When I give my talks to camera clubs one of the most common questions is about how much direction I give to models when creating images with them, and the answer is “It depends”!
When we get to a location the first thing we do is scout around. We look for where the light is good, how the light will change throughout the day or for the time we expect to spend there, where the public could appear from, and where the model can pose that will make a good composition. Notice the use of the word ‘We’, the models I use tend to be very creative and so it makes sense to use their knowledge and experience, especially as their thought processes are usually quite different from mine, so we complement each other.
Next comes the poses. Some photographers have very specific poses in mind, and so the photographer will tell the model precisely how to position their torso, head and all their limbs. At the other extreme photographers will ask the model to pose freely, and the model will often go through a range of poses. Then there are times where the model may do a pose, and the photographer may ask the model to make minor adjustments to limbs or the direction they are facing. Sometimes the photographer may just suggest the mood of the poses and leave it to the model to interpret. I believe that there is no right or wrong way, there should be no hard and fast rules in what is after all an art. I tend to do a variety of all of the methods during a shoot, as probably many other photographers do.
For this image of the lovely Lulu Lockhart I immediately knew the type of shot I wanted as soon as we walked into the room, and could see the overall composition in my head. We tried various poses where Lulu was within the table bounds, and reviewing the images on the back of the camera we both liked them, but I felt a bigger, bolder pose was needed, and fortunately her arms were just long enough for this image which is my favourite from the set as she fills the table and the light is just gorgeous.
Often at a location I will have some ideas for poses, and instead of describing them I will do a very poor version of the pose to show the model the sort of things I want. In this case my version was only very vaguely like the pose the amazingly bendy Kayleigh Lush did, but it humoured Kayleigh and Francisca!
Occasionally I will just ask the models to do what poses they feel suitable. There is nothing wrong with this, models are creative young women, they are also experienced in posing so will generally know what works and what doesn’t, they know what sort of poses suit their body, and more importantly they know what poses make them look unattractive or unsightly.
For this image with the superb Madame Bink we were walking along a beach when the wind came up and some beautiful morning light came through the clouds. Bink’s hair is very long and quite heavy, so I am sure you can imagine how windy it was to blow her hair up like this. The light was only going to last for a very short period so I quickly sorted out my shooting position and composition and told her where to stand, she then asked how I wanted her to pose, I still remember my reply “pose, just pose”, and pose she certainly did as this is one of my all time personal favourite images.
Often a prop gives me the idea for poses, as was the case with this lounger which normally sits in our conservatory, so I started by showing the lovely Cassie Jade some of my thoughts, and then she developed those into some super poses of which this is one.
I like giving models platforms to work with, sometimes these platforms are not the easiest thing in the world to balance on, so often it’s a matter of finding a good composition, and then working with the model to see what poses are physically possible, as I did with this image where the very understanding Katy was just about able to balance on this log.
I believe that one of my strengths is finding where the best images will be once I am at a location, and I spotted this window and staircase immediately. It had great backlighting, a wall outside so the window had some detail, and the room provided some fill light. I usually ask models to interact with the environment, rather than just standing and looking beautiful, and the amazing Ivory Flame certainly did that with this pose, filling that shape perfectly.
And the final image is with the beautiful Faith Obae. Again I wanted interaction with the environment, which in this case meant the wall on the right. She made lots of dynamic poses, moving around freely, so it was a matter of seeing what looked right and minor movement of limbs.
Well, that’s been a bit of a long explanation of “It Depends”, but I’m sure the same question will still be asked at future talks :)
Another reason for this post was because earlier this year I sent some images to the RPS with a view to applying for one of their distinctions, but was told not to bother as my images were “cliched and stereotypical” and that I should not be involving models in the creative process but should have total control over my images. As you can probably tell from what I have said so far I believe that’s a rather old-fashioned view, and wrong.
However, it did set me thinking what my images are about, and I believe that my best images are all about shape, and emphasising that shape using light and composition , rather than trying to convey mood or narrative which many other photographers do so much better than me, and that means my images require significant input on the part of the model.
So, when asked, my advice to photographers is to give as little or as much direction as is right for each specific image or for your way of working. I believe my method of mostly giving broad directions and using the models abilities works for most images, but it won’t be right for others.
Many thanks to all the models who allow me to express myself in the images I create with them, and I look forward to working with many of them in the coming year.