First, let me say this article is written from the perspective of a photographer (that’s me), but the information contained herein can certainly be applied to either side of the image creating relationship. When a model cancels on your shoot, it can be frustrating, but understanding the process, and your actions that led you to that flaked session can make the next one smoother.
I have been shooting for my Landscapes of the Body project which is an abstract nude exploration of the human form for seven years, and during that time, I have had many great and some not-so–great experiences with models. I believe a nudity-centric project is more prone to have flakes than a typical glamour shoot, at least that has been my experience. My project is inclusive and has amateur and professional models ranging in age from 19 to 76 with body types ranging everywhere from petite to plus-size. During the creation of the project, I have noticed patterns in model’s behavior and come up with a few ways to ensure a good shoot. Let’s talk about it.
If you talk to almost any old grizzled photographer, invariably, one of the first things you will learn is that models flake. This isn’t news, and as a photographer, creating a method for your communication with models will help to mitigate potential lost revenue. Most photographers who shoot models have been burned for a studio rental fee or prop rental due to no-show talent. Sometimes no matter how careful you are, things go wrong during your shoot. This is the most important time to not give up or get frustrated. Before we discuss some strategies for limiting the number of flakes you experience, let’s talk about the models.
Understanding your demographics
I’m going to take a bit of a different tact here than you might have expected. It would be very easy for me to lean back in my chair and tell you that young kids these days (18-25 years old) flake all the time and you should steer clear of them at all costs. I can also tell you that all amateur models are flakes because they are new to the industry and don’t understand what goes into setting up a shoot and all the associated costs, and they aren’t serious about a modeling career. Let’s not forget that all pretty girls are flakes because they are just looking for images for their Instagram. These are certainly all valid observations – however, the reality of the situation is anyone can be a flake regardless of their age, time in the industry or level of beauty. I have worked with amateur models who have an incredible work ethic and pro models who vanished 2 hours before the shoot without even calling with some trumped-up story about their grandmother dying that morning (the poor grandmothers always die when a model can’t make it because they are hungover.). I have shot all over the U.S. for this project and I’m not going to tell you that a beautiful 22-year-old blonde lady is any more likely to flake on you than a 44-year-old redhead who has been modeling for 20 years. There are however patterns in the communication that should raise red flags.
Where are you finding your models?
It may be cheaper to post an ad on Craigslist than going through the trouble of setting up a profile on a model/photographer site like Model Mayhem, but be aware that going the Craigslist route can mean a lot more work for you in the long run. The internet can be a challenging place. Posting an ad for a model on Craigslist can yield a mixture of respondents from amateur models who aren’t sure if this is what they want to do, to experienced models looking for fresh people to work with outside of the regular channels and of course other photographers or trolls posing as interested models looking to waste your time with endless emails and eventual flaking as their idea of entertainment.
The other side of this coin is on you as the photographer. One of the most common reasons for a model flaking occurs when you fail to fully explain your concept or project. If you place an ad or casting call with: “Looking for beautiful women 18-30 for nude shoot this Saturday”, you are asking for trouble. You did narrow who you were looking for, but you didn’t explain where the shoot is located, how much you were paying or any details about the project. This leads me to the second most common reason models flake:
The Creepy Factor
How a model feels about you or your project relies heavily on your ability to communicate effectively what you are looking for and what you expect from your participants. If you are one of those photographers who seem to be plagued with flakes and no-shows, perhaps you should go back and re-read your correspondence with your models. Were you professional in your responses? Did you answer all their questions completely? Did anything you say seem awkward or creepy? Sometimes the things you say, or the way you say them can make people feel uncomfortable about working with you.
A better offer
This is specifically directed towards TF projects, where the photographer and model give their time free in return for the resulting images. The TF model can be great if you or your model are looking to experiment on a new project or get some test images created. Remember this: if you have a time negotiated and the model doesn’t show up, it is likely they found a gig that would pay them. Regardless of your portfolio, a TF shoot isn’t going to pay the bills and will always be lower priority over a paying job. If you are going to work the TF line and get more shoots under your belt, be prepared to be flaked on – it is just going to happen. To mitigate this, 1) don’t pour a lot of resources into a TF shoot 2) Book more than one model, especially if you are paying for studio time or a Makeup Artist. 3) don’t get frustrated, remember that models get asked all day long to work for free, and unless your project is amazing, flakes will happen.
If you project includes nudity, be aware that you are asking someone to come and get naked – for free. If the model is not experienced, this can be a cause for flaking. They may “chicken out” or a boyfriend/husband decides he doesn’t want his significant other to be naked with a stranger. If you were not clear about your project, there can be apprehension.
Identifying the potential flakes
The communication you get from a potential model is very telling when considering the likelihood of that model eventually flaking. If a model responds with “I’m interested” or “I’m in” and nothing specific about your project or your listing, this is a concern. Granted, pro models are very busy and not all will take the time to draft a cohesive response to your casting, but a short response should always be a potential red flag. A model who has actually read your posting and looked at your portfolio or sample images is much more likely to follow through. There are certainly exceptions, but models who seem interested in your project generally will work out better than those who are “very interested” or “I’m available”. This goes back to my earlier section – make sure you take the time to properly explain your project or concept in your casting call or ad.
When I correspond with a model, and we have negotiated a time and date for the shoot, I always insist on exchanging cell numbers. Waiting until both parties are comfortable, and all questions have been answered is a good time to exchange numbers. If at this time, the model is not comfortable giving you her/his number then move on. A model who doesn’t want your number so they can call you when they are on the way or at the location is not worth working with (in my experience – there are certainly exceptions).
The model Flaked what now?
If you were clear and professional in your communication, and the model still flaked what is your recourse? How about charging them a booking fee? Better yet, get on social media and spread the word about how terrible they are and how much money they cost you! No, No and No. Demanding a partial fee from an amateur model is just going to make you seem pushy. This is a different story if you are working with an agency, but as a general rule, this is not a good idea.
You booked the room or the studio space, gathered all your gear and drug it all to the location, a last-minute no-show is going to make you angry. The worst thing you can do at this point is jump on social media and publicly trash the model for not showing up. Likewise, don’t send that scathing direct message to the model, because that kind of behavior can always be screen-captured and posted publicly, effectively airing your dirty laundry for everyone to see. Chalk the experience up to learning to read people better. Go back and read your correspondence with the model and see where things went wrong. Find the email or message where it looked like the model was unsure of you or your project. I am betting you didn’t pick up on the hints the model was sending.
Above all, realize that the model/photographer relationship is inherently prone to no-shows and flakes – on both sides. Each time you get flaked on, learn what you can – sometimes there is nothing to learn, other than things just happen. Don’t take it personally and don’t ever make it personal.
Finding a different path
If you notice a pattern of models flaking on you, consider that the root of the problem could be you. Try looking for models in a different place or consider offering an incentive for a model coming to a TF shoot, offer to pay for their gas or buy dinner. If things are still not going your way, consider changing the demographic of the models you are looking to hire. If you are leaning towards selecting younger models, consider doing a few shoots with older participants. If you focus your choices primarily on the photos of the model, perhaps look at models who have well written profiles, and appear to have a clear understanding of the modeling game.
Keep your cool at all times and remember there is always another shoot tomorrow.
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