“Now look this way, please. Smile, put your hand here.“ A person is willing to go through quite a lot to get a nice picture of themselves. We were interested in what models think about the photography process. To find out, we did some research. Just like a customer satisfaction survey is part of the buying process, we reached out to several models and asked them about their recent experiences during photoshoots. We asked how they felt about it at the time and how they feel about it now. What they liked and didn’t like. The results of the survey surprised us, and unfortunately, not in a positive way.
No matter who we are photographing, it’s important that we take into account the feelings of those in front of the lens. We must take their needs into account, do our best to calm any nervousness they may be feeling, and not cause them any trauma. We asked some people who were at one time, or are regularly in front of a camera how they feel about it, as well as their advice for photographers. The 43 respondents include men and women, both amateur and professional.
Unfortunately, we were surprised to learn how many of the respondents left the photoshoot feeling like they never wanted to have their picture taken again due to the photographer’s behavior. Models experienced unfair treatment, criticism, and often even sexual harassment. They commonly felt objectified. None of this is good for the very delicate relationship between a model and a photographer.
Sexual harassment during a photoshoot
We’ll start with the most uncomfortable issue. It’s fairly common that during a photoshoot, the photographer fails to respect boundaries. This most often happens when the model is undressed. Over 50% of the respondents had a bad experience with a photoshoot, and the vast majority of these negative experiences were due to sexual harassment.
Sometimes these negative experiences had to do with inappropriate comments such as “don’t be a prude” or other sexual innuendoes. Some respondents experienced sexualization as minors. Models shared experiences of being touched or groped without their permission, offers of sex, being forced to undress, or other more personal issues. One respondent even had a photographer try to lick her nipple.
Any type of physical contact between the photographer and model must be with their consent and the rules are the same for male and female models.
This physical contact also includes the innocent adjusting of loose hair strands or clothing. The photographer should always let the model know what they are going to do beforehand and ask for permission.
For example, at the beginning of the photoshoot the photographer can say something like: “I may occasionally touch you to adjust something. If it makes you feel uncomfortable, don’t be afraid to say so.” 50% of the respondents had a major problem with being touched without being asked first.
Models mentioned that they always like being asked if it’s alright to touch them. They are willing to forgive this rule with photographers they know and are friends with. But there is a delicate line that must be respected.
Models who have experienced sexual harassment are often not able to defend themselves or react appropriately because they are paralyzed or in shock. A model is not prepared for this type of situation, and they do not know how to adequately respond at the moment.
Other negative experiences that came up in the survey can be summed up with one word: communication.
The responses showed that conflicting opinions of the final photographs are a common point of contention. Most often, the model doesn’t like a certain photograph and the photographer doesn’t accept their opinion or refuses to edit the photograph. Another topic that frequently came up was tagging on social media, whether refusing to do so from the side of the photographer or not wanting to be tagged from the side of the model. Also, another issue was photographers not submitting their work by the agreed-upon deadline, or even not at all.
Communication is the key to any positive relationship. 91% of models prefer open communication with photographers.
81% of the respondents would like to have been consulted about the photographs by having the photographer show them proofs. However, there was also the opinion that a photograph is the work of a photographer, and the model shouldn’t tell them which photo to choose or how it should be edited. Nevertheless, there are many things the photographer may not notice when they’re behind the camera. The model, on the other hand, sees these things and looks for different aspects in the photo than the photographer. For photographers, composition, lighting, camera angle, and other technical details are essential.
For the photography subject, the most important things are how they look, and whether or not their facial expression or body positioning are flattering. This is also an essential part of the photo. For this reason, the collaboration between those in front of and behind the camera is critical.
Male or female photographers?
The survey results showed that 58% of the respondents prefer working with female photographers to male photographers. Models statistically feel less comfortable and under more pressure when working with male photographers. Some models are even afraid to book a photoshoot with a male photographer. Unfortunately, this changes the playing field for photographers who approach photography with professionalism and respect the rules of communication. Women photographers are no exception. Women photographers also demonstrate a lack of respect for the rules with behavior such as publishing the model’s photos online without their consent or inappropriate physical contact.
A possible solution for photographers that are dealing with an anxious model is to bring in a third party – the model’s boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, or wife. Or, the photographer may choose to bring in a friend, either their own, or a friend of the model. This extra person can help build a sense of security.
58% of the respondents struggle with anxiety before a photoshoot. 16% of the respondents said they find it difficult to relax before a photoshoot. Some models don’t eat and some even vomit before a shoot. In these cases of anxiety or nervousness before a shoot, a photographer should try to deal with the situation as best they can. They can make small talk about happy topics to distract their model, support their model and their feelings, and give them the space and time they need.
What makes a model happy during a photoshoot?
There was a wide range of responses which can be summarized as follows:
- Positive atmosphere and mood, music can help.
- Passion for photography and professional directions.
- Compliments from the photographer, praise for a job well done.
- Words of encouragement such as “This pose looks great,” “Stay just like that, you look like a goddess!”
- Natural, unforced conversation on a shared topic of interest.
- When the photographer lets the model add their own artistic input.
- Attention to detail.
- Friendly approach and listening to a model’s needs.
- Use of an assistant.
What throws a model off during a photoshoot?
From a wide range of responses, the summary is as follows:
- Awkward or inadequate communication.
- No conversation or silence during the photoshoot (even the quiet sound of the camera can throw a model off).
- Criticism that isn’t constructive.
- Inappropriate behavior and comments about the model’s body
- Obscene or sexual remarks.
- Forcing the model to do something they don’t want to.
- Indifference to the model’s needs.
- Negative attitude or closed mindedness to the model’s ideas.
- Hastiness or impatience.
- Lack of preparation, confusion, or lack of coordination.
- Extra people around.
- Objectifying the model.
Recommendations from models
We asked respondents what they’d recommend to photographers. The responses are more or less related to the points above, but they still bear repeating:
- Be prepared for the photoshoot.
- Keep your style and pace.
- Maintain a pleasant atmosphere during the shoot.
- Smile. It’s great to see when a person loves what they do. The model feels that the shoot is going well and they look good.
- A photographer has the power to lift a person up; it’s good to keep that in mind.
- Communicate. Give advice. Help your model.
- Ask questions, give suggestions…but don’t force anything (they’ll usually go for it anyway).
- Talk to your model and don’t touch them without asking first.
- The model doesn’t know what they look like, show them previews.
- Models are people too.
Some comments from the survey in closing
“I like a friendly atmosphere during a photoshoot. It’s great when the photographer has their own vision and puts it together with mine. When the photographer listens to my ideas too and we can make something truly amazing together. I like when a photographer tells me “Now stand like this or like that. That’s great.”
“Talk with your model! Please. A photoshoot where the photographer remains silent and doesn’t say anything is over in about twenty minutes and all I notice in the photos later are blank expressions, hair sticking out….“
“Confirm dates with your model, let them know how long it’s going to take you to edit the photos (even if it’ll take five months, they deserve to know). I also recommend sending at least one photo from the entire set before sending the rest and asking the model if they like the colors, etc. Thank you.“
“I really appreciate it when a photographer sends me proofs and I have the option to choose which photos they should edit. Because there may be several photos that may look good in terms of composition/lighting, but my head looks like a pumpkin, and I hate sharing these photos. Even though I know that the person put a lot of time into the photos and I appreciate their time, it may simply be an unflattering angle and I feel like I look fat/ugly.”