Creating Glam Photography with "Regular" Women (AKA: NOT fashion models)

We see in all the fashion and photography magazines beautiful women modeling the latest styles and the latest poses.  Hiring professional models can make any photographer look really good, and they are worth their cost, there's no doubt about it.  Sometimes it is worth it for a photographer just starting out to pay for professional models, as they are familiar with the right angles, proper poses and facial expressions that look good in print. 

As one gets better at knowing what to look for from behind the camera, it might be a fun challenge to branch out to "non-models" to create stunning images in FRONT of the camera. It IS a challenge, in that the photographer needs to have 1) a vision (or theme) in mind prior to the photo shoot, 2) an ability to direct a model, and 3) an innate--or trained--skill in developing trust between the photographer and the models to put them at ease. I believe #3 is actually the most important point above; without trust, the end results will be disappointing, regardless of vision or posing knowledge. I have seen it first-hand where a model's insecurities will rear up, and if I haven't been able to talk them through it, the photos created were of no use in terms of publishing or selling. 

I have made it my goal to use "regular" female (and on occasion, male) models in my photo shoots.  I thoroughly enjoy the challenge, and seeing the transformation in the models is life changing for them, and thrilling for me, to witness.  

Here is what I have found to work: 

Showing up on the day of a shoot is not where it all starts. There are scores of women in our everyday lives who would love to have makeovers and to be photographed in their new "skin", so to speak. But most feel like they couldn't pull it off; they may feel self-conscious or even silly in front of the camera without the right atmosphere or guidance. So, I organize about 2-3 weeks with them before each shoot. We pick outfits/costumes, we go over themes for the shoot, as well as location (the location definitely helps determine the theme). I introduce them to my HMUAs, and they get to know each other and talk about hair, textures, and colors for the face. It is really important that models and HMUAs connect emotionally! 

A headshot of Jamie, a repeat client (and emerging colleague!) that works with me.

A headshot of Jamie, a repeat client (and emerging colleague!) that works with me.


You can see the difference in the before and after of Jamie (above). What a difference! She's a natural beauty already, but professional make up and hair and costumes, with the right kind of chemistry and direction, can turn a "non" model into a "super" model!

Women have a variety of hair color and textures. A good HMUA needs to connect emotionally and artistically with her to help her feel confident in front of the camera.

Women have a variety of hair color and textures. A good HMUA needs to connect emotionally and artistically with her to help her feel confident in front of the camera.


Getting glamor high-fashion costumes can happen in a few ways.  Sometimes, models have their own clothes that they want to use. They can be rented, as well, depending on the theme of the photo shoot. Or, as in this case, you can have a good friend who has contacts in Hollywood to select from an entire wardrobe of red carpet gowns! (It's always good to have friends in all kinds of places, thank you very much, Christine Bartley-Williams!)

Having an array of outfits can feel like being a kid in a candy shop.  Mixing and matching accessories can be so much fun.

Amanda (above) is a POWERHOUSE in front of the camera, but I don't think she was aware of it until seeing some empowering photos of herself. This is her second time working with me. She was much less nervous this time around, because we had already established a relationship, and she knew how I worked; she knows that I will guide her through every pose.  She was ready to go this time around, and her poses show it!

Sometimes a first-time model will have an idea for a theme; go with it! Getting the model to participate in the creative process is half the struggle in getting them emotionally and creatively invested in the experience from beginning to end.  Take their original ideas and guide them through what is possible or not, or how you can enhance their ideas even further. First-time models should not be made to feel like their ideas are silly or unimportant for the shoot. And when the end product turns out how they envisioned it, the sense of accomplishment and gratitude are priceless!


This first-time model shyly expressed a desire to have a glam photo shoot with a "forrest fairy" feel to it. We ran with the idea.  


Alley and I (and our crew) think it turned out fantastically! It was very whimsical and "magikal"!

This is a perfect example of working with your model to bring a creative idea to reality. Encourage your models to speak up and step outside of their comfort zones, with you as their sounding board, and an assurance that you will not let them make a full of themselves.  

I have found that in these processes and experiences, friendships are forged. We have shared something deep and personal; they have laid their self-worth out on the line with me as their photographer, and that is a HEAVY responsibility! I do NOT take this lightly! I have seen them at their most vulnerable, and I do NOT want to squander their trust in me. 


Friendships that get formed with the process of photographing a "non" model from beginning to end has, for me at least, created lasting friendships. We experience something that takes us all out of our comfort zones and requires trust from everyone involved.  I would go anywhere with these three (and our host and muse-extraordinaire, Christine Bartley-Williams, who provided the gowns and accessories, the cabin in the mountains, and all the snacks and champagne we could ever want!

Photographing non-models is my favorite thing to do, whether it is for boudoir photo shoots, or glam/fashion shoots like this one.  I look forward to exploring me themes with these three beauties,  Amanda, Alley, Jamie, and Christine. 

Oh---and to be fair, they dressed me up and put ME in front of the camera, too, giving ME directions! They gave me a taste of my own medicine!  HAHA!


The Benefits of Professional Collaborations

Often photographers create in a space that may include the client in mind for a future photo shoot (bride, model, family shoot, etc.). Sometimes we forget the insights and perspectives we can gain from the input from our colleagues, or even from novice photographers! Certain community events can stir creative juices, as well, like conquer_la events , photo excursions, like from Paul's Photos Nighthawks or Photo Walks.  In these kinds of community gatherings, you find like-minded people to interact with. In that process, what happens is that contact information is exchanged, and one's pool of creative collaborators has just expanded!

I have found that it is in these social get-togethers that my own outlook on the options for creative projects is opened up! For instance, signing up for a local photo workshop allows for trying new techniques in photography in an environment that encourages thinking outside of the box. Learning how to pose models with other photographers is a fun and non-threatening way to learn, and to also understand how you can improve in your own work professionally in your studio.  Bring in your friends or family members to pose for you, as I did with my granddaughter in the photo below.  


It's sometimes intimidating to learn a new skill, such as how to make a video to advertise your services. Coming together with those curious how to do that and to practice on each other creates not only a tool to use for your business, but also a sense of camaraderie with individuals who have the potential to be long time friends and professional resources.  Video advertising is used often now in websites; learning together can often make you laugh and lighten up, and also you can be each others' actors in your videos!  I certainly had a good time with my first video (link included) with individuals who are now a part of my photography family. We offer to assist in each others' photo shoots, open homes for on-site location shoots, and to offer perspectives that we may not have thought about on our own.  

For instance, this photo below of a pregnancy boudoir shoot was done in the bathroom of one of my photography colleagues whom I met through these very activities I'm describing. She is an accomplished photographer in her won right, too. She happened to have an amazing bathtub for a shoot she knew I was planning.  By offering her home, she saved me a lot of money by not having to rent a space, but we also collaborated on ideas for the shoot.  She had ideas and angles I didn't think of! I'm hoping in the future to be able to give back to her like she has to me, on more than one occasion! 



Grab a group of friends and spend some time in a location taking photos of the local area. Share your shots with each other, and learn! Paul's Photo store in Torrance is well known for these photo excursions, gathering local individuals--whether professional or amateur, novice or experienced--to go out on a night on the town, experimenting with camera settings and compositions of local scenery and people. Some of my closest friends and collaborators have been gained from these causal and fun outings. 


Want to learn how to improve your wedding photography? Find seasoned wedding photographers, like  Dave Bever, who has made quite a name for himself, not only in the area of seeing photography, but also in drone and real estate photography. Or find someone in your area who is known for their work in another genre of photography, like BoudoirChildren's photography or Pet photography.  

See about assisting professionals in your genre of interest.  You never know, not only may you learn a thing or two about your own photography techniques, you may also find a friend and collaborator for life!