How to Collaborate with Models | Ask Katharine

If you've never collaborated with a model before, the whole thing can be a little intimidating. When I was first starting out in photography back in '09 I had a large group of friends that were also interested in fine art portraits, so I never had to consider working with models until I moved to Chicago. When I started at the School of the Art Institute while my friends were back home, I learned that working with models can be tricky, tiring, but super rewarding if you do it right. Depending on the type of photograph you're trying to do (senior portraits, fine art portraiture, etc.), the type of set up you'll need is different, but a few tips are good for any collaboration you'll have with a model. 

How to collaborate with models explained by Chicago portrait photographer Katharine Hannah

Does the Model Or The Photographer Ask?

Ah, the dreaded question that I get asked most frequently. Does the photographer ask the model, or the other way around? It's almost like the chicken or the egg. Some photographers are sticklers when it comes to never asking anyone to collaborate on a shoot, and some will only collaborate with other models. 

For styled shoots that I design with a concept and theme prior to the session, I always reach out to models that fit the style I'm going for. 

Sometimes models will reach out to you to photograph them, and if you're trying to build you're portfolio and they fit your style then I say why not make a new friend and set up a shoot? However sometimes models will reach out and you're not necessarily a good fit stylistically (they want to do a goth themed shoot, and you photograph fairy tale set ups). Whether or not you do it will change on a shoot to shoot basis, but I find that it works best for me to have an idea in mind for a styled session and then find the model that suits the theme.

Reach Out When You're Ready

A big mistake I made in my freshman year of school when I tried to collaborate with models was having an idea set in place for a photoshoot, knowing the model I wanted to work with, and reaching out too soon. If your shoot is going to work best in the spring when the flowers are blooming, don't reach out the fall before because I promise you'll both become too busy and forget about working together. Wait until maybe a month before and pitch the idea to the model, and then follow up two weeks prior to plan out the specifics. It'll keep the excitement up for both of you and lead to less flakiness (which is not fun for anyone).

Find Someone You'd Hangout With Anyway

The absolute best collaborations I've had have been with girls that are similar to me in personality - and this doesn't always come through online. You're likely going to have to work with a few different models before you find that one girl that gets your ideas and trusts what you're doing enough to be completely comfortable in front of your camera. My best advice is to find someone that gets your jokes, talks in the same goofy voices as you, likes to grab the same greasy food after the shoot as you do, you enjoy spending your afternoon with, and then work with them as much as you can. 

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Katharine Hannah

Katharine’s work has graced the walls of institutions such as The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, The Harold Washington Library of Chicago, and local galleries such as Dreambox Gallery, Siragus Gallery and Blick Art Materials. She has also been featured on websites such as the Huffington Post, Phlearn, Fstoppers, Tigress Magazine for Girls, Bitchtopia, and Golden Boy Press.

In addition to photography, Katharine has been a mentor and educator in the arts since 2013. She has worked with students in various organizations and projects over the last two years, including Hive Chicago’s PROjectUS initiative and Digital Youth Network’s Digital Diva’s and Chicago City of Learning programs.