Indochine's Top Shelf

Getting Quality Photos

How Models and Photographers Can Compromise on Photos After a Shoot

NOTE: This article has been edited as of 1/28/10.
There's a war brewing between models and photographers these days and it comes down to this: after a photo shoot, models want their photos and photographers often fail to deliver, at least to the extent promised. So what's the solution? I understand models needing quality images to keep themselves in circulation. Moreover, why should the model have to wait indefinitely and keep pestering a photographer to give them their own images? But I can also understand photographers not having the time to retouch photos for free!

The Problem

The biggest problem here is the lack of professionalism in how these photo shoots come about to begin with. Let's be honest; photographers often shoot models for reasons that go beyond building their portfolios. And models are frequently willing to hustle a shoot on the cheap. Thus, the TFP shoot was born. But many times, after the photo shoot is done and the fotog has gotten what he wants, he's "over it" and ready to move on to the next model. Sure, he may retouch one or two photos, but now that he's seen his favorite model in all her unretouched realism, stretch marks, cellulite and all, the fantasy is over and retouching the photos is just... well, work. The model on the other hand has only received a few photos for her efforts. Enter conflict. She starts demanding that the photographer give her all the photos. The photographer refuses, reminding her that she hasn't paid him a penny and is not in a position to be making demands.

The Solution

Models, pay for your photo shoots and have a contract in place stating what you are entitled to receive in clear terms. I really don't think it's too much to ask that the model receive all the photos the day of the shoot on a USB drive. However, the contract should state that the model can't post any photos until and unless the photographer breaches the agreement - i.e., a reasonable time (21 days) passes without the photographer delivering the agreed upon number of post processed images. In the event of breach by the photographer, the model should be allowed to have the photos retouched by a mutually agreed upon Photoshop wizard at her own expense, and subject to the photographer's approval (not to be unreasonably withheld and to be timely given, e.g., within 48 hours). This allows the model to move on with what she needs to do post photo shoot.

Oh, and if the model breaches - i.e., posts photos before the safe harbor period expires and without the photographer's consent - there should be a penalty granting the photographer a set amount of damages per image disseminated without his permission (e.g., $500 per image).


A simple contract to this effect should prevent problems after a TFP shoot. With the model in possession of all the pics, the photographer is unlikely to fail to deliver the post processed images promised in a timely manner. Likewise, with a liquidated damages clause rewarding the photographer $500 per image distributed without his permission, impatient models have a real disincentive not to upload those unretouched photos on Twitpic.

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How to Become The Next Big Urban Model in Three Easy Steps

The steps are fairly simple, but a few of them require more discretion and sophistication than a lot of girls can muster.

Step 1: Get Quality Photos - Striking, quality photographs are the building blocks of any successful career in modeling. We're not talking iPhone pics taken in your backyard, but professional pics that cast you in the best light possible. Also, it’s important to stand out of from the crowd, so forgot about doing back shots oiled down in a thong. Everyone is doing those type of pics now. Be sexy without giving everything away. This is where discretion comes into play - do you have what it takes?


Step 2: Get yourself noticed. This means putting yourself out there on sites like Model Mayhem and submitting to castings for magazines and music videos. It’s easier to get a break in a music video than a magazine. The music video circuit is not as “political,” for lack of a better word, as the magazine circuit. If a casting director like Anissa Williams sees a hot model for a music video, she's not going to condition submission on whether the model gets “friendly” with her. Her main goal is to get the hottest, freshest talent to the artist for the best price. So if you can't catch a break with the magazines, start submitting for music video castings. Dollicia Bryan got her break in Joe's music video long before getting magazine exposure.

These days, with social media being hugely important, just having a Twitter or Facebook page with good images and respectable postings can be enough to build a fan base and interest. If you can muster over 5,000 followers on Twitter someone will eventually take notice. Sean Malcolm of KING and the other major mag editors are all on Twitter, so be careful how you present yourself. People are watching.

Step 3: Be professional. Be humble. Professionalism is really lacking in urban modeling, on all sides of the equation. But you can only worry about yours. Basic things like saying "please" and "thank you," being on time, promptly returning emails/phone calls, and showing humility will go a long way in your favor because so few urban models exhibit these qualities today. The number one reason urban models lose their footing in the industry is that they become divas after even the slightest success and get labeled “difficult to work with.” Even if you book a magazine cover or a Kanye West video, it does not entitle you to romp around like you’re Megan Fox. Being late for a shoot, showing up with bags under your eyes from partying the night before, being overly demanding on set, etc. - these are all things that are considered diva-like behaviour.

Again, this is an area where discretion and sophistication come into play.

That’s it for now. I'll expand upon this article as thoughts come to me.

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Getting Quality Photos - Part II

In the first part of this article I dealt with the obstacles that seem to prevent models from getting good shoots. In this Part I’m going to address the nuts and bolts of the shoot.

1. Communication and Planning with The Photographer.

A legitimate photo shoot (the type that produces good results) takes planning and preparation. Talk to the photographer before your session and find out what ideas he has in mind for you and convey the things you’d like to try. Agreeing on concepts could get tricky, but it’s important to know what you’re doing before arriving at a shoot. When I first shot with Bria Myles we met once just to test the concept before the shoot actually happened. This was probably overkill, but I hadn’t shot in a while and I wanted make sure the lighting and colors were what I wanted. This made the day of our actual shoot that much easier because we had already squelched any awkwardness on our test run.

I recommend you meet with the photographer at least once before your shoot, just to see what your energy is like together. Photo shoots are partially about chemistry between the photographer and the model, and if you don’t feel comfortable with the photographer it might show in the photos.

A Note Regarding Escorts: Personally, I’m not a fan of escorts – especially boyfriends – on photo shoots. Still, I understand the occasional necessity for them. Again, meeting with/speaking to the photographer beforehand will go a long way toward telling you whether an escort will be necessary. You should also check the photographer's references. If you meet with the fotog and still determine you need an escort, you probably shouldn’t be shooting with them. Also, keep in mind that if you’re partaking in a professional photo session, there will also be a hair person, a make-up artist, and possibly even a stylist present on the shoot with you. With that said, model comfort and safety are paramount on a photo shoot. If having a friend with you will help, the photographer shouldn’t have a problem with it as long as it does not interfere with the model-photographer dynamic.

2. Working Out The Arrangement to Get Your Photos and Determining Photo Usage. This rule is simple: you should demand that all of your photos be delivered on a CD the day of the shoot, especially if you’re paying for the photos. This is the number one problem with photo shoots for models -- they trust the photographer to deliver the pictures and for one reason or another, it doesn’t happen. If a photographer balks at the idea of giving you photos the day of the shoot, it’s probably because he doesn’t want his work out there without his post-processing editing on them. That leads us to the next issue: photo usage.

I see a lot of models demanding photo releases on shoots. This is not the solution to your problem (see my blog entry on model releases), as the standard release gives the photographer more rights than they would have had without one! What you should be more concerned with is how your photos will be used and what control you have over that. This doesn’t require a lawyer. All you need to do is send the photographer an email (that he confirms receiving) making your concerns clear. For instance

“Dear John Fotog,

I look forward to our shoot this weekend. I just want to be clear that we are using these pictures solely for our portfolios and to promote our work. Neither of us will sell the photos or distribute these pictures publicly without the consent of the other. This means that we both have to give the other our consent (not to be unreasonably withheld) before posting photos from our session on the internet or in any other medium.”

This should not be a problem if you paid for your photos. In fact, you should ask the photographer to assign his copyright in the photos to you if you've paid for the session. If the photo shoot is TFP, the photographer may not like having you dictate which photos they can post. However, if the photographer asked you to shoot you should be able to set the terms of your arrangement. If you approached them, you may have to forgo this right. Again, this comes down to working with a photographer you trust and that has good references.

3. Make Sure You Take Versatile Pictures. You can’t book a Target catalog or a McDonald's commercial if you’re oiled down in a thong in every shot. These days, swimsuit and lingerie photos are all the rage, but you’ll need headshots and some lifestyle/editorial shots if you want to get work in something other than a music video and urban magazine. Ask the photographer if he’s willing to at least take some headshots before you get into the more risqué stuff.

4. Avoid Taking Pictures You’ll Regret Later. It’s easy to get caught up in the momentum of a shoot and maybe go further than you intended. Photo shoots may look like a carefree romp, but a serious model is always clear headed about what she’s giving the camera. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shot with models only to have them later say they hate the photos and don’t want me to use them. This can be avoided by simply looking at the photographer’s results during the shoot and taking a moment to evaluate the direction the shoot is going in. This may not always be easy, but it’s a lot better than ruining your goodwill with a photographer and getting a reputation for being difficult.

5. Make Sure You Have Good Hair & Make Up. This may be the last point on this list, but it is probably the most important. Really good pictures are always a collaborative effort, and a big part of that collaboration is hair and make up. For some reason, a lot of models think they can just go out with a photographer and get results that look like the stuff in Allure magazine with no hair and make up on set. For the most part, it doesn't work that way. Finding a quality hair stylist and make up person for your shoot is just as important, if not more, than getting a good photographer. If a photographer has no plans to even have hair and make up present on the shoot, you may want to reconsider. When evaluating hair and make up it is critical to find out whether they have worked on models with attributes similar to you with success.



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Getting Quality Photos - Part I

One of the biggest mistakes I see with urban models is their failure to consistently produce quality photos, which is usually a result of their inability (or lack of willingness) to effectively organize photo shoots. This leads to long sabbaticals from the game resulting in decreased interest and opportunities. I believe this happens for three reasons:

1. A lack of motivation. Many urban models simply expect top photographers to come to them to shoot. For the most part, it doesn't work that way. An up-and-coming model has to essentially produce her own shoots until she generates enough interest to turn the tables. Urban model pics carry little value to a working commercial photographer.

2. Failure to set aside money for photo shoots. A lot of urban models expect quality photos for free, which only leads to problems (see below);

3. Lack of resourcefulness
and an overemphasis on shooting with trendy photographers that other hot models have shot with.

Quality photos are the fuel of celebrity. It's those great pictures on the cover of Cosmo and Allure that keeps people in awe of Halle and Eva Mendes. Without quality photos, interest in a model will definitely wane. It's easy to get pics when the magazines are all asking to shoot with you, because they organize and finance the shoots for you. But what do you do when this doesn't happen (and most times it doesn't)? You have to be prepared to make it happen without magazine-produced shoots.

This means seeking out quality photographers and being prepared to pay them something to get good shots. I know, I know - you're cute and sexy as hell. They ought to be paying to shoot with you! And it's that expectation that leads to all those ugly situations we read about in the Model Mayhem forums where photographers don't give models the CD of images, or expect sexual favors in return, etc. If you want professionalism, you have to be a professional. Don't expect to get quality pictures for free.

Model Brittany Daily - BlackMen Mag Produced Photo


The other thing I see a lot is models who will only shoot with a photographer another hot model has shot with. There's nothing wrong with working through the referral system, but don't turn away a good photographer that wants to shoot with you just because he hasn't just shot with Melyssa Ford. Use common sense about this. If the unknown photographer is talented and dying to shoot with you, chances are he will go the extra mile to make things work out because he's looking to attract interest in his work through shooting with you. The flavor-of-the-month photographer, on the other hand, is more likely to put you on hold and take forever. Remember, long lulls between photo shoots will cause people to lose interest in you, and often it never returns to the level it was before you disappeared from the scene.

Model Summer Walker is a good example of both the negative and positive examples I'm referring to. When Summer first hit the market in 2004, about 5-6 sets of photos were produced of her. She also shot with XXL and Smooth. But for a long time after her initial heat wave, no new photos of Summer hit the net. Then she shot with Zigga Zagga Productions. Those are some the best independently produced photos of an urban model I've ever seen. But it may have been too little too late. I'm convinced the lack of a consistent stream of photos of Summer significantly reduced her popularity, because the interest was there.

Model Summer Walker - Independently Produced Photo


I'm not saying it's easy to produce your own shoots, but it can be done because I've seen other models do it successfully. The days of just being pretty and getting ahead in this market are over. Today's urban model has to be as equal parts business savvy and attractive.

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