Ask a photographer, Tips and advice

Ask a Photographer | Modeling 101

Yuliya Rae Seattle PNW boudoir portrait Outdoor Photographer

Whether your friends kept telling you that you were a natural in front of the camera, or you simply woke up one morning and decided to try out something new, modeling is a fantastic way to dip your toes into an artistic endeavor that is accessible to everyone.

Please note that I am talking specifically about amateur modeling for those just starting out, so this is not a how-to guide for signing with an agency.

Over the years of working as a full-time, professional photographer, I have heard my share of horror stories from beginning models. Whether it was shooting in a dark and scary place with a suspicious photographer, or being told to stay on set for over 8 hours, these instances are not exceptions.

Those who are just starting out in modeling are much more susceptible to being taken advantage of. Being eager to shoot, regardless of how, when or with whom, makes the likelihood of unpleasant situations increase.

As a woman and a photographer, here are my top 7 recommendations for keeping yourself happy and safe on your journey as a beginning model.

1. Always sign a model release

A model release is an agreement between the model and the photographer about what the two of you are doing and why.

It typically should state:

  • how the images are going to be used;
  • how many images you are going to get in exchange for your time modeling, if this is a trade, or a free, shoot;
  • how long you will wait to receive the photographs (2-3 weeks is an average length);
  • how long the shoot is supposed to last, so you are not surprised to find yourself shooting after 4 exhausting hours.

Always, always, always have a model release or a simple agreement ready and signed before the photoshoot starts. Agree on location, length of shoot, number of images you will be given, and any other stipulations you want to put in. Browse online for samples of good releases if you don’t know where to start, but make sure you always have this taken care of.

And remember that any photographs you receive from your photographer are their copyright, which means they own them and the rights to them. They are simply letting you use them for you modeling portfolio. That being said, never ever edit other photographer’s work. Not even with Instagram filters. It is disrespectful and unprofessional and your photographer will know right away. Even if you hate the photos you get, chalk up the shoot to another experience under your belt and move on. Don’t be tempted to try to fix the photos yourself.

2. Make your safety a priority

Your safety is your number one priority. If you are working with a photographer you are unfamiliar with, it is your right to bring someone to the shoot with you to keep yourself safe.

Trust your gut. If something feels or sounds off about a project or a person, turn it down. Don’t agree to shoot something unless you are comfortable doing it. If a photographer reaches out asking you to shoot boudoir when all you’ve ever done were portraits, don’t agree before thinking about your comfort level and safety.

If a photographer reacts negatively to you bringing a friend on a shoot, or refuses you altogether, it can be a red flag indicating you should reconsider working with them.

As long as your friend is not distracting the photographer (taking cell phone pictures of everything happening, hovering over photographer’s shoulder, etc.), there is absolutely no reason why a photographer would be uncomfortable with someone being present at the shoot for your comfort and safety.

3. Be responsible & communicative

While this may seem like an obvious point, you would be surprised to hear how many times I have personally attempted to work with models who never respond to messages, are late to the photoshoots by a significant margin of time, or simply don’t show up at the shoot.

Be respectful of the photographer’s time and yours. Arrive early to settle in, choose outfits, talk about anything else before the shoot commences.

Running late? Call or text your photographer to let them know. Not able to make it to a shoot? We all have lives and things come up, we understand. It’s perfectly acceptable to cancel if you need to. What’s not acceptable is not letting your photographer know that you are not showing up.

Practice common decency. Be a good human. Treat the photographer like you would want to be treated.

4. Come prepared

When you ask photographers about their favorite models, they will undoubtedly tell you a story of one that always comes prepared. A model that anticipates the needs of a shoot is a model who will be loved and booked over and over again.

What do I mean?

Whether or not a photographer stipulates how you should prepare for the shoot, there are some things you will need to learn & do before coming on set.

  • if your hair and make-up is being done with a make-up artist prior to your shoot, always arrive with one day old, dry hair and make-up free, moisturized skin. Why? Day old hair makes styling it easy. Dry hair saves hair stylists time. Make-up free skin means you don’t have to wipe off all your make-up and spend time removing its residue prior to having a new look put on;
  • if you are doing your own make-up for the shoot, ask the photographer what look/feel they would like for this shoot and apply accordingly;
  • take care of your nails. Don’t arrive with chipped, red nail polish. Hands are an integral part of any photoshoot and dirty, chipped, unkept nails make life harder for your photographer when doing editing;
  • if you are providing your own clothing, make sure you come with your outfits prepared. Iron or steam them before the shoot, don’t throw them in a gym bag to extract wrinkly clothes at the shoot;
  • bring a touch-up make-up kit on every shoot. Have eyeliner, mascara, brow gel/powder, concealer and lipstick with you at all times. Things happen, make-up smears, and being prepared with a small kit can save a shoot;
  • start a small bag with odds & ends: bobby pins, toothpicks, deodorant wipes, pantyhose, false lashes, bandaids, a few pairs of extra earrings, etc. You never know what might happen at the shoot, and taking the extra step to come prepared will be a huge help;
  • bring appropriate undergarments that match the clothing;
  • ask the photographer for any other pointers, as these tips will vary based on shoot type/location/duration, etc.

5. Practice posing

Here you are, at your first shoot, hair and make-up ready, clothing on. The camera points at you and you stand there, not moving. Five minutes passes, you may put your hand on your hip. But then you’re out of ideas.

Don’t let this happen to you by practicing your posing and facial expressions beforehand. Stand in front of the mirror and try to match your face to certain emotions: scared, frustrated, angry, sultry, pensive, etc. Notice the changes in your face, how the muscles of your face feel. Remember them. Start building muscle memory for facial expressions.

Same goes for flow posing for your body. The worst thing you can do is stand in one position for a long time, making the photographer constantly tell you what to do. Posing should be a dance between the model and photographer, both contributing equal amounts of input.

Google Coco Rocha, watch her flow pose, learn from her. Start practicing in front of the mirror to create triangles with your limbs, to accentuate certain body parts, to create shape with your pose. It’s an art and it requires practice, but if you start now, you will be so much better off later.

6. Always credit all team members

When the shoot is done and you receive your photos, you will want to share them online. Whether it is on your modeling portfolio or on social media, always credit and tag your team members in your posts. Make sure your photographer, make-up artist, hair stylist, wardrobe designer, etc. is always properly credited and tagged in your posts. It is a common courtesy that will make everyone happy to work with you again.

7. Never use photos without permission

Your photographer may deliver 5 images to you, or it may be 20. In either case there will likely be images that you won’t receive from the shoot. If the photographer posts an image you haven’t seen before and you want to use it in your portfolio, make sure to ask for permission before posting the image. This step will communicate your professionalism and consideration, and make your chances of being booked again much higher.


While this list is long, it by no means includes everything you need to know. This is simply a jumping off point that will get you to a good place as a beginner. Do your own research, own your journey, be responsible and prepared.

Modeling is a beautiful art. It can be a great adventure, and one that is rewarding and fulfilling. Make sure your experiences are positive and collaborative to start yourself off on the right path.

If you have any questions or want to pitch in with your favorite modeling tips, comment below and share – I’d love to hear from you.

2 thoughts on “Ask a Photographer | Modeling 101”

  1. Suzanne says:

    Great tips! Your work is getting somehow lovelier all the time.

    1. Yuliya says:

      Thanks so much, Suzanne! <3

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