Friday, January 16, 2015

Photography - What poses to use? - and how to relax your model

A total Babe
A model.... behaving herself - (see if you can spot what the photographer said to her below)
Your model shows up. The clock’s ticking. The client’s behind your back. There’s no director. Your stylist looks at you for answers….. Everyone looks at you. You pick up the camera…. then what?
This article assumes one single female model in studio or on location. It’s designed to make you think what you’d do in your situation - so really I didn’t write this for you to copy (unless you want to)…. I wrote it to help fill the need for creative preparation when the ball is in play for you as photographer shooting models or especially less experienced or willing subjects.
Some initial thoughts before shooting
It’s sometimes hard talking to models to help them to relax and to enjoy the shoot without them getting bored, being too contrived, giving you their worst poses or just being too “samie" and uncreative. You want your model to give you the best results they can, in the time you’ve got.
What makes it especially hard is if the model is inexperienced, a little nervous and self conscious. On top of this, you only have so much time, other people are watching and you are trying to remember not only a wad load of constantly changing camera settings but also mentally ticking off the client’s multiple requirements for the session. It’t time to focus - but it’s also time to relax into your art. A wired and panicky photographer will pass their stress on to everyone else in the room. 
Here are some quick notes I’ve made over the years:
1. Don’t have too much fun - or be too silly. If you want to, do this at the start and then calm down if you can. Otherwise, self conscious subjects will just crack up laughing each time you stick the camera in their face and they will not take the poses seriously. Obviously fun shoots are good… and it’s a perfect relaxant if you have the time - but sometimes, if you’re too silly, the model starts to rely on it and you won’t get any meaning behind any serious poses. This goes as much for kids as adults. Silliness is an ice breaker, but it’s also something to hide behind. Control the room - being serious doesn’t mean you’re no fun.
2. Show them pictures of other poses and models you’ve downloaded on an iPad or similar first - before you get the camera out even. This will perhaps help them see what sort of options are available… and get an idea of what the end results might look like. You both might want to copy some of the shots… even if it’s just for a warm up. Jump into the pose yourself and get your model to ape you. Leave your camera out of the way for the first few minutes. As soon as you pick up a camera, the mood changes!
3. When you’re shooting, be encouraging and relaxed. Show the model some of the results as you go. Don’t over encourage - in other words you don’t need to be all “That’s fantastic!!!” all the time - they will get bored of false praise. When it doesn’t work out - say so! Say things like “Think I’ll delete that… let’s try again - but we’ll stand over here this time”. Please also remember, stopping to show them pictures can be unhelpful if you do it too often. It can break the rhythm. It might also make them more self conscious…. so judge carefully how much you let the model see.
4. Look at the available light and backgrounds for goodness sake! - try and notice stuff now rather than when you’re in edit. This is especially important if you are not in a studio or controlled environment. 
5. This includes - what’s written on her T shirt / tattoos etc. Whether there is some crusty food on the corner of her mouth (child models especially) hair condition…. you know…. don’t just look through the viewfinder! If you’re hurried and hassled the shoot will be fractious and you’ll miss some vital thing that will totally kill you in post!
6. It might help to have some props…. a chair, a nice flower with a long stem…. can be a fake flower… some books… Shakespeare’s complete works or Tolstoy’s War and Peace! A big long scarf…. some hats…. cuddly toys…. a pet perhaps. Sparklers, a massive power drill, a ceremonial sword, an apple….. really it’s your call!
I’m aware that some of these sound very contrived when written down. People have a tendency to just copy whatever else they’ve seen and this goes for models as much as anyone. If you show pictures of poses beforehand it might be useful, but it might also trap your model into just doing stuff that everyone else has done before.
Being original is hard - and actually really there’s really no such thing! - Even the most unique pose will have been copied or perhaps just inspired from someone else / somewhere else. Don’t fight it…… unless you’re shooting with expensive film, there’s no harm in shooting a bunch of frames with these stereotypical poses in it…. you may still find you like a few when you get to the edit.
What to say to someone when you’re behind the camera….
Here are some quick things I might find myself saying as I shoot a model. To some this might come naturally…. I personally still need a little help to say things that are different and creative.
Some of these things below, when they're written down without accompanying images,  sound really tacky or even sexual, like I'm going for some cheap and dirty old tricks! - This is unintentional. It really is to do with HOW you say this stuff and what your relationship is like with the model. My directions are all inspired by the portrait work I do. It's very important to me to NOT be inappropriate or suggestive or get the model to assume some posture that is just completely out of keeping with the mood, the model's own style and of course the client's needs. So when I say "pout at the lens" to a child (for example) I'm obviously not thinking about Brigitte Bardot!
Relaxing the model at the start
Dancing, jumping, spinning - can't beat it
Let’s do some dancing / jumping / spinning….. (do some loosen up movement stuff at the start maybe - do it with her at first) If she’s freaking out from the start, then don’t go straight to this. Yes it’s a warm up, but it’s not kind to the introvert. Start much closer, calmer and quieter. Talk in a totally calm voice and don’t pretend you’re having fun if you’re not - she’ll spot your incongruence and then not trust you. Respect the nerves, don’t placate! For the really shy ask “Can I take this one shot?” If she says yes just whack off a few frames and then sit with her some more showing her the result and chatting about options. I do this a lot when I’m shooting kids who didn’t previously know they were to be models for the day.
Now stop, look right at the lens for me
Okay, now look down and look really bored. Pout your lip for me a little
Look over my shoulder - you’re looking out to sea! - put your hand up to shield the sun. You see a friend out in a boat….. wave!
What’s the name of your boyfriend / mum / last holiday destination?
What was the last place that made you the most happy? Tell me about it. Look into the lens
Now look straight at me… don’t smile.
(Obviously you have to be quite lucky to get a good shot when the model is talking to you…. but remember, luck is very much part of a photographer’s day…. and a couple of moments of chat like this as you go not only relax things… they bring you a little closer to the model… you might get some nicer results from someone you know better). If you really get chatting, put the camera down for a while.

Just look straight at the lens. Some people are just great at this!

Let’s do some acting….
Now look at me like you have had enough….. like you hate me (this is when they crack up laughing if you say it wrong…. try to speak to them in a dry business like tone for stuff like this… if you see them responding by taking you seriously, then keep going with it)
When a hate look can be more of a smoulder
Look like there’s bright sun in your eyes
Now try and smile with your eyes… like you know a little secret but won’t tell
Try and tell me what you think about someone lovely - without saying anything
Turn your ear towards me - I’m going to whisper something to you.. you can’t quite hear what I just said… did he really say that? No way!
Fold your arms and look at me like you’re going to tell me off…. okay, now do it again, but this time with a knowing smile
Clutch your hands to your heart - you feel a bit shy… a little lonely perhaps. Don’t overdo it!
Turn away from me and look at me over your shoulder
Look down at your phone…. now hold the pose but look up at me
Move your hair over one of your ears…. really slowly…. you’re looking at something below you… on your phone….
Someone’s just told you some juicy gossip - move your head slightly forward like you want to find out more - look surprised…. slightly less surprised… intrigued… you don’t approve
Open your mouth just a little as you smile at me - touch your tongue very gently to your top teeth
Stick your tongue out at me like a cheeky girl
Smile with your eyes
Now sit down with your legs crossed
Hands in your lap
Now to the side - lean back with your hands propping you up from behind - straighten your legs out…. lift one knee up… Now sit forward and rest your elbow on your knee.

Now let’s both lie down… on your front…. you face me and prop yourself up on your elbows - look right into the lens with some love - and kick your feet up behind you.
This shot doesn't quite match the text... but it's a cracker!
Now you’re reading a book at a picnic. Now glance at me over the book.
Lie on your back, and I’m going to stand over you. Let’s arrange your hair on the ground around you.
Look at me like you’re a cheeky monkey - turn your head
Now stand up and bend your arms above your head and give me a chocolate box pose - with your hands in your hair
Smile with your mouth open
Now with it closed
Look up over my head - like you’ve just seen someone you know - you’re happy to see them…. you’re thinking of calling them over here, but hesitating too.
Let’s see a strong pose of defiance… can you do a kung fu kick to the lens?
Now look at me like you think I’m crazy - you’re hoping the police will come and put me away
Now you’re about to tell me a stupid joke
Tell me one!
I’m sure you get the idea above - you will be able to write tons of better stuff than this on your own - But if you’re like me, it’s the time and brain space available thinking of the right thing to say for the reasons I’ve previously given. 
If this is you, then to help, why not create and read a crib sheet like this a few times before the model shows up….. just in the hope that some of the verbal cues stick.
I do a lot of reportage work... or candid work. And when I do, I often say nothing at all of course. But I'm fascinated in the difference between a good photographer and a great one. 
You can have a great camera and great technical knowledge… you might have a fab studio and a beautiful model…. you might have a mega stylist and tons of time…. but, in the end, so much of what is captured involves the chemistry in the room. And that, my friend is a black art indeed!
For reference, I have created a Pinterest board with a large selection of model poses and moods for you to look through. There are some great shots here - and also a few that you won't like. Feel free to use as many of these as suits you to create a board of your own. And don't shy away from bad shots.... it gives you a chance to say to the model "I don't want to end up with this".

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