Some aspects of photography are easy. If you like shooting landscapes, the countryside is full of them. The hills don’t move, you don’t have to pose them and you don’t even have to ask their permission.
If you’re into still life photography, the grocery store is full of fruit. All you have to do is get the lighting right and avoid eating until you’re done.
And if you want to photograph animals, cats play all day as Flickr members seem to have noticed.
But if you want to shoot people, life’s a little harder. Not everyone is equally photogenic, so you have to find the right person. Not everyone likes being photographed, so you have to find someone who’s willing. And not everyone is prepared to spend a couple of hours in front of a background for free, so you might have to pay them.
Shoot the Wife
But if you can find a model, the rewards can be high. Not only is portrait photography a wonderful challenge but images with models can count for a lot in stock photography. Take a look at the most popular images on microstock sites and people (and especially people in suits) tend to dominate.
So how can you find models who look good, are willing to pose and who won’t cost you the earth?
The easiest option is to turn to the people you know. That’s also a common option. One enjoyable game for microstock insiders is spotting the partners of top photographers in the search results. Yuri Arcurs’ partner pops up frequently as does Andres Rodriguez’s wife.
The advantage is that friends and family are fun to work with. They don’t require any more hunting down than a quick phone call, they won’t refuse a model release and they won’t charge either.
The downside is that you can get what you pay for. When friends are being shot for fun, they might not act like professionals and once they’ve done it a couple of times, they might not be willing to do it again. That’s why many photographers choose to expand the range of subjects to include professional models as well as free ones.
“I had relatives and friends posing for me for free, and I have paid people for modeling,” Elena Elisseeva, another top microstock photographer told us once. “Both approaches work for me.”
The most obvious place to look for a professional model is a local agency but those models are likely to be expensive, even if they are experienced. Alternatively, you can place ads on Craigslist or even post flyers at local colleges. You’ll need to make clear that you won’t be shooting any pictures that their grandmothers wouldn’t approve of but the costs should be pretty low. When someone is prepared to flip burgers for minimum wage, they’ll certainly stand in front of a camera for a couple of hours and act like a model for a similar amount.
What’s a Model Worth?
Whenever you’re paying someone though – and whatever you’re paying them — it does mean that you have to be confident that your pictures will sell — or that you’ll enjoy the shoot enough to make the cost worthwhile.
Both of those benefits might well be the case but neither of them are limited to paid models. Free models can also be eye-catching and while they might be inexperienced, there are so many people willing to pose in return for a free pile of headshots that you might wonder why you should ever part with cash for models again. While you could put another ad on Craigslist announcing that you’re handing out free prints, a better bet might be to target local dance and acting schools. These are always going to be filled with people who need photos to send for auditions and who are willing to pay for them with a couple of hours’ posing.
Top photographers, of course, can also use their websites to ask for models, and it’s hard to find a microstock photographer who doesn’t have a page dedicated to pitching free shoots. Elena Elisseeva, for example, targets the whole family in return for a free CD containing copies of all the day’s shots – a neat way of putting together the sort of group shots that might otherwise be hard to organize. Andres Rodriguez promises models ten A4 printed images and a compcard for modeling agencies in addition to the CD, while non-models receive a 20-page photobook. It’s an approach that seems to work. Andres says that he’s shot 104 different models and has more enquiries than he can deal with.
And that might be one of the reasons he’s so successful. By shooting a lot of different models, he doesn’t just get a varied portfolio, he also gets a portfolio filled with pictures of real people. That seems to be exactly what buyers are looking for.
Finding good models might be difficult but finding lots of models might be more important – and it should be a part of most photographers’ marketing.