Updated: Apr 10, 2021
As a boudoir photographer, one of the more difficult things when getting started is finding someone to photograph and building your portfolio. It takes lots of camera practice to learn how to photograph women in a manner that is going to be cute, beautiful, and aesthetically pleasing to clients . It's a lot tougher than it looks!
The number one error boudoir photographers make when starting is simply not learning how to operate a camera properly. The number two error is not learning how to photograph women with skill. Budding new photographers seem want to skip these steps, and think that simply declaring themselves a "pro," putting up a website, and shouting to the world you are going to "changing women's lives" is the path to success. --Forget all that difficult learning... Did I mention you were "changing women's lives!!"
Well, the truth of it is that's not enough. It's really not enough. The universe appreciates your intentions, but your business model is as flawed as declaring yourself a pro guitarist without knowing how to play a note of a guitar-- and expecting rock bands from around the world to come knocking your door down to join. This is, unfortunately, the approach of so many photographers.
Why? Because the learning part can be difficult, and it takes time. After all, this is 2021-- and we want what we want...now! The true path to boudoir greatness can be a long one, and takes practice. Lots of practice. One of the more difficult parts of becoming a boudoir photographer is that at some point you'll have to start photographing some actual women. No E-book, or online course is going to replace actual camera time face-to-face with your subject and learning the ins and outs of intimate photography.
Finding people to shoot as a boudoir photographer isn't always so simple. Yes, you immediately turned to your friend Debbie, Laurie & Misty, and as much as they support your efforts, you'll soon learn that being the subject of boudoir photos isn't everyone's cup of tea. --Not only that, some of your friends may have jobs, such as being a teacher, and it may not be the best career move to have photos of them posted in their undies online. So, what to do?
So, this is where the internet model comes in. Almost every community has women who are semi-"professional" models, that, for a few dollars, will meet up with you and let you photograph them... everyone wins! --That's the ideal, anyway.
The reality is, it's not quite that straight forward. I'm guessing the "internet" model scene popped up at some point in the early aughts as the internet was growing, and sites like Model Mayhem, One Model Place, and others sprung up to help connect aspiring photographs to those working "models."
Although at this point these sites are well past their primes, there is still a community of people using these sites, and with some work you can still use them to help find subjects for your sessions.
What's the issue? Well, although these sights aim to showcase "professional" models, after some experience navigating the ins and outs of how they work, you'll quickly realize in many cases your subject may be somewhat less than "professional."
Although there are some truly good people to work with (and I've met a few over the years) for the most part you'll find your experience with the people you hire may be quite lacking. One thing to understand is that there is no actual "vetting" process on these sites, and anyone signing up and claim the title of "professional model" with little or no ability or experience.
Can you still use these resources to help your work? Sure! But it may take a bit more work (and headaches) than you may expect. What you may think will be a simple photo project, may turn out to be a bit more difficult. Why? Let's take a look at some of the more common issue you will encounter, as well as some of the things you can do to prevent issues from popping up.
Not Wanting To Be Posed
This is a big one, and can possibly derail your session. One of the primary issues you will run into when working with "models" is that they will play the "model" card frequently and often.
All will seem well at first. Your subject will arrive and be ready for your session. Once you start working-- *BOOM* trouble. You'll have your shot list of items to work on, and start directing the model into position for the first shot only to hear "Well, I'm a model. I've done this before. There is no need to tell me how to pose--" and trouble ensues.
This scenario will happen more often than you think, so be prepared. You'll have some very structured poses to do, and your "model" will insist on writhing, twisting, and flopping their bodies around like a fish on dry land. You'll proceed to kindly restate that you need to work on some poses, and once again you'll be rebuffed with "I've been modeling a long time...I really don't need direction..."
Hmm... what do to? Well, be prepared for this. This is a harsh reality. Even though in actuality your "model" most likely earns her living working part-time in the jewelry department of a big-box retailer, and her "professional" modeling experience is most likely just a few basement or train track photo shoots with a guy named Richie, in her mind her career is "professional model."
It won't be good. You'll wind up with slew of useless photos with the "model" tilting her head (a big one) in a ridiculous manner and accompanying it with strange facial expressions in shot after shot.
The best way to handle this type of scenario is to head it off up front. If you are posting an ad online for your session, or reaching out to a local model, be sure your text includes that the session is "posed," and it is best if the applicant "checks their modeling skills at the door." Mention that you understand they possess amazing modeling skills, but working as a photography model isn't about "you..."
I explain this to the people I hire in a firm... but nice way. This session isn't about them. The session is about creating work to represent a six figure business and help it grow. Just as a football player doesn't run crazy around on the field doing their own thing, they follow the plays the coach calls, working in a modeling session for a pro photographer isn't about writhing around senselessly, its about being part of the photographers vision for his business. I mention I appreciate their skills, but in this session they will have to surrender to what they are being hired to do-- if they are not OK with that up front, they aren't the best person for this job.
It's a easy as that... And yes, you will run into women who agree to these terms, and show up anyway insisting they know what's best. Don't feel bad for dismissing someone and politely telling them the job isn't for them. Your under no obligation to hand over money to someone who isn't going to work towards your results.
Not Showing Up
This is another huge reality of working with internet "models." You'll invest time finding the right person for your session. Review the details and dates with her. She'll tell you how excited she is, and how she can't wait for the session... probably multiple times. You'll start arranging your schedule, book your makeup artists and hair stylists, and preparing for the session. Everything seems great.
Then, when session day arrives, you'll be on-site with your crew... and your model is MIA. Never to be seen (or heard from) again.
THIS will be the typical scenario working with internet models more often than not. If you are lucky, on the morning of your session you'll receive a text along the lines of "my car broke," "I had to take my friend to the doctors," or "I forgot my grandma's dog was having gender reassignment surgery today...." despite the fact that just the evening before she was "so excited."
So, you wasted a day, and more importantly you wasted the time of your crew for a no-show "model."
You would hardly be the first to experience this. The "no show" model has been around since the dawn of internet modeling itself-- and in many ways is it's biggest feature! Think this is unique to you? No way. Doing a simple Google search for "no show models" will yield thousands of forum posts from photographers agonizing over prepping for sessions, scouting locations, and spending money for shoots.. and their model was nowhere to be found. Get used to it. Unreliability is part of the skill set.
What to do here? Well, the answer is in the numbers. If possible, book more than one person for your session day. You can hedge your odds by booking multiple models for your shoot. If you make arrangements with three or so women for your session day, you'll increase the chances that one (or if you're really lucky two) of them may actually show up. If more than one shows up... that's just a bonus for you.
Simple schedule sessions at different times, and cross your fingers that at least one of them shows up. That way a no-show won't ruin your entire plan.
Otherwise just mentally prepare yourself for that "flat tire" text...
Create A Sample Gallery
This is helpful for both you and your model. If you have a list of shots you'd like to work on during your session (which I highly recommend doing), create a folder of photos of poses you plan on doing during your session. Then, upload the folder to your Dropbox account.
You can share the link to the folder with your prospective model to make sure they are on-board with all your poses. This helps familiarize the model with the itinerary for the day, and also guards against any "creative differences" that may arise if a model shows up and isn't completely OK with what you're planning.
After sharing your list, I highly recommend to make sure they have reviewed it, and are ok with the photos in your list. You will indeed run into "models" who have very inconsistent rules about what they will and will not shoot. Let them note any objections they have seen so when your session day arrives and your most important lay-down poses are suddenly declared off limits due to the fact the "model" isn't at her "artistic best" in prone poses-- so you won't waste your valuable time, again.
This really happens? Yes. For no apparent reason other than their own "modeling prerogative" internet "models" in some cases will have arbitrary "rules" regarding certain poses that make sense to no one but the "model."
Additionally, it can help as a roadmap on session day for you, so you don't forget any shots you wanted to capture.
Be Prepared For Inexperience
Despite the claims of being a "professional model," as I mentioned earlier, most of these women have no experience actually posing their bodies for a professional photographer other than that aforementioned basement photo session with Richie, the aspiring "model" photographer.
This is OK! Ten times out of ten-- given the choice, I'd rather have someone with no experience, rather than a self proclaimed "professional" internet "model" with few skills and no self-awareness about that face she didn't know what she was doing.
Rarely will you find someone deferring to the fact that you may know more about posing and portraiture than them...
Be prepared for an entire slew of strange body contortions that really aren't going to help your work look better. As I mentioned earlier in the "Not Wanting To Be Posed" section, this will actually make getting your shots done they way you want much more difficult.
Just as in the earlier sections, be sure to be clear regarding the rules for your session, and that it will be entirely "posed."
Make Sure It's Someone Who Represents Your Target Client
If you are posting a casting call for models, you may find yourself in the enviable position of getting quite a few responses. One thing to be sure to do is to be specific about exactly the type you are looking for for your casting. Don't be hesitant if you are looking for a specific age range or body type-- to mention it in your casting. Remember, this is your vision and your business, and you can select the type of person that will best fit this project.
For example, if your business is targeting upper income brides in their late 20s to early 30s, that is the type that should be prominently displayed in your best work. If you are getting responses to your casting from 19 year-olds who are heavily goth-inspired and tattooed, this may not exactly speak to your target audience. It's OK to dismiss inquiries that do not fit your ideal client.
If your session is just for general practice, most applicants may be suitable-- not only that, it is really helpful to practice with multiple age ranges and body types. For this type of practice shoot you may have a much broader criteria for those you'd like to hire.
Let me say this about modeling profiles. Not all the information included in profiles is accurate. Women will hide/misrepresent their age, weight, etc., and you can find yourself in a situation where the person walking in the door doesn't exactly look like the person in the profile photos...
Often, there may be no way of telling how old a photo is-- so ask! It can be as innocent as "This is a cute photos, when is that from?" --Only two find out it's nearly ten years old. Hmmm. I once worked with a woman who listed her age on her profile as "26," and the person that showed up was, at least, 10 years old than that number...
It may seem like a small thing, but if the person arriving isn't, again, representative of that target client you wanted to go after, and you were under the impression that she was... you are under no obligation to proceed.
This can get tricky. All you can do here is ask as many questions as you can beforehand, try to get some current photos, and perhaps do a Facetime or Zoom chat before the session to "go over" any last minute details. This way you can get some idea of who will be showing up, and to make sure they are someone who will help your business. --Getting someone to Facetime with you may be a bit of a chore, however.
Well, there it is! A few quick tips based on my experiences working with internet "models" that may help your session go as planned. It can take a little planning and work, but with some preparation and asking the right questions, there is no need to stress about hiring a model.