I think we can all agree that the circumstances we’ve been facing over the past few months have given us all a pretty unique chance to get to know ourselves in very new ways, both inside and out. We’re learning how to move our minds and bodies within the walls of our homes and apartments, getting creative with how we think, exercise, and cope with the changes happening around us.
This past week in particular, I’ve been thinking a lot about how my own body moves through space, how I take care of it every day, and even how it subtly reacts to the very familiar layout of my home. And this little thought-rabbit hole I went down reminded me of the story that I’m going to share with you today about the first time I did a real photoshoot posing real models (uhm, can you hear the fear and excitement in my voice yet?!). Posing is often one of the hardest skills for any photographer to master. It comes with a unique set of challenges each and every shoot, and no matter how prepared you might be (as I quickly learned), you won’t be able to prepare for every wild card that the universe will inevitably throw at you. So, what do you do?
The very first time that I did a photoshoot with real models represented by a real agency I was still in school and was putting together a fashion shoot specifically for my portfolio. And as if that wouldn’t have made me nervous enough, it was also the first time that I was shooting with two models at once. Nerves aside, I was ECSTATIC that it was actually, finally, really happening. I reserved a gorgeous little vintage airstream out in the backcountry of Santa Ynez, CA, and the entire shoot was going to be centered around the narrative of a road trip—literally all of my favorite things combined into one amazing shoot. What could go wrong?
I really had no idea what to expect from a photoshoot with “REAL MODELS” (gasp!), so I was super nervous going into the shoot. Beforehand, I did literally everything I could to prepare, and over-prepare for the shoot but I still couldn’t shake the nerves that had built up. No matter how I tried to pump myself up, or how many times I listened to Stronger by Kelly Clarkson, I couldn’t stop the voice in the back of my head from wondering: Was I going to totally suck? Were the models going to know I wasn’t a “REAL” photographer yet? Were they going to be mean to me?! What if the whole thing falls apart? Y’all, I built up all these false narratives to the point that I was totally terrified.
When the shoot day came, I started describing my vision for the shoot to the two models, and one of them followed my instructions perfectly while the other model was struggling to understand what I was asking her to do shot after shot. Hello, panic!
Being a rather timid, young Nicole, I was too nervous to tell her what to do more specifically—I mean, in my head, she was a real model! She knew more than I did! I was just a student learning the ropes and trying to make my way in the world of photography, who was I to tell her what to do?
In hindsight, it seems obvious: I am the photographer—it’s literally my job to clearly explain to her what to do! But I didn’t realize this until, during one of the outfit changes, when my boyfriend-now-husband pulled me aside, seeing the panic on my face, to give me a pep talk telling me that I needed to speak up now or I wasn’t going to get the shots that I had been dreaming of. So, I listened. I dug down super deep and found a little ounce of courage hiding somewhere inside of me—and it worked. I explained more specifically what I needed from her and got the shots and she was totally receptive and thankful that I spoke up! The shoot as a whole turned out exactly as I had dreamed it, and it remains one of the best memories I have from shooting to this day.
Remembering this shoot day, and the moment that I realized what I needed to do to get the right pose from the model, inspired me to come up with a few tips to share with you about how to pose the models you work with (whether friends or professionals). And while I know you’re probably thinking, “I’m not going to be working with models anytime soon,” the thing is, you have the absolute perfect model at your disposal to practice with—you! But first, let’s start with the most important tip I have for you…
Check In With Your Self-Confidence
When going into a shoot, you have to remember that you are the one in charge. You’re the photographer, and that means you and only you have access to the vision for how you want the shoot to go. It’s not just your job to take the photos, it’s also your job to direct your subjects in a manner that guides them naturally into the poses you have in mind in a nice, loving way! And if you don’t feel confident about what you’re doing, it’s going to show through and be reflected in the final images. Stand tall, be the mentor, and guide your models into the right poses. There are always nice, supportive ways to ask someone to move their hand over a bit (without telling them that it was making their shoulder look funny)—but it’s hard to do if you don’t have the confidence to speak up in the first place. Everyone on the shoot is there because they trust and respect each other—so speak up and watch the poses literally transform!
Prep Before The Shoot
If you show up to a shoot and expect to be able to just figure things out as you go, then you’re setting yourself up for a disaster. This approach honestly DOES NOT WORK. It does a serious disservice not only to yourself (and your reputation!) but to your subjects and team. Go into the shoot prepared by understanding the location, research a bunch of different poses you want to try and try them on yourself first, and have an idea of what you want your images to look like. Knowing all of this beforehand will make it so much easier for you to CONFIDENTLY describe the poses and shots you need to the rest of your team without hesitation if they need some extra guidance.
Direct Your Models, Don’t Pose Them
This might sound silly, but models aren’t mannequins. You can’t just stick their arm in the air and expect them to look like they’re cheering. Posing models can lead to images of stagnant movement when you really want it to look natural. So instead of thinking of it as posing, think of it as directing. Think of yourself as a visual composer and the models are the orchestra—show them what to do! We’re creatures of movement—we don’t look very cute when we just freeze in place. So, direct your subjects with specific movements in mind: Instead of saying stand against the wall, say lean against the wall like a friend just told you a funny joke and you’re falling back laughing. If you have the right combination of creativity and confidence (aka preparation!), you’ll be able to find fun ways to get the shots you’re dreaming of.
Give Your Models Something To Do
Sometimes we work with models who just aren’t feeling it, or who are totally uncomfortable, so a good trick that I like to use it giving them something to do to take their mind off of posing (just like you’re worried about getting the right pose, so are they!). When I find that my subjects are repeating the same poses or movements, I give them something new to do, like walk a different direction, move their hair around, or shimmy their hips. Giving them a series of movements to focus on will help add a more natural energy to the shoot itself and allow YOU to capture the real movement as they’re doing it. And don’t be afraid to ask them to do the movements over and over again—sometimes when I’m doing shoots for my fitness clients, I’ll have the model run back and forth like ten times just to make sure I got the perfect shot. (And trust me, even if they’re out of breath because of it, they won’t care later when they see how dreamy the shot came out!)
The funny thing about posing is that it is supposed to look natural, but rarely does posing come naturally to anyone without a bunch of practice and a dash or two of confidence. And while I know it might seem tough to practice these tips without being able to hire some models and head out to the perfect shoot location, you still have one super amazing, talented tool at your disposal—you! As we are using this extra time at home to get to know ourselves better, it’s also a great time to practice these little skills that we just haven’t had a chance to. Practice these tips on yourself (or your roommate!) and figure out how to move your body from a neutral position in front of the mirror to a particular pose you love, and then think of all the ways you would ask someone to get to the same pose naturally. It may sound easy at first, but as we all know these things can be much trickier than they seem! Practice posing yourself, take self-portraits, and attach notes to them about how you would direct someone into the pose. And if you have someone else at your disposal, try to get them to strike the very same pose! Then, if you can communicate the pose well enough to get your partner, mom, grandmother, or best friend to nail it then you KNOW you’ll be able to get a model to nail it, too! Just remember that it’s up to you to empower yourself so that you can empower those you’re working with—you got this!
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