The man behind Freelancer Club and ex-fashion photographer of over 12 years, Matt Dowling, talks about his time as a photographer, directing divas, alternative techniques when working with models and how to produce pro images out of the most nervous of subjects. Model direction, the unconventional way.

Have you ever had a model that you couldn’t work with?

There’ve been a few who came close. Model direction is such a key part of a shoot. I’ve always been pretty good with people so in general the ability to adapt to all sorts of personalities made for easy shoots.

The one that sticks out is a campaign shoot for a fashion brand who shall remain nameless. The model turned up stinking drunk from the night before but was adamant she still wanted to shoot. Normally, we'd stop the shoot and contact the model agency but with our deadline looming, we had no choice, brewed a post of coffee and carried on.

The first hour went surprisingly well and the Dutch courage actually made for great, if not slightly erratic, images. As the day dragged on under the hot lights, however, things took at turn. She turned white and we discovered what she had for dinner the night before. Our ice white backdrop was quickly repainted and we nursed her back to health. Her replacement was a delight.


What advice would you give someone who has never had to pose for a shoot before?

The connection between the photographer and the subject is key to a good shoot. It’s nerve-racking having a lens pointed at you while lights flash in your face. We’re all self conscious to some degree and thinking about your sweaty brow, raised shoulders or double chin won’t help you relax so try to breathe, calm down and take your time. The photographer will often tell you to chill out while they get their light settings so use this time to get used to the surroundings.

If the photographer is any good they should put you at ease before a camera is touched. A cup of tea, a couple of jokes and a chat about what you’re hoping to get out of the shoot is a good way to break the ice. When I felt my subject was confident enough, I would ask them to jump about, get them to howl like a wolf and pose in bizarre ways to take them out of their comfort zone. After 2 minutes I’d tell them that we were just warming up and the the real shoot starts now. After that ordeal, standard poses were a piece of cake.


Practically, what can a subject do to improve the shot?

Listen to the photographer’s direction and take your time. Small movements of the chin, head and eyes will give the photographer options to find your ‘good side’. Don’t pout - if you don’t have prominent cheekbones, duck mouth won’t give them to you. When I was asked to shoot a portrait, we'd discuss where the image was going to be used and get into that frame of mind. More often than not, the client would choose a shot that was taken in-between poses. 

Consider what the shoot is for. If it’s a profile shot for work, is it serious or funny? Dress and act accordingly and your personality will do the rest.  It’s a cliche but a truism, you are at your most beautiful when you are being yourself.

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