The Faerie Queen

As a few friends and family know, Sourcelight- and wife/life-partner, Sharon Johnson and I have been collaborating for the past several months on developing our own fantasy series of themed art photography. Sharon’s diverse background – a BFA in sculpture, decades working in fashion retail, and designing and producing jewelry for her own business, Angel Creek Designs – leads her to create unique items that are sometimes hard to categorize. Wearable art, maybe? Or just art that looks like it could be worn (but usually isn’t)? Either way, her jewelry designs always tended to be one-off, one-of-a-kind works that could just as easily have been sold as displayable art as wearable jewelry. Unfortunately, the usual grind of daily life has tended to put designing for Angel Creek on hold too often over the past few years, so recently, Sharon has begun creating full fantasy costume looks for portraiture. In the beginning, it was assumed that my contribution would be simply documenting the final result in a photograph. As the process developed, however, we began to create visual stories that would require full production resources, including make-up, wardrobe, and set design.

It should also be noted that at this later stage of my photography career, I seem to be drifting inexorably away from “photo-realistic” quality and more toward a consciously pictorial style, more painterly and less representational. Having swapped my top-end Nikon-pro gear over the past two years for Fujifilm’s exquisite new digital X-series with all of Fuji’s old film stocks built in electronically has certainly helped with the transition. The gear is smaller, but just as powerful, and with its built-in film heritage, it feels like shooting film back in the day. Suddenly, photography is fun again and not just another job. We were more than ready for a new project that reflected our current personal (and technological) place in life and career.

Truth to tell, we’ve actually been edging toward this for awhile. Marcie Ganier, one of the first locals to model for us here at Sourcelight all the way back in 2009, was a trouper and became one of our favorite models, eventually doing five different sessions with us. The “Imagine” photo was actually based on her idea when she approached us about doing an “angel-wing” shot. Wanting to avoid what often becomes a predictable stereotype, we suggested doing it as a fantasy concept in which the subject isn’t actually an angel, but rather just imagines herself to be one. Marcie was immediately on-board, so we designed a costume and set, called in a MUA and produced these shots from that session. We were just getting started, but the path was set and we were hooked.

Not long after, good friend, fellow photographer, and occasional model himself, Patrick Lee, collaborated with us on a fantasy take of Atlas holding up the world.

Even the family got drafted into service resulting in the “Four Seasons” portrait taken at the Johnson family Thanksgiving get-together in 2011.

Still pretty haphazard though, so in 2018 we finally decided to get serious about having fun, bring in some genuinely committed models, and get a new concept done every month.

If only…

Best-laid plans…

You know…

On two occasions, models scheduled for projects simply failed to show up. Sharon and I lost most of March (for the second year in a row, yikes!) with some kind of violent bronchial pneumonia. And, well… of course… Obama… (Why? Why not? According to red-hued Congressmen, he’s the all-purpose cause of everything else that’s gone wrong in the 21st Century).

So finally–in JUNE–with new buddy and always-reliable model Yao Yin in place, we made the do-it-or-die pledge to finally get the first project completed. We were looking to create the suggestion of a fairy queen, at one with the outdoors, clad in foliage and literally sprouting it from her person. As part of the ongoing effort to landscape the Sourcelight grounds as photography backdrops, we had carved a notch out of the sycamore berm two years ago to install a stone bench slab on poured concrete pillars.

We thought with a little help it could serve as a fairy queen’s private chamber.

Sharon and Yao spent an hour working on character make-up.

And the final results of Conceptual Event #1 (or 2 or 3 or? depending on how you count): The Faerie Queen



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“Model, Actress, Singer, Public Speaker” Yao Yin and Sourcelight

Busy year, and it’s been a while since we wrote about it, but a very enjoyable part of that activity has been our introduction to a unique new model in the Treasure Valley area—Yao Yin. We’ve now worked with her four times, and they’ve all been enjoyable experiences worth sharing.

An immigrant from China, Yao finally had clocked enough time in the U.S. to have just recently earned her U.S. citizenship. A graduate of Oregon State University, she’s currently working as an analyst for the public utilities commission here in Boise. I met her when a former workshop student, Arjun Ramesh, rented the Sourcelight studio for a Japanese/Geisha-themed concept shoot featuring Yao and another local model, Jin Zhu. Yao’s effervescent personality and desire to pursue a modeling career prompted us to invite her in for a portfolio-building session, and we haven’t looked back since. It’s all too rare these days to meet a person who so openly embraces new experiences and new perspectives, and Yao has become one of those occasional joys in the photography business—a client/professional colleague who becomes a friend.

Modeling, of course, is only one of the activities this bon vivant embraces (check out her Facebook Activities page – – for a first-hand look at the “Model, Singer, Actress, Public Speaker”’s busy schedule). As for us, we just shoot photos, so here are a couple of standard modeling portfolio shots grabbed during our first, get-acquainted session.

Two weeks later, I had Yao back in for a bit of a personal project in the studio. The overly bright, illustration-style, “pin-up” genre isn’t something we do very often here, but Yao’s perpetually enthusiastic outlook seemed perfect for a day of staged silliness, and 40 years in the photo business means that retro is just, well… history for me. I like history.

We then went outside for the first chance we’ve had to shoot a session in the backyard set we’ve been building for the past year. By now, of course, the wine that had been a stage prop in the studio set was a functional libation for all involved. Yep, we were all very relaxed by then.

At the end of May, we took Yao down to the 9th Street Parking garage for our monthly tryst with the full moon. It can be a patience-trying experience as you wait for the moon to rise over the cityscape and hope the clouds stay away. Yao, as always, was happily up to the challenge. This is one of my favorites from this series we’ve been working on for over a year.

And the fourth Yao Yin session? That one’s a bit more elaborate, so we’ll save it for a dedicated post of its own. Coming soon…

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Landscape Photography–The Three P’s

The three P’s of landscape photography

When I am running photographic workshops or giving talks I often refer to the three P’s of landscape photography:

Planning – to work out the right time of day and year to be at a specific location (with reference to sun/moon position, the presence or absence of foliage on the trees, tide times etc) as well as keeping an eye on weather forecasts to increase the chance of getting a successful photograph;
Patience – as all landscape photographers know, rarely are we able to just turn up at a location, get out the camera and take a wonderful image. The old adage, ‘if you’ve seen it, you’ve missed it’ normally applies. My usual approach is to set up the camera, fine- tune the composition and then wait for the light, weather conditions, cloud formations and so on to come together in a way that supports what I want to say about the location (based most importantly on what I feel about the location, not just what I see). This requires a lot of patience – I frequently spend hours standing around waiting for all the elements to coincide to give me what I’m after. And of course success is far from guaranteed – going home empty handed is not uncommon.
Persistence – which brings me to the final ‘P’. Revisiting locations is part of the job – sometimes I’ll keep returning to a location over a period of years before I get a photograph that I’m completely happy with.

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Modeling 101: The Head Shot


It’s ironic, especially with Internet models who tend to get their starts without any input from industry professionals, that when we look through their online portfolios the one thing we don’t seem to be able to learn is the most important piece of information we need: what the model actually looks like.  Particularly in the glamour field, it’s not uncommon to be able to see—in graphic detail—everything about the model’s appearance except her face, and that’s really not helpful for your marketing and networking efforts.  Unless you’re planning to meet prospective employers in a bikini—or naked—you need to show us something in your portfolio that 1) lets us recognize you when we meet under normal—i.e., clothed—circumstances, and 2) makes us want to meet you in the first place.  What you need is a professional headshot, something every working model already has.

By now you’re probably thinking, what’s the big deal? I have that massively retouched senior-portrait photo from back in high school and that cool mermaid shot taken in the river last summer with all the gnarly character make-up, plus all those brilliant selfies I’ve been posting on Instagram… sure, I’ve got the headshot thing covered.

No, you don’t. What you think of as a headshot and what the modeling/photography industry expects are most likely miles apart. A good headshot is absolutely not easy to produce, either for the model or for the photographer.  In fact, for something that looks so deceptively simple, it’s one of the hardest shots to do well, even for experienced professionals who might otherwise be excellent portrait photographers.

Okay, so what’s a “professional headshot?”

Pretty simple actually, but it might seem contrary to what you’d expect for the acting and modeling businesses where the ability to project an image that’s different from your natural appearance is sought after and rewarded. Whatever else it might be—and that can vary according to the market you’re applying to—a headshot is a picture of your face that presents you as you really are. It’s clean, unadulterated, and accurate. Technically, it’s well lit and simply posed. After studying it, I should be able to easily recognize you if I were to meet you on the street. As said above, there are some variations in content and presentation, which we’ll discuss below, but one thing every type of headshot has in common is that, first and foremost, it’s a picture that conforms to the expectations of the target industry for the express purpose of marketing the subject.

That last part is important. Your headshot is a marketing tool; it doesn’t exist to demonstrate your ability to look cool in character make-up or play an old woman at age 18 (unless that’s what you’re applying for—see below), and it certainly doesn’t exist to prove how creative your photographer is. In fact, if your photographer insists on cluttering your headshot with his watermark, find another photographer who understands that the sole purpose of the headshot is to find paid work for you, not for him.  That all should imply that this discussion is primarily for people who want to work professionally in the commercial-modeling world, either for editorial or advertising clients, or who want to audition for acting roles. If you’re just modeling or acting as a hobby, this discussion probably isn’t for you.

If, however, you are serious about modeling or acting for money, then you (and your photographer) need to know the basic headshot characteristics common to all the markets as well as the specific details that distinguish one market from another.



As mentioned, the headshot is intended to market you “as you are” (accurate as to age, size, and proportions, for example), but in the most positive light possible, emphasizing your best qualities and minimizing the flaws (and yes, we all have flaws).  A well-done headshot will provide the viewer with a sense of the subject’s natural personality and character, or suggest potential for a particular role the viewer is looking to fill.

Contrary to what you may hear, even the best headshot won’t guarantee you the assignment, but it’s often the only thing a casting director ever gets to see, so if it doesn’t make a favorable impression immediately, a bad headshot will certainly eliminate you from even being considered.  By presenting you at your best, a good headshot gets you in the door if you are indeed the type the client is looking for, and if the shot conforms to industry standards, it will reassure the client that you are likely to be a reliable professional who will help, rather than hinder, the production process.  Like other activities we’ve repeatedly mentioned elsewhere in this series, the headshot is a prime opportunity for establishing and promoting your personal brand. Even if you don’t get this job, the headshot puts your name and face out there, earning you advance consideration for the next job.

For another perspective, take a look at this short video from model scout Trudi Tapscott.

Size and Framing

Headshots for models should be printed at 9”x12” and always in the portrait—or vertical—mode. When potential employers are quickly rifling through a large stack of headshots, they don’t want to have to pause to turn yours sideways.  Demonstrating that you don’t understand industry conventions is the wrong way to stand out in that stack of modeling hopefuls.

Actors always use an 8”x10” photo, also in portrait mode.

The head shot, by the way, doesn’t necessarily have to be restricted to the head or tightly-cropped head and shoulders. Particularly if you specialize in character roles or modeling assignments, you may decide to opt for a ¾ shot.

Color vs. Black-and-White

Like the comp card, which has largely moved away from the old black-and-white glossy, headshots are almost always done in color these days. They need to be printed as photos, not Xerox copies, and color photos cost the same as B&W now.  If you’re a theatre actor or a glamour model there might still be a place for B&W, but if the jobs you’re looking for put you in front of a camera selling some kind of product or service, use color printing.


It’s important to remember that the headshot is neither a formal portrait nor an informal snapshot that just happens to include your head. It’s a carefully styled photo that conforms to the expectations of the market you’re applying to.  This is not the place for wild-and-crazy concepts, weird compositions, or funky borders and distracting backgrounds.  For the same reason, your clothing should be, well… boring, with casual style and neutral colors. In general, the more creative the photo’s technical aspects are, the less important the subject becomes.  Remember: keep it simple, direct, and appropriate for the intended market.


There are three basic types of headshots plus a fourth for children, which we won’t go into here.  There are also variations within each type that are intended for a specific offshoot of the market which that particular type addresses. If you model or act in different markets, you may very well need a specific headshot for each one. In this business, there’s no such thing as a “one-size-fits-all” calling card, and the first question you need to ask before you shoot or hand a prospective client your headshot is “which market is this job in, and what kind of headshot is expected?”

Commercial Headshots

As we indicated in the article on modeling genres, most modeling work is commercial and most agencies represent commercial models, so the commercial headshot is what most models need. Obviously, actors who want to work in the commercial arena also need a commercial headshot.

As we also mentioned in the modeling genres article, commercial work is, by definition, about commerce—selling stuff—so the models and actors who do the work need to be somebody the viewer/buyer will find likable enough to buy from.  Your headshot needs to make a connection and show you as friendly and accessible, like someone the viewer wouldn’t hesitate to walk up to and strike up a conversation with. Forget the dramatic lighting with the mysterious shadows and the selective focus. You need to look open and available in the commercial headshot, not mysterious and forbidding, and that requires soft, even lighting with minimal differences in the key:fill ratios.

Makeup for women should be what’s known as “clean,” i.e., close to the subject’s natural skin tones and facial features, but subtly tweaked to create 3-dimensional contouring in the photo’s 2-D plane. Clients want to know what the model looks like naturally, and the make-up should help to emphasize that illusion without being noticeable.

Avoid anything that’s glossy or shiny because it will look wet and oily in a photo, and be sure to blend everything extensively. Focus in the commercial headshot is always extremely sharp across the frame, and any visible edge where the cosmetic stops and starts will stand out in high relief.

For men, the only make-up that might be used is some color-free powder to cut down on glare from bright lights on shiny skin.

Avoid extremely tight cropping.  While it might be dramatic, it’s also claustrophobic, and frankly, counter-productive.  Why pay someone to produce a headshot for your resumé and then chop off portions of what you paid for?  Extreme crops, even all the way into the subject’s face, are a recent, not-so-well-received fad that has many casting agents rolling their eyes and wondering how an applicant could be so oblivious to industry standards. In brief, make sure your headshot actually includes your head, and a comfortable amount of room around it.


In addition to the standard commercial headshot, there are two variations: commercial glamour and “character”.

Commercial glamour is what it sounds like—commercial modeling (or acting) with a glamourous, often sexy, component. Think Swedish Bikini Team girl, not soccer mom or corporate executive. If you’re pursuing this type of modeling, your head shot can suggest dangerous or seductive rather than open and accessible, and your make-up can also be more exaggerated to promote the illusion, although not extreme enough to be considered theatrical.

Actors and models whose appearance and personality put them in supporting roles rather than in the romantic leads, often use headshots that show them in character, including wardrobe, props, and character makeup that suggest the roles they’re likely to be cast for.

Theatrical Headshots

Models who are interested in assignments that require dramatic acting and, of course, actors looking for theatrical work, will need headshots that are more intentionally serious looking than the straightforward commercial headshot.  The theatrical headshot does more than simply present you as you are; it also suggests the ability to assume a role in the assignment that goes beyond your natural look. Make-up can be more stylized—less “clean”—and lighting can also be more directional, with higher key:fill ratios to create stronger shadows and a greater sense of drama.


Marlene Dietrich by George Hurrell

One variation of the theatrical headshot is the “glamour headshot,” not to be mistaken for the “commercial glamour” headshot described above. This type of headshot tends to present a look that is even more consciously romanticized than the typical theatrical headshot, and has its roots in the Hollywood Glamour style of portraiture, exemplified by George Hurrell, its best-known practitioner.

Unlike a Commercial or standard Theatrical headshot, this type is often characterized by complexion-smoothing, soft-focus diffusion to enhance the romantic aura of the shot. Other technical elements, like make-up and lighting are also exaggerated for effect.

An even more extreme variation on the standard Theatrical headshot is the Character headshot that makes no pretense of presenting you as you are, but specifically uses make-up, costume, and lighting to depict you in the types of dramatic roles you’re likely to be applying for.

Beauty Shots

Fashion models whose work is going to appear in an editorial medium, either a magazine or online presentation, often use a “beauty shot” as the headshot. Again, and like the Theatrical Character shot above, beauty shots make no pretense of depicting your natural appearance.  The intent of a beauty shot is less to show “what the model actually looks like” than “what the model could look like with full production styling”.  This type of headshot simply can’t be done without a first-class makeup artist and hair stylist, and the lighting and styling can be quite extreme in some cases.

Probably because the beauty genre implies a certain, unapproachable distance between the viewer and the beauty fantasy the model is portraying, beauty headshots are the one place where the model doesn’t have to be looking into the camera and making a direct connection with the viewer. It’s all about the fantasy, not the model, which should tell you that if you’re not already modeling fashion products in editorial media, you’re not ready to use a beauty shot for a headshot.  Your headshot still needs to be selling you, not some product or lifestyle you might be demonstrating.



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The Fashionable Senior Portrait


The Fashion Flip

As a commercial photographer and television producer, I shot fashion and product advertising for decades, so it’s only natural here at Sourcelight that we have a tendency to approach our portrait clients as if they were models in a magazine or catalog layout.  That means careful attention to details like wardrobe and make-up, carefully selected and composed backgrounds (including seamless white paper), and impeccable lighting.  It takes time and a full production crew, but the images you get exhibit a professional quality and style that you just don’t see in the run-and-gun photojournalistic trend of the last few years.


Sourcelight Photography's "Fashion-Forward" style of senior portraiture



We kept getting calls from teenagers wanting senior pictures that didn’t “look like a senior portrait,” meaning the typical formal pose in front of a studio backdrop.   These days, most urban photographers respond to that request by hitting the streets to capture informal shots with natural lighting, casual clothing, and deliberately unfocused posing.  When we decided last summer to revisit the Sourcelight approach to senior portraiture,  it just made sense to focus on our unique skill set and offer something different from the usual Treasure Valley senior portrait: the fashion-photography experience.


Senior portraiture by Sourcelight Photography--Tedi O

Senior photography with a Fashion Flair

Jackie spoofin' in the studio

We’ve been shooting models for years (we literally “wrote the book” on modeling), so transforming the senior portrait into a fashion session didn’t require much of a shift for us, and it’s been well received by our young clients.

Teenagers have always had their own sense of style, but today’s generation is particularly fashion-smart.  They’ve been exposed to more media and pop culture than any group in history, and the old Sears catalog that defined teen fashion for earlier generations has given way to names like Abercrombie & Fitch, Gap, Urban Outfitters, American Eagle, Billabong, and Beatrice Holloway—all brands marketed specifically to the teen consumer.


Nike sportswear does well with this group as a fashion statement, as does Victoria’s Secret Pink.

This makes our concept pretty easy to pitch to our teen clients: “Imagine you’ve been asked to model the clothes (or make-up or jewelry) for the catalog of the company you bought them from.”  That immediately suggests wardrobe and accessories, backdrops, and poses and expressions.  Our teens get the opportunity to travel with a production crew and star in their own fashion shoot.  Instant glamour and tons of fun!

For more information about Sourcelight’s fashion-forward senior portraiture, visit our seniors page.  To visit the Teens gallery, click here.

Jackie in a hatSwimming champ Cara

Sourcelight Photography's "Fashion





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The Fine Art Nude

In the course of developing curriculum and materials for Sourcelight Photo Workshops’ first “The Formal Nude” seminar, I had the opportunity to spend some time theorizing about a photography genre that I normally just do without much thought.  I’ve shot fine-art nude photography off and on for over 30 years, and the process of spontaneously shaping the elements of a session, including how and what I communicate with the model(s), has become fairly routine.  However, the first step in teaching any complex skill is being able to define what it is and what it isn’t, followed by breaking the process down into repeatable steps.

So, what is the Fine Art Nude?  How does it differ from, say, the Glamour nude or just outright pornography?  Is it really just a matter of perspective—that is, what’s art for one person is porn for another—or is it, as Justice Potter Stewart famously put it, clear but indefinable (“I may not be able to define pornography, but I know it when I see it”)?  It is a fairly complex question, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be answered, and I think the answers are actually pretty straightforward.

First, let’s acknowledge that nudity in art is complicated at least in part because the nude human figure is a problem in general, particularly for Americans.  As I said last year in aModeling 101article on nude modeling:

We are, flat out, schizophrenic about the human body here in the Colonies.  Our no-compromise options seem to be limited to either legally suppressing and culturally censuring any exposure of the body that suggests its innate sexuality, or wantonly demeaning it through tasteless, explicitly sexual imagery as a provocative over-reaction to censorship.  The one perspective we rarely seem to embrace is just a neutral acceptance of the body as a natural, physical form with an implicit erotic energy.

In fact, after participating in various frustrating discussions on serious photography sites about the fine art nude genre, I have come reluctantly to the conclusion that serious discussion about nude photography is rarely possible in any sort of public forum.  Even people who claim to participate in shooting nudes are often threatened when you ask them to discuss their motivations, as immediately becomes apparent whenever the topic comes up.

My sense in participating in and occasionally moderating such discussions is that in America our historically Puritan attitudes about nudity and sexuality almost always corrupt our ability to create sensual art without some emotional dissonance.  Moreover, our predominant religious traditions formally define self-awareness as expressed in sexuality as forbidden fruit, and Genesis clearly spells out the divine consequences of having an unhealthy interest in it.  As a result we’ve spent the last few thousand years having arguments about just how much and under what conditions sexuality could be considered healthy.

The fact is, no matter how progressive we might each think we are as individuals, I suspect most Westerners are subject to that nattering voice in the back of the head that says gazing on the forbidden parts will turn us into a pillar of salt.  In other words, it makes it kind of hard to simply create art picturing the naked human form without some unidentified static influencing the process.  Or without a fig leaf.

I think we can do a better job than that.

I have a simple working definition that distinguishes the implicit sexuality of the fine art nude from that of the various glamour genres, whether clothed or nude.  Most glamour photography (though not necessarily at Sourcelight—see our blog post on “The Mature Boudoir Client”) tends to be created for the very specific purpose of triggering an erotic response from the viewer of the work.  In other words, glamour photography usually has an ulterior motive, and while the best practitioners—photographers like Playboy Magazine’s Arnie Freytag and Ken Marcus for example—do produce work good enough to be contemplated on its own merits as art, let’s be honest: the brain is not the organ that a Playboy centerfold is designed to stimulate.

Fine art, on the other hand, as distinguished from the glamour genre or, say, commercial art has only one purpose, and that is to be contemplated for itself.  Like the glamour genre, commercial art intentionally directs the viewer’s attention away from the work itself to something outside the frame—it’s designed to assist in the selling process.  Regardless of how beautiful a restaurant-menu food photograph might look, its purpose is to make your mouth water so you’ll order food, not to generate an appreciation for what a fine photograph it is.  Notice this has nothing to do with quality—it could be an extraordinary photograph—but its purpose makes it commercial, not fine, art.  By contrast, fine art (with the notable exception of architecture) has no external reference or purpose; it exists solely to be contemplated and appreciated by the viewer.   That can be somewhat difficult with the fine art nude image, for a variety of reasons.

Characteristics of Art

Art subjects are typically based on and/or exhibit one of three characteristics:  narrative (or documentary), formal composition, and innate sensuous interest.


Narrative art sometimes recalls an event, whether real or mythical, like the famous Dying Gaul sculpture or Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  Formal portraiture is designed to tell the story of an individual subject’s character.  Even a simple landscape suggests a narrative about the land itself, and if you add a crew of field workers the story becomes even more explicit, suggesting references to agricultural enterprise, labor issues, or even just the elemental process of providing the necessities of life.  A city scene might remind you of the last time you were in an urban environment, and evoke all of the memories associated with that experience.  The content of narrative art tends to be literal so that the story will be clear and unambiguous.


The Creation of AdamThe Dying Gaul sculpture









Formal Composition

By contrast, formal composition art tends to be much less literal and more abstract.  This tradition consciously arranges the formal elements of art—line, shape, form, color, texture, and space—within the frame of the artwork in ways that evoke our innate responses to basic patterns.  When a composition of basic elements suggests patterns that are universally recognizable, they’re called archetypes.  Rather than telling a complete story, formal composition art creates an abstracted version of reality and invites the viewer to fill in the blanks using the mental warehouse of archetypal patterning that we’re all, presumably, born with.  We see a suggestive portion of an image—just enough elements arranged in a particular way—and our brains intuitively scramble to complete the picture by associating the elements with one of the infinite number of patterns we all have tucked away in our subconscious.
Picasso's Femme

Picasso’s Femme, for example, needs only four curved lines on a plain white background to suggest everything the viewer needs to be able to recognize an entire female form.









Marcel Duchamps' Nude Descending a Staircase

By contrast, Marcel Duchamps’ famous Nude Descending a Staircase is a complex assemblage of forms that appears to depict a figure walking down… something. The recognizable* body parts of the figure are implied by abstracted cones and cylinders, composed to suggest the dynamic, swaying rhythm of a human figure walking down steps.  The various versions of the figure have a gradient that ranges from dark at the rear to light at the front, which injects a sense of time passing from the faded “older” to the increasingly bright “newer’ image.


* The body parts were hardly “recognizable” to everyone.  After viewing the painting, Teddy Roosevelt wrote that the Navajo rug in his bathroom was “a far more satisfactory and decorative picture,” and ridiculed the formal composition of Duchamps’ work by suggesting that his bathroom rug might just as accurately have been titled “A Well-Dressed Man Going Up a Ladder.”



Picasso's GuernicaPicasso’s Guernica combines formal composition with a narrative backdrop.  The painting graphically indicts war and the suffering it inflicts upon individuals, particularly innocent civilians, by telling the story of the terrorist bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War.  The visual elements are not literal, however; instead the work is a collage of abstracted shapes, including simple forms representing heads and body parts, all presented in a gray-scale universe that calls on the viewer to fill in even the color, which would presumably at least include lots of red for the blood spilled.  Clearly, Picasso wanted to engage both your intellect through the formal elements of the work and your emotions through your awareness of the story being depicted.

Innate Sensuous Interest

When a restaurant chain runs a stylized television commercial featuring a plate of steaming food, they’re making a direct appeal to your senses, specifically, to your innate desire to eat.  As in the menu example above, they’re literally counting on making your mouth water with an unconscious response to a sensuously evocative visual image.  And, as also suggested above, most glamour-oriented photography is based on an innate sexual response to a scantily-clad human body in a provocative pose.  Cute photos of babies and puppies are no less dependent on predictable unconscious responses.  Art based on innate interest has it easy—it trades on primal responses that we have little control over.

As the Guernica painting suggests, it is possible to combine two or even all three of the subject types in an artwork, although the formal composition genre often shuns the other two as a matter of principle.  Innate sensuous interest tends to overwhelm an aesthetic appreciation for forms.  The formal art study of the traditional bowl of fruit is intentionally not designed to make your mouth water.  You should be thinking about the interplay of light and shadow and the color and universally pleasing appeal of a banana’s curving shape, not about how tasty it looks, and certainly it shouldn’t be evoking a story-telling memory of that trip you took to the Farmer’s Market down on 8th Street.  Achieving that level of aesthetic distance—of intellectual detachment—for the human nude, however, is a whole other degree of difficulty.

The great attraction—and challenge—of the nude in fine art is that, perhaps more than any other genre, the nude has the capacity to blend the formal-composition and innate-interest motifs in ways that are virtually inseparable.  The body is an undeniably rich collection of lines, curves, textures, and spaces whose archetypal resonance readily lends itself to being visualized as an abstract study in formal composition.  We all have bodies, which makes it relatively easy to invoke our intuitive interest in completing this particular pattern-puzzle.  Yet unlike the static bowl of fruit, the human form is just as undeniably a repository of dynamic energy, and depicting it as an organic whole with all of its humanness, including its sexuality, intact and recognizable is also an irresistible challenge.

Sometimes as artists we feel like playing with the formal elements by constructing an archetypal puzzle for the viewers of our work to complete.  At other times, we’re more interested in using art to simply express our appreciation for the holistic beauty of our favorite form in all of nature.  We just want to make a portrait, not of an individual model, but of the universal human being.

In fact, I find the portrait analogy to be a particularly interesting aspect of the fine art nude.  If the pinnacle of the portrait artist’s ambition is to discover and reveal the inner truth of the subject, then there is nothing more revealing than the nude.  Its total lack of concealment creates a sense of vulnerability that is both humbling and disarming.  Real life is often, more or less, about protecting our identity by concealing our vulnerabilities from others, by pretending to be stronger, braver, more competent, and more in control than we really are; in viewing the formal nude artwork, we are freely granted unprotected access, not just to the unadorned body, but to the more general concept of unadorned truth.  There is a fierce, courageous nobility in the sharing of that kind of voluntary exposure, and it is a rare privilege to be able to participate in capturing it as a work of art.

So the last rhetorical question is, which is the chicken and which is the egg?  Do we instinctively love and respond to the human form because it subconsciously reminds us of archetypal forms like lines, curves, colors, textures, and spaces; or do we love the elemental forms because they remind us of the exquisitely beautiful architecture of the human body?

Much to her chagrin, early viewers of Georgia O’Keefe’s sensual flower paintings often responded by exclaiming how “sexy” they were.

Georgia O'Keefe's Blue Flower, 1918 Georgia O'Keefe's Black Iris

Whether consciously or unconsciously, O’Keefe’s abstract use of intricate curves and textures in her flowers was clearly tapping into some deeply rooted archetypal patterns that suggest the nude human form.

Ultimately, who cares?  Clearly, our historical fondness for the nude in art would suggest that the two are inextricably related, and worrying about which came first is probably not very useful.

Except for people who teach the subject, of course.

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The Mature Boudoir Client

When did “mature” become “irrelevant?”


Given that 5 of our last 9 boudoir clients have clocked between 48 and 55 years on their personal calendars, I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about the whole “what is glamour” question. It’s one of the first topics we deal with in Sourcelight Photo Workshops’ glamour and fine-art nude classes, and I’ve come to believe that the question is at the heart of more important issues than whether or not it’s appropriate for Nana to pose for a portrait in her underwear.

50 and fineCuriously, one of the things we spend the most time on during initial consultations with our more mature boudoir clients is simply reassuring them that they do, indeed, have the right to look and feel sexy “at their age.”  Occasionally, even when they love their finished photos, they still need another round of reassurance that feeling good about themselves—about this part of themselves—is okay.  Often, they express regret that they “didn’t do this 20 years ago,” not because they looked so much better at 30, but because they wouldn’t have had to explain why they wanted to have photos like this taken at that age.

Lovin’ your look at 29?  Celebrate it, and let’s see the pix on Facebook. Feeling foxy at 50?  Keep it to yourself.  Nobody wants to know.  Why is that?  Why is the right to experience, enjoy, and express the very core of your identity—your erotic sense of self—essentially forbidden to anyone over the age of 35?  Who made up that rule?

In our youth-obsessed culture, glamour is, almost by definition, reserved for the young and slimly beautiful, and the door isn’t open for anybody else to walk through.  It hasn’t always been that way.

For most of human history, youth was a relatively short stage that people passed through on their way to the more coveted adulthood.  It wasn’t—as it seems to be today—a permanent phase that people aspire to occupy for life.  The mid-life crisis that manifests itself in Harley-Davidsons and botox is a relatively new phenomenon, and we all know at least a few desperate middle-aged adults whose self-image and general perspective on life are so mired in their teenage persona that they’re still fantasizing random seductions with all the feverish preoccupation of a high school sophomore.  Unable to find a way to grow their adolescent libido into a functional adult version, they’re incapable of reconciling an active sexual life with a wrinkled face.  Again, why?

Sourcelight's mature glamour photography

Ironically, researchers report that, apart from the unreliable memory and the creaky joints, most older people are content with their age, a fact that younger people, many of whom are perpetually obsessed with being something they’re not, have a hard time imagining.  Even harder for youth to imagine is that many of those older couples are having rich, satisfying sex lives in their 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, just as they did when they were more “age-appropriate.”  There is one significant difference, however; after 40 it’s supposed to be a secret.

Overt sexuality is everywhere in modern media, including the “sexting” transmissions of Congressmen and teenagers over their ironically mislabeled smart phones.  It’s hip, it’s marketable, and it’s ubiquitous.  References to previously forbidden words like “penis” and “vagina” are now commonplace in primetime sit-coms, as are the less formal terms.  It’s good for a laugh, and clearly represents a shift in social attitudes that’s probably, for the most part, good for a society that has historically been too immature to describe in words what it likes doing with the body parts it can’t speak of by name.  Strikingly absent from all of this sexual frankness, however, is one key audience: the over-40 demographic.

What you’ll never see on television (other than the occasional gratuitous Cialis or Viagra commercial that only implies dysfunction) is a sensitive representation of a mature couple’s or individual’s sexuality.  If you see any reference to older sexual activity (or even interest), it will be for the sole purpose of inviting ridicule.

If you’ve carried a functioning libido into middle age, there’s no place for you in the culture at large.  You shouldn’t (still) be having these feelings at your age—it’s creepy, it’s gauche, it’s even shameful.  Even worse, it’s laughable.  In short, society has decreed that you have no right to experience these feelings and you should stop having them, or, at least, keep them to yourself.  No short skirts for you, and cover up that décolletage.

Is that reasonable?  It certainly isn’t fair, and over time, it’s definitely not healthy.  Listen to this long enough, and you’ll be hard-pressed to resist the constant insinuation that having erotic impulses at your age is clear evidence that there’s something fundamentally, shamefully wrong with you.  Unless you’re really an emotional warrior, you’re going to stop having your own feelings and start resigning yourself to remembering what feelings felt like in the past when they were still okay.  Inconveniently, the feelings themselves don’t go away—just the joy in having them since they’re now tinged with so much awkwardness and embarrassment.

We create these arbitrary categories of acceptable behavior all the time, and sometimes it’s even reasonable.  Small children dressing up like adults is charming; 14-year olds “sexting” provocative snapshots of themselves is not.  Wishing you were 18 when you’ve just been grounded at 16 for breaking curfew is understandable; wishing you were 18 when you’re 40, however, is lamentable.  It’s also unnecessary.

Sourcelight Photography's Dance of the Older Glamour ClientThe Boomer Generation has never been very good at accepting arbitrary limitations, and now that they’re entering the 3rd trimester of life, Boomers are standing most of what we always thought we knew about aging on its head.  What we’re discovering in one area after another is that a lot of the deterioration that we assumed was inevitably linked to aging really isn’t.  Diet, exercise, and, above all, mental habits and attitudes have an incredible influence on the quality—and esthestics—of our lives as we age.

Exercise, for example, has always been prescribed past a certain age as maintenance only, based on the assumption that old joints and circulatory systems could only manage limited stress.  What we’re increasingly learning is that these limitations are often unnecessary and self-imposed.  In fact, if older athletes train, not merely for physical maintenance, but for competitive activity, their bodies respond to the stress by getting stronger, not by breaking down.  You can still run a marathon at 70 if you train for a marathon, but not if you settle for walking around the block 3 times a week.   You have to think—and train—like a marathoner, not like an old person just trying to buy a couple extra years of walking without a cane.  While your aging body may impose some limitations on your activity, it’s your attitude that’s making you old.  Change your mind, change your life.

In fact, research into brain function is confirming that the neural network that we assumed was mostly fixed by genetics and early experience is in fact almost infinitely malleable.  Our brains are constantly being rewired into shifting patterns of feelings, beliefs, and behavior as a result of our experiences, both physical and mental, and contrary to popular belief, that doesn’t have to change as we age.  You don’t get cranky, inflexible, and unhip because you’re old; you turn into a mental lump because you stopped allowing yourself to have new experiences that would require your brain to continue rewiring itself.  If you’re not going to think outside the box anymore, the brain will happily nail the box shut and your world will contract to fit inside the confines.

Literally, you are what you think you are, and if you accept the culture’s insidious proclamation that your self-image, your feelings, and your expressiveness are irrelevant past a certain age, you will become irrelevant, and the biggest limiter of your potential will be your own adopted feelings of inappropriateness.  To bring this back to point, if you buy into the discriminatory notion that still having—much less displaying—your sexual identity in middle age is something you should feel guilty about, you might as well get out the shuffle board and the Mah Jong tiles.

Okay, so we can exercise ourselves into a 10K run and even think ourselves into a good frame of mind.  But what about these wrinkles?  This stocky midsection and the varicose veins?  How are we supposed to overlook the fact that, as one of our clients put it, “gravity has had its way” with us?  You’re not going to try and tell me that that’s glamorous, are you?

Well, actually, I am.  The real beauty of the mature glamour-photography client isn’t in denying your age—it’s in embracing it.

Sourcelight Photography's Luxurious Glamour ClientsIronically, during our pre-shoot consultations, older clients often confide that the reason they’ve come in for a boudoir or even a fine-art nude photography session is that they’ve never felt more comfortable with themselves. The broader perspective of their extra years has allowed them to refine their priorities, and they’ve realized that they’re tired of being stuck in “acceptable” roles that don’t fit a mature understanding.  Sometimes the motivation is a change of circumstances—shedding a bad relationship (or a few pounds) or gaining a good one—and sometimes it’s just realizing that this crippling fear of expressing their middle-aged joy in their own bodies isn’t really all that different from the self-imposed censorship they’ve lived under their entire lives.

They realize that the mature glamour photo session isn’t just about titillating the spouse or the boyfriend with a sexy picture; it’s about asserting their right to experience their own sensuality on their own terms.  It’s about taking control of their own image and confidently expressing it, perhaps for the first time, however they damn please.

That’s sexy.  And good luck figuring that out at 18.

For more information on scheduling your own boudoir session, click here.
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Modeling 101: Links

LinksThis section provides some useful links to a variety of information and vendor resources for the working freelance model or for prospective models wanting some background information before jumping into the business.  If we can recommend a source from personal experience, we will; if we have no personal experience with a particular source, we’ll try to note that as well.  As always, do your own research and perform your own due diligence before sending your money to a vendor.  The Internet is a marvelously comprehensive resource in itself, and if you know how to filter out the noise, good information is available on virtually anything you have an interest in.  So is bad information, if you’re gullible, so… caveat emptor.

Modeling information sites

General information on the modeling business is readily available all over the Internet, but unfortunately the more you read, the more confused you’re likely to get.  Perspectives vary from local to international, and many so-called sources are thinly veiled recruiting appeals for their own interests.  Some self-proclaimed sources about the entire industry are mostly just diaries of one person’s experience—interesting reading, perhaps, but not a useful guide from which to generalize advice for your own career.  Our advice?   Look for common themes.  Those things that all the sources agree on are likely to be the points of useful information that you can reliably integrate into your own career map.  That said, here are a few sites that we do recommend: One of the most reliable and respected sources for modeling information on the Internet.  This is the first place we always send people who call us about getting started in the modeling business (after sending them here, of course, heh).

The Busine$$ of Modeling Tips from well-known model photographer and mentor, Joe Edelman.  Joe’s a photographer, not a writer, so don’t expect a lot of elegant prose, but for an insider’s perspective on how to manage the business, this is a good place to start.

Modeling Advice Another unevenly written source for modeling information, but the advice is generally reliable.

Benjamin Kanarek Blog Benjamin Kanarek is a fashion photographer who maintains a blog that primarily discusses the fashion photography industry.  There’s no how-to modeling information here, but there is lots of current information about trends in fashion modeling from an industry insider.  Full disclosure: I have an article on the BK blog also (don’t let that deter you from visiting Ben’s blog though).

Thoughts of a Hobbyist Model A well written, informative blog by working model, Rachel Jay.  Her take on escorts is especially insightful, and her links to other informative sites are extensive and helpful.

Adventures of a Traveling Model A blog by sassy glamour model, Jessica Robinson.  Not a lot of general information about the business, but an entertaining read with some useful perspectives on how to  present yourself as a working professional.

Model networking sites

One Model Place See the discussion in Working the Web

Model Mayhem See the discussion in Working the Web

iStudio See the discussion in Working the Web

Model Insider A relatively new site with a spiffy interface and what appears to be a good set of networking features.  However, we’ve had a Sourcelight profile here for over a year without much activity, so unless the site begins to show some unexpected growth, it’s hard to recommend it at the moment.

Model Woot Relatively new site with few members and little activity after its first year, and probably won’t grow much more.  Uses a Facebook-like interface.  We had a profile but dropped it because of the small membership and consistent inactivity.  Not highly recommended.

Model Harmony Another start-up site with few members and little activity to date.  We had a profile here for awhile, but the lack of activity and surprisingly unprofessional management caused us to drop it.  Your mileage may vary, but from our perspective, not highly recommended

Muse Cube An older site with little activity.  Not highly recommended. Very international flavor.  Functions more like an agency-model registry than a freelance portfolio host.  Strange critique section by site members following each model’s portfolio.

Prime ModelingPrime Modeling claims to be a networking site where models can connect with agency representatives.  Whether it works or not… who knows?  The sign-up is free, however, so if you want to try it out, come back and tell us how it went.

Artnudes Network Small site specifically dedicated to models and artists, including traditional (non-photographic), who want to create fine-art nude images.  Not a lot of activity, but it’s refreshing to find an informal model/artist networking site that specifically doesn’t cater to garage-glamour nudes.   If the fine-art nude genre is of interest to you, sign up and give them your support.

Comp Card printers

Model C Cards, Zed Card Printers, Model Cards, Buy Comp Cards, Comp Card, My Zed, and Comp Card Express are all Internet-based comp card printers offering basic products and services for reasonable prices.  I don’t have personal experience with them, so I can’t vouch for their quality or their service.  Most do offer a free or low-priced print proof, so before you order 250 cards, be sure you approve the quality of their work.

Color Comp Cards uses the premium custom offset lithographic printing process and offers some of the highest quality printing and card stock available.  The cost is a bit higher, but not significantly so.

Portfolio Book vendors

Portfolio Mart A nice selection and range of affordable professional modeling cases in 9 x 12, 11 x 14, and 8½ x 11 sizes.  The prices range from as low as $20 to as high as $80.

Itoya This California company’s Art Profolio line is an excellent low-cost alternative to more expensive books.  The Evolution EV-12-9, a clean vinyl-covered book with simulated stitching around the edges, can be purchased from respected online photo equipment giant Adorama, for example, for a measly $7.47.  The PU-24-9 is a surprisingly luxurious case that goes for around $35.  Itoya doesn’t sell directly from its website, so you’ll have to track down one of the distributors listed on the site.  We’ve purchased numerous items from both Samy’s and Adorama over the years, and can recommend either one.  If you can find an Aaron Brothers Art & Framing store in your city, you may be in luck—at least some of the outlets carry Itoya portfolios.  Boise, Idaho models rejoice—there’s one in town and it carries Itoya products.

Brewer-Cantelmo offers custom made portfolios with prices to match.

Business Rating/Review sites

These sites exist primarily as user-rating repositories.   Sadly, very little in the modeling business is officially licensed, although some jurisdictions do require agencies to register as employment agencies, so it’s rare to find any official ratings of businesses.  Any business that maintains a “landing page” presence on sites like Google Maps or Yahoo’s Local Listings is subject to customer reviews, although it’s easy for the business to fake positive reviews and negative reviews should always be taken with a grain of salt.  The sad truth in business is that unhappy customers always tell everyone while satisfied customers just coo happily to themselves.

Unfortunately, the only business-rating organization that most people know about—the Better Business Bureau—is largely useless.  The BBB is a membership organization and only rates businesses that have paid expensive dues to belong.  If they receive complaints about a business, they will investigate, but all the business has to do is file a response to have the complaint expunged or “closed”.  Personally, I don’t know a single photography business or modeling agency that belongs to the BBB.

Here are a few sites that you can use to check up on businesses that serve the modeling industry:

Complaints Board Just type in the name and location of the business you’re investigating to find out if there have been any complaints.  If you have experience with the business—either good or bad—write your own review.  It’s not perfect, but it’s probably your best option for information about photographers and modeling agencies in your area.

Biz Compare Not a complaint registry, this site just compares the particular business you’re interested in with industry-wide metrics for all businesses of that type.

The following are consumer-oriented rating sites, similar to Google Maps or Yahoo’s Local listings.  Unfortunately, you will only find reviews of businesses that have taken the initiative to create a profile on that site.


Get the Rating

Business Apps

Credit Card Processing

Square is a credit/debit card processing application that comes with free software and a miniature card-swipe device that simply plugs into your smart phone’s or tablet’s audio connection.   The account set-up is free and virtually instantaneous.  Your transactions will be charged a 2.75% processing fee (if you physically swipe the card; it’s 3.25% + $.15 per transaction for phone orders), but there are no other fees involved.

Treasure Valley, Idaho Resources

Modeling Agencies

If any of them ever return a message so that we can check them out, we’ll see if any are worth recommending.  At the moment, alas… Our best recommendation?  If you really want to work in the Northwest, build a killer portfolio and make the rounds of top agencies in Seattle.  Give us a call and we’ll point you in the right direction.

Model Portfolio Photographers

Sourcelight Photography Sure, we’d love to help you get started in your modeling career.  Services include preliminary consultation, modeling photography, and portfolio book and comp card design and production.

Make-up Artists

GlamourEyes Artistry Kristen Tomlinson is in Meridian.  We’ve only had one opportunity to work with her early in her career, but were very impressed by her skills and professional approach.

Apocalipstick Lynzie is a Treasure Valley-based freelancer who works out of the Lunatic Fringe salon.  Personable, conscientious, and creative.

Graphics and Web Design

If you’re interested in setting up your own blog or personal modeling website, or looking for help in designing your presentation materials, these vendors are people we’ve worked with and trust.

Y-Axis Amit Thakkar is one of the best graphic designers and absolutely the best 3-D animator I’ve worked with.  A dependable professional with shrewd business instincts who can help you organize your presentation, including a viable web presence, into a dynamic brand.

Patrick S. Perkins Patrick is a “WordPress wizard” and a genuinely nice guy who specializes in customizing the design of WordPress-based websites and optimizing them for search engines.  If you want your website to be visible to Google or to run on either an iPhone or an iPad (now that Apple has declared war on Flash), you’re going to need to build it in some architecture other than Flash, and the easiest way to get started is through a WordPress blog template.  When you run into problems (and you will), Patrick’s your man.

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Modeling 101: The Escort Issue


The Escort IssueIf you like melodrama, try this exercise: go into a forum on a modeling networking site and open a new topic thread by asking, “How do you all feel about escorts?”  The hostile collective moan that ensues will astonish you.  What seems like a sensible question to you is actually one of the most divisive issues on any modeling site, and few decisions will call your professionalism as a freelance model into question quite like insisting on bringing an “escort” to a photo session (or asking about it in a modeling forum).  Without realizing it, you will instantly polarize everyone you’re hoping to contact with your online portfolio.   Some—a very few—will nod their heads; almost all professional photographers will simply cross you off their list of models they want to work with.  At best, the “escort requirement” will be taken as a naïve indicator of your inexperience; at worst it will seem provocative, and even insulting.

New models often understandably feel nervous about going out alone on their first few shoots with unknown photographers, and almost as a reflex post their intention to bring an escort for their own peace of mind and personal security.  The problem is, when you say “escort,” the photographer hears “body guard;” when you say “personal security,” the photographer hears an accusation that he’s dangerous and untrustworthy.  You’re announcing in advance to someone you’re hoping to work with on a creative collaboration that you’re afraid of him, and fear is not a good basis for a trusting relationship.  While you may feel that you’re simply posting an objective, general policy that shouldn’t be taken personally, it often will be.  Even though you may not be explicitly making that accusation in your portfolio comments, as photographers, we’re all too accustomed to seeing comments like these, pulled at random from actual model portfolios on Model Mayhem and One Model Place:

“I will bring an escort if we work together. I like having all my fingers and toes.” Then she added a smiley face.  Funny, eh?  Photographers love being characterized as sadistic dismemberers.  Hey, what photographer doesn’t tuck an axe in with his filter collection, just in case the model’s fingers need to be removed?

“For safety reasons, I reserve the right to bring a chaperone.” A chaperone? Aren’t chaperones what teenagers try to sneak away from at the prom?

“I will be checking for references and I will be bringing an escort with me.  You can never be too careful.” And…

“I reserve the right to bring someone along to any modeling jobs, for my personal safety, THIS IS THE INTERNET, NOT 100% SAFE for young women.” And…

“I will bring a friend/escort on every shoot for my safety.”

“I will not do a single photoshoot without an escort.  I do not care who you are or how good you are.  I do not know you and I will not trust anyone without having someone there.  If you are uncomfortable with an escort than you have alternative motive on your mind and I don’t want to work with you.”  So my reluctance, for perfectly sensible reasons shared by virtually all professional photographers, to have an unknown escort hovering over the session is proof that I “have an alternative motive on (my) mind”? Ask yourself…… would you want to work with this person?  

Models who put statements like this on their portfolios seem to be overwhelmed with paranoia.  Where does all this fear come from, and how reasonable is it?

The biggest source of irrational fear is the pervasive myth that models are constantly being attacked by photographers, a belief driven primarily by a very small number of sensationalized cases.  Would an escort have prevented any of those assaults?  It’s hard to say; in some cases, the attacks appear to have been incidents that just spiraled out of control, and might or might not have been moderated by the presence of a third party.  On the other hand, it’s not a stretch to imagine that an actual sociopath might well have extended the assaults to both the models and their escorts.

In fact, it’s not unheard of in modeling assault cases to actually have an escort present.  In 1996, an L.A. photographer was accused of raping a 14-year-old model-hopeful while her mother was having her make-up done in another room in preparation for having her own photos taken.  In 2003, a serial rapist in England also assaulted a teenage victim who was being escorted by her mother.  Even weirder is a recent complaint in a Model Mayhem forum by a model who alleges that she was groped by a photographer while her husband was in the room.  She said it made her so uncomfortable that she and her spouse only stayed for another 45 minutes of photography before leaving.

There’s more.  In 2010 a Connecticut model acknowledged that, although she claimed to have been groped by a photographer during a fetish-photography session, she and a friend returned to the photographer three days later to finish the session.  Six months later, the same photographer was again accused of raping a different model during a fetish shoot which the model allowed to continue even after the photographer greeted the model and her male escort in his underwear.  After taking a break from fetish photos and rape, the model and her escort then stuck around to pose for a spirited spanking session for the photographer.

This is not to make light of the attacks described above, but merely to point out that in the past 35 years, the number of models who have been violently assaulted by actual photographers can be counted on the fingers of both hands, and many of the assaults can be attributable to horrendously bad judgment by the models, often when accompanied by an escort.  Although there are numerous other cases of models being assaulted by people posing as photographers, they’re not relevant to this discussion because even the most cursory background check would have exposed them as frauds.

Even a single rape or murder is both tragic and frightening, but it’s critical to keep the numbers in perspective.  The world is not 100% safe, but for most of us it’s not unreasonably dangerous either.  Tornados occasionally ravage the Midwest where I’m from, but people still fearlessly live there; Californians go about their business in full awareness that earthquakes and mudslides are a remote threat to their well-being.  Every time I board an airplane I’m aware that it could crash, but I also know that the odds are so infinitesimally small that I choose to fly anyway, and I don’t feel compelled to insist that the airlines allow me to wear a parachute just because “I like having all my fingers and toes,” and because flying in a commercial jet “is NOT 100% SAFE”   And I’m pretty sure if I announce to them that I WILL NOT fly without a parachute!  If you have a problem with that, then I will not fly with you” that I will be told to go away.  By the way, those miniscule odds of crashing in a jet are still greater than the odds of being attacked by your photographer during a modeling session.

In fact, every crime study ever conducted inevitably concludes that the person most likely to attack you is someone you know very well.  According to the U.S. Department of Justice, from 2000-2005 over 73% of rapes were committed by known assailants, including 38% by a friend or acquaintance, 28% by a boyfriend or husband, and 7% by another relative.  Nearly 2 in every 3 female victims of violence were related to or knew their attacker.  In the past two years of working with models, I haven’t heard of a single attack on a model by a photographer anywhere, but two models scheduled to work with me here in Boise, Idaho were beaten so badly by their boyfriends the day before their sessions that they had to be hospitalized.  One scheduled glamour-photography customer’s husband canceled her appointment the day before because of the “terrible car wreck” she had just been in.  I used to work as a domestic violence counselor—guess how many times I heard the “I had a wreck/fell down the stairs/bumped into a door knob” explanation for a battered face.  You want to really flirt with danger?  Tell your jealous, controlling boyfriend that you’ve just scheduled a glamour-modeling session.  You have an escort to protect you from him?

The weird specificity of this paranoia is mystifying.  The irony is that women who think nothing of going home with a stranger they just met in a bar or through an Internet dating service will still refuse on principle to pose for a photograph without an escort.  There are documented cases of women being sexually assaulted while under sedation in their dentist’s chair; why is no one defiantly announcing on her Facebook page that “for safety reasons, I reserve the right to bring a chaperone” to the dentist’s office?  What in the world is so uniquely dangerous about photographers?  How did a bunch of geeks and gadget freaks ever get so scary?

The uncomfortable truth is that you simply cannot eliminate risk from your life—there’s no such thing as a zero-percent probability that nothing bad will ever happen to you, and sensible people don’t waste psychic energy trying to eradicate risks that barely register on the danger scale.  An agency would be horrified and fire you on the spot if they learned that you had showed up for a job with an escort in tow, and experienced freelance models wouldn’t dream of bringing one either.  This unreasonable fear is strictly a rookie Internet model phenomenon.

Why insist on bringing one then?  Why brand yourself so obviously as an amateur?  Let’s consider the main reasons that are usually offered.

• An escort keeps the model safe. If you brought an escort to keep you safe, then let’s call him what he is—a bodyguard.  Photographers call them “Sluggos”  (and frankly, as the crime statistics above suggest, you’re statistically more likely to be in danger from your escort than you are from your photographer).  Sure, it’s possible that an aggressive Sluggo who physically intimidates your photographer might discourage him from engaging in behavior—say, inappropriate comments or touching—that you would find uncomfortable.  If he’s really intent on harming you, however, it’s likely that a violent psychopath would do one of two things: either behave like an angel this time so that you’ll come back without the Sluggo next time; or just harm both of you.  Keep yourself safe by doing what every experienced model does every time: do a background check (more about that below) and listen to your own intuition.  The fact is if you felt uneasy enough about the photographer to want a bodyguard for protection, you should have avoided the shoot entirely instead of putting yourself and your escort in harm’s way.  If the false sense of security you might get from bringing an escort keeps you from performing the appropriate due diligence, then the escort decision will ultimately make you less—not more—safe.

Oh, and one more thing… if your photographer is in fact a gentle soul who just wanted to shoot some good photos of you, what effect do you think your Sluggo’s menacing attitude will have on that objective?

• An escort can help the model “get in the mood.” Let’s start with the obvious—if you need an emotional “fluffer” to help you get in the mood to do your job, then you don’t know how to do your job.  Being able to deliver a variety of poses and facial expressions on demand in order to execute a visual concept is modeling.  The truth is, the escort you’re depending on to help deliver the emotional goods is often more likely to intimidate you than relax you.

When I got back into model photography after my long video-production layoff, I allowed a young model to bring her husband to a TFCD portfolio shoot.  Frankly, he was fine, but she was a mess the entire session, full of anxiety, and constantly looking to him for reassurance.   She couldn’t smile, at all, but did finally suggest that if hubby would stand behind me and “make funny faces,” she might be able to give it a try.  No, we didn’t get anything worth keeping from the session.  Cute kid—not a model, and, frankly, I wasn’t much of a photographer that day either.  It was a good learning experience though; I did remember why we never allow boyfriends or husbands on the set.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t finished with the refresher course, because a couple months later I allowed another new model to bring her more experienced modeling friend along for company.  The session was a near disaster because her more experienced but far less talented friend did not understand the concept and kept interrupting with unnecessary and counter-productive posing directions.  When we had a chance to chat about it later, the model admitted that her friend had been such a huge and annoying distraction that she’s never brought an escort to any of her shoots since then.

If you want to be in the business, study and practice your craft.  Your modeling performance is your responsibility, not your escort’s.

• The escort can provide transportation. Fair enough, but in this case s/he is a driver, not an escort.  Your driver can drop you off and then go somewhere else to wait for your session to finish.  S/he does not need to be on the set or even in the facility.

• The escort can help with the shoot. This may sound like a reasonable excuse for sneaking a Sluggo onto a set, but there are numerous reasons why it’s a bad idea, and we’ll discuss them in more detail below.  The most important reason, however, is this: whatever I need on my set, including production assistance, I’ll provide.  That’s my job.  If I need an assistant, I’m going to use somebody I’ve already trained, know I can trust, and have on my payroll and insurance policy.  Handling photographic gear is a specialty, and I don’t want untrained people touching my gear.  Moreover, I don’t need a second voice directing the model and I don’t need somebody constantly jumping in front of the camera to rearrange hair, make-up, and wardrobe.  If the assistants I bring to the production don’t understand proper set decorum, I can fire them; all I can do with your escort/assistant is get annoyed.  And I will.

• The model is underage and needs an escort. Different story entirely, but only if we’re talking about a freelance model (agency models operate under a whole different set of policies).  Underage models absolutely should be escorted, but that escort should be a parent, if for no other reason than that a minor can’t legally sign the contractual documents that may be involved.  Moreover, as a former public school teacher and coach, I can appreciate more than most the value of parental involvement in a child’s activities.  In fact, if you’re underage and your photographer is urging you to come to a modeling photography session alone, this is one of the few times when your creep alarm should be going off.

• The model is disabled and needs professional support. Well, of course, but in this case the “escort” really is performing a necessary service and is a functional addition to the production team, not just an idle bystander whose primary function is to get in the way as often as possible.

• Allowing an escort proves the photographer is professional. An assumption based, I suppose, on the premise that only someone who has bad intentions in mind would object to having a witness present for the inappropriate behavior he’s planning to display.  Unfortunately, the logic of the premise is faulty for two reasons: first, as said before, the overwhelming majority of professional photographers don’t allow escorts; and second, the sleaze balls you’re worried about actually rely on that logic.  They’re hoping that if they tell you they’re fine with your escort you’ll assume they’re okay and leave your Sluggo at home.  In fact, requiring an escort actually increases the odds that the only people you work with will be exactly the kind of people you’re trying to avoid.

Look, predators target the weak and vulnerable, and if I were a sociopath using the pretext of a photo session to find victims, I’d specifically target people with a rigid escort policy because it would tell me three valuable things: 1) They’re inexperienced,  2) They’re timid and fearful, and 3) They’re likely to substitute an escort policy for the due diligence that would have exposed my photographer facade as a fraud.

If you’d prefer to hear all this from a model’s perspective, check out a very good point-by-point blog post by Rachel Jay, a professional model who serves as a mentor on Model Mayhem and forum host for Model Insider.  If you’d like to know why so many photographers are adamant about not allowing escorts, here’s the short list:

• Escorts represent a danger to the photographer and crew. Hopefully, you did a background check on me before you agreed to model for me; I certainly did one on you and everyone else who had a reason to be there.  The only person whose background I can’t confirm is your escort.  Not only do I not know anything about him, but I can’t even confirm that he is who you say he is.  In one of the interminable escort threads on Model Mayhem, a model admitted to going to a bar to pick up a beefy stranger to escort her to a shoot because her boyfriend/escort had opted out of accompanying her at the last minute and she didn’t want to lose the job.  Photographers are threatened and even attacked by belligerent escorts at least as often as models are assaulted by photographers, and lots of models at group shoots report that they’ve been harassed by someone else’s escort.

Look, I don’t want to have to waste money hiring my own escort to protect me from your escort.  Where does the paranoia end?  If we’re going to work together, at some point we have to trust each other, and if we can’t establish any trust, we’re better off not doing the shoot.

• Escorts are a distraction. As indicated in the examples above, escorts, particularly husbands and boyfriends, tend to be a distraction for both the model and the photographer.  Since the model vouched for the escort, she’s going to worry that his behavior is consistent with his recommendation.  If their relationship is at all uneasy, she may unconsciously calibrate her modeling to suit his biases, looking out of the corner of her eye to gauge his reactions to whatever the photographer is asking her to do.  Even if the escort is sitting quietly, the model may be preoccupied with worrying about whether he’s bored and wanting to leave, and if he’s sitting in the corner tapping his feet and singing along to his IPod, everyone’s going to be annoyed by his rudeness.

Even the presence of a benign stranger on the set whose temperament and perspective are unknown can be distracting for an inexperienced photographer who might be a budding genius overflowing with innovative concepts and technical approaches, but who doesn’t yet have a lot of confidence.  We learn by doing and failing, and no one wants to fail in front of an audience, which means your genius photographer is likely going to risk flexing only a fraction of his talent on your escorted shoot.  And if the escort happens to be having a bad day, his surliness can be intimidating even for an experienced photographer.

On the other hand, the escort might be a great guy who just happens to be interested in photography and can’t refrain from asking the photographer to explain the shoot’s concept and the equipment and techniques that are being used to execute it.  If the photographer also shoots events, particularly weddings, he’ll be used to that.  If not, it’ll take about two questions about which lens he’s using and how many megapixels the camera has before he explodes.  Anybody on a set who doesn’t have a designated job is a distraction just by being there and soaking up some of the attention that would have otherwise been applied to productive work.

• Escorts represent a risk of theft. Models will occasionally suggest as a reasonable compromise that the escort can just go sit in another room, but that’s even less acceptable than having him remain on the set where the photographer can watch him.  Things tend to disappear when escorts are allowed to walk around a studio unescorted.  We have tens of thousands of dollars in highly “fence-able” gear stashed around the Sourcelight enclave, and we’d like for it to still be there when you and your escort are gone.  You can claim, possibly quite honestly, that you didn’t know what he was doing, but I’m not going to care.  You vouched for him, you insisted on bringing him, you’re responsible for him.

Even if the escort is perfectly honest, many studios are in private residences, and very few people, probably including you yourself, would be comfortable having a stranger wandering around their home alone for hours at a time.

• Escorts complicate the insurance policy. Non-essential people on a photo set can represent serious problems for the photographer’s insurance policies.  If equipment is broken by someone not authorized to be there, the comprehensive insurance may not cover its repair or replacement.  Liability insurance may not cover injuries to an escort who isn’t directly involved in a production, and if your Sluggo hurts somebody else, who do you think is going to bear the brunt of the lawsuit?  Every time somebody walks into my studio, I assume legal responsibility for his/her well-being.  Even if an injury is demonstrably the result of the victim’s own stupidity and unsafe conduct, many insurance companies will simply elect to pay the damages rather than contest the claim in court, and then they’ll simply raise the premium for the policy holder in order to recoup their losses.

• Allowing escorts doubles the “Flake” factor. Booking a shoot and then not bothering to either show up for it or call and notify the photographer that you can‘t make it is known in the Internet modeling world as Flaking.  It happens so often that it’s probably the second-most hated topic on modeling-site forums.  It’s insulting when someone displays so little regard for your time; it’s infuriating to find yourself waiting with a crew for a model who didn’t care enough to show up and to also be thinking about all of the other things you could have been doing; and, occasionally, it’s expensive when that crew you assembled and the site you reserved have to be paid for even though the shoot doesn’t happen.  When your model insists on bringing an escort, the flake risk doubles.  Now we not only have to worry about the model’s irresponsibility, but we also have to allow for the possibility that even a conscientious model won’t make it to the shoot if the escort decides at the last minute that he’d rather go to a football game than hang around a photo shoot being bored.  The fewer people who have to be accounted for before a shoot can go forward, the better, and the non-essential escort who has no stake in the session is the weakest link in that chain.

Real Security Measures

If you’re now in despair because we’ve systematically destroyed the illusion that an escort is a viable security measure and you don’t have a Plan B for protecting yourself, take heart—here’s what experienced models do to maximize their own security.

• Establish a professional brand. Over and over again throughout this series of articles we’ve stressed the necessity of establishing a consistent professional brand.  If you act like and present yourself as a confident, experienced professional, you attract competent photographers who only want to work with strong, competent models.  If your haphazard portfolio and sloppy demeanor indicate that you’re a timid, erratic amateur who doesn’t have a firm grasp on what kind of behavior is and isn’t acceptable in the business, you will, at best, attract amateur photographers who are themselves intimidated by pros, or, at worst, predators who know that professionals will sniff them out long before they ever meet.  Your first line of defense is your brand—establish a reputation as the kind of no-nonsense pro that people of marginal character just don’t want to mess with.

• Confirm the photographer’s background. Beyond checking references, a practice we’ll discuss in its own bullet below, look for other signs that the photographer is who s/he claims to be.  Does s/he have a website with a proprietary, professional address?   Not, but .  If you do find a dedicated domain name, go to a domain registry service like Network Solutions and do a “whois” search for the website.  You’ll find lots of details, like the name and phone number of the official contact person for the site and how long it’s been registered.  This is one of the ways Google determines how serious a business is when it’s trying to decide where to rank it in a search result; why shouldn’t you?

Speaking of Google, do a search for the photographer, using both his personal and formal business names if they’re different, as well as any pseudonyms he might be using on modeling sites.  Many models publish their own blogs these days, and you may find honest comments about your photographer—both good and bad—that you won’t find on the model/photographer networking sites.  You can also check sites like Complaints Board for any reviews or complaints that have been filed (of course, the only thing you’ll find will be complaints—no one writes to a complaints board to praise a business).  Unfortunately, the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) ability to monitor the activities of businesses that haven’t paid the hefty membership dues to belong is limited.  You won’t find any positive reports of non-affiliated businesses and you’ll rarely find any legitimate photographers who don’t consider a BBB affiliation to be an unnecessary extortion of money paid in exchange for protecting their reputation.  All that “being a member of the BBB” means is that you bought an expensive membership in a fairly non-exclusive club (here’s an article about it).

Does the photographer have a verifiable, registered phone number—not a throwaway cell—that you can look up in a phone book?  A published business location?  The latter may not help that much, since many serious photographers operate out of a home studio. The Sourcelight studio, for example, is in a dedicated section of our private residence, and since all of our business is by appointment and we don’t want people randomly walking in off the street, we don’t publish a street address (although we’ll certainly give it to you if you ask).  Moreover, some of the biggest and most successful names in photography may not have a permanent location at all, opting instead to either shoot on location or rent studio space when needed.  If you do get an address, however, drive by it and check out the neighborhood.  Does it seem more likely to support a professional photography studio or a meth lab?  Is there a sign up for the business?

Finally, creepy though it may sound, if you’re really concerned about your photographer’s criminal history, you can always run a background check on various sites that maintain a registry of sex offenders—CriminalCheck or Family Watchdog, for example, or just run a Google search for  “sex offender registry” and the state you’re interested in.  Every state maintains one, and searching them is free.

• Check the photographer’s references. Just be sure you know how to do it effectively.  Don’t ask the photographer for references—why would you expect a photographer to provide you with the names and numbers of models who wouldn’t recommend him/her?  Instead, go to the photographer’s online portfolios and select your own references from among the models s/he has already worked with.  If the photographer provides links to some of the models but not to others, the ones who aren’t linked are the ones you should start with, especially if they have portfolios on the same site.  Send the model an email introducing yourself and asking a variety of open-ended questions, like “How comfortable was it for you to work with him?  Did he respect your boundaries?  Did he communicate his intentions clearly and stay with the concept you’d agreed to in advance, or did you find yourself being pressured to do something unexpected when you got to the shoot?”  Ask how well the session was organized and managed.  Don’t ask how much the model was paid—that’s rude—but do ask if the photographer delivered whatever was agreed upon in a timely manner.  If the session was TFCD, ask if the photos met the model’s expectations, based on the photographer’s portfolio.  Use your judgment in processing the information you get.  Polite answers without much detail won’t tell you much, and a single complaint in a sea of glowing references may just be one of those occasional, unfortunate cases of incompatible personalities or conflicting styles.  Cut through the polite indifference by asking the one question no responsible model will blow off with a fluff answer: “Would you recommend that I work with this photographer?”

Unlike bringing an escort, checking references will actually enhance your reputation with professional photographers.  When your portfolio comments say “I do check references,” I immediately add you to my preferred list.  That tells me you’re confident, and confident models address their full, uninhibited attention to finding posing solutions to the conceptual problem we’re dealing with in the image.  When I see “I reserve the right to bring an escort for my own safety,” I roll my eyes and pass on to the next portfolio because that suggests a timid and fearful model who won’t be able to concentrate on anything but her own worries.  Fear doesn’t photograph well.

• Keep a “paper trail.” No matter how much you hate it, use email to document your correspondence with the photographer.  Having a written, time-stamped record of your communication removes any ambiguity before, during, and after the shoot about what exactly was agreed to by all parties, and its existence helps to discourage a phony photographer with criminal intent in mind.

• Meet the photographer beforehand. Although some photographers don’t like it, and it’s not always convenient or even possible (e.g., traveling models or photographers trying to book shoots in advance of their arrival), meeting for an informal chat in a public place like a coffee shop is a good way to get a first-hand impression of your photographer.  Frankly, I prefer it when possible for that reason plus one very selfish one that suits my needs—I get advance warning of the model’s Flake potential.  Flaking, as discussed above, is one of the more annoying facets of the Internet modeling industry, and if the model doesn’t have the character or discipline to honor a professional appointment, I’d rather find that out by myself over a chocolate mocha in Starbucks than with a full crew and client representative standing around impatiently in a prepped studio set.  Shabby photographers have been known to flake too, by the way, so feel free to use the pre-shoot meeting as your own advance Flake test as well.

Use the meeting to assess your photographer’s personality and character.  Does he seem focused and on-task?  Are any personal questions he asks of you or revelations he offers about himself appropriate to the purpose of your meeting?  For example, questioning you about your attitude toward nudity can be very appropriate if you’re discussing a nude shoot, but questions about your sex life—or revelations about his—aren’t likely to reveal anything useful except his prurient interest in topics that are none of his business.  A little personal chit-chat helps to establish the basis for the rapport you’ll need to collaborate on the set, but pushing to transform a professional relationship into an artificial friendship is a clue that the photographer doesn’t handle boundaries well.  Being friendly doesn’t necessarily imply being friends, and professionals understand and effortlessly preserve the distinction.

Discuss concepts and modeling expectations.  If nudity is involved, both of you should agree on the boundaries and purpose.  Find out who else is going to be on the set—lighting assistants, make-up artists and stylists, client representatives if it’s a commercial shoot—and make sure you’re comfortable with the staffing.  If it’s inappropriate for a model to drag non-essential personnel onto the set as escorts, it’s inappropriate for the photographer to allow non-essential people there as well.

Make a point of asking the photographer to explain how s/he manages security on the set and use the answer to form an impression of the photographer’s grasp of the issue and preparation for dealing with it.  Security simply shouldn’t be an issue in a studio, but managing public interference on a location set can be complicated without a functional strategy.  If the photographer waves your concern off as insignificant and tells you not to worry about it, worry.

Confirm that you’re both in agreement about the terms of compensation—the money, of course, if it’s a commercial job, or the number of photos and amount of retouching if it’s a TFCD arrangement—and get a firm commitment about the time of delivery.  All of these considerations, by the way, are things you should already have discussed in emails.  The pre-shoot meeting is primarily a social meet-and-greet and your terms-talk should be confirmations rather than new discussions.  Finally, just to make sure the point about your own professional attitude has been made, take written notes and confirm your impressions before you leave.

• Evaluate the Forum personality. In the Working the Web article, we suggested that you minimize or at least sanitize your modeling website forum participation because its free-flowing incivility is such a seductive invitation to destroy your brand.  It works both ways.  Does the photographer you’re vetting maintain a regular presence in the forums?  If so, is his/her participation characterized by helpful insights expressed in professional language, or does s/he come off as an aggressive, opinionated, bully?  Supercilious attitudes that don’t respect the rights of other participants to express a differing opinion, and which tend to argue using caustic, personal attacks are good indicators of a bullying personality that won’t show you a lot of respect on the set either.  You don’t have to be physically attacked to have a miserable experience on a photo shoot.

I once worked briefly as a scriptwriter for a small media-production company with a big client list and a passive-aggressive owner driven by a world-class inferiority complex.  He hired skilled specialists and then proceeded to systematically undercut their talent in ways both subtle and overt, even to the extent of diminishing the quality of his company’s output for clients.  Forcing everyone to acknowledge that he was the smartest man in the room was more important than encouraging his staff to produce the kind of excellence that made his company competitive.

During the ten years that I acted in theatre, I had occasion to work twice for a seriously emotionally flawed director who would hire the best actors he could find and then undermine them by humiliating them in rehearsal.  Although he clearly knew it would diminish their performance in front of a paying audience—which would also diminish the brand equity in his theatre company—indulging his emotional instability was more important than preserving his brand.  It’s mystifying, but it happens.

If you know what to look for, you can spot these people.  They’re generally threatened by competence and take a respectful demeanor in others as a sign of weakness.  They’re not good in groups, and tend to sabotage projects that require a collaborative effort.  They lead by intimidation and ridicule, and their humor is often sarcastic and cruel.  If this describes anybody you’ve encountered in a forum discussion, you’ll have little reason to expect anything different on location.  Over the years, I’ve worked in a lot of creative, collaborative fields that required the ability to strike a healthy balance between a strong ego and a cooperative team spirit.  Without exception, the most talented people I’ve worked with have also been the most humble and accommodating.  Conversely, the biggest jerks have had the least talent.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence.

• Notify your backup. Do the same thing hikers and backpackers do—leave your itinerary with someone you trust.  Tell him/her what you’re doing, where you’re going, and when you’re going to be there.   That means the backup should have the photographer’s name, address, and phone number and the cell number of the phone you’re going to be carrying with you.  When you get to the shoot, confirm the duration of the session with the photographer, and then call your backup in the photographer’s presence and tell him or her when the shoot will be over and when to expect your next phone call.  If you forget to make the call when you’re working with us here at Sourcelight, we’ll suggest it, and any credible photographer will understand what you’re up to.

Of course, don’t forget to make the second call, especially if your shoot runs over.  You don’t need to be interrupted by the police breaking down the door because your backup got nervous and called for help.

• Be assertive. Take charge of your part in the production.  Bring your skills, a can-do attitude, and a professional demeanor, and expect nothing less than a positive working environment.  However informal the setting may be, there are certain behavioral standards that apply to any photo shoot, and basic respect for the dignity and personal autonomy of all participants is at the top of the list.  Every good photographer knows that the difference between a great photo and an average one is the model’s ability to shed her inhibitions and reveal something she normally keeps private.  You don’t have to be nude to feel naked and vulnerable, and asking a model to reveal herself, whether physically or emotionally, implies an obligation to be respectful and supportive.  If the set environment doesn’t inspire that kind of trust, you’re not going to do your best work, and you might find it impossible to work at all.

If someone on the set makes inappropriate sexual references to your body or suggests by word or action any kind of relationship beyond the job at hand, stand up, literally, and say, “Hey, I’m trying to do a job here, and I didn’t expect to hear a comment like that on a photo shoot.  If that continues, I’m leaving.”  Wait for the apology, and if you don’t get it, and you’re not confident that the atmosphere is going to improve, gather your things and leave immediately.  Don’t finish the shoot—not now, and not three days later as the nitwits in the example above did.  Any comment that demeans or offends you is grounds for a work stoppage, at least until you’ve expressed your disapproval and the air is cleared.  Any comment that you take seriously as threatening is legally an assault, and if you were physically handled, the charge will include battery.  Call the police and make a formal complaint.  Plus, if you met the photographer on a modeling site, file your complaint with the site moderators—no modeling site wants to get a reputation as a recruiting ground for predators.  Craigslist has been laboring—none too successfully—under that reputation for years.

Don’t be passive, and don’t let yourself be bullied into doing things you’re uncomfortable with or tolerating conduct you know would be wrong under any other circumstance.  If you’re conducting yourself in a professional manner, you have every right to expect everyone else involved to do the same; and if the photographer allows, or even precipitates, unprofessional behavior on the set, you absolutely have the right to leave.  And you should.  The sooner you get over your misguided phobia that this kind of behavior is rampant throughout the industry and realize that it’s actually an aberration that the vast majority of professionals despise and condemn, the sooner you’ll start to enjoy your modeling experience.

For some specific advice on how to deal with inappropriate behavior on the set, here’s a link to a thoughtful article by Austin, Texas-based model, Damianne.


Allow me a brief personal digression, and please forgive the indulgence.

I have 30 years of riding motorcycles all over the country.  I’ve been in every state but Hawaii and Alaska on a bike, and I still have trepidations every time I go through an intersection with cars waiting to cross my path.  Not long after I started riding, a driver jumped out in front of me, causing me to T-bone the car, fly across the hood, and tumble over a hundred yards down a Kansas City arterial.  Eventually, I came to rest with numerous minor injuries, including three cracked ribs, but I lived through every motorcyclist’s worst nightmare—the irresponsible, distracted driver who doesn’t see you.  I lived because I’d already done everything possible to manage what I could control—a well-maintained motorcycle and a full suit of protective clothing, including boots, riding pants, jacket, gloves, and a full-face helmet.  Even in 100-degree heat I don’t ride 3 blocks to the grocery store without the full rig.  Uncomfortable?  You bet, but, at least once in my bike-riding career, a life-saver.  The bike and the gear were totaled, but four weeks later the insurance settlement had me back on a new bike because I like riding.  My enjoyment of what I do trumps my fear of the remote chance of a disaster I’ve already experienced once.

I manage what I can; I ride sober, with quality gear, and I stay alert.  Cars nose out in front of me all the time, and then slam on their brakes when they see me.  I’m prepared for that—it’s routine, barely a blip on my radar.  I know, because I have over a hundred thousand miles in the saddle with only one accident, that the car that doesn’t stop is the one-in-a-million disaster you can’t prepare for.  I’m okay with that, but when my routine alertness begins to warp into crippling paranoia—when I can no longer approach an intersection without reading disaster in every car I meet—that’ll be the end for me.  You cannot ride a motorcycle on the street without an element of risk—you can minimize it, but you can’t eliminate it, and if you can’t find a way to reconcile your fear of the fall with your enjoyment of the ride, the only way left for you to manage the risk to an acceptable level of comfort is to stop riding.

If you are, at base, afraid of strangers and uncertain of your ability to manage the routine social awkwardness of the occasional jerk, an escort will not help you become the kind of confident, professional model who can take an inappropriate comment in stride and salvage a gig.  If your modeling choices are governed by fear rather than the joy of the work, you are simply in the wrong profession.  Yes, there may be a sociopath with a camera out there somewhere who wants to hurt one of the million or so models who are going to step in front of a camera this year, but odds are, it’s not you.   The worst thing you’re going to face is a handsy creep with a foul mouth, and he’ll deserve every bit of the humiliation you’re going to rain down on him for his unforgivably rotten behavior.

Hey, call me crazy, but in spite of the risks, I’m going to keep right on flying commercial airlines without a parachute.  Crazy photographers… it’s a wonder flight attendants don’t demand escorts to protect them from us.

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Modeling 101: My Body is My Canvas


Body Modifications & ModelingWow.  What used to be territorial markings sported by prison inmates, inner-city gangs, and Marines has gone mainstream with a vengeance.  The extensive tattoos and body piercings that might once have seemed daringly anti-establishment have become a de rigueur fashion statement as common as shoes and socks.  Have we arrived at a new era in personal expression or are we just going through one of fashion’s periodic cycles?

There always comes a point when an extreme fashion statement crosses the cultural divide and either becomes entrenched as a new standard or reveals itself as a temporary fad.  For the past hundred years or so, the male executive’s uniform has had to be a suit and tie in dark, conservative colors.  In the psychedelic ‘60s, bright colors, turtleneck sweaters, and Nehru jackets made a brief, but spirited run at changing the dynamic, but ultimately died as quaint fads.  Although long, uncombed manes and scraggly beards didn’t make the cut either, the now fashionable 2-day stubble is vying for permanent recognition as an acceptable grooming choice.  Jewelry for the fashionable man has always been limited to a modest ring or two and a designer watch.  While Catholic men could wear a crucifix on a chain, it was hardly a fashion statement, and the horrendous attempt to turn the gaudy pendant-on-a-chain look into required fashion during the disco era mercifully died a quick and unlamented death.  Earrings may have been an exclusively feminine accessory at one time, but over the past decade the small, modest diamond stud in one earlobe does appear to have some staying power for the fashionable guy.

Fashion, by definition, is transitory, and determining whether a major shift is going to cut a wide enough furrow to create a lasting standard or simply be cast aside for the next wave of innovation can take a decade or so to determine.  At this point in time it’s hard to know whether the extreme body modification movement is going to permanently change the standards of personal expression or simply leave its current devotees with indelible reminders of a temporary cultural fad that can’t just be thrown into a box in the attic for the grandkids to chuckle over.   At the very least, it’s going to be an interesting development to watch.

What I can say for certain is that if you’re a heavily tattooed model, your skin art will have a limiting effect on your career; as a model photographer, I can tell you, it’s a concern.

Fashion and Commercial Modeling

Whether tattoos are a problem for the commercial market is at least partially a matter of degree—the delicate rose on the hip, the small star on the ankle, even a medium-sized “tramp stamp” on the lower back (amusingly referred to, by the way, as Arschgeweih in German, which translates roughly to “ass antlers”)—tattoos that are small and easily concealed by clothing are much less of a problem than the full sleeve or back piece that creeps over the collar line.  In general, tattoos are acceptable in inverse proportion to the difficulty of covering them up, and if they’re too big, too graphic, too… much… to ignore, you won’t get called for the job.  Even if the job is a photo shoot featuring tattoos as a theme, guaranteed your ink isn’t what the art designer had in mind.  What he wants is virgin skin that he can paint his own design on—one that’s consistent with the concept.

I can hear the protests already… “But Heidi Klum has a tattoo inside her wrist, Gisele Bundchen has a star on her wrist and a moon on her foot… what about Freja Beha, Daria Werbowy, and Anna Beatriz Barro? Allesandra Ambrosio, Petra Nemcova, Isabeli Fontana… all inked. Ehrinn Cummings has a tiny, discreet frog on her right breast and elephants on her butt, Carolyn Murphy has a giant koi wrapped from her hip to her back, and James King has fairies tattooed on her back …”  Yes, they do, all of them.  The other thing they have in common is that they’re all supermodels, which means they’ve made the transition from being anonymous clothes hangers to celebrities whose names are now bigger than the brands they model.

According to Forbes magazine, Gisele Bundchen made $30 million between June of 2005 and June of 2006.  She’s listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the “world’s richest supermodel,” with a net worth of $150 million.  If you’re a mid-level designer, you wish Gisele Bundchen would say nice things about your brand, and if she wants to sport a Mike Tyson face tattoo while she’s posing, you’ll nod your head enthusiastically while you’re writing her the check.  (Of course, you might also live to regret that largesse—see the legal discussion below.)

It doesn’t matter.  Unless you’re poised to dislodge Gisele as the world’s richest supermodel, the rules are different for you, as they are for every other hard-working fashion or commercial model in the world.  In the real world, bland is better for blending in, and if your skin has more color than the swimsuit you’re modeling, it’s a problem.

Why? Because body mods are all about self-expression; modeling is… not.   Modeling is about expressing somebody else’s concepts, showcasing somebody else’s clothing designs, make-up, or handbags.  Commercial models are a prettier version of the girl next door, and the girl next door doesn’t have an eyebrow piercing, nose stud, and cheek-bone rivet—all at once—at least not yet.  Her ears are pierced—which is expected—not plugged, which isn’t.

Similarly, fashion models exhibit their own peculiar kind of interchangeable beauty.  On a runway, they’re virtually indistinguishable, which may sound insulting to say out loud but which is real and by design.  The product is the star, not the model, and the degree to which the model’s singular beauty calls attention to itself is the degree to which the audience is not watching the product.  Models are considered clothes hangers in the business, and the designer does not want his/her creations to be upstaged by the hanger.

Unless you’re a supermodel and your super-name supercedes the product, anything on your body that makes you stand out as an individual is a liability.

Fine Art Modeling

You’d think that fine-art modeling would be different, and if you’re modeling for a painter, it might be.  A painter can easily rearrange body composition that doesn’t fit the concept, including turning your nose sideways if he’s Picasso.  Skin-art distractions are minor concerns if you’re already depicting the body as a collection of abstract cubes.  Drawing and painting are additive arts—if the artist doesn’t like what he sees on a model, he just doesn’t add it.  Omitting distracting skin compositions for a photographic artist, however, is a subtractive procedure.  The photographer has to capture whatever appears in front of him, and then apply extraordinary means to remove anything that doesn’t fit the artistic concept.

If a landscape painter doesn’t want the power lines that are crossing his subject to appear in his artwork, he just doesn’t add them.  If a landscape photographer wants to eliminate power lines, he has to either laboriously remove them in post or find another landscape that doesn’t have power lines in the first place.  It’s no different if your subject is a body-scape—it’s still easier to find a model without visual distractions on his/her skin than it is to remove them from the composition.

One of the more annoying presumptions I often read in heavily tattooed models’ portfolio comments is “I have a lot of tattoos, but you can always remove them in Photoshop.”  For me, that’s like reading, “I’m 40 pounds overweight, but you can always use Photoshop’s Liquify filter to make me thin.”  Sure, those kinds of alterations can be made, with varying degrees of difficulty and success, but why would I want to waste my time and creative energy accommodating a model’s personal decision to ignore industry expectations?  If you’re paying me to fix that in your portfolio, I’m happy to comply; but if I’m paying?  I’m going to look for somebody who made life decisions more consistent with her professional ambitions.

The reason it matters involves a subtle point about fine-art photography.  Unless you’re sitting for the photographer as a portrait subject, most fine-art modeling is going to immerse you in a universal theme or compositional study in which your individual identity is not only not important, but distracting if recognizable.  Any “artwork” on your person will read like a picture within a picture and draw attention to itself, particularizing you instead of allowing you to function as a more generalized compositional element within a larger theme.  If it’s a figure study designed to explore the universally recognizable curves and planes of the human form, anything on that figure that isn’t universal is a contradiction.  For the art photographer, having to work around somebody else’s art is like a painter starting a new work on a canvas that’s already half-covered with a previous painting.

Glamour Modeling

Glamour is the one modeling genre that does grant some leeway with body modification.  Indeed, there are fetish-based sub-genres that even feature it specifically.  Even in this genre, however, the more prominent and extensive the modifications are, the more narrow the opportunities become.   At some point in the race to cover your entire body with art, you stop wearing it and it starts wearing you.  What’s more important—the gallery wall or the art that’s on it?

The Legal Landmine

Finally, all of the genres share a problem with prominent body art that’s not usually discussed, but which is potentially worrisome.  It turns out that the more artistic your body art is, the more likely your tattooist is to protect his work as any other artist would—with a copyright—and to demand royalties for the use of his art in a derivative work.  There are cases winding through the courts right now in which tattoo artists have sued for copyright infringement because their work on a client’s body appeared in commercial applications without authorization.   You can read an interesting legal discussion here.  Given all the usage-rights hassles photographers already routinely deal with, who needs this developing mess?  If I hire you to pose for an image that I intend to sell or develop myself as a commercial product—poster, greeting card, T-shirt, etc.—the only person I want to have to pay to secure the rights is you.


So you got ‘em, but sometimes you wish you didn’t.  Is there any reasonably effective way of temporarily concealing a tattoo?  Most make-up artists would agree that covering tattoos is a complicated specialty with varying degrees of potential for success.   Ironically, many of the best cover-ups were originally developed as special effects make-up to create color effects for the movie industry.  Here’s a list of some products the MUA community routinely uses:

Ben Nye Neutralizers and Concealers


Cover FX

Derma Blend

Ferbs Cosmetics

Kat Von D

Skin Illustrator

Tattoo Cosmetics

The Temptu Dura line of make-up was originally developed as a way of airbrushing tattoo inks as temporary body paint.  Dura was used in 1998 to create a full back tattoo simulation for Absolut Vodka’s “Absolut Restraint” advertising campaign and was used most notably to create Rebecca Romijn’s blue skin in the X-Men movies.  Although it is intended to be applied with an airbrush, it can also be applied using the usual methods.

The Kett Cosmetics web site also provides some very interesting videos on techniques for applying their coverage products.

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