Finding models to photograph is difficult. But asking strangers to be your model is a valid approach. Sure, you can hit up an agency I suppose, but for hobbyists like me it can be an expensive thing. You can also peruse sites like Model Mayhem. Technically using Model Mayhem is asking strangers to be your model, but that comes with it’s own hurdles.
One of the biggest issues with finding models to photograph on Model Mayhem is that the majority of models on that site are just difficult to pin down. That’s a polite way of saying they are flaky. I mean real flaky, typically. Instagram can be similar.
But asking strangers to be your model who you come across in everyday life is a valid option. The real problem with this approach, however, is that it’s so easy to be taken the wrong way, thus it’s important to use the right verbiage. I’m not certain what the right verbiage is, but I do have a good idea of what I feel is the wrong verbiage. For example, walking up to someone and blurting out something like, “hey would you like to model for me?” would definitely be awful.
Don’t do that.
Really. Don’t do that.
As an example of how I’ve asked a stranger to be my model, one time I asked someone working in a store that I regularly shopped at if they would be interested in doing a shot for my 100 Strangers Project. She agreed and then as we talked a bit more and I explained what I do, she expressed an interest in doing a full blown session. It worked out well. In fact participating in the 100 Strangers project has helped me immensely with approaching people.
Most recently, a couple of months ago I was in another store returning something. The girl behind the counter who was processing my return was very interesting looking. I visited with her as she processed the return and then when she was done, I handed her a card and explained that I’m a photographer and asked if she would be interested in doing a casual shoot sometime. Right away she was interested. I didn’t try to get a commitment or anything like that at that time. I just handed her my card that has a link to my main portfolio page so that she could, “get an idea of what I do.” At no time did I use the word “model.”
I think it was later that day that she reached out to me to set up a time. As it turns out, she has some experience doing the modeling thing, and had an Instagram page to show for it. After looking at her Instagram page I almost immediately formulated an idea of what I wanted to do. It was going to be something vastly different than what she was currently showing. I had a location in mind and I wanted it to be a kind of rural, country-ish, saucy cowgirl thing as the primary look, plus a more flowing dress or something with a sundress, too. And I was wanting to do both off camera flash and natural golden hour shots as well.
So I met up with her, along with an assistant and my photo gear at one of my favorite places in the valley to shoot, Dimple Dell Park. One of the things that I like about Dimple Dell Park–heads up for local photographers–is that it’s almost always calm. On this day it was extremely windy all over the valley. I’m talking way too windy to even think about using a light with a modifier; even with an assistant. But here at the park it was almost completely calm. It must be the geographical nature of where it’s located; kind of down in a little basin.
It did take a few minutes for it all to start gelling–something that’s pretty common–but after a while she really started getting into a cool little groove.
One of the first shots above.
I’ve found that when it comes to inexperienced models it’s always good to start them off leaning against or sitting on something. This fence was perfect. In fact with any model, no matter the experience level, I’ve found leaning against something is a great way to get started.
This shot is pretty good. She’s a great looking and her skin is just perfect.
But I always have a goal of making things light if possible. This next one below is when things started to loosen up a bit. After a quick change of clothes and more fence-sitting, I could see she was getting pretty comfortable with the crack of a smile. A little goofing around is a good thing.
I moved my light around, found the sky in the frame. I exposed for the sky and used the flash to fill in Analiza. I love these kinds of shots; mixing ambient with flash.
And then we started getting down to business. One thing that I’ve found that I can’t stress enough is to show the model some results on the back of the camera regularly and often. It really helps when they can see what’s being produced. They also get an idea of what we’re all going for. I show them about every third shot or so. Show them what’s going on and use it to explain what I’d like to see.
Now, we’re beginning to get someplace:
Soon we did a change of clothes and moved to another location in the park.
Thus far for all the shots I used an XPLOR 600PRO with a 38″ deep parabolic soft box. On the shot above I had an assistant hold up a large scrim camera left to negate some of the wildly changing lighting from clouds blowing by.
Earlier in the week I bought a funky looking cowboy hat for cheap. I gave it to Analiza and she rocked it quite well:
When you start wearing otherwise goofy looking cowboy hats and rocking an open shirt, one thing that is key as a model is to not hold back. The line between silly and cool is a thin one, and in order to pull it off I tell models they have to own it, flaunt it, and be absolutely unapologetic about it. It makes all the difference in the world. Plus, it helps with engagement. In the shot above, she almost looks like she’s challenging anyone looking at the pic. You got a problem?!
The following shot is pure natural light. The golden hour was perfect:
And the following shot was a mix of ambient and off camera flash. The sun was low enough that I thought it would look better with a kiss of flash. I used the XPLOR 600PRO camera right with a Glow 70 degree Magnum reflector. That thing is a beast. I set it up about 15 feet away camera right:
We actually ended up coming back to the park a few days later to get in some looks with a sundress that we were not able to fit in on this shot. The following photos are from that visit:
So, there you have it. I met a young woman at a store, asked if she would be interested in doing a photoshoot sometime, and these are the results. I think she did amazing and it was a lot of fun for both of us. We’ve since done another shoot that also turned out well. I’ll put up a post about that shoot soon.
Had it not been for me asking a stranger to be my model, none of this would have happened. So ask yourself, what are you waiting for?