Models, Mannequins and Misfits

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The stock photo that was used for the comp had an urban ambiance, a casual cool that we knew would be hard to capture in suburbia. But there was barely a budget for the model, let alone travel and location fees in the city. Main Street in West Babylon was close enough, and the rustic balcony had a shabby chic about it that actually took the shot to another level.

Short though, the railing was barely above the knees of the tall slender model, so the pose had to change, and the winter morning sun was rising quickly. Trial and error and a little bit of luck gave us a moment with enough magic to sell the product.

Inside the vacant antique apartment building we had a little more time and control. A choice of windows, a random chair. The model was breathtakingly beautiful but that was the least of her assets.

Self-wardrobe situations are usually scary. Everyone seems to have stuff in their closet that they think looks great, and you can’t help wondering whether they stopped at the thrift store on the way to the shoot.

Not this girl. She popped open a suitcase and dropped her jeans right on the floor in front of us, twirling into one outfit after another, stepping in and out of character as she slipped into sandals, flipped a silk scarf, and struck a series of sensational poses.

It wasn’t even art directing. There were no wrong decisions to be made.

Models mannequins and misfits

Fast forward to summer, an interior car shoot, again the art direction was made easy by the professional experience of the model. We didn’t have to tell her anything other than the exact position of her fingers on the quick release latch of the headrest DVD player. She instinctively knew she’d have to scrunch down on the floor of the car to avoid an unattractive bend in her wrist. It couldn’t have been comfortable, but through the lens of the camera it looked as graceful and natural as the day is long. With 5 shots to pop off in half a day, we were grateful to have a model with that level of professionalism.

Sometimes we have luck with “ordinary” people. I remember one shoot in which lab technicians were needed, and the client supplied three non-pros. The account exec wasn’t bad, he looked pretty natural and he took direction well. One woman was so realistic, so genuine in her subtle smile, the studio melted away and we were right there in the lab studying blood cells. The third model was so self conscious and so stiff, all the coaching in the world couldn’t soften her stance. Her eyes were inanimate and her awkwardness cast a shadow we just couldn’t shake.

I wish i could say with conviction that you’re always better off to hire a pro. But actually, my experience has proven otherwise. Case in point, one morning while preparing to shoot a cop in bulletproof body armor, a “pofessional” showed up with his arm in a sling. Not exactly the immortal, invincible image i was looking for.

Another day on location with a child “pro,” a boy who, very clearly on camera was chewing gum, insisted it was my imagination as he opened his mouth to prove it to me, hiding the offending confection under his tongue.

So I guess my advice would be, when hiring a model if you can go thru an agency, make sure they know your expectations in great detail and are prepared to screen their people accordingly.

And when non-professional models are used, hire more than the desired number of characters so you can edit out the mannequins and misfits.

The real deal most often will yield more in less time, with a variety of poses, a genuine emotional connection, and gracefulness that “ordinary” people seldom have.

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