How to Help your Model to Model

Written by: Glyn Dewis

Published: March 8, 2012

Category: General

Hi Folks,
Today I want to touch on the subject of ‘models’…

If you’re anything like me then the majority of the time you’re photographing someone they’re not going to be professional models or someone who naturally knows how to ‘work’ the camera…if you know what I mean. So if that’s the case how can we get the most out of our photo shoot, photographing someone who doesn’t necessarily find themselves on the bullet end of a camera all that often?

I’ll pass you over to my best buddy Dave Clayton to explain one thing that I do and how it’s helped him go from someone who quite literally hated having his photo taken to someone who now thoroughly enjoys it and who this month is gracing the front cover of Pictures, a top German Photography Magazine; Dave, over to you…

At the back end of last year I was all ready to attend Glyn’s Character Portrait workshop when he called up and said words I never thought I’d hear or even possibly want to be asked! “Dave, would you model for me tomorrow mate?” I’m not at my most comfortable in front of the camera, and we all know the camera adds about 30lbs right (shh, don’t argue). Glyn said the theme was a Big Boss Businessman character…braces, slicked hair, cigar and glasses. In my head I’m thinking James Jameson from Spiderman as the basis for the character. Glyn’s my buddy, I can’t say no.  I didn’t and it was an absolute blast!

If Glyn had just said “Dave, would you just stand in front of the camera as yourself?” I wouldn’t have enjoyed it. Having a theme, for me, was important and a great help. I can see why actors enjoy their job. Now for that first shoot the theme was pretty straight forward but I still felt I had to be ‘in character’to make it work. I told each photographer to let me know what poses they wanted and I suggested a few myself. It was so much fun and seeing the results was even better.

Having a theme makes this kind of shoot/workshop more fun, you can try things you probably never thought you would and it brings out your creative side. The other element of the fun for me was prop shopping. The second shoot we did was a ‘geek’ theme. Glyn just said “I want a geek” – that was it. He knew I’d be able to visualise what the end result would be and for me, as a designer, I was thinking about how that image would work for a movie poster or magazine cover. So I dug out my old fake teeth, got some big old glasses from a charity shop, stuck a plaster (bandaid) in the middle of them, purchased a bad tie, shirt and tanktop from another charity shop and with the addition of my old polaroid camera, a centre parting and some fake razor nicks I knew where this was going.

The brave part for Glyn was that he didn’t see any of this until I walked into the studio for the shoot. After the initial laughter died down and a couple of comments like “Dave, I thought you were going to get changed into character” there were a lot more laughs that day and it helped everyone relax and enjoy being creative. I posed like I never thought I would, my inner geek came out and once again we got some great shots from the day. It helps that both Glyn and I have the same sense of fun and humour so if we try to think of a theme we are both already on the same track.

Workshop number three comes along, this time its a compositing workshop so now its more about the theme and the background for the composite. We’ve discussed rock star, Sherlock Holmes type character and mad scientist. Again, having the theme and knowing character is needed we both start thinking along the same lines. “How about a disturbed kind of back street dodgy doctor type character, grungy old walls behind like some dark underground place where bad things happen, maybe the corridor of an old abandoned hospital?”

A bit of prop shopping (also a fun part) and we had an old lab coat, safety glasses, fake blood, a big old cleaver from the barn near where I work, black rubber gloves and an old shirt and tie. Once again Glyn just left me to my own devices and after 10 minutes of dressing into character and covering myself in blood out I walk and ready to look disturbingly sinister. All the attendees had some great ideas for their own pictures and I was willing to do what they wanted, I would say we got through 30-40 different ideas.

I’m sure a lot of photographers would prefer to shoot beautiful women all day long but for me, this is the most fun. Being creative, prop shopping, conjuring up themes and looking at the bigger picture, so to speak.

Already I am thinking of more ideas for future shoots with Glyn, either just us or for a workshop and if you want to try this all you need is about a £25 budget and some good ebaying skills and you can pull some great ideas out of the bag.

So it’s giving a theme to the photo shoot that I’m talking about; something that helps both yourself and your model to focus on what it is exactly that you’re looking to achieve. I find it also goes a long way in helping your model to ‘get into’ the shoot and relax because they’re not so self conscious because ultimately they’re not being themselves…does that make sense? Of course getting your model to play the part of a character or someone else isn’t always possible for every photo shoot you do so this is just another tool in the bag to call on as and when. I also find Moodboards a massive help when it comes to getting everyone to focus in on exactly what we’re looking to achieve and I’ve posted about how I do that in an earlier post [Link]

So what about you…what do you do to help your model to relax and for you both to get into the zone?

Right that’s all for today so have a good one and I’ll catch you back here real soon,
Enjoy 🙂

•     •     •

Keep up with Glyn ‘Day to Day’ and get more from ‘Behind the Scenes’…

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  1. James Hole

    Great post mate, since the first character workshop I’m always jotting down the names of film characters or any time I see an idea for a theme taking a few iPhone shots of it to come back to later!

  2. David Kelly

    Very informative post guys. Look forward to seeing what theme is used for the next workshop 🙂

  3. Jonathan Thompson

    Great post with great tips, I had a fab time at your workshop & I’m looking forward to putting Dave in that dark underground place. Narrowing down the feel of a shoot is very important. Everyones time is precious & studio time can be expensive so anything you can do to (Ahem) focus on a style & title for a picture the better. All your tips can go for a fashion model shoots to a character portrait in fact any shoot at all. It’s one of my biggest lessons I’ve learnt.

    Keep up the great work guys, will be keeping an eye out for my own Dave a little closer to home, to work with, one without the bloody cleaver 😉

  4. Beth McNabb

    I am most comfortable behind the camera too but this does make it sound like fun! Clever images.



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