A Guide To Working With Fashion Models On A Shoot By Matthew Mills Photographer, NYC

words Alexa Wang

Perhaps the most challenging element of any photoshoot is directing the models. It’s certainly something that many photographers worry about. Luckily, it’s one thing that came naturally to Matthew Mills, an NYC fashion photographer who credits his easy manner with models to his Dallas, Texas upbringing.

“It’s the Southern charm and politeness which eases the minds of models and my team on set,” Matthew believes, and certainly, it seems to set him apart from many of his competitors who struggle to come to terms with how to speak to the subjects that they work with. Fortunately, Matthew is willing to share his techniques and principles to make it much easier to foster a positive environment during any shoot.

Fashion Models

Chatting With Models

Although some models may appear to be intimidating, it’s important to remember that they’re just people too! Matthew believes that having a conversation with models that he works with helps him to break the ice so they can start chatting more casually. Simple questions like “how’s your day?” can go a long way towards smoothing the way to a positive set environment.

Compliments And Questions

You’ll get a much better response and better cooperation from any model if you compliment them. This is something that Matthew has learned over the years. It gives them a confidence boost and puts them in the right frame of mind to work collaboratively with you during the shoot. Avoiding personal questions is, of course, a no-no, but most people love to talk about themselves so asking models questions about their career and favorite shoots can help to build up a positive working relationship.

Fashion Models

Avoiding Touching The Model

Some fashion photographers make the mistake of touching the models that they work with during shoots, but this is often regarded as too personal. Matthew believes that should touching the model or the garments that they’re wearing be required on set, asking permission first is imperative. He prefers to show the model the pose that he wants rather than trying to position them himself to avoid any possible misunderstandings.

Reducing Stress On Set

Directing a fashion shoot can feel high pressured at the best of times, and many photographers feel rushed into trying to get as many shots as possible in as short a space of time as they can. However, it’s surprisingly easy to reduce the stress on set by simply stopping and telling the team that you need to take a few moments to set up the next shot. This gives everybody time to relax and chill out in between shots.

It’s also important not to get worked up and irritated if the pose you’ve imagined doesn’t quite look as good as you hoped in reality. Instead of getting stressed out, try something different. After all, photography is a creative process and it’s one in which the model can work collaboratively with you to find something that works.

Respect And Privacy

If your model has to change part way through your shoot, it goes without saying that you need to give them the privacy, space and time to get changed. If there are no obvious changing facilities, a pop-up tent could be the ideal solution, or if you’re going to be shooting in an urban environment you should check out nearby restrooms so you’re prepared for this eventuality.

Never Drink Alcohol On A Shoot

It may sound obvious, but a surprising number of photographers have been known to drink alcohol either before a shoot or even during it. This is unacceptable and Matthew frowns on those of his contemporaries who do partake while on the job. If you’re feeling anxious before your shoot, try something less risky to reduce your nerves such as meditation, yoga or breathing techniques.

Many photographers find that the creative stress and extra energy that nerves give them during a photo shoot turns out to be an excellent motivator! If a model can smell alcohol on your breath, it isn’t likely to promote a positive working environment and could damage your reputation irreparably within your field.

Having Fun

Above all, Matthew reiterates that having fun is the most important aspect of any fashion photo shoot. If photography is your passion, creating beautiful experiences and images is your purpose, and this means ensuring that the models that you work with are having a good time throughout each shoot. Follow his advice here and you’ll find that every time you head out to a shoot with a model, you’ll have the best chance of forming a positive and collaborative relationship that will lead to the shoot not only being a successful one, but also a shoot that is a positive, happy and fun experience for everyone.


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