I started a project almost two years ago where I wanted to learn about two things. How to better tell a story through photography, and how to hire and manage a professional model. To tell a better story, I decided to rewatch all the classic Hong Kong cinema that I grew up loving so much and gave special attention to the cinematography. That was the fun part. The challenging part was engaging complete strangers to show up at a certain time, at a certain place, dressed a certain way and expect them to “get” what I want to shoot and “perform” each scene.
I solved the technical aspects of the shoot with regards to the lighting and locations. But finding models was a big challenge as I did not have any budget and felt incredibly nervous about asking anyone to do this. With luck, I met Jacky through Model Mayhem and she thought the concept for my project was cool and offered to help out. She called her friend YQ to come and be the male model and off we went!
The shoot was fun, and I had planned each scene carefully with storyboards and locations selected. I had all the props arranged and Jacky and YQ knew just what to do when I showed them the storyboards and acted out the scenes myself. They had modeled before and I was pleasantly surprised that I did not need to give them too much direction. The concept was clear and the setup was good.
Since then, I started taking some risks and tried my luck inviting other models out to do short photo sessions to hone my skills and experiment. This is where I started to learn about the less glamorous side of the modeling industry.
After each session I would take the models and my friends out to dinner and we would share stories and talk about the shoot. Some of the models were puzzled that the shoot was a lot of fun and that nothing unexpected happened. It was satisfying and fulfilling to have these kinds of interactions. Sadly though, one of them told of a shoot which ended when the photographer asked if he could lick her feet. Another told me that someone picked her up in a car and drove her around the city telling jokes and refused to let her out. Then another… and you get the idea.
So lately I’ve done a few shoots with models who tell me it’s their first time modeling. Before parting ways I share some advice with them and thought I’d share it here as well for anyone interested:
1. For the first 6-7 shoots you do, bring your boyfriend, girlfriend, or best friend with you. Do this until you get a strong taste for what is a real shoot and what is utter bullshit.
2. Never work for free unless the project sounds incredibly fun and you can verify that it’s legit, safe, and not in an enclosed space like a hotel room or personal, non-rented, studio. Always take a taxi or train, do not accept a ride from the photographer. A car is another enclosed space where you can easily get trapped.
3. If you do not have a lot of experience, $30-$50/hour is average, or charge a flat rate for half a day, like $100~. If you don’t charge, then the photographer may not respect you or your time. If you don’t charge, make sure the project is something you care about and want to participate in.
4. If a photographer offers to pay a lot for a lingerie or implied nude shoot, ask to see their portfolio of work. Are the photos beautiful, tasteful and elegant? Or are they tacky, cheap and shot in a Hotel 81? Or are they blatantly porn? Remember, once it’s online, it will likely never go away. So if you want a career in commercial modeling and some nasty photos of you are making the rounds, you’re going to have a hard time getting work.
5. Ask what the concept is and ask why they chose you. Research their work and make sure you like their style.
Basically don’t say yes to anything and everything, and do some homework. Modeling is a job, and a tough job. If you’re going to do it, be smart and be safe.
As photographers, we must show models the same respect we expect to receive ourselves. None of us want to shoot for free, so don’t expect models to feel any differently. Don’t use photography as a way to pick up girls, use it as a way to be a cool professional who takes great photos and makes art. Build a community of models so when you get commercial work, you have a contact list of models whom you know their strengths which you can leverage for your projects.