Yesterday was one of those days where I found myself, camera in hand, facing a model who spoke only a little English. Very little! Her name was Cindy (pictured) and she was fresh off the jetliner from Budapest, Hungary. Since I speak no Hungarian other than the word "goulash," and Cindy spoke very little English, other than words like "yes," "no," "hello," and "money," I knew I'd have to resort to hand signals, demonstrations of poses and expressions, along with a mini-crash-course in English-as-a-Second-Language.
First things first: Figure out what body parts Cindy could identify in English. What she didn't know, I'd teach her-- And get your minds out of the gutter, I'm talking about body parts like head, face, hands, shoulders, arms, legs, and belly button.
Yep. A very important body part in terms of model direction, that is, important in terms of directing where it should be pointed.
"Point your belly button at that light over there," is a a direction I often give English speaking models. Pointing belly buttons away from the camera, of course, twists the model's hips away as well. It's a simple posing technique to thin hips, shave pounds, and reduce
Once I've quickly taught non-English-speaking models the English words for a few body parts that I'll be having her move, turn, twist, and bend, I can then use my free hand to indicate where that body part should go. I'll hold my free hand up, for instance, say a word like "shoulders," and twist/move my hand one way or another to communicate to the model which way to turn her shoulders and how much to turn them. Simple, right? Works for me.
With non-English-speaking models, I generally show them images on the back of my camera more often than I will with English speaking models. In this way, I can point at various parts of her body and give her critical feedback--usually via pantomime, expressions, and gestures--in terms of how that body part is working (or not working) within the context of the pose.
Emotion and expression is a little more difficult to direct with newly learned words and hand signals. This is where I rely on demonstrating, with my own face, the expressions and/or emotions I'd like the model to convey. Yeah, I sometimes feel like a clown when I'm doing this but, more often than not, it gets the point across. Emotions and expressions are fairly universal across most cultures in their use and meanings.
It's often surprising how quickly a photographer and a model can get on the same page without the benefit of speaking the same language. I guess photography and modeling has it's own universal language: One that quickly replaces spoken languages. Too bad I can't figure out how to do a Vulcan mind meld. That would make things even easier when the model speaks little or no English... and might be kind of
The goulash-scarfing pretty girl at the top is Cindy. I lit Cindy, on a white cyc, with 4 Profoto Acute heads: The main, camera-left, modified with a 7' Photoflex Octodome; a fill, camera-right, modified with a medium, silver-lined umbrella; two kickers, either side, above and behind Cindy, modified with small shoot-through umbrellas. Canon 5D, 70-200mm f/4L, ISO 100, f/10 @ 100th. Minimal processing.