How to Alienate Photography Models in Five Easy Steps

Back in June, I decided to try my hand at modeling.

Photo by Mila Ritz
Photo by Mila Ritz

Now, this is not completely new — I’ve been modeling for myself (with my mom pressing the shutter button, as I don’t have a remote and have never mastered the self-timer) for about six years now, on and off since I got my first (and only) DSLR. I’ve modeled for my blog and my and Chictopia accounts. Since March of 2013, I’ve modeled accessories and jewelry and clothing for small, lovely, independent designers and sellers. As a product review, I’ve modeled a thing or two for bigger brands.

But in June, I realized that in fashion and editorial photography — on sites like ModelMayhem and PurplePort — it’s the models who get paid. And if you know me, you know I’ve been on shaky financial feet for quite a while now. So I decided to apply to a few castings, little things, and then I opened second accounts on my sites for my modeling, and this week I’ve already done two shoots. Good ones, too.

Looks like I’m finally learning to tell people who’ll creep me out apart from those who don’t. I’m also getting better at risking asking for defined terms before I agree to a shoot. (Yes, this is risky. Keep reading to find out why.)

I’m still not a model — I’m not agency standard: I’m too short, my face is…whatever. That’s not the point of the post.

The point of this post is that I am a human being and a creative person, and modeling is one of my lines of work. I do it for money, I do it because it’s fun, and I do it because I have an exhibitionist streak. (I don’t do nudity. I blame the creeps for that.) I do it because I like to pose, and I like to pretend I’m someone I’m not. Like acting, but without my neck-breaking-fast speech getting in the way. Modeling is creative work that I — a human being — do.

Some people seem to forget one of those three things either before, during or after shoots. Which is a shame, especially when the photos come out nicely and you want to share them everywhere…but you kind of don’t want to give the photographer that kind of exposure.

So here’s a quick list of steps to follow if you want to be that kind of photographer. You know, the one I hesitate to admit I’ve worked with and will never work with again.

Note: Not all photographers work with models, and not all photographers find models using the same methods. If you only shoot landscapes or products or architecture, or the only person you shoot is yourself, this post is probably not for you. But the truth is, a lot of the steps here will also alienate clients, and generally people.

Note #2: Not all of these are about the same person. They pretty much all are about different people. And there’s much, much worse — disappointment is bad, but it’s nothing compared to actual fact harassment — but that’s a whole other post, and probably not the kind you’re here to read. So let’s ease into it.

Before the Shoot

Photo by Daniel Borman
Photo by Daniel Borman

Be vague. Don’t mention when you’ll pay, and don’t agree how much. Don’t mention how long you plan to be shooting or what type of shots you want to get. Tell the model to do whatever she wants and don’t mean it.

It’s fine if you mean it, and you’re sure you won’t be disappointed in what the model turns up with — but I’ve heard more than one photographer complain about how models “can’t style themselves,” or do their own makeup. This wasn’t about me. What was about me was the photographers who seem disappointed with what you said you would do, like they want more, or like they’re bored, or simply like they expected something different.)

Could have been avoided if you’d talked about it beforehand!

Dismiss concerns and make yourself into the injured party. I’m sure you’ve had bad experiences with models before. Really. So stifle the spark of empathy within you for what models have had to go through, and get angry and outraged when they try to set safety terms for themselves.

You’ve obviously earned the model’s trust in the three brief messages you’ve shared with her! How could she possibly be concerned about getting in a car with you, practically a family member now, or going to a private residence or studio without anyone to come along with her in case you turn out to be something you’re not? What a jerk! It’s all about you, after all!

Oh wait.

Also, you know, just get really offended if you suggest something like doing a private shoot and not sharing the photos afterwards, and she doesn’t trust you to do that. I’ve never seen someone leak nudes of someone else without their consent before. Never ever. What a ridiculous concern. (sarcasm, people!)

During the Shoot

Photo by Eric May
Photo by Eric May

Keep a tight lid on your camera. Look, I get it. Sometimes I, too, am hesitant to show my work to clients as I shoot and before I edit, in case the photos aren’t turning out quite up to my standards.

I’ve never got that feeling from anyone who’s ever refused to show me the photos they’ve taken, though. I suppose it doesn’t help when it comes after them telling you they’re the photographer and you should shut up and look pretty. Maybe not in those exact words, but the message is loud and clear: The model has no say in what she does, and no suggestions are accepted.

Despite being a part of the creative industry and working with photographers all the time, she has no clue what looks good or how she looks good. You know better. So just ignore her. She’s a nice prop, isn’t she? Pretty little prop.

After the Shoot

Never send photos back, or don’t give a timeline of any kind for them. That way the model is prepared to wait forever, and if she messages you asking for the status of the project, you can get annoyed at her. Weren’t you vague enough? You paid her, and the terms of what you’d do with the photos were fully unclear, so there’s absolutely no reason she should hope to see anything.

Never mention her name. So you got exactly what you were going for! Congratulations. You love the photos you took, they’re just right, you’re having a blast with them, and you’re putting them up everywhere. The MUA is credited, the stylist is credited, and you are credited.

The model…well. I guess she just didn’t stand there for three hours getting her makeup on and pose for three hours trying to give you the right angle, and the right emotion, and the right mood. She didn’t come up with a whole story behind the styling or really get involved in the creative process in any way at all, so it was basically like shooting a chair, and you wouldn’t credit a chair. You don’t even know the name of the chair! I mean, you follow the chair on her social media channels and know exactly where to link her name, but that’s not the point. The point, my dear, is chair.

old chair - HDR
Photo by socrate78

If you follow all these steps, or some of them, you’ll find yourself with a model who is at minimum disappointed and at maximum really upset. Or angry. Anger and upset go hand in hand, don’t they? She may ignore you forever, or she may badmouth you all over social media, which would be her prerogative, especially if you didn’t bother to sign any agreements. She may feel really uncomfortable and off during the shoot, which will make things difficult for everybody — most of all her. She won’t be able to follow instructions properly because she’ll be thinking about whether you’re actually going to pay her. She’ll be off her game because she’ll be wondering if she’ll ever even get any of the photos back. And she’ll go back home, and feel gross, and give up on offering lingerie because even that increases the likelihood of discomfort by a lot.

Or she’ll have a fantastic time, and she’ll see the pictures and love them, and look forward to sharing them, and engage with you… and after four times not seeing her name anywhere you post her face, she’ll start reconsidering that stance. Because who wants to credit someone who doesn’t give them any credit?

We’re all human, here. It doesn’t cost us anything to start treating each other like equals. So let’s do that.

By Lix Hewett

Lix Hewett is a multi-passionate creative: photographer (fine art and freelance), model, graphic designer and writer. She lives in London. You can connect with her through her blog or any of her social media accounts.