10-20 f4.)should i do shoulder shots or waist up shots, can there be too much bokkeh for portraits?.any info would be awsome!!!! thanks again

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  • Reply
    February 27, 2010 at 12:19 AM

    Another thing to bring on the shoot, Clean & Clear oil absorbing sheets. They don’t mess up the makeup and remove that shiny forehead if it is warm out.

  • Reply
    Carlee Shildneck
    May 16, 2010 at 9:19 PM

    I have visited your site before. Classic female photos. BTW you have a nice website

  • Reply
    January 5, 2011 at 8:35 PM

    I was shooting a wedding reception and noticed a striking young female, and thought she may be model material. I approached her mother, and (long story short) she got into modeling. One piece of advice I gave the mom was, “don’t leave your teenage daughter unattended with anyone, especially a photographer. Years later the mom contacted me and told of her daughter’s modeling success (Paris, Milan, NY, etc) She also told me of the one time she left her daughter unattended with a photographer. The teen was propositioned. “Never again” the mom told me.

    Parents, watch out for your kids.

  • Reply
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    March 2, 2011 at 10:51 PM

    First off sorry for my website. Its new and my first. Still Learning how it all works. Question – I want to shoot people in San Francisco and I am worried that I will get my (for lack of better words)butt kicked. I have always had this fear. What do you recommend I do to rid myself of this fear and what lens should I have on my Nikon D300s so I don’t come off looking like a weirdo? love the beta photo show and your ideas.

  • Reply
    August 4, 2011 at 3:36 PM

    Lisa, appreciated. Funny thing, I DO have a woodchuck/groundhog “marmot” to shoot at a new contact’s property. As a wildlife photographer I also spend time working weddings and people portraits. Now, I have been asked to shoot for a modeling agency. We have not started yet, but looking forward to reviewing the little things that really are not so little regarding comfort and chemistry between model and photographer. & most importantly sharing positive vibes which help produce a positive outlook and results. Enjoyed your coverage of the the things that can go awry so easily if things are assumed or not given attention to. Thanks :). Dan

  • Reply
    October 2, 2011 at 2:24 PM

    I just dtarted to take picturers, and i was wondering how to make the models leggs look longer, without having to edit them. Would you put the camera from below?

  • Reply
    May 31, 2012 at 5:31 PM

    Well i just happened upon this and had to mention something. First, great article and perspective. Thanks Lisa. I have had only one chance to shoot a model and she happened to be getting married and it was her bridal. After 2 attempts of ME posing her, she took over. Good LORD! Every time i hit the shutter she reposed – perfectly ! My poor son/assistant didnt stop moving the softbox for 2 hours. IT WAS WONDERFUL ! I didnt really direct a thing ! She was a pro! Gonna use her in a class later on but every bridal since has been painful. Gonna hire her as a posing assitant one day! For those interested http://leesphotocenter.com/Albums/Diomaris/album/index.html
    Thanks again Lisa for you time and talent. Best of luck.

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