Photographing Thailand, Finding a Model
People often ask me how I entice some of the prettiest young ladies to pose nude for my camera. Some stand in awe thinking I’ve mastered some ancient magic that makes women shed their clothes eager to be digitally captured for eternity. Others think it’s all about money, throw a few thousand baht their way and they’ll do anything. Some even think I ‘romance’ them into it. Perhaps it’s a combination of all three, especially depending on the situation.
During my workshops we’ll indeed hire “models” who pose for the students and receive compensation. During my personal endeavors however I never pay money, but I do provide the model with images either on disk or print to keep as keepsakes. Compensation comes in many forms, from pure cold cash, to nicely presented prints, to a good time and kind words. Having some knowledge about the process and how to approach women to pose for your camera is the focus of this article. In this article we’ll be focusing on women you’ll meet on the street who have never posed before. This would be different than say.. professional dancers, in which case the same principals apply but you can move a lot faster.
Knowing how to talk with women is key. Keeping them entertained, laughing, and having a good time almost ensures they’ll soon be checking out your portfolio. Some form of portfolio is almost mandatory. No women wants to think she’s being asked to produce smut, and most fear the guy with the camera asking them to take their clothes off is not only a smut dealer, but someone dangerous in other ways. We must dispel these fears from the very beginning.
As a photographer of women I know the features I like and it has little to do with makeup or fashion, and a lot more to do with bone structure and personality. Makeup artists work cheap and most women have suitable wardrobe even if they don’t wear it daily. Some of my most stunning subjects who went on to work professionally in the modeling world were discovered wearing a waitress or cleaning lady uniform, or perhaps sweaty workout clothes as they ran the treadmill in the gym.
When I spot a subject who interests me I approach them and introduce myself like you would with any person you’ve never met before. Depending on time and opportunity I’ll move right into the standard questions people ask each other including what type of employment they do. This always invites the return question “what do you do here in Thailand?” Once I let them know I’m a photographer and that I’ve worked in fashion and several studios I can tell almost immediately if they have an interest in being photographed themselves. I’d estimate that most women really like the idea of being professionally photographed, but have a host of reservations that stem from trust to body image. It’s your job to help them overcome these reservations.
Nothing really changes if you tell them you’re an amateur photographer with a keen interest in fine art nudes, fashion, or the editorial. They’ll still be interested. At this point I’ll break off the conversation saying I’ve somewhere to be and offer them my card with an offer to share my portfolio over a cup of coffee or perhaps lunch if / when they have some free time. I don’t wait around for an answer, women don’t respond well to pressure. Women want these sorts of things to be on their terms, to be their idea, to be under their control. And it should be.
Nine times out of ten I’ll get a SMS or call on my mobile within a few days. Don’t respond immediately. You don’t want them to know you’re over eager or worse yet, desperate. Wait a day or two and then SMS or call them back and say you have some free time between shoots, name a time, and ask if it’s possible they could meet you there and you’ll bring your portfolio. If they can’t make that time don’t modify the time to suit their schedule. They’ll wonder why you have all this free time on your hands. Instead express regret the meeting couldn’t happen and suggest perhaps another time. For certain the next time they call they’ll be able to meet your schedule. It’s very important they know your time is valuable and you approach such things in a professional manner. Every step of the way you’re laying the foundation of trust and professionalism which is what women need to feel comfortable in such situations.
When you finally meet and sit down for coffee or lunch, don’t pop out your portfolio full of nude images. Instead talk about her, ask about her life, show a genuine interest in her as a person. Make them ASK to see your portfolio. After all, they’ll see it there on the table or sticking our of your carry bag and their curiosity will be peaked. She’ll want to see your work, but she doesn’t want it shoved down her throat. When she finally does ask be humble, ask if she’s really sure. Once she says she is, and she will, move your chair closer to hers so you can both see the portfolio at the same time. Portfolios traditionally are actual prints arranged in a folder designed for this purpose, but a small laptop with a slide show arranged will do nicely. Whatever you do be professional, popping out your cell phone with naked pictures of your last date just isn’t going to cut it. You want to present your work with enough quality that it makes them want to be the model in your pictures.
The first pages of my portfolio start out with some nice landscapes of popular local attractions we both can relate to, perhaps stimulate conversation over things we have in common. Commonality breeds comfort. Every little thing you do from the very first contact, to showing them the final prints, should be done to help them feel comfortable with the experience. After we view some nice landscapes / attractions, next in line will be people pictures. Pictures of people in public places, in the studio, all fully clothed but in attractive poses and situations in which they could picture themselves. At the end of the portfolio have 5-6 nudes, but don’t show them yet. Focus on the rest of the portfolio which should be general photography. Act excited and proud about your work, help them feel your enthusiasm. During the entire meeting maintain eye contact, smile, be personable, and it goes without saying neatly dressed with proper hygiene.
Choose the 5-6 nude images with care, it’s best if the model in these images is roughly of the same attractiveness as the person you’re wanting to photograph so they’ll feel up to the shoot. They’ll want to visualize themselves in the images on at least an equal footing. If the model is much more attractive than them, or has features this lady doesn’t, then you can make them feel insecure or inadequate and this can kill her desire to pose in a heartbeat.
End your meeting with a promise to call her soon to arrange another meeting where she can see “more of your work.” This could be your home, hotel room, studio if you have one, wherever you’re based out of and have either more portfolios or even computer disks with images. Again, don’t appear too eager and keep things at your convenience. It’s very important the lady realizes your time is valuable and if possible that you’re doing her a favor. This will impart a feeling of professional obligation which will motivate her to show up when you schedule a shoot, and not flake out at the first sign of nervousness. Also know that the place of this next meeting should make her feel comfortable. If it’s your hotel room make sure it’s made up, your personal belongings are stowed away in suitcases or drawers, and there’s nothing there to suggest too personal of an environment. A hotel room carries connotations just by itself, don’t add to it by having the bed unmade, dirty food dishes left out, or your clothes strewn all over.
Try to have a room with at least a small table and chairs where you can lead her to sit and further examine your work. If at home make sure you’re alone, your home is neat and not intimidating. If at the studio you can show her the sets, the dressing rooms, maybe even the equipment in a way that lets her know you’re a professional or at least serious hobbyist. Work with what you have keeping her comfort and your professionalism in mind. Have model releases available, and be sure to make off-hand comments that let her know you highly respect her privacy and would never use the images on the internet or for other uses she hasn’t approved. Women want privacy and they want trust, if they have these two things and they think you’d make good images of them, then you’re almost all the way there.
Above all, be honest with them about your intentions and what you’ll be doing with the images. Let them know you’re not trying to get them to take their clothes of for reasons other than photography. Sure, sometimes, perhaps even often, it leads to more. But this is way too early for you to show you’re thinking along these lines.
In this part of the series what you’re trying to do is get an attractive woman to commit to posing for you nude. You do this with trust, comfort, and professionalism. You do it much the way you’d get a date with an attractive woman. In the next part of the series I’ll take you through an actual shoot from the time she knocks on your door, till the time she leaves satisfied she looks great in print. Later parts of the series will focus on specific lighting techniques, selection and use of your camera, and processing techniques common to portraiture and fine art nudes. I hope you’ve enjoyed yourself so far.
Until next time..
Many Thai women are photographic – but even more are not. For sure, the number of attractive and potentially photographic women in Thailand does seem to be rather high.
I have found Thai women comfortable with the idea of being photographed, but then I have never done any nude stuff and frankly, I would feel like a bit of a pervert taking such shots….but then doesn't mean I don't want to!