A Guide to Working with Amateur Models

Written by Backdrop Express Photography Team on . Posted in Photography Tips, Studio Photography

model under studio lighting

Photo Courtesy of Megan Youngblood

A photograph is not the sole creation of the photographer; it is a creative collaboration between the photographer, stylists, make-up artists, set designers, photo assistants, and the model. Photography backgrounds, lighting kits, and camera equipment must all be in place before the shoot can begin as well. As a photographer I would say that one of the most difficult roles within this dynamic is that of the model. The model is expected to oftentimes endure strange and challenging circumstances and yet manage to maintain a look of seduction, or serenity, or beauty. Professional models with experience have mastered this (swimsuit catalogs aren’t usually shot in the summer…), however for photographers who are trying to get started, Kate Upton’s price tag may be a little bit too high.

When working with models who have less experience, these sort of challenges can be frustrating for both the model and the photographer, however there are tricks to ease the process. Here are five quick tips for working with amateur models:

1. Give Them a Story to Work With

Give them a specific situation or a back story. Saying “give me sad” or “look pretty” is extremely vague and won’t help your model understand what he/she is expected to be doing. Telling them “okay, your boyfriend just moved away to France and you are writing him a romantic love letter, now pretend like we are lounging around the apartment day dreaming about him, looking sexy yet a little bit sad because you miss him,” seems to help a little bit more. Usually for editorial or fashion articles, these back stories have already been developed before by the creative team (stylist, photographer, art director), so fill the model in, and this will help her convey what you are looking for. A posing table is a great tool that allows your subject to lean in for a better pose, and it gives flexibility to their arm and hand placement.
model with black photography backdrop

Photo Courtesy of Megan Youngblood

2. Help Them Change Up Their Expression for Each Shot

Sometimes amateur models will give you the same expression and stance for numerous frames. This is where the photo booth style direction comes in: change your position and facial expression for every shot. When you and your friends go into a photo booth, typically you move for every image, right? There are four images, and you don’t want to be caught in the same position for each one, so you shift, even if it is slightly. Tell the model that you are going to take 4 shots in a row, without changing anything. And, similar to the way you move a little bit for each photo in a photo booth, ask the model to change her position or expression with each shot. Limit the number of shots to 4 or 5 in a row, to help the model feel less nervous. Also, assure the model not to worry about trying something silly that may not work, sometimes it leads to something that does work, and, if not, there is always a delete button.
model using photography backdrops

Photo Courtesy of Megan Youngblood

3. Talk to Them In Between Shots

If you are always behind the camera, the photographer can seem very distant and cold—half of your face is covered most of the time you are shooting. Make sure to interact with the model besides just giving direction. Be friendly, make jokes, and try to lighten the situation up a little bit.

4. Add Music

Music makes the whole situation less scary. Put on something a little upbeat that everybody will enjoy. It will lighten up the mood, and you might even be able to get your model dancing.
model under outdoor lighting equipment

Photo Courtesy of Megan Youngblood

5. Give Them a Prop

Having something to hold or move with will loosen them up. This technique is often used for photo-booth style photography for events and parties. Give a group of Corporate Suits a blow up shark, and suddenly even they transform into models!

– Megan Youngblood

Interested in reading more about studio photography? Check out 5 Indoor Portrait Photography Tips!

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Comments (3)

  • john krick


    yes iam a freelance photographer and i do most of my shoots outdoors are in clients homes are there rules apply for outdoors to thank you


    • Lin


      John, I’ve always found it useful to tell the models how the light is working their face, where their shadows are, and show them a photo once in a while. Since amateurs don’t usually know how natural light can be soft or high contrast, I find these small things to make a difference! Good luck.


  • Anonymous


    Marvelous, what a blog it truly is! This web site presents valuable facts to us, continue the good work.


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