What Makes a Great Model? Things to Look for as a Photographer
When casting a model, several factors are at play. Some cast models based on how they look, others cast them based on who they know. But, what is a good model? Are there traits that good models share? Here are some that I have noticed.
First up, no one likes working with someone who isn’t fun to be with. Because there is a lot of different possibilities with who to work with, having a great memorable persona is sometimes the final element that’s needed for a successful project.
Some of the best models that I worked with are friendly, open-minded, and overall just fun to be around. Curiosity and interest in the photoshoot go a long way in facilitating a fun great time for everyone.
That’s why I try to read the model’s personality as much as possible before bringing them on. It is quite important to know they will be interested, and happy to participate. If possible, talk to the model before you sign them on. Ideally, there is an introductory video the agency can provide as well.
An open-minded model can easily adapt to new scenarios, try out new looks, and not be afraid to push themselves. This is vital as every job is different, the creative vision you have must be perceived with as little judgment and as much curiosity as possible. Being open-minded to the creative vision of the makeup artist, stylist, and yourself is important for any model.
A model is ideally authentic about themselves, both visually and mentally. A fake persona of a “perfect model” only destroys the talent they possess. When selecting a model, look more at their Polaroids and less at their past work. You want to make sure that the model you cast is who they appear on the card. I’ve had several instances of models looking nothing like the card, which led me to interesting albeit unwanted results.
A good model should be expressive. Although not an actress, they should be able to communicate character. I found it to be incredible when a model imagines themselves in a role and then plays that role on camera. The images suddenly gain a new dimension, a very human dimension of connection.
Having this connection can go a long way in helping you create images that speak to your audience and communicate meaning. Peter Lindbergh‘s work does this particularly well, he was able to make his models look real. His images are full of human emotion that is communicated straight from the model to the audience.
When selecting a model, look carefully at their images and try to seek out what they are saying with their pose or facial expression.
This ties in with being open-minded. A model should be brave to try new things and not be afraid to express themselves. Each fashion look has a personality associated with it, being able to read that personality and make it come alive requires bravery as often the models are told what to do exactly.
Being brave on-set can also help create images that are unique. As a photographer, you want to encourage your models to try new poses, do something different. A good model always has some brave ideas in store.
The amount of judgment in the fashion industry is obscene. Everyone seems to just judge everyone else non-stop. Models judge the living daylights out of themselves. That can stem from them being uncomfortable with themselves, or someone making a rude remark.
Whatever the case is, make sure that the model is able to let go of all judgment and be themselves. A model who is not judging themselves will have a lot more fun, and hence you will have better images.
Interest in Fashion
The best models also love fashion. They themselves are fashionistas and know it inside out. I think it’s pretty simple to say that anyone working in the fashion industry should also like fashion. Why else would you do it? A model that is sensitive to fashion can adjust their posing to fit the style. A model who is really sensitive to fashion can adapt their character to fit the garments.
I talked about personality traits that constitute a good model. But there are other, much more prominent things that define a good model. Being signed with a good agency is one of them. It’s easy to tell if an agency is good just by looking at the work they do. Do they have major magazine features? Known commercials? Famous runway shows?
There are unfortunately a lot of agencies that sign models without ever giving them work. That means the people there will likely not have experience. You want to keep reaching out to the best agencies in town with your work to make connections and be able to get models for personal shoots on a TFP agreement.
Naturally, as you get better, the agencies you work with get better too. If you really don’t know anyone, you can try working with independent models too. Personally, I found that working with agency models is a lot more reliable.
A Word on Physique
I didn’t mention how the model looks. At all. This is deliberate. Looks alone can never ever define a good model. Although models are known for how they look, their career alone is never built on that. When choosing a model, the first thing you see is physique, but try to look far beyond it. Try to figure out what sort of person they are. One of the photographers I know and admire, Rankin, told me he rarely casts models based on how they look it’s all about who they are as a person.
So, as a photographer, you should be looking at a model as a person who can make or break your images. Try to find someone who is curious, open-minded, interested, and ideally in a good agency. Look beyond the physique, it’s 2021.