What You Need to Work On
If I am doing a shoot for a client I can choose to pull someone
off the street who looks right for the job and normally not pay
much money or I can hire a skilled professional model and pay
a lot more money. The reason I would op for paying more for a
professional model is that a shoot will go quicker and have a
better chance for success with a pro then someone off the street.
So a professional model can actually save a client money by shortening
a shoot and the quality of the images will be better (better
usually meaning more sales). So what does a professional model
bring to a shoot that some one off the street does not, professional
attitude and the "model's tool kit." The "model's
tool kit" is the ability to express and pose and knowledge
of make-up, hairstyling and wardrobe. This package of skill is
what makes a model worth their fees.
Working on Expression and Pose
In the old days of melodrama and vaudeville they made a science
out of communicating with facial expression or body position.
They exaggerated and standardized every emotion that one might
want to express. They produced books showing these standard expressions
and poses and when you studied theatrics this was part of what
you learned. All of this early work was a bit over exaggerated
and through the years has gone through a lot of refinement. When
photographs began replacing drawings in fashion magazines the
photo fashion industry came up with their own set of expressions
and poses. These expressions and poses usually communicated beauty
and grace. A model would learn a standard set of poses that told
where the feet, hands, torso, and head would be positioned. One
would work on one's cheery smile or surprise facial expression.
By the early sixties it had become pretty regimented. But just
as all the rules for being a model were set, along came the late
sixties and a time for breaking all of the rules. It has been
a muddled mess since. Today there are no set rules for models
except all of the old rules still can apply except we want to
break them all the time. The modeling schools say they will teach
you the standard modeling poses but the agencies and fashion
industry say that there are no standard poses; everything is
creative and you either have it or you don't and we decide who
As a working photographer I think it is great to have both.
I like it when I can tell a model to look sad and she has practiced
that look in the mirror and can do it on cue. I also like when
we can play sad music or tell a side story and get an honest
sad expression. I like when shooting a simple fashion shot and
I ask the model to go through her short or long group of poses
and she has a set routine that we can shoot through. I like it
when we need something very different for a shot and I can tell
the model how to stretch, twist, and reach and she is aware of
her/his body and can do it. I think you should know the rules
so you can break them. You should know your body so you are aware
of how it moves, what lines it forms, and how it can be coached
into different positions. I think you should know yourself and
your emotions so you can show these to the camera and feel confident
in what you are showing.
So how do you work on expressions and posing? One good way to
start is doing activities that teach you how to move you body
gracefully. For this I like dance and rhythmic gymnastics. Dancers
and gymnasts move great in front of the camera. They know how
to created a long sweeping line with their bodies. Other sports
can help with kinesthetic knowledge and are good for conditioning
but I favor dance to teach how to move and communicate with you
body. Of course for expression theater is a great teacher. That
is part of what an actor must do at times - communicate without
words. If you have an opportunity take a class or participate
in these activities, I encourage you to do so.
You can work on facial expressions by practicing them in a mirror.
What do I mean by facial expressions? We are all capable of showing
various emotions on our face. Most emotions that you can think
of can show on your face. Hate, love, sadness, longing, happy,
and more can be expressed on your face. What you should do is
make a list of all key emotional words you can think of (run
through the dictionary) and practice those expressions in front
of a mirror. After you have practiced for a while, try them on
a friend and see if they can tell what emotion you are conveying.
The idea is that when you are in front of the camera and the
photographer wants you to look longingly into the distance you
know how to do that.
More on Posing
When you are in front of my camera lens your body and how
it is positioned become a critical element in making my photograph
successful. Learning how to move in front of the camera begins
with some basic principles.
Lines of Force - There are certain principles of design that
apply to any visual art. With a model in a photograph your body
works as a compositional element. All the basic rules of design
apply to how you position your body. Learning basic design rules
can help you understand why arm should go one way and a leg the
other way. And why when the rules are broken a whole different
message is given.
Non-verbal communication - Years ago when I started in college
I majored in communication. One of the first classes I took was
on non-verbal communication. As may be no surprise curtain body
positions communicate different messages. By learning these body
positions and recreating them in front of the camera you can
communicate a powerful message.
Symbolism - This is a refinement of understanding of non-verbal
communication. This is the old nature verses nurture debate.
There are curtain body positions that have specific meaning with
in a culture context. There can be body position that will mean
something in one culture or for one group of people and mean
nothing to another. With the global economy and the whole planet
reach of the Internet it becomes more important to understand
what is mankind universal mind or world view and what is a cultural
Acting vs. Reacting
In working with a model can get the pose I need in one of
two ways by acting or reacting.
Acting or directional modeling - With this type of modeling
a scene is set, direction on what is needed from the model for
expression, look and pose given, the model must pull from themselves
what is needed. On a set a model that can accomplish this is
very valuable. I am able to tightly control the communication
message and be able to achieve it very quickly.
Reactive modeling - With this type of approach an environment
is created, or external forces are applied and the model reacts
to the situation. This is where the models personality comes
through, improvisational, spontaneity. With some models and some
situations this can work very well (more the exception then the
rule). In others it is a salvable technique (it is like using
the squeaky toy with a baby). A shoot will general take longer
and communication objective can be harder to reach. Because of
the greater time it takes get acceptable results a model of this
type would be of less value.
An Observation on Posing Styles
In moving away from principles and more into what is out there
I find four general style of posing based on industries.
1) Classic Fashion - these are poses that were developed up
to the 60s. These follow good compositional design and function
to make one look attractive. These became so standardized they
were thought of a mannequins. This is the style most used in
2) Anti-Classic or High Fashion - A rebellion against the classic
posing started with the 60s rebellion to look unique. This has
intern become its own stylized look that is seen mostly in fashion
editorial. This style breaks compositional lines and goes for
distorted, awkward, deformed and yes ugliness.
3) Commercial print/Acting - Most often the pose is tied to direct
non-verbal communication. An ad has an advertising message that
need to be stated and how the model is positions carries the
4) Glamour - This area has its own unique set of poses. It is
built on Classic fashion and good design but emphasize the sensual
How can you learn to pose
I have not seen any good source for learning these principles
or for just how do you position your body. Modeling books might
have a few basic body positions and tips. Modeling schools do
about the same but neither build on a foundation of principles.
The best suggestion I have is work on posing by practicing in
front of a full-length mirror and doing test shoots. To figure
out what to practice look at the fashion magazine to see how
to stand but most of the poses are breaking the rule and at this
point you need to be learning the rules. You may want to look
at fashion catalogs for poses. You would need to pay attention
to tilt of the head, position of the hand, and turn of the ankle.
These little things can make a big difference. Just as with facial
expressions your body posture can relate to an emotional word
or phrase. Body posing is easy to show someone but it is hard
to put in words.
With both expressions and with posing it is also good to practice
with props, products and wardrobe. Props might be a floppy hat,
a long shawl, a beach ball. You want to practice reacting to
the prop and using the prop. Since the reason for doing these
photographs is to sell something, it is good to practice with
a product that might be sold. Practice holding the product so
it shows well and you don't cover the label. With fashion you
are selling the clothes, practice showing important features.
Show off pockets, collar, belt, how the garment moves, what ever
makes the garment interesting you want to call attention to it.
Make-up is an art. I took my make-up classes from a lady who
assisted on the movie Little Big Man. In that movie they took
Dustin Hoffman from being a young teenager to a 100 year old
man. What she could do with make-up was amazing. If a shoot has
a budget for a make-up artist and a good one is available then
we just sit back and let him do his magic. But on a shoot without
a budget for a make-up artist or in some smaller towns where
one is not available, it may well fall upon the model to do her
own make-up. Even when you have a make-up artist it is necessary
that you know of any corrective make-up you may need.
For learning make-up there are some great books available.
You may also find theatrical make-up classes taught at some community
college. The cosmetologist at the local department store may
be fine giving some pointers for your street make-up, but make-up
for photography can be quite different. This is especially true
for B&W photos. A big part of learning make-up is just trying
it in front of a mirror. Study something in a book or magazine
then try it in front of a mirror. Eventually, you have to get
in front of the camera with your make up on and see how it looks.
Make-up for black and white photography gets weird. Color
no longer matters. It is only the lightness and darkness that
matters. I guess it is a kind of a gothic thing. It takes some
getting used to. You must ignore the color and only see the make-up
in terms of black, white and grays.
Being able to do things with your hair can be a great help
when photographing. Of course it is great when you have a professional
hair stylist who can do some fabulous looks and keep every hair
in place, but there may not be a budget for a hair stylist. So
again it may fall to the model to be able to do her own hair.
I have always thought shoulder length hair was the most versatile.
You can put it up, pull it back, comb it to one side, fluff it,
curl it, or just leave it natural. Short hair locks you into
one look, end of story. Long hair can be fun to work with but
not quite as flexible. Being able to restyle your hair can be
very helpful on a shoot. You can check various magazines to see
what they are doing and practice in a mirror. For most modeling
purposes you don't need to be incredibly creative with your hair
- just so you can redo it to offer several different looks.
In a secondary market, on a lower budget shoot, for your own
composite and portfolio you will need a basic working wardrobe.
When I was starting in photography the modeling books would list
the basic wardrobe a model should have. This, of course, was
where the simple black dress came from. I am not sure what should
be in one's closet today, but a range of basics would be good.
You must have a business suit for interviews, cold calls, and
modeling. I am always grateful when a model has a formal dress.
The formal is best for the super dress-up shot. You may have
to wait till you get going and call on a few photographers to
see what you might want in a basic wardrobe.
As part of wardrobe and clothing I would also encourage learning
about fashion. Thirty years ago most women had some experience
in sewing. From that experience they had an understanding of
what different fabrics were like, what standard cuts of skirts
were, different types of collars, different types of pockets,
and many more variations that could make up a garment. All of
this is still important today when modeling clothes. It helps
to know how a fabric will drape or move when you are modeling
it. It helps to know if a pocket is deep cut or shallow cut so
you can show that. It is very important to know what the lines
are of a garment so you can accentuate them and not break the
line of movement. Fashion history and how the fashion industry
works may be fun to learn, also, but I think it is more important
to understand the garment itself.