Authors note, while some of the points in this are, I hope, true for many people, it’s supposed to be taken with a cheek full of tongue…
Like a lot of photographers who don’t have access to model agencies and want to perfect their portrait skills I have problems finding models. It’s a common problem given the number of web pages and youtube channels on the subject. Don’t believe me? Search for something like ‘how do I find photographic models’. There’s a lot of advice, and on the surface it’s good advice. Generally it amounts to using family, friends and friends of friends.
But I’m not sure how helpful this is, really, when you come down to it. Let’s take family first of all. Ok, so they’re, sort of, obliged to help you out and so they’re a great choice. But you’ve probably been photographing them anyway, and also, some of them might just really not like being photographed. So even if they help you out, they’re not going to enjoy it, and photographing somebody who isn’t enjoying it stands out in the resulting photos like a sore thumb. They’re not going to look good so you’re not going to be pleased with the results, and the shoot is going to feel off because lets face it, you’re going to know they’re not enjoying it so you hurry up. Also, some folks don’t come from the sort of family where they’re close enough, either geographically or personally, for this to be an option. Cousin Iona might love being photographed and is a natural model, but if cousin Iona lives in Stirling and you’re in Norwich it’s just not going to happen, so she might live round the corner and you’re just not that close. Growing up we had relatives in the same town we never spoke to: go figure. Also, your nearest and dearest might just be heartily hacked off with being the crash test dummies for the development of your portrait skills.
So we move onto friends. Well, at least you’re likely to be on good terms with them, and at least some of them are going to live nearby, so possibly this is ahead of family for the aspiring snapper of people. But friendship is a tricky thing, it may extend far in some ways but not in others. You might get together regularly for curry or to go to the pictures, but you might just not feel comfortable asking. Being photographed is a very intimate thing, and your friends might not feel comfortable with it, or indeed you might not feel comfortable asking. True story time. My wife doesn’t really enjoy being photographed and one of my friend’s partner is just bored with being photographed. I’m okay with it and she actually enjoys it, so we went to Oxford Botanic for a morning and photographed each other. Not everybody has friends like that. Not everybody has partners who are okay with that sort of thing happening.
So, friends of friends, and even the proverbial interesting people, who seem to feature in Youtube videos on this sort of thing. Ever noticed something about these videos? They’re always in impersonal urban environments. Photographers go up to people eating their sandwiches in city centres and ask to take their photo, and even if the person says no it’s all smiles. Heck I’ve photographed complete strangers in central London and they don’t bat an eyelid. I await, with baited mouse, the video in which somebody does this in some small English town or village and makes it work. In rural Britain that person is going to know almost everybody else and no sooner have you clicked the shutter on frame one than the woman in the post office will have heard from her cousin who happens to be the brother in law of the model that you’ve done it and then all the kids in the local school will know and then their parents (in case they didn’t get it from the woman in the post office). Before you know it you’ll be the person who asks strangers if they can take a photograph, aka ‘you are weird’.
So, in the end, you’re faced with popping into the city to look for people, or using one of the model sites like Model Mayhem or PurplePort. A combination of inconvenient and / or expensive options.
So, you’re reading this and you’re nodding sagely and waiting for my solution. You’re sitting there on a cosy evening in Little Snoddling in the Wold, having photographed your family till they’re sick of it, not able to pop up to Stirling to photograph cousin Iona, and unable to ask the locals because you don’t want to be a suspected pervert. You are waiting for me to tell you how I solved this conundrum. Sorry, but I never have. But at least, you’ll know you’re not alone…