Improve photographer-model communication for better photos

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I’ve always liked horses. They’re such magnificent creatures. A few years ago, I took horseback riding lessons and learned the basics. As a beginner riding around the arena, I would inevitably hold the reins with too much slack. The horses would sense the slack and toss their heads forward and yank the reins, sometimes straight out of my hands.

Photographer-Model Communication

I asked the trainers why the horses would do that, and their responses varied. One trainer told me the horses could sense my lack of experience and it was their way of rebelling against me riding them. Another trainer told me that the horses just wanted to see if I was paying attention and if I knew what I was doing.

Whether the horses were just being mischievous or actually trying to qualify me as a rider, I was clearly doing something wrong.

I wasn’t maintaining a “constant dialogue” with the horses.

The Importance of Verbal Communication

Fast forward a few years from that riding experience (but 1.5 years ago from today): I rented a studio from a gentleman who was a veteran photographer. When I finished shooting my first set with the model, this veteran photographer approached me and suggested I needed to give my model more feedback. He demonstrated by shooting a few frames and directing the model verbally on her posing. I watched, but it didn’t translate into an improvement on my part. The problem was I wasn’t experienced enough to know what I wanted. That, in turn, made it impossible to direct the model, hence the utter lack of verbal communication. Hell, if it weren’t for the beeping from the lights recycling, the studio might have been silent.

Models aren’t mind readers. Even Giselle needs to know if she’s giving the photographer the right poses or looks. But the communication doesn’t have to be in the form of verbal direction on posing. For example, if I were shooting Giselle, I’m sure the only words coming out of my mouth would be, “OMG! OMG! OMG!” but at least she would know that she was doing something right.

The point is, the verbal communication is like the tension in the reins between the horse and the rider. Without tension in the reins, the horse doesn’t know if we’re going left or right or just going straight. Similarly, without verbal communication, the model doesn’t know if she’s hitting her poses or if she’s totally posing down the wrong path. I banter incessantly when I shoot because, through that constant barrage of words, there’s real-time feedback about what I’m seeing. The hope is that those words translate into directional changes in the posing to achieve a greater yield of usable images.

You can learn more about this and other techniques at one of my group workshops.




Charles Lucima is a photographer/retoucher based in Los Angeles specializing in fashion, editorial, and beauty. His clients include designers, apparel brands, and modeling agencies around the world.

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