A good part of my conversations with photographers and models often involves discussing communication and, while respect comes from both sides, I notice a disturbing trend of wanting more of the unnecessary than the needed. How we communicate with models, or any other talent for that matter, can have serious impact on our credibility as professional photographers. It is far too often that we see a model speaking up about unprofessional approaches which has led to the death of the careers of many photographers.
As someone who’s entire career was built on work that requires models, I do believe that this is a topic that does not get enough awareness. So, here’s sharing some principles that I apply when approaching a model for an assignment or collaboration which may help you stay out of trouble.
KNOW THAT YOU CANNOT PLEASE THE WHOLE WORLD
Before making the decision to approach any model, it is always wise to bear in mind that you are not going to be able to please the entire world. As mentioned earlier, respect comes from both sides.
Several months back, I had contacted a model with interest to hire her for an assignment. I requested a meet-up to discuss further, however, what followed next was a string of unnecessarily cold responses. A lot of my work requires heavy physical and mental commitment from the model. This is only achieved if there is good chemistry and understanding between the model and myself. Therefore, I prefer setting up a meeting between us to see if we can vibe through discussing the shoot and, ultimately, signing a model release form. While many models have communicated their appreciation for this process, there are still some who feedback otherwise.
In such situations, there is nothing that you can do other than look for someone else to work with. Your methods and processes are yours and while you should not bend them for anyone else, know that there is nothing you can do about it and that, sometimes, it is best to avoid models you know you cannot work with.
LET YOUR PORTFOLIO DO MOST OF THE TALKING
Several models I have worked with told me that the main reason for agreeing to work with me is my portfolio. Most of us invest in expensive websites to showcase our portfolio - so why not use it to the best of its potential?
A template I follow when introducing myself always includes a link to my website. This would give the model confidence that the photographer approaching them knows what he or she is talking about and has a relevant body of work to prove it. In addition to that, I am of the opinion that the stronger your portfolio is, the more comfortable a model would be with working with you. This is because a strong portfolio can (most of the time) represent your professionalism.
Consider the Model’s Portfolio
Often times, many photographers only look at how many followers models have on their social media and this becomes the basis of their decision to hire them. Not only is this naive, it is also a disturbing trend.
Portfolios exist to present a body of work. Therefore, same principle applies as in point 2. - you should have a look at the model’s portfolio too before deciding to approach him or her. You should be looking at the general themes that the model has a portfolio of. If it is similar to the concept you have in mind, then this would be a meeting between two already like-minded professionals.
PICK YOUR WORDS CAREFULLY
Where Vocabulary is concerned, there is a fine line between decency and indecency. This is where most communication problems begin.
If you have a concept that requires significant skin show from the model, try putting it in a way that does not make him or her feel objectified. Use keywords that projects your ideas well but does not make the project as a whole sound too sexually charged. Consider the following comparison:
a) ”Hi XYZ, I would like to hire you for a photoshoot. You will be naked and the poses will be sexual in nature.”
b) ”Hi XYZ, my name is ABC and I am a photographer based in Singapore. Here is my portfolio: www.fghj.com. I am interested in working with you. Please do let me know if you are comfortable with working on a nude concept.”
In the first example, no concrete intention of sounding perverted is displayed, however, you cannot control the way someone else might receive your text message. Therefore, as seen in the second example, it is best to elaborate more, use the right words, and check with the model on their comfort level first. Both examples say the same thing, it is just that one seemingly sounds better than the other.
DO NOT PUSH FOR A FAVORABLE ANSWER
How you deal with rejections is the name of the game. Over the past half a decade of being a professional photographer, I have faced plenty of rejections from clients and talents, and, likewise, have rejected many offers as well. It is in handling rejections that you show, not just your professionalism, but also who you are as a person.
When a model rejects your offer, move on and approach someone else. There is no use of trying to conversationally slither your way into trying to get someone to work with you, especially, when he or she has communicated that your concept is not their cup of tea. Being pushy could lead to serious consequences.
A close model-friend had shared with me an unfortunate experience she had with a particular photographer. He had, first, approached her for a nude shoot. She found this weird because nothing in her portfolio showed that she would be alright with a nude theme, and further more, she risked losing her job if she appeared nude. Despite already communicating all this, the photographer still kept approaching her for very sexual-themed photoshoots. The approach, choice of words, and conduct of the photographer led her to believe that she was being harassed and this led to her lodging a police report.
Harassment is very subjective and the Law dictates that the accused would have to prove that his or her conduct was reasonable. How do you prove that when someone had already rejected your offer to work on a theme that he or she is uncomfortable with but you still decide to constantly ask anyway?
What inspired me to write this article was a recent (unpleasant) inquiry made to me by another photographer who was interested to work with a model that I share a close relationship with. Calling the inquiry unpleasant is an understatement because as the conversation progressed, I realized that this was less about work and sounded more like an indecent proposal.
Over the years, we have seen the fall of many well-respected artists, actors, filmmakers and photographers due to sketchy behavior and it all started with just a single social media post from the victim. Sure, we cannot satisfy the whole world and, generally speaking, everyone has a story about everyone, but why unnecessarily put yourself in the line of fire right from the beginning when it can all be avoided?
Lastly, as with any photographer, models are also trying to make their mark in a highly competitive industry that, just like any other industry, has sexual predators lurking about. The last thing you want is to be identified as one as well. So, stay safe and be wise with your approach.