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Working With Models–Ideas?

10 Photography Tips For Ideas

Sometimes we run out of ideas, and if we’re just planning a shoot for portfolio promotion, it’s potentially costly, especially if we’re paying the model along with the hair, make-up and assistant.  Even the great photographers that created masterpieces stumble into ruts and run out of ideas. Regardless, time is money, even on a personal photo shoot, so here are some tips to help you unfreeze your brain in case you run out of ideas.

Virgin Islands Photo Workshop Photograph

It's always great to brainstorm when you run out of ideas, though in this case, I just observed the model, Tess, and when she sat down on the golf cart, I knew this was the shot.

1.  The first tip, and the most obvious, do some brainstorming.  Brainstorming comes in many forms, both individually and as a group.  While ideally it’s best to “pre-visualize” your shoot at least the day before, and even have some storyboard sketches, we don’t always have that luxury with everything life throws at us, so we’re left with on the spot brainstorming.

Brainstorming though is potentially worthless if you don’t observe your model and your set.  Is your model tall, thin, thick, or slender? If she’s tall, then you have more shooting options, especially if she’s slender. If she’s short and heavier than most models, consider shooting from low angles to give her a taller, slender appearance.  Consult your team, ask your make-up artist or hair stylist if they have any ideas—sometimes even your assistant(s), if you have one, can help too. And don’t forget to ask your model too!

When I run out ideas or poses, or just to see what the model would like herself, I’ll ask a model, “Give me a pose, it’s your turn.”  Usually they’ll say, “Me?”  I’ll say, “Yes, you,” in a gentle and smiling demeanor.  As the model tries to find a pose, I observe and then tweak the pose if necessary. Bottom line, try some brainstorming by observing everything and not fearing to ask everyone involved for their ideas.

”Photographer Toolbox”
Camera: Canon EOS 5D
Lens: Canon 70-20mm F/2.8L IS USM
Effective Focal Length: 200mm
Shutter Speed: 1/500th
Aperture: F/3.5
ISO: 100
White Balance: 6000K
Post ProcessingAdobe Lightroom, Nik Software Filters

2.  Don’t mark a treasure map “X.”  Basically, I see too many photographers at my photography workshops that literally walk up to the model at a comfortable shooting distance with their zoom lenses and never move until their time is up—this is wrong and I’m always correcting this by encouraging the photographer to move, find new angles—without changing the pose or the lighting.  You’ll be surprised how the photo will change thanks to the physics rule that applies to lighting, “The Angle of Incidence is Equal to The Angle of Reflection.”  This is the key to shooting not just fashion and glamour, but editorial nudes (caution, link contains nudity) too.

3. Get specific with your ideas and focus on achieving that idea.  One of two things will happen, you’ll capture what you want, or you’ll struggle.  If you find yourself struggling  move on to another idea, perhaps by merely changing the angle of the camera, the orientation from horizontal to vertical, or even the light modifiers.  Don’t fight it, if you can’t get it, move on to the next concept.

4. Stop your shoot, take a “smoke” break per se, then head over to the waiting area or where you can find magazines and books, then thumb through them for ideas.  In fact, take your team with you and get their ideas on anything that you select.  You don’t have to necessarily copy someone else’s photo, just use it as a starting point.

5. Have your model put her hair up, this will provide a different look from your subject for you to capture.  Try changing accruements such as different necklaces, earrings, add a scarf, perhaps some gloves, or even a complete wardrobe change.  One thing I see many photographers and models make mistakes with is accruements.  I’ve seen too many photos of models with different clothes but the same necklace and/or earrings.  A good model carries an assortment and accruements are cheap, no need for expensive costume jewelry.

6. Add a chair, there are so many things you can do with a chair.  Keep in mind, a chair doesn’t need four legs, it just needs a surface for your model to sit, lay or rest on. I often do this for my “One Light, One Chair” (caution, link contains nudity) themed series.  I rarely start a shoot with that theme, but will observe as I’m shooting and if I see something interesting I will eventually evolve into that theme or another one of my themes.

7.  Think themes. Yep, that’s what I do. I have at least three “working” or “perpetual” photography themes I focus on.  Of the three, the first one is mentioned in tip #6, the other two favorites are “Wide Aperture,” where I shoot at wide-open F/stops, like F/1.2 with my Canon 85mm F/1.2L USM lens and the other theme is “Editorial Nudes.” (caution, link contains nudity) For editorial nudes, I also just sometimes take the “nude” out of the theme and just think editorial style shooting.  Editorial simply means to tell a story with your subject.

As an example, say you are doing a shot where the model is sitting in a bathtub or even a dining table. She’s all alone, no other model, but to tell the story, you add not one, but two wine glasses to indicate she’s not alone, she’s there waiting, someone is in the room with her—that’s editorial.

Photograph from Maryland Photography Workshop

Playboy Playmate Holley Dorrough poses on a large table during the Maryland Mansion, photography workshop.

8.  Pull out your smart phone.  Surf the web.  Google the genre of photography you’re working on and add “photoblog” to the end.  Photoblogs are just that, blogs that post photos often.  See what other photographers are doing today, not yesterday.  Again, don’t copy, just use these photos as a starting point and adapt it to your photographic style.

9.  Call a colleague.  I’ve had it happen to me where a photographer has called me and asked for some ideas.  For the person being asked, this is challenging in that we’re not there on the scene, so the neat thing about this tactic, it forces us to imagine and with imagination comes creativity.

10.  Crank it up!  Yep, you’d be surprised how adding some beats and rhythm to a shoot will get your subject going and even make your creative juices flow as often music “triggers” our memories of life in general.  I know for a fact, music gets me in the mood to do many things and when I’m on a shoot, it helps my creative juices flow from my brain—so crank it up and don’t focus on just music you like, but the style of music your subject likes too!

So there you have it, ten potential photography tips to get your brain going.  Don’t worry, every photographer gets into a “rut” from time to time, this is normal.  It’s how you get out of that rut that makes a difference, and if done right, you’ll be surprised on what you can create, perhaps your best masterpiece.

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One Comment

  1. Roland, can you tell us which Nik software you use. There seems to be several different versions.


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Welcome to (Lens Diaries™), a hybrid photography blog with social flair. The photoblog provides photo tips, photo tutorials and photo diaries by professional photographer, author, writer, speaker and social media consultant, Rolando Gomez.

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