How to Deal with Unprofessional Behavior

Sometimes, despite our own professionalism and due diligence, we can end up in situations that require proper handling of a bad situation.

I’ve put together this article to provide a little direction on how to handle these situations without compromising your own reputation as a professional. Remember that these are my own opinions and my own definition of professionalism, but they serve me well and help ensure that, despite the occasional bad situation, I continue to book work and develop a good reputation among people I’ve worked with.

Keeping a good and professional attitude is incredibly important in creating opportunities, increasing possible income while traveling, and retaining a healthy local market.

To clarify before we begin: I’ve used some photos to illustrate my point with potential situations that may occur, but keep in mind that they are my modeling photos and the photographers involved were lovely and respectful, and I recommend them all highly.


The most important aspect of dealing with unprofessional behavior and uncomfortable situations is avoiding them in the first place. It is your responsibility to protect yourself.

There are a lot of things to cover, so below I categorize the preparatory “things to look for” into relevant sub-sections.

Models: Damianne, Robin Bean Photographer: Will Hollis Snider

Take the necessary precautions to avoid scams

It is worthwhile to reiterate that due diligence is incredibly important. Recognize warning signs for scams.

Model Mayhem provides an excellent resource for avoiding them: NEW MODELS; Learn about scams

Carefully check references

Check references, and don’t be afraid to ask other models for help in picking a photographer that suits you.

Check references out of the photographer’s portfolio, rather than asking for them. Seek advice from models that have the kind of portfolio you want, and the kinds of images you’re interested in doing.

Keep in mind: If you’re not willing to do nudes, a nude model may have advice you’re not willing to follow.

Ensure photographer’s preferences don’t conflict with your own

Realize that the photos a photographer shows as their best work is likely going to be the type of image they want to use you for, so if the amount of nudity or general “feel” of the images isn’t something that you’re comfortable with, it may be best to simply pass on the shoot.

Basically, if the photographer’s work feels creepy or weird to you, shooting with them will likely result in your feeling very awkward (at best).

Models: Damianne, Robin Bean Photographer: Will Hollis Snider

Be very, very clear on what you’re NOT willing to do

When discussing the shoot, if there’s any degree of nudity or eroticism, or if the photographer doesn’t already have work like they’re proposing with you in their portfolio, be incredibly clear on what the shoot will involve. Use clear, technical terms like “labia”— don’t use euphemisms; “Playboy-Style Nudes” means a hundred different things to a hundred different people, and if you don’t do open-leg nudity, you need to be clear on that.

Ensure you fully understand the photographer’s interests and expectations

Make sure you not only express your limits, but get a blatant idea of what the photographer is expecting from the shoot. Lack of clarity can lead to uncomfortable situations due to mismatched expectations, and if a photographer or other client is refusing to be clear on these aspects of the shoot, that’s your #1 warning sign of a situation where they may try to “sneak” in something you’re not comfortable doing.

To clarify: A “sexy shoot” means absolutely nothing, and agreeing to do it without figuring out what that means to the client is possibly setting yourself up for anything ranging from awkward to dangerous.

Models: Damianne, Robin Bean Photographer: Will Hollis Snider

Come to a solid, clear agreement on compensation beforehand

It is equally important to agree to compensation clearly, before you meet with them. If you’re paying for portfolio development, find out exactly what you’re paying for. If it’s a trade shoot, you need to be sure you agree on exactly what you’re trading for. If you are the one being paid, make sure the client knows what they’re getting and how much it costs. Do not assume they already “know how it works”, as different expectations will lead to conflict, and makes for bad business.

To clarify: You should not expect anything you didn’t ask for (IE clearly set up) before the shoot.

To really stress this point, I’m going to get into some specifics:

  • If you are being paid, and that is all you requested, you shouldn’t expect to see the photos, and you should be appreciative if you receive them.
  • If it is a TF* agreement, and you did not agree to a number of photos (e.g. “you’ll get three photos” or “you’ll get at least one photo per look”), you shouldn’t expect more photos to come after you’ve received a single one.
  • If you don’t like what the photographer gives you, just don’t work with them again—you won’t be able to force anyone to do something they don’t want to do, and you’ll get a bad reputation if you try to.
  • If you’re being paid and you quoted $25 an hour for a two hour shoot and never discussed travel time, but then had to drive three hours to get to the location, bringing it up after the fact MAY result in the photographer compensating you for some or all of your time, but your options have not changed for enforcing these rates. Just like before the shoot, you can either agree or not agree to the shoot (meaning you can leave and end it)—simply beginning the shoot process does not mean you can make someone pay you.

Managing your own expectations is half of handling these kinds of situations.

Following these guidelines prior to your shoots will cut out the majority of the issues you likely already face.


As I said above, “You should not expect anything you didn’t ask for (IE clearly set up) before the shoot.” Having already gone into that…. if you find yourself in a situation where you clearly set up compensation for your time, and then the other party is not following through, I want to take a moment to apologize that you’re in this situation. It is really unfortunate and definitely doesn’t feel good.

Things you can do now that this has happened:

  • In cases where the photographer didn’t pay you as agreed, you have some legal options, but most of them aren’t worth pursuing. If the photographer is a registered business, look into your state’s method of registering complaints, but the honest truth is that if you’re getting paid cash “under the table”, you probably don’t have many options here. Change your payment policies to require payment on location.
  • Politely inquire about photos with a gentle reminder about the agreement.
  • You can, if a month or two has gone by, ask more firmly—but still politely, about your images.

That’s about it. Like I stated above, you cannot force anyone to do anything, and yelling or giving this person “a piece of your mind” is not only unprofessional, but guarantees that you won’t see anything. Understand this is a risk of freelance modeling, accept that it will probably happen to you at some point or another, and just don’t work with that person again.


This is more common than anyone wants to admit. Photographers, other models, even makeup artists and stylists will sometimes try to sleep with you or date you. The best defense against this is an understanding of the environment in which you are working, having a good attitude, and respecting your own need for comfort.

Models: Damianne Photographer: Vintage Reprise

These things happen: Know this, and calmly deny the advances when they do

There are photographers and models active on this site that are married, dating, engaged, or who have hooked up in the past. Realize that many of them have met through this site, and although their intention may not have been romantic or sexual to begin with, chemistry does happen and people do sleep together. Simply arriving at a shoot in a professional context will not stop all advances.

Be friendly, but be firm that you’re not okay with it

Your main goal should be keeping the atmosphere friendly and away from things that make you uncomfortable—but it isn’t rude to firmly state a lack of interest (and a resulting feeling of discomfort at advances) when someone interprets your friendliness as something else.

If the advances are polite and nonaggressive, simply take it as a compliment and respectfully decline. Be nice, or cute or funny, but be clear that you’re not interested. Most importantly (for continuing a productive and pleasant shoot): Do not judge them. Take attraction as a compliment, not an insult; we’re all human, and given certain situations people feel the need to express their interest. Making someone feel like they are immoral or rude for expressing a positive opinion of you is going to insult them in a way that may make continuing a professional transaction unappealing to them.

It is important to you as a professional, as well, to keep things friendly since receiving photos or payment is entirely in their control (as discussed in the previous section, regarding compensation).

They’re not backing off? End the shoot

However, your limits are up to you. If a client expresses attraction to you after you’ve attempted to gracefully change the subject, be firm in declining their advances, but simply end the shoot and leave as soon as you become uncomfortable, or they become aggressive despite your disinterest.

This applies to a photographer hitting on you after the fact, as well. Politely decline, stay friendly and nonjudgmental. Follow the same guidelines, but instead of ending the shoot if it becomes too much for you to handle gracefully or even politely and firmly, just cease communication and assume you will not see photos.


I’ve been involved in perfectly comfortable shoot discussions about everything from anal sex to Obama, but sometimes the subject matter or the attitude of the other party can offend or upset me. I’ve found that learning to gracefully change the subject when I’m offended is the very best option. If you’re getting upset, avoid yelling or even debating the topic—just bring up something else. If you can’t do that gracefully, it’s fine to simply say that you are not comfortable with the discussion and ask if you can talk about something else.

Stay friendly, and avoid getting angry. If you have become upset and aren’t able to calm down after the subject has been changed, ask for a quick break, drink some water, spend a few minutes alone, and compose yourself before coming back.

Do not get into an argument.


Sometimes a photographer will begin to shoot content that you are not interested in being involved with, without asking and giving you the opportunity to decline. Sometimes this is because they shoot more graphic content with others and simply forgot your limits, and sometimes it’s because they are “slyly” attempting to gain images you didn’t agree to do.

It is important read the model release carefully; you don’t want to accidentally agree to something you’re not interested in doing.

Learn your angles to know what they’re aiming at

Learn your angles, so if the photographer starts aiming for more sexualized or blatant ones (like a shot of your vagina if you don’t do those, but are comfortable with art nudes), you can notice and say something. Attempting to get photos removed or deleted is not only a near impossible task for a model, but it’s a hassle and creates a lot of drama. Do everything in your power to simply avoid that situation in the first place.

Changing your pose to prevent shots you don’t want to be taken

If you notice just one attempt at something you may not be comfortable with, simply change your pose to match the angle in a way that you’re comfortable with; it may have been a mistake and I recommend that you assume it was. If you notice repeated attempts to catch something you don’t want to have a photo of (nip slip, or vagina shot, or whatever your limit is that the photographer is pushing), politely but firmly reiterate your limits.

Again, assume the photographer simply forgot for as long as you are comfortable doing so. If the photographer continues to push your limits, end the shoot. I’m comfortable repeating my limits as often as it is required, and I’m confident in my own ability to avoid graphic photos, so it takes a lot for me to leave, but your own comfort is what is important and you should not keep yourself in a situation that makes you uneasy.

The photographer is obviously ignoring your limits? Leave

If it has become obvious that the photographer is ignoring your limits on purpose, and you are not comfortable staying, then end the shoot and leave. Do not yell.

The only explanation that is required is, “I don’t feel like you are respecting my limits. I’m sorry, but I don’t feel comfortable and I’m going to go home”.


If something happens that would be grounds for sexual harassment at any corporate job (and makes you feel like you’ve been gravely disrespected), or seems threatening physically, but you don’t feel like it was sexual or physical assault, just leave. Don’t “chew them out”, or even feel a need to explain yourself if you’re not capable of doing so calmly. Leave the explanations for once you are safely out of the situation and have had a chance to calm down.

Models: Damianne Photographer: Will Hollis Snider

What to say after or when leaving

You do not need to explain yourself beyond a short “<thing that the individual during the shoot did> made me incredibly uncomfortable and I felt like I needed to leave”, and I would recommend avoiding speaking ill of the person, or going into the person’s character. Do not reschedule or put yourself into a situation with that person again.

If there are more people involved with the shoot, and the person that harassed you is not the one directing the shoot, immediately find the person that is directing the shoot (or whomever hired you), tell them quickly what happened, and that you are leaving. Discuss later.

You don’t have to continue afterwards—and neither do they

The individual directing the shoot may ask the person that harassed you to leave instead, but it’s up to you whether you still want to continue the shoot after that. Also, don’t demand that they do so. If you’re feeling harassed, leaving is the first option, and the only one that you can demand or control.

When you’re sexually or physically assaulted you leave and call the police

If you are sexually or physically assaulted, leave if possible and call the police. Do not stay near the person, do not threaten them—do not even speak to them. Cease all communication with the person that you feel assaulted you. Apologize to anyone else involved with the shoot after the fact, and offer a reschedule with them if you’re comfortable with it, but remove yourself first and foremost. If you feel the need, ask anyone and everyone around you for help in contacting the police or helping you leave, but do not ask them to handle the person that assaulted you (that’s the police’s job).

If you feel comfortable doing so, please contact [email protected] to report incidents of unprofessional behavior, verbal or physical abuse or sexual assault. Your report is confidential and handled by Model Mayhem staff and legal team.


I’ve already discussed details relating to when and how to leave a shoot, but I feel it’s necessary to give specific focus to the act of leaving, as a lot of thoughts, feeling, doubts, etc. pop up regarding leaving a business agreement.

You can leave whenever you want, for any reason, just know the consequences

Leaving is always an option; you are never required to stay. Understand that your relationship with that client is ended at that point, and that any agreements you made regarding photos or payment is forfeit if you don’t follow through on the shoot. Of course, these repercussions should not be enough to keep you in a bad situation.

The moment you feel disrespected, uncomfortable, or feel that someone may be dangerous, and you don’t feel capable of resolving it or doing so calmly, the most professional thing to do, and self-respectful thing to do, is to remove yourself.

Knowing that leaving is a valid option provides clarity of thought and action

Use this as a last option whenever possible, as it burns bridges, and the goal is to avoid extreme situations and handle mild ones with grace, but do not think it ever stops being an option for you.

Knowing I can leave whenever a problem escalates actually helps me handle situations better, as I do not feel the need to force the shoot to comply with my limits. This easygoing attitude can actually keep things more comfortable for all parties, and the calm but hard limits make it easier for other parties to understand and respect them.

Accept responsibility for leaving—“I was uncomfortable, I do not expect to see the pictures”

If you do leave the shoot, realize that the other party may not be impressed with your maturity and professionalism in leaving (though I promise they would if they realized that your other option was to create drama and conflict), so accept responsibility for ending the shoot.

Explain that you were uncomfortable, you do not expect to see pictures, and I would recommend giving them permission to use whatever photos were taken for their own use (unless the photos were the reason you became uncomfortable, and only if you feel ok doing so). Decline any offers for a reschedule politely, as it’s not a good idea to put yourself in the same situation twice.

The other party may not respond or act professionally, and may be upset; this does not mean it becomes a good idea for you to follow suit. Politely end contact.

How to make amends with those “Hanging to dry”

If you left a shoot and there were other parties left “hanging to dry” by your departure, explain the situation without placing blame (don’t create drama with character-attacks, just give them an explanation for why you left), and ask if they’d like to reschedule with you (for free if you were charging them), while replacing the party with whom you had an issue. If they don’t, be understanding and apologetic.


You may be tempted to seek retribution by publicly explaining what happened, or “outing” someone, but this is not a good idea. It will make you look incredibly unprofessional and overly dramatic, and lose you potential future clients.

No one else has any reason to believe you over your client, and it’s possible that some understandable situation occurred on their end that caused the problem.

Really, just don’t do this.

I don’t recommend “Do not recommend” lists

It is also tempting to put a “Do Not Recommend” list on your profile. I don’t recommend it, for all the reasons above. It’s dramatic and does more to hurt you than it does to help you.

The only option that I would recommend is networking. If you have relationships with models in your area, sharing information about the people you all work with will help you avoid these situations, and if you have experienced something already, you can help them avoid it.

Others won’t necessarily have the same experience you’ve had with a client

However, understand that your experience may not be everyone else’s experience with someone, and your word alone will not stop anyone from getting work in the future; a reputation takes lots of time and recurring instances to develop.

Do not threaten anyone with gossip.

Avoid drama in general, as you have your own reputation to concern yourself with. Drama is more toxic than a single instance of unprofessionalism, as unfair as that may seem to you.


A professional model is both friendly and complying with the shoot happily, or she/he leaves. Attempting to argue or create conflict is not in your best interest, and there are lots of ways to gracefully assert your limits without becoming aggressive. Avoid drama whenever possible, and simply refuse a shoot or leave if you are faced with a problem to the point that you feel the need to argue or yell.

Ending points to remember:

  • Avoiding uncomfortable situations in the first place is both your responsibility and the best way to handle unprofessional behavior.
  • Honesty is the best policy.
  • You can always leave a shoot if you need to in order to retain your professional attitude.
  • You cannot force anyone to do anything.
  • Avoid drama. Handle conflict calmly. Avoiding such things will get you more business.

Model: Damianne; Designer: Laura Dregger; Makeup Artist: Jenn Vatour; Photographer: Borsellino Photography



Damianne is a freelance model from Austin currently based in Edmonton. She travels for modeling but while at home loves to mess around on forums and set up creative shoots. She promises to start blogging or to eventually get her website up and running.

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