Model – Photographer Etiquette
“The Appropriate Dance of Communication”
By Rick Trottier
When I was assigned this article, the thrust of the content was to be about “How to Hire a Model”. While there is no question that the basic tenet of this commentary can be of the greatest service in assisting any photographer or promotional company in the proper method of acquiring the talents of just the right model, there is so much more to it than that. Establishing thoughtful, comfortable, affable and efficient communication with a model is a dance that requires diplomacy, skill, aplomb and manners. It is simply amazing how many people approach models using ALL the wrong tactics and strategies, and then wonder why it is that they can’t close the deal. How do I know all this? A fair number of young ladies attached to my studio run their mail through me to get my input. And it is when I read the entreaties of these so-called “professionals”; I am absolutely appalled by communication skills that run the gamut from untutored, to rough-hewn, arrogant and even grossly immature. For those of us old enough to remember the days when our parents sat us down and drilled etiquette into us (phone, table, letter-writing, etc.), it is time to revisit those long-lost arts and shed light on a vanished methodology that should be the greatest of assistance to those who need to find a model for a project that is close to their hearts. Just as learning the fox-trot is a step by step process; learning to communicate with a model has some essential “steps” you’ll need to consider.
Step 1 –The Mechanism
Before you even think about what you say, or how you say it, you need to be aware of the right technique of delivering your message to a model. From my last article for Glam Modelz on Shoot Management – “While texting has become the communication method of choice and talking on the phone is still simplest, the most professional manner of exchanging ideas is through email. Detailed correspondence that can be easily preserved, carefully considered and reconsidered and serves as a written contract of terms is the best method of preparing for a shoot.” I know I am likely to use the word “amazed” and all its synonyms to the point of redundancy in this article, but I am astonished how many photographers EXPECT a model to give out her phone number immediately and sadly I am equally shocked how many models FOOLISHLY give out that information too early in the dance. A phone number is private and sensitive data. Once that number is out there, you have now created a link you may not have wanted to create. Unless you have unimpeachable references attesting to the rock-solid trustworthiness of the photographer, DO NOT give out your phone number and photographers should not be asking for it. Keep correspondence in the neutral field of email. I do not ask for or even give out my phone number until the day before a shoot. I much prefer to keep all correspondence as business-like as possible. On the rare occasion when a model asks to have a phone conversation with me, I will give out my number, but in most cases, I’d rather keep it as professional as possible. Another gaffe of epic proportions is “the drive-by shoot inquiry”. DO NOT tag a model or comment on her pictures on Modeling Social Media sites asking for a shoot or do something of a similar nature on Facebook or other forms of general Social Media. Such behavior smacks of leaving a hastily scratched note tucked into the door of a girl’s locker at school. It is cowardly at best and at worst it shows a lack of maturity and self-esteem. All inquiries for a shoot should be done in a confident and polite manner, which will get the point across that you are worth working with.
Step 2 – Formality
When hanging out with friends at a hockey game, or at the local sports pub, language usage is something we consider to a small degree but we don’t curb aggressively. No one wants to spew forth hateful invective that has no place in ANY public arena, but an off-color or ribald comment isn’t a faux-pas in such places. However, in any missive written to a model, formal language MUST be used. Professionalism is the province of the urbane, sagacious and sophisticated personage, and crude and boorish louts need not apply. There isn’t a need for the drawing-room language I am applying here for dramatic effect, but there is a need to treat your prospective colleague with all the respect she deserves. I am incredulous and stunned when I see photographers use terms like “baby” and “hot stuff” in their entreaties, and this is not only the behavior of the young and foolish. Men my age and even older make this mistake. While Social Media sites are REPLETE with cads who use all manner of disgusting language in their dealings with girls and show their base and un-evolved nature in doing so, a professional photographer should treat a lady like a lady; use words that show you value her talent and experience and do so throughout the communication process. In addition, you should make sure that your command of grammar and spelling is that of an adult, and you don’t sound like a reject from Steve Martin’s “Teach your Kids to Talk Wrong”. If you can’t say something like “I’d like to inquire about the possibility of hiring you for a project I am developing” without it coming out sounding like “May I Mambo Dogface the Banana Patch”, get someone to assist you in writing the letter you are trying to craft. Formal language will immediately establish a sense that you are someone worthy of collaboration, rather than a childish girl-hunter looking to put another notch in his camera, as far too many “photographers” wish to do.
Step 3 – Content
What you say to a model is just as important as how you say it. Once you have grasped the importance of delivering your message through the correct system and then mastered the art of using language in a manner that wins friends and influences people, making sure that what you say matches the power of how you say it is the next part of the learning the dance. You want to make sure you say what you want to say in as clear and direct a fashion as possible. You want the message to be concise and crisp. But how do you bridge the gap between clarity and information overload? PLAN your letter first! It should have a brief introduction where you state who you are and what you want. The body of the letter should state the basic terms of what it is you want to do and what the model will get from the collaboration. Finally, there should be a closing that sums up the basic thrust of the content. Your letter should not be overly lengthy, but it should also not be vague. Verbosity borders on self-importance which skirts the realm of arrogance. Such will turn off a model. A lack of clarity leads to being vague, which invites murkiness and will induce a sense of threat in a model’s mind. Your letter should state your points cleanly, clearly and in a business-like manner. If there are points that you haven’t covered, they should be minutiae that can be discussed in further exchanges. There is nothing wrong with back and forth correspondence. If anything, it will lead to establishing a sense of trust. One mistake that needs to be avoided is the use of FORM LETTERS to approach a model. I use a general form letter for RESPONSES to clients who inquire about my services, but I hand-craft my initial response, tailor-make the form letter if necessary and alter it when the need arises. Using a form letter to inquire about a shoot with a model is kind of like using the exact same fishing lure at a pond, lake, stream or river at any time of the year. Another disastrous tactic is using a “gimmick” in their form letter to interest a model in a shoot. A fair number of photographers will try the old “I’ve got a great opportunity, but you need to let me know asap” approach. This is an obvious ploy, it smacks of a sleazy car-salesman way of thinking and it brands you as a scumbag at best, once word gets around that you use such schemes. What too many photographers forget, or choose to ignore is that models talk. Before you know it, your girl hunting tendencies have now become the stuff of local legend, your reputation is mud and getting the shoot you want has become a Herculean task. Treat each shoot entreaty as you would if you were buying flowers for your wife, your mother and your daughter. You would not get each of them the same bouquet. Such a decision would lead to hurt feelings, cold glances and possibly a rendezvous with a night on the couch. Letters to models should show the same flexibility of approach, the same dignity and composure as well as an enterprising spirit of enthusiasm.
Step 4 – Frequency
The last of the dance steps is knowing when to try again and when to cut your losses. Too many photographers will approach a model and then take one of two possible courses in the follow up. They will either NOT follow up or they will hector a model to the point of being overbearing. Not following up with a model shows a lack of interest, a lack of respect and a lack of professional courtesy. If she is that important to your project, ONE follow up a week or two after the first approach is the appropriate response. Keep in mind that most models are young women, often with second jobs, school, social lives and family lives. As such, they may briefly read your note, be interested and then have it driven from their thoughts by their very busy and involved day-to-day existences. A follow up makes perfect sense. The other side of the coin is another one of the “pitfalls to avoid at all costs”, that of being a pest. Pestering a model is one of the fastest ways I know of showing them you have ulterior motives lying beneath the surface of your words. I am acquainted with photographers who will follow a model like a wolf on a blood trail, sending note after note, utilizing guilt tactics, wheedling, bullying and other unsavory thinking in hopes that they will wear down that model and get what they wish. Once again, this not only damages any chance of eliciting a positive response, it is likely to create bad blood and generate “buzz” about how you conduct yourself that will make it that much harder to establish stable and trusting relationships in the modeling community. Patience, self-control, self-confidence and mature messaging behavior will score points that will lead each and every person in that model’s social circle looking favorably upon you.
One of the saddest aspects of the modern photographer-model universe is how many people step out of the business due to how “seedy” it has become. More often than not, I hear people say that Model Mayhem and One Model Place are the haunts of creeps and other revolting denizens. Unhappily, this is true to a degree but there plenty of honorable professionals out there if you look. As a seasoned educator, I am of the belief that many of the people who misuse communication can be taught to do it right and as we see in a Democratic Society, an educated citizenry is a happy and successful society. Knowing the proper steps in any dance keeps you from landing on your face, whether you are doing the Samba or trying to set up a shoot with that stunning model.
Our gorgeous cover model; Christa, may be contacted through Rick Trottier. Christa’s cover photo was photographed by: Rick Trottier of RJT Images.