Finding Your Muse

Today we are pleased to present the third guest post by John Tuckey (the first was "Into the Shadows" and the second "Essence of Earhart" if you missed them). If you're not aware, John Tuckey has, in a few short years, built a reputation for high quality monochrome images with a distinctive look heavily influenced by the golden era of Hollywood portraiture. You can read more about John, his work and workshops on his website, Facebook, Twitter or Google+. Be sure to also check out our recent review of his "101" workshop!

Photography is a uniquely personal process that allows all of us to find our own art. Some of us approach it like engineers solving a puzzle, others like artists with a paintbrush. It can see many chasing sunsets or walking the streets documenting life's daily grind and tiny triumphs, while others marvel at the natural world and yet others focus their attention on creating pure illusion, things that don't exist in the day-to-day.

I'm a romantic at heart, so for me - next to my passion for monochrome – nothing is quite as beautiful as a beautiful woman and most of my work revolves around working with models, one way or another.

Since I've had several emails asking where I find models and how I get my shots, I thought it might be worthwhile penning an article on the subject for those of you looking at this kind of work for the first time.

John Tuckey - Finding Your Muse

Where to Begin

The easiest way to find models these days is to look online. There are several extremely good portfolio sites out there today. I use UK based You could also try for the a more US focused site. And, if your work is focusing on dance then or similar dancers' portfolio sites are a good place to start.

Once you've registered on a site you can start searching for models who fit what you have in mind.

Pause and quantify that for a moment though. Because 'What you have in mind' is actually *the* critical first step that so many omit. You should have a mental picture or strong sense of the final image you're after before you even start looking for models, yet so many skip this step. It's surprisingly common for a model to turn up and find the photographer is relying on them to create the image, as in - 'dance! model, dance!' to the tune of an SLR mirror on continuous shoot. When this happens, a model will often switch to autopilot and you end up with lacklustre images. So, decide what you want to achieve first, then look for the right model – not the other way around.

Once you've established that mental image, you can refine your search ie. blonde, tall, curvy, willowy, busty, freckly and so on. The specifics that will realise your individual images.

John Tuckey - Finding Your Muse

A Word About Rates

Always check your model's rates. If you cant afford them, you can ask if they'd be interested in 'Time For Prints'. But bear in mind that any successful model gets a lot of these requests and she probably doesn't need more pictures of herself. Think it through, she has hundreds if not thousands of shots being taken of her every year. So even if you think you're the next Bailey or Newton - and you might very well be - that doesn't change anything. If you aren't there yet, your request for free work is competing with a diary of paid work and it's unlikely to win.

"Time For Prints" can work if the model is starting out and still building a portfolio, apart from that it's unlikely to succeed, sorry.

"You want me to do what?"

Establishing your model's 'levels' is THE most important thing to get your head around as a photographer. It shouldn't be difficult, but apparently it's a struggle for some. Every model will clearly define 'levels' in their portfolio. Simply put, these are the things they're willing to do. Some models only do portrait work. Some do fashion or lingerie work, but not nude. Some do artistic nude but that doesn't mean they would be comfortable with more sexual or sensual work.

Hopefully you understand why this is important. Don't make the mistake of assuming every model is up for the latter or that their 'levels' are negotiable or don't apply to you.


Although it's rarely discussed, it's worth noting that being a good model is not the same as being a good actress. If you need your model to emote or act, check for a performing arts background or look for examples of acting ability in their portfolio. Some models relish the opportunity to play a part, others don't.


Although you may get a well-deserved slap if you make the mistake of ignoring your model's levels, thats not what I mean here. The 'slap' I'm talking about is make-up and it's important because good make-up can save you hours of retouching later. If your model can't provide the make-up look you're after herself, then you need to think about hiring a make-up artist or hair stylist for your shoot. Don't ever assume a model has done all the hair and make-up in her portfolio, it's highly unlikely. The best plan is to ask about their hair and make-up skills before you book them. Bad make-up will just plain ruin your day and there's no point in being crabby about it after the fact if you didn't take the time to clarify right from the start.

Also, be clear if you want your model to arrive already made-up or if you'd prefer them to do their make-up while you're there so you have some input. I'm often playing off vintage styles, so this is something I always check. I also always ask a model to do her makeup at the shoot instead of before. This gives me a chance to talk to them without a camera in front of my face, helps build a rapport and gives me an input into the look being made.

John Tuckey - Finding Your Muse


Okay, so you've got your model booked and the day of the shoot has arrived. Now it's over to you but here are a few bits of advice:

Don't roll out a red carpet and start bowing, but do listen to Wil Wheaton and behave well. Your model is a professional and so are you, remember that and you won't go wrong.

Models are used to being patient while photographers muck about with lights etc. so don't rush. Less haste, means better results.

Run through the poses you have in mind before you even pick up the camera. Make sure you both know what you're doing before you try to do it.

Try not to micro-manage your model's poses. If you want fluidity in the poses it's best achieved when the model is moving naturally. A body-aware model (like a dancer) should also then be able to deliver the same moves at a slower speed if needed.

In your first shoots you have a lot to keep track of and it can be daunting. But my two rules of thumb are:

Watch the hand positions and in particular avoid putting the back of a hand to the camera

Watch your edges and watch what's creeping in at the edges of the image - are you accidentally capturing cables or unwanted scenery?

John Tuckey - Finding Your Muse

Professional Courtesy

Finally, with the shoot over, it's always a professional courtesy to give your model a screen-res (or higher) copy of the final edited pics. Remember, without your model you didn't have a model shoot. And if she chooses your shots for her portfolio over several hundred others she could have included, you should be very flattered. I always am.