Friday, April 13, 2007

Young Teen Models

I was recently hired to photograph a post-adolescent girl who hopes to enter the world of commercial modeling. Her parents were willing to spend a few bucks and, as a result, this young girl's first experience in front of the camera included a rented studio, an MUA/hair stylist, an assistant, and your's truly. She (and her parents) wanted 4 or 5 "looks" in order to put together a beginning portfolio and a comp card.

The young lady was very pretty and the camera liked her quite a bit. Although it was her first time, she took to being in front of the camera and lights like she'd been there a few times before. I think it was a great experience for her and the resulting images came out very good.

The toughest thing for me, however, was resisting shooting her in ways that evoked a bit too much sex appeal. It wasn't that, secretly, I wanted to shoot her in subtlely sensuous ways. (Requiring me to keep those inclinations in check.) It was that almost everyone else on the set seemed to be nudging me in that direction... the Mom included! My attitude was this: She's still a kid (at 13 years) and that's how she should be captured. Please don't take it wrong about the Mom. The model's mother wasn't looking to create a less-than-subtle "Lolita" look for her daughter. I think she was simply guided (misguided?) by what she often sees in fashion magazines (who feature post-adolescent models) or in child model pageants and, therefore, she wanted to re-create some of those looks, figuring that would make her daughter more marketable.

The MUA had applied the make-up in a somewhat glamourized way with hair to match. The young model brought along quite a bit of wardrobe and I asserted myself into the wardrobe selection (to keep it wholesome) even though, as I've mentioned, others seemed to want to give the images a decidedly "Lolita" appeal. I didn't want to go that way and it wasn't completely about morality: It also had to do with, what I thought, would be best in terms of capturing the model in marketable ways. Personally, I felt this model, although she was 13 years old, could easily "play" an age-range from ten to fourteen or so and I thought that was the way she should be photographed, i.e., with some of the images going after the "child" look and some a bit more mature without going for obvious sex appeal. For instance, we shot a two-piece bathing suit series and I went out of my way to keep those shots on the "kid" side of things. Overall, I wanted to keep in mind her age, while also depicting her having "range."

Although I lit the model in a glamour-like style, I didn't permit her to pose or exhibit expressions that had that "come hither" thing going on. It required a conscious effort on my part to keep the images in that direction: I sometimes go on autopilot when shooting and my autopilot is generally pre-set to "sexy" since that's what I most often shoot. Because of this, I found the experience very positive in terms of my growth as a photographer: It's easier to make an image stand-out when you have a beautiful, sexy model posed in provocative ways. But it's not so easy when the model, although beautiful (in that blossoming into a woman kind of way) and could be shot sexy, is still too young and shouldn't, in my opinion, be captured that way.

In the end, everyone was more than happy with the images, myself included. I'm not posting any of these pics because I've made it a rule on this blog not to put up images of models under eighteen years of age.


Anonymous said...

As a father of a little girl (5) I thank you for your attempt at not making them grow up so fast. The 'teen' movement in the adult sites really creeps me out, and sometimes I see the mini beauty pagents as just another way to push that.

I also like your policy on the <18 postings. Pretty cool.

Missed your posts while you were busy, glad to see you back. Though being busy is always good

Anonymous said...

Glad to see your back blogin JD
You are truly a credit to your profession.


Tanner said...

Congratulations Jimmy. Restraint is almost always a good thing!

Tanner said...

Congratulations Jimmy, and thanks for the post. Restraint and discretion are almost always the best route.

Rick Warburton said...

For most all of us your restraint in such matters is to be admired...Curiously, this does bring to mind a woman photographer who knew no such bounds--Irina Ionesco.

Here is an article about her and her daughter.

She photographed her daughter, Eva, in Lolita like ways and, imho, captured quintessential innocence about to bloom.

James said...

This is a tough topic in general but I had a similar situaltion a couple years ago. A mother contacted me about shooting her 14 yo daughter in a semi-provocative santa suit (mini skirt and tank-style top) for an OMP modeling contest. I turned her down flat when I heard about the idea, but she persisted and sent me a picture of the outfit. I ran it past my wife, who's generally more conservative than I am, to get another perspective. She didn't think it was as odd a request as I did. I ended up doing the shoot but it was a constant struggle between myself, her, and *both* her parents to keep an aire of innocence and fun and playdown the come-hither aspect.

In the end I think I kept the shoot apropriate. The really odd thing is we did a wardrobe change and she put a full length dress on and I was more open to glamour expressions when she was wearing that because she looked like an adult and it didn't appear lolita-esque at all. I've found that some parents actually like seeing their teens photographed in a more serious, less childish way. It gives them a glimpse of what just around the corner.

It's all very murky waters. Teenagers are part kids and part adults and they can play both parts, sometimes surprisingly well. It's half a decade of playing with adulthood. One thing is for sure, they push boundaries and it's up to their parents and sometimes you the photographer to draw sensible boundaries and to stay within them.

On a side note, I'm considering pushig more into the senior photography market and when doing some local research I was surprised to see a dramatic increase in the acceptance of glamour and sexuality in senior pictures from what I remember when mine were taken waaay back in 1994 :). Both the girls and boys want to look more like models these days. Times they are a changin I suppose.

Anonymous said...


This is one of the reasons you are my hero. While the right call is usually a matter of opinion, you handled the situation perfectly. My god-daughter does beauty pageants and it's sickening how much these parents want to change their kids for the sake of winning.

I've been to a few group shoots where parents of some 17 year olds are practically pimping their daughters emphasizing they'll be 18 in 2 months and available for more provocative shoots. It's like they're waiting for a windfall from a layout or a brass pole. Let's the girls grow up first.

I believe you made the right decision as far as how to shoot her and admire your discipline and vision.


nevin said...


good post and good call in the studio (as always). I have had a similar kind of situation myself and it is usually the parents that are the cause of the problem.