Collaborations – often referred to as “Time For” (TF) sessions – between photographers and models are pretty common. A mutually beneficial exchange of time so that both sides can gain experience and build their portfolios.

For a photographer, collaborations are when we get to try new things.
For a model, it’s a great way to practice posing in front of the camera.
And everything else aside, honestly, they’re just a lot of fun. 

I like fun.

However, in order to avoid wasting anyone’s time, there are definitely points I wish were common practice when models collaborate with photographers.

Tips for Amateur Models who
collaborate with Professional Photographers

Before I begin, a caveat: I am not a model photographer. I don’t work in the commercial photography industry where models are typically employed. I know very little about that industry, how to break into that industry, or the expectations of employment by that industry.

Everything I suggest below is from the perspective of a portrait photographer who sometimes works with models in order to learn, portfolio build, or just for the fun of it.

Have a visible model portfolio:

Before plans are even being made photographers will want to know what you look like and what looks you’re capable of. Your portfolio is your space to highlight what you can do, the genres you’re interested in, and the work you’ve done so far. 

For a new model your portfolio could be an official website, but is more likely to be an Instagram account or similar social platform.

It should at a minimum be publicly visible, provide a means to contact you, and identify what geographic areas you work in. If I have to follow your account in order to view your portfolio, or search for information like what locations you work in, you risk being overlooked.

You should consider that your portfolio is essentially your resume. What you show on your portfolio will influence the work you are offered. It should show the best of what you’ve done, not necessarily everything you’ve done – be picky about what you post.

I’m a fine art portrait and headshot photographer. Personally, I look for models whose portfolios display elegance, an interest in fashion, or quality work done in similar genres. If I see a portfolio that doesn’t hit those points they’re probably not the model for me. No style is wrong, or bad, but photographers will naturally gravitate to models who work in similar genres to them.

Whether a photographer finds you via your portfolio, or you reach out to a photographer looking to collaborate, your portfolio is going to be the first thing looked at before any decisions are made.

Practice your posing and expressions:

No different than photography to a photographer, posing is a skill models need to train.

Your looks alone are not enough, and you can’t rely on the photographer to pose you (most new photographers know very little about posing). If you show up expecting the photographer to handhold you through every session, while making zero attempts to get better as a model, you’re not going to get much attention outside the amateur photographers who care more about the quantity they shoot than the quality.

In a perfect world, the photographer is the specialist at photography, and the model is the specialist at modeling.

Everyone starts somewhere, and there is no shame in not knowing what you’re doing in the beginning… but there is a massive difference between someone who takes the time to learn, and someone who doesn’t.

Study the models you are inspired by. Watch posing tutorials. Practice in front of a mirror. Learn how to express. 

If you put effort into learning how to pose, I promise you that word will get out. More and better photographers will want to work with you. Your work and portfolio will consistently get better.

Respect timings and communicate any changes:

A collaboration implies an investment of time, energy, and possibly even money by everyone involved. Please, don’t cancel at the last minute, or even worse, ghost the others with zero communication

I get it, things happen… emergencies happen… but if something does get in the way of the plans you agreed to at least let the other people involved know. It happens so often that it’s almost a running joke, amateur models will just not show up and then act like they did nothing wrong afterwards.

If someone has invested time and energy into working with you, respect that, and that same respect will be returned.

Photographers talk, and one of the common things we talk about are the models who flake on us. Bailing on a collaboration without any communication is one of the fastest ways to be blacklisted by the community.

Arrive with the items you need in good condition:

At this stage of a collaboration you should know what the theme or concept of the shoot is. If you don’t, something went wrong during planning.

When you arrive for the collaboration your wardrobe should be well put together. Your hair and make-up done. Or you arrive with the items you need to do it at the shoot.

What you should not do is arrive with your wardrobe disheveled, wrinkled, or crumpled in a bag. Or arrive with your hair and make-up an unmanageable mess and with no way to fix it.

Take the time to build yourself a modeling kit. Keep a brush, any make-up you may need for touch-ups, or other accessories you might need in it. Get yourself a proper wardrobe bag so your wardrobe stays in good shape. Check out this fun video by model / youtuber Jacy Erin to learn more about putting together a modelling bag.

Photoshop is a wonderful tool, but I promise you the photographers you work with will be grateful if they don’t have to spend time editing wrinkles out of your shirt.

Safety tips for Amateur Models
collaborating with Photographers

It’s unfortunate that any of these even need to be said, and I suspect I may offend some people with what I’m about to say… …but the people I offend are likely part of the problem so I’m going to say it anyway.

Photography, especially at the amateur level, is rife with problems. As an amateur model looking for collaborations I can almost guarantee you that you’re going to encounter… I’m hesitant to even call them photographers… “Guys with cameras” (GWCs) as we not-so-affectionately refer to them.

Don’t get me wrong, not everyone falls into this category, however enough do that you need to be careful.

Be careful who you work with:

Guy with a camera (or rarely a Gal with a camera). People who use photography as a means to convince models to pose suggestively for them in varying states of undress. Their motivation isn’t photography, or art, but rather a perverted and creepy form of voyeurism

Yes this is a thing.

The stories I’m privy to as the result of models working with GWCs range from uncomfortable leering and conversation to unwanted touching and sexual assault. Many of the stories involve photographers presenting themselves as being helpful… “let me fix your shirt”… while explaining to the model that this is all “normal in the industry”. Another tactic is to push the model towards a more risque theme then originally discussed during planning.

While most will deny it, or use the label of “art” as an excuse, there are signs if you know what to watch for. It will be up to your own comfort level whether you decide to work with them.

  • Typically they’re middle aged or older men and target young women.
  • They’ll cite years of experience despite showing only mediocre levels of work.
  • Their portfolios, if they have one at all, will feature a strong focus on sexualized themes.
  • They typically show little interest in education or development because photography is not their motivation, but will be able to readily name-drop famous photographers they are “inspired by”.
  • They will suggest advanced styles of risqué portraiture (e.g. bodyscapes) using other professional photographers’ work as a reference. Or they will suggest hypersexualized versions of traditional themes.
  • And they may present inappropriate behavior, online and off, during conversation such as lewd comments or worse.

Some models are completely ok working with GWCs. This is a personal decision only you can make

Before you decide to work with anyone, look into them. Talk to them. Look at their portfolio. Decide what kind of work you want to do and if the work they’ve done appeals to you. You don’t have to work with everyone. You should be saying no to anyone who doesn’t meet your standards. And remember; while there is absolutely nothing wrong with it, you absolutely do not need to take your clothes off to be a model.

Be careful where you advertise:

Unless you’re working with a Model Agency, as a new model you’re most likely going to find yourself on a website like Model Mayhem, or in a Model and Photographer Collaboration Facebook group (there is at least one in most cities). It almost always happens, they’re simply an easy and logical first step.

Some are ok. Many are horrible places that cater to GWCs

The warning signs are simple. If you find yourself in a group where the images being shared are consistently lower end, with a strong emphasis on hyper-sexualized content, where education feels like an afterthought, then you probably found yourself in a GWC group.

You’ll introduce yourself as a new model looking to collaborate and you’ll find yourself almost instantly overwhelmed with requests to shoot. They may or may not even care about or ask for a portfolio. It will seem innocuous at first, you may even get a few sessions in before it happens, but the GWCs will start suggesting and steering you towards more risqué themes.

Note: There is nothing wrong with risqué content on its own if you’re comfortable with it.

And I want to be clear, these groups are not all necessarily bad. There are going to be good people in them. Well-meaning photographers at the start of their career will often find themselves in similar groups for the same reasons you did. So don’t avoid them per say, just be careful… you’ll be able to tell pretty quickly if the group you’re in is right for you or not.

Keeping yourself safe:

I cannot express enough how important safety should be to a new model. It’s again unfortunate that I need to say this, but there are some really shitty people out there.

And if I’ve scared or worried you at all, I apologize, but I also hope it helps you realize the kind of situations you might find yourself in.

It’s important to remember that the situations described above are largely committed by a small minority of people. The majority of photographers you will meet are good people who just want to create. So many models I’ve worked with have become good friends. Modeling can be an amazing experience that rewards and empowers… as long as you take the steps needed to keep yourself safe.

So, some tips:

  • There are many model safety groups out there. Owned by models and designed to give models a safe space. They’re a great place to get references for any photographers you’re unsure about. Join one.
  • If you don’t know the photographer, do a background check. Google them. Check out their social profiles. Ask other models or even other photographers about them.
  • If you’re going to any kind of private location, always let someone know where you’re going and who you’ll be with. Better yet, bring an escort with you. Even if you intend to go alone, ask if you can bring an escort, because it’s a huge red flag if any photographer says no.
  • Plan the shoot ahead of time. Know what you’re going to be shooting, discuss wardrobe, this establishes boundaries. Do not allow anyone to push you past what you’re comfortable with (remember, after a photo is taken the photographer owns it).
  • If you have never met the photographer ask to meet them somewhere first. Choose a public location and take the time to discuss the session, this will give you time to gauge your comfort level with them.
  • Don’t give out personal information until you know and are comfortable with the photographer. Most of the models I know work under aliases, especially on their public portfolios. 
  • Do not drink alcohol or consume any drugs while you are shooting. Don’t accept open drinks of any kind, bring your own.