Photographing Thailand, Your First Session with a Model
Today is the day, you’ve waited for this ever since you picked up that new body or lens, and today your first real model will be coming over to pose nude. How will you greet her? What will you talk about? Will she back out? How will you start things off?
All good questions, there is really a lot to consider if you want a comfortable and productive session. You want her to enjoy herself, and you also want to end up with great pictures and practice any new techniques or poses you’ve been thinking about. During Part II I’m going to take you through a typical session as I’ve done it many times here in Thailand. Almost always I meet ladies I’d like to photograph while on the road and during the course of my travels through the region. This means in most cases I have to accelerate everything I talked about in Part I which is easy to do after some practice, and it also means I’ll be working either out of a hotel room or outdoors somewhere private. Part II will assume we’re going to do the session in a hotel room.
When I travel through Thailand I’ll often stay in modest hotels because I enjoy the local culture and it never hurts to economize. Modest hotels often aren’t suitable for a photography session, they’ll be too small, too full of less than attractive furniture, and nothing about them really lends itself to the comfort of the model or the quality of your images. If I’ve arranged to photograph a local lady then I’ll usually spend the morning scouting out rooms. Even modest hotels will often have suites or double rooms, garden rooms, hot tub rooms, gardens on balconies, really a lot out there if you ask and look around. Chances are you’ll end up at one of the nicer hotels, perhaps with a small suite, and you’ll immediately notice the bedding, furniture, carpets, and even the paint on the walls is much more attractive.
I’ll arrange for a fruit platter to be chilled and waiting in the fridge along with some bottled water and juices. I don’t offer alcohol on principal. Photographing a modeling session is a fair amount of hard work and I want the model alert and responsive to my instructions. Fruit and juices will help stave off the eager appetites local ladies always seem to have long enough to get through the session.
All of my personal belongings will be cleared from the bathroom and from around the main rooms and stowed in my suitcase or the closet. The bathroom will be cleaned and prepped for their use including several large bath towels and a robe if the hotel provides one. In the areas I want to work in I’ll clear away unnecessary furniture and make a “set.” If I was paying attention I’d have been to the local market the night before and brought back some colorful silk materials and perhaps any small things I’d like her to wear. Everything will be neatly laid out to give the impression of a professional shoot. When everything is ready I’ll make sure I’ve showered and dressed in clothes I can comfortably work in. Whatever you do don’t greet your model half dressed or in clothes which are too casual or she’s likely to find a reason to leave.
When she arrives I’ll lead her over to a table and chairs where I’ve prepared a release. The release gives you permission to use the images for whatever purposes stated and is primarily protection for your model. Explain it that way and she’ll eagerly sign. Have her sign two copies and then take one copy and place it in an envelope and give it to her. She might not even read the language unless you’ve had the foresight to have releases printed in two languages, but she’ll feel secure having that piece of paper knowing her pictures won’t end up plastered on the internet. This process will also lend professionalism to the process and help break the ice making her that much more comfortable before things get started. You might have been getting along wonderfully the night before when you both had a few drinks in you, but I guarantee the feeling will be different and almost awkward once back at your room. Keep your personality flowing, get her to laugh and joke, and everything will be fine.
Once done with the paperwork I’ll show her how I’ve prepared everything, show her the set I’ve prepared, and maybe go over a pose book or some magazines that have poses I’d like to try. If this is her first time she can use all the help you can give her to relax and have confidence in what she’s doing. The more you can make her feel like a pro, the better she will pose and the better your images will turn out. Explain the plan, and then work the plan.
Now that you’ve went over everything ask her to pose on the set in her street clothes. Tell her you need to check your lighting and camera settings. I’d start some soft music but avoid the television, you don’t want her eyes competing with the television for attention. Smile and be cordial while taking a few frames with her in her street clothes. Select the best of these images and show it to her on your LCD screen. Tell her how professional she looks, ask if she’s really sure she’s never done this before. Flatter her, but don’t go overboard and make it disingenuous. Take a few more frames and once she starts to laugh and feel comfortable show her to the bath and dressing area and request she touch up her makeup and prepare for the next set. If you have an outfit laid out she’ll know what to do. Step away and let her be comfortable. It’s been my experience that most local ladies will bring their favorite clothing items with them, from cute bra and panty sets to teddy’s and camisoles. Patiently wait for them to appear from the bathroom. When they do appear they’ll usually have wrapped a towel around whatever they’re wearing and will act embarrassed and shy.
Don’t ogle her, look in her eyes and compliment her on something generic like her hair or makeup to ease the tension. Bring her over to the set and explain to her what poses you want and how many images you’ll take between breaks. My camera takes 14 images before the buffer is full, I’ll usually shoot those 14 images at about one frame per two second period, and then have her relax the pose until the buffer light goes off and we’re ready to do shoot more frames. Ideally during the “buffer break” you can use the time wisely and get her into another pose while keeping the personality flowing.
The first 30 minutes of so of each shoot is what I call a “getting comfortable” period. This is a time where you’re getting to know each other, the girl is nervous, and boundaries are being explored and set. If everything is going well by the end of this period you’ll start to see her comfort reflected in her body language and facial expressions as she poses and moves around the set. Almost always, the more comfortable the model the more natural and beautiful poses and expressions will end up being recorded.
Eventually it will be time to move into the parts of the shoot revealing nudity and even more expression. Don’t force this, wait until you’re well into the comfort period and then clearly and without hesitation, blushing, or any other sort of insecure body language.. let her know what you want her to do. The more ‘matter of fact’ and natural you make it sound/feel, the easier time she’ll have transitioning into this phase of the shoot. Let her choose to undress on the set, in the bath room or dressing area, or wherever she takes herself.
As you move through different outfits and poses she’ll probably start changing right in front of you. This is normally how it’s done when the model feels comfortable. It’s a good practice to overt your eyes, adjust the camera, review your LCD screen, adjust a light, whatever it takes so you’re not standing there with an open mouth making her feel uncomfortable.
This part of the shoot is hard work and very personal. You won’t want to get your settings wrong or have to experiment too much with the lights. By now you should be into the flow and besides framing and capturing the images your primary task will be instructing the model in her poses and keeping the mood flowing. I can’t say just how important the mood is to getting great images. If the model is hesitant or scared, she’ll look like a deer caught in headlights, extremely unnatural and not very attractive. If she’s having a great time and feels comfortable, it will reflect in the images in a huge way.
After the first 30 minutes or so of the nude poses I’ll ask her to take a break and show her to the refreshments. I’ll use this time to pick out a few of the best images, crop them for effect and modesty, and present them to her for review. NEVER ask for her approval, and never ask her if she thinks they’re good. She’ll look to you for approval and for praise if things are going well. Praise her highly, even if things aren’t going well. Praise and appropriate flattering can save a stunted session. Of course if the images really are great she’ll know this automatically and be very excited and proud of the results. This is what I aim for because it has them going into the second and last part of the session with renewed energy and top enthusiasm.
How you pose her, what props you use, how revealing you choose to make the images, of course will depend on your desires and her acceptance of your terms. I caution beginners to move slowly, to look at the process of properly photographing their model as a process of 3-5 sessions vs. trying to do everything in a single session. When photographing local ladies I’ll often keep the first session very light and modest, and then ask them to schedule with me again at my convenience. In the interim I’ll often email them a web link to an on-line flash gallery so they can see a few of their best images to keep their enthusiasm keen. Properly done each subsequent session will become more comfortable more quickly, and easier to move into more revealing or risqué poses if desired. Go slow, be polite, be professional, and don’t push. Patience and good manners will be rewarded with stunning images during later shoots.
As you finish up the session let her know she’s welcome to use the bathroom, eat more refreshments, or ask any questions. Try to refrain from fiddling with your gear and/or packing things away. Now is the time to express your appreciation, let her know how she did, and to get her to commit for a follow on session. Your focus should be on answering her questions and making her feel great about the session she just had with you.
Contrary to the rules I use when shooting from a studio, when traveling I’ll often follow up the session by offering to take the lady for something to eat. If she accepts I’ll program a degree of separation into the process by letting her know I’ll meet her in 30-60 minutes either in the lobby, the restaurant, or wherever. The point is to separate the session from anything that could be construed as a date or personal time. During this period I’ll break down the set, pack away the gear, and get everything out of site so if she was to step into the room at a later time she’d see no sings of the shoot. This will establish a comfort zone which will work in your favor if you’re interested in further spending time with her.
As you’ve seen much of this is common sense and a healthy sense of personality. Still, it’s good to make the plan and then work the plan, so do establish an appropriate agenda and stick with it. Follow up is important. A polite email with an attached image is nice, if the model worked very hard perhaps a single flower delivered at her work with a thank you note would be appreciated. The more appropriate and sincere your follow up, the better your follow on sessions will be.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this. I’ve come up with a very portable lighting system I use for sessions like this, it’s small and powerful and makes excellent light. If you’re interested please give me some feedback and perhaps in a following submission I’ll go over a shoot from a hardware perspective and detail which equipment works best and why.
Now I need to go and find someone to photo….