How to Avoid the Top Four Complaints Models Have With Their Photographers

Collabs are the new currency between aspiring photographers and models under pressure. Both parties seek out scroll-stopping images to grab attention as they move up in their respective industries. What happens when the images don’t live up to expectations? Do models expect too much from growing photographers who shoot for free, or do photographers show off their skills and fail to deliver?

“Michelle, can I call you? You won’t believe this!” I grab my popcorn and sit down while my role models and friends call me to let off steam. The stories I’ve collected range from entertaining to ridiculous. Last week’s story included a photographer hanging his camera from a crane and trying to get an aerial shot as the wind blew the camera back and forth overhead.

I try not to laugh; I know it’s frustrating for budding stars. The truth is that I myself was fumbling in the learning process. We all were. Even today, in my 14th year as a full-time photographer, I stumble and sometimes fail in my ideas. It’s part of growth.

I think back to some of my previous work and cringe. I had big ideas and a lot of passion, but I lacked many important skills, which I learned one at a time over the years. It’s a process, and we have to go through all those rookie mistakes to achieve mastery of the craft. In this article, I’ll relay the most common grievances that models share about working with newbie photographers and tips for improving in each area.

1. Be friendly and put the model at ease

This was the most popular answer in my survey. One after another, the models spoke about “awkward” photographers and how hard it was to feel comfortable in front of the camera if the photographer didn’t create a relaxed and positive space. The models said that when the photographer does not create a comfortable space, it is difficult for them to deliver their best work.


You can create a good atmosphere for the customer in a few simple steps.

  1. Play music. I choose my playlist based on the type of expression I want to extract from the model. Music has a way of instantly lifting the mood and injecting infectious energy into a space. Not all photographers are extroverts, and if you aren’t, this is a great tool for you. Music doesn’t have to be loud or disturb the environment in which you’re working. You can start a playlist and ask the model to place the phone in their back pocket while you take your shot.
  2. give positive feedback. Still. I never say negative comments. The horror stories I’ve heard make me cringe. If your subject doesn’t deliver what you want, criticism isn’t the way to get it. Try redirecting them in a positive way: “Great, I took several pictures of this. Now let’s try a different approach. I want you to…” Always redirect in a positive way. Also, if they succeed at something, say so. “Oh, I loved this look – very powerful. Give me more. It’s stunning!” You want to reinforce the model. This is how you will get their best work.

2. Be friendly and put the model at ease

Another recurring theme expressed by the models was that it was common for beginning photographers not to have a concept developed for the shot. The models repeatedly expressed that they were in situations where the photographer asked them for direction and ideas. Jasmine Nichole put it well: “Amateur photographers need better concept building. If they contact me first, I shouldn’t be the creative director as well.”

Along the same lines, KJ added, “Make your photos more cohesive. Anyone can get a good shot, but cohesiveness takes experience.

“Have a specific aesthetic for your brand,” says Ann Neika, adding that photographers should work specifically with people who align with their aesthetic.


A big part of a photographer’s journey is finding their style. Painters also go through this process. We all know Picasso’s distorted cubist portraits, but the first part of his 79-year career included the Blue Period, the Rose Period, the African Period, Neoclassicism, Surrealism and a whole series of works of art which are read like a curious imitator. directionless. Part of learning what is most like you is trying things out. It is a natural process. The downside is that people don’t know what to expect from you. A photographer who follows me on Instagram recently asked me for an honest review of his work. He had great images, smart ideas, and a good skill base. What he didn’t have was a defined style. After applauding his positives, I said, “If I’m considering working with you, I’m hesitant. Looking at your portfolio, I don’t know what I’m going to get. Those images I love, those images that I really don’t like, and I’m worried about what’s going to be delivered to me.” You may still be figuring out your unique aesthetic, but even in that process, be intentional about each shot as you go. Have a defined idea, a specific style and a defined look that you want to achieve.

3. Be friendly and put the model at ease

Shadows are all the rage these days. From the pages of fashion magazines to the feeds of sports brands, shadows are in the spotlight.

It’s not as easy as it sounds, however. Many models reported being placed in uneven lighting, only to receive images with random hotspots and misplaced shadows.


Shadows are a great concept to play with, but like all design elements, you need to use them strategically. Here are some tips for ranking.

  1. Use the highlights as a focal point of interest in the composition. Don’t place highlights and shadows haphazardly. Position your model so that the highlight falls on the point of interest.
  2. Expose for highlights. If you overexpose an image, you have no pixels to recover. When shooting, always expose your image for highlights, and if needed, you can easily lighten shadows in post.
  3. You can always add light. Even if you play with natural shadows, the contrast is sometimes too strong. Try using a reflector to add some fill light while still maintaining the shadow play.

4. Be friendly and put the model at ease

To show or not to show: that is the question. I myself have gone back and forth on this issue over the years. There is a certain insecurity that we carry as photographers to show unfinished work. Viewers don’t always understand the process.

I was once on a food shoot where we were working on a high contrast, hard shadow editorial food spread out on a white tablecloth. The restaurant’s marketing agent hovered over me and repeatedly commented, “this looks too dark”. I explained to him that blown highlights are unrecoverable and that exposing the highlights and brightening the shadows in post was essential. She just couldn’t let go. Models, likewise, can be guilty of nitpicking. As photographers, we feel protective of our work. We don’t want to be judged while it’s still unfinished. With all of these rationalizations in place, I decided to allow clients to view the work while I filmed. As worried as I feel about showing unfinished work, I know that most of my models really benefit from this feedback.


  1. Before I show a model a scroll, I skirt her expectations: “A successful shoot means you’ll like about one in 20 images. Five you’ll hate, a dozen will be mediocre, and one will be deadly.” This helps limit their waits before returning the camera.

Now that we’ve gone over the most common complaints from models, let’s get back to the original question: do models expect too much from growing photographers who take pictures for free, or do photographers put their skills first and don’t don’t they deliver? It’s delicate. I think there needs to be room for growing photographers to learn and practice, even more so if they shoot for free. Likewise, the frustration of models who take time off to collaborate is justified; they have the right to expect a certain level of ability. A model recently told me about a collaboration session where both parties split the cost of renting the two-hour studio session, but the photographer, who had little experience with off-camera lighting , took an hour and twenty minutes to get the lighting correct. I think Thurman Brown’s contribution is poignant: be honest about your abilities before shooting.

What are your thoughts? Do you show images while filming? If you identify as a growing photographer who struggles with some of these points (it’s normal, we all have them), should you have the opportunity to learn and fail? If you’re a model, what’s the standard that photographers have to meet, no matter the cost of their time?

The best part of the articles is in the comments below! I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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