WORKING WITH FIRST TIMERS (Reprised & Edited)
While I was in Vegas this past week, some of the models I shot were first-timers. To be sure, working with first-timers can be a lot of fun but they sometimes present special challenges. Here's a few examples:
Deer Caught in the Headlights Syndrome: Models beset by this affliction step in front of the camera and, although they may each have been Little Miss Personality while getting ready for their shoot, they suddenly go stiff, become filled with anxiety and dread, and begin posing as if a taxidermist had arranged their bodies and molded their expressions.
I've Watched Every Episode of America's Next Top Model Syndrome: These first-timers know it all. They paid close attention to every bit of advice Tyra Banks and her panelists and co-hosts offered to every contestant ever appearing on the show. They won't make the same mistakes those (losing) contestants did! Unfortunately, they're working too hard at putting the knowledge they gleaned from Ms. Banks' TV show into practice and their poses and expressions are often way over the top.
I'm Not a First-Timer Syndrome: These models have spent some serious time in front of cameras. But the people holding those cameras were boyfriends with point-n-shoots or cell phone cams. While these first-timer's boyfriends are all, according to the models, extremely creative -- after all, they're someday going to be A-List actors, superstar rockers, celebrated poet rappers, or even famous photographers -- they somehow weren't able to produce work that matched their creative prowess. Obviously, leastwise according to the models, only due to the limitations of their gear and not, of course, in any way associated with limitations of skill, talent, knowledge, and/or experience.
Yep, working with first-timers can be a real challenge. Here's some of my best advice for doing so:
1. Spend less time focused on craft, i.e., the photography tech stuff, and more time focused on the model. (That's why the craft stuff needs to become as automatic and second-nature as it can be for you.)
2. Always keep the communication lines between you and the model open and going on at all times with a free exchange of ideas for poses, expressions, and more.
3. Give direction. Plenty of it and even if some of it becomes repetitive. If you find you're giving the same directions over and over, that probably means they're making the same mistakes over and over. Sooner or later, you keep giving that same direction and it will sink in.
4. Do your best, your very best, to gain rapport with the model. Say things (often) that build her confidence and stroke her ego. Again, repetition is a positive thing when it comes to stroking the model's ego.
5. Pay attention to details! Both in your viewfinder and in general. Especially in your viewfinder! You don't need to chimp every shot. Trust your eyes without always resorting to an instant replay by chimping the back of the camera. When you do, it sometimes makes the model think you're the inexperienced and insecure one!
6. Don't wait for the model to accidentally trip and fall into a decent pose. Shooting pretty girls isn't gambling. Good captures don't happen by accident. (Well, sometimes they do.) But don't count on photographic lightning to strike all by itself. You're not Ben Franklin with a key and kite waiting for nature to happen. You're a photographer. Your job is to make things happen, not to wait for them to happen.
7. Always remember: It's lonely out there in the lights! More so if the photographer is mostly quiet and seemingly preoccupied with everything but the model while adjusting this or messing with that. (Note: If you're having a problem with exposure or anything else related to the tech stuff, let the model know that's what's going on. Otherwise, sure as shit, they're gonna think the problem has to do with them.) The best way to NOT capture the shots you hope to capture is to stand there, camera raised to your eye, silently keeping most of your attention focused on all the tech stuff, all while an inexperienced model is emotionally squirming and melting in the lights.
The first-timer pretty girl at the top is Tina. (Click to enlarge.) MUA was Eva. Tina started out with Deer Caught in the Headlights Syndrome. Fortunately, she wasn't too difficult to loosen up. Image captured with a Canon 5D, 85mm f/1.8 prime, f/5.6 @ 125. Three source lights--a 5' Octodome and two strips--and a reflector were used.