Lessons in Model studio shots Part 3: Catching real emotions

After Part one: instruction and Part two: Backgrounds, it is now time for Part 3.


Originally I was planning to make one part a week but I feel like out of control on this blog thing. And I keep feeling the urge to get on and on and on and .....

Even when I know I told you I was expecting questions on which I would base a new part on, I can't help but being very impatient. I don't want to wait, I want to share. Yep I do understand that this might crank up the quality of colleagues and this might make the competition of selling even harder. But hey I'm up for it, it is just too much fun ;-)

**************REAL EMOTIONS****************************

For this part I want to get away from the technical stuff for a minute and make a side step towards steering your model which is more difficult then it seems at first. It looks easy. You might even think you can do it with one finger up your nose

Do you want food?

You simply ask your model to smile and she smiles, you might simply ask your model to look angry and she looks angry.

But what happens if your viewers see the result?

Do they start to smile also? Do they tell you the photo is making them depressed? Most of the times NOT.

Most of the times the TELL you that your model has a nice smile or LOOKS angry. But that is not the effect that you are looking for is it?

It is not what the buyer is looking for.

Your buyer wants a photo that makes his costumers smile automatically when the see a photo.

That is what a real smile does you know?

A REAL smile automatically makes the viewer smile to. A real smile is contagious (Oh god I hope I spelled that correct).

Ok let me try to demonstrate.

My lips

Of course you can simply have your model make a funny face . But this will make the viewer laugh (maybe not). Nope you want a spontaneous reaction to a smile.

Brother and sister

Children are always the best because they do not hold themselves back. They do not worry too much about how they look. Look at the girl and the way she smiles with all her face. AND THERE IS YOUR PROBLEM. The older one gets, the more worried someone gets about how they look. A spontaneous smile will always get a face wrinkled. Most models are afraid of wrinkles. To be honest: That is just as stupid as being a photographer afraid of shadows. The more pro a model gets the more difficult it will be to get a spontaneous smile.

Ask a model to smile and 9 out of 10 will smile with only their mouth. Not realizing that eyes tell all and will reveal the lie to the viewer that it is a "made" smile, a fake smile.

A real smile looks like this

Smiling Adult

and it is really simple to achieve.

Just make her smile. Tell something funny, or, even better, say something stupid, make her laugh and start pressing your shutter button. You will see that after the first two shots she will start to control herself and start to adjust her smile to what she is used to BUT then it is too late and you have what you need already.

******************NEAGTIVE EMOTIONS*****************

My make up is gone

A bit harder are negative emotions.

Because who wants a model to be sad? I DO. If I want a sad face I want a sad model. I don't want a model who is trying to look sad.

That is exactly what happens when you ask a model to LOOK sad. Your model will start asking herself how a sad person would look like. At the moment your model does that she is lost and won't be able to get that look. But what do you do to make her sad? A simple remark won't do this time. You will have to help her get sad AND, most important, you will have to make sure, after you get your shot, she will feel good again.

To achieve this it is imperative (not even important but imperative) (spellcheck please) that your model trusts you and is willing to work with you on achieving this. What I use to achieve this is something I learned when I was studying to be a kindergarten teacher. My specialty major there was "dramatic expression". In those classes I learned about "Method acting".

**********************METHOD ACTING****************

Method acting is an acting technique in which actors try to replicate real life emotional conditions under which the character operates, in an effort to create a life-like, realistic performance. This is contrasted with a more abstracted, less involved style of acting in which the actor himself or herself remains an outside observer of the character he or she is portraying.

That is what Wikipedia tells you. However an actor studies to be an actor while most models go along as the get along.

So how do you achieve this with a model? As said you will have to make her sad. But you can't expect her to just stand besides herself, being her own observer. What you do is a part of steps to go through. Before you start you will explain to her every step so she knows what is going to happen with, but also TO her.

**************STEPS TO FOLLOW****************

* Step 1: Ask her if she can remember a situations in which she was very very sad. She does not have to tell you about it, only remember it.

* Step 2: Have her close her eyes and go back to that moment. Tell her to keep her eyes shut until you tell her to open them.

* Step 3: Start to talk her into the situation she is remembering. Tell her to see everything around her exactly as it was when she got that feeling. To see the place she was in.

* Step 4: Stop talking in the past sense about her emotion, talk about it as if it is happening. Tell her to see her environment. Tell her to relive what happened.

* Step 5: Tell her to take the feeling into her stomach. Tell her to FEEL.

* Step 6: Tell her to separate the feeling from the environment. To just feel it.

* Step 7: Tell her to open her eyes.

*** At this time you, of course will have your camera focussed and ready. As soon as she opens her eyes you take the shot. Be sure to have everything ready because it is the first second that counts.


IMPORTANT: If, at any point you feel that the emotion is overwhelming your model in a way that you do not want, tell her to pen her eyes and give a big scream towards her face as soon as she opens her eyes. This will give her a scare and snap her out of the emotions.

All the above is not without consequences. Your model might cry. She might feel angry. She might even laugh. Be there for her. Comfort her if needed or keep your distance and laugh with her. Believe me, she will feel much more free after this and even be looser in the rest of the session.

If you do not feel confident yourself doing this then DO NOT DO IT!!

You have to stay in control all the time and not loose your model in the process.


You can use this method with any emotion you want or need.

I have fun with myself

But because of the impact making your model laugh is always much easier. Ir maybe you feel like you do not need real emotions. The biggest advantage is if you work this method with the same model over a longer period of time. She will improve in such a way that she can get her emotions right in minutes by just placing herself in a situation and using the emotion. She will also be able to get herself loose from the situation like described in the Wikipedia explanation: a more abstracted, less involved style of acting in which the actor himself or herself remains an outside observer of the character he or she is portraying.

Emotions in faces are subtle. The smallest change can make your viewer feel something else. The big obvious ones are the easiest (if you can talk about easy here). More difficult are the subtle ones


like this one for example. How does this make YOU feel?


Again Tell me what you think, Ask me what you want to know and forgive my typoos, spelling and not so fluent english.

See ya in part 4? What you want it to be about?


Photo credits: Frenk And Danielle Kaufmann.
Frenk And Danielle Kaufmann
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  • Dnf-style
  • Rekem, Belgium
We, Frenk and Danielle are both photographers living and working together.
We do'n't shoot as a team but as two individuals. Ech with ones own style and ideas. Therefor we will be able to make shoots with a lot of diversity.
It would please us very much if you would let us know when you use any of our files in any way. We are very curious about how our files are used. In what designs, in what publications, what, when, where, anything.

Please let us know.

We and our models will be very thankfull.

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August 20, 2007

Your very welcom Wendy. This is what I wroite for, the understanding that it is useful to somebody. Please let me know how it goes and if you have any additional questions? Fire away.


August 19, 2007

Thank you for your blog articles, they have been really helpful. I have the most trouble with people shots. I don't take many because I can never get the right expression. I will attempt some of your advice and see how I do.


August 17, 2007

Thanks fullvalue, I guess you are correct on this but I hope it will change.
Thanks for your response.


August 16, 2007

Here I'll comment. Your doing great with your articles. I've read all three. Sorry, I guess most of us are just reading not writing. :)