How To Direct New Models During Their First Photoshoot (Tip: You Don’t Have To)

I’ve been asked this question many times: “How do I direct a model who’s shy and introverted, during their first photoshoot?”

Having been shooting since 2005, I’ve been asked this on numerous occasions by other photographers who were new to photography. Some photographers themselves were not the extroverted type, so I’d get asked this quite often. My answer won’t apply to every aspect of modeling and photography, but because I was shooting portraits and “lifestyle” photography, this answer may be of greater importance.

Truthfully, no matter how good you are at directing, I always believed “forcing” your creative input onto any client is never a good method, especially if the model or client is the shy/introverted or inexperienced type. When a model feels like the photographer is trying too hard to direct, the model commonly will stiffen up or become more nervous, feeling like things are way too scripted. — This method has never worked or delivered good results for me.

Sure, you can try to reenact a pose or explain to the model that you’re looking for a certain pose or expression, but if it doesn’t feel genuine (from within), you’re not going to get a very good shot. I don’t care how good you are at directing. Getting comfortable with a camera takes time for anyone who is new to modeling.

What do I do? For their very first shoot, I don’t take myself seriously. I can’t expect a new model to mimic or come even close to a supermodel. Photoshoots should be entertaining, not a mundane or boring task.

As a photographer, if you lower your expectations, you’ll get better results.

Model: Jenna

Above is a photo I shot in Downtown Tampa, Florida a few days before Christmas of a client of mine.

She asked me: “What do I do?”

I responded: “Be goofy, be yourself. Surprise me!”

It worked like a charm. But what also helped was by allowing them to bring a friend along.

Model: Megan

Jenna had another photogenic friend who joined along named Megan. When they both were on set, I knew I had picked the right two models to work with. I always allow for my clients to bring a friend along because this helps settle any nerves of a first-time client’s photoshoot and it also helps me if I need someone to hold a reflector for me.

In my case, they felt so comforted that as I was shooting the ‘Behind the Scenes’ video clips with my DJI Osmo Pocket, it turned into a funny dance-off/music video of it’s own. Endless laughs that evening.

Models: Megan & Jenna at Riverwalk (Curtis Hixon Park — Tampa, FL)

Instantly, the entire thing turns into a fun and creative project. Considering we don’t have the stress of film cameras and the unexpected debacle of how the shots turned out, digital cameras and live-view screens allow us to shoot hundreds of photos. Why stress how many turn out well? If you have a handful from 300 shots, that’s all you’ll ever need for your website or social media platform anyhow.

Being a photographer with a sense of humor also helped me get some great shots. You can say something like “okay, strangle your friend!” (joking of course). The result turned out to be this:

Cinemagraph shot with Canon 5D Mark IV using the Sigma 105mm lens

As a result, sometimes the best way to direct clients is not to try so hard at directing them at all (at least for their first time around).

Let them be themselves and the genuine actions of what happen may deliver the best shots ever.

Financial Expert & Tech Writer for The Monetizer

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