If you’re just starting out on your photography journey and you want to shoot portraits, chances are you’re going to need a model to help build your portfolio. But what if you don't have access to models? For some people, they have tons of friends, beautiful or otherwise, that are willing to model for them. Other people rely on family members. Some people are so extroverted that they are willing to ask complete strangers to be their model for a few minutes. I’m not like that. I like to lay low and be quiet. I’m an introvert, but I recognize the importance of having photos of models in my portfolio. I was lucky enough to have a few friends and an amazing girlfriend to be my first models, but I was, and still am, prepared to get some great shots even if they said no. Allow me to explain 3 ways to get portrait practice without a model.
Start With Yourself
The most basic alternative to photographing other people is to photograph yourself. I know this seems counterintuitive (you want to be behind the camera, not in front of it), but learning how to photograph oneself helps put you in the future model’s shoes, literally. You can become comfortable in front of the camera so that you can better direct from behind it. Photographing yourself also allows you to have complete freedom over what shots are taken, the mood, the setting, the look, feel, etc. Self-portraits can also be introspective and provide you with a blueprint of the type of style you like or are going for. My very first model was myself. I set up my camera put it on autofocus, set the timer, clicked the button, got in position, and took the shot. I continued to do this until I became comfortable enough with myself, my settings, and my willingness to direct someone to achieve the look I wanted.
Use Inanimate Objects
If you’ve managed to master the self-portrait, or become bored of photographing yourself, you might want to try photographing a toy, action figure, or other human-like inanimate objects. For me, the choice was Funko Pops figures. These small collectibles have come in handy when I want to experiment with lighting, poses, backdrops, and basically anything that would be too difficult for me to photograph myself doing first. I’ve used these guys to practice everything from shooting in public to up-close details. I prefer the Funko Pops because they are small and have a low profile. However, they are not flexible and can usually only hold one position. This is where having an action figure would come in handy. Action figures usually have adjustable joints and can be shaped into nearly any photographable position. Admittedly you may look a little weird shooting these things in public, but that’s what happens when you shoot portraits in public. People look at you and silently (and sometimes publicly) judge you ask what you’re doing and make assumptions, but that’s the job.
Family and Friends
You have tons of self-portraits and photos of toys but you still haven’t managed to shoot a single person (other than yourself of course). It’s time to break out the family and friends card. You may literally need to break out the card because if your friends and family are reluctant to get in front of the camera, bribery can go a long way. I often will treat my girlfriend to a nice lunch or dinner if she agrees to be my model for the day. Another way to convince someone would be to assure them that the photos will not be shared freely (unless they want them to be) and they will only be used in your portfolio to be shown to potential clients. This may ease their fears about being in front of the camera as well. As a last-ditch effort, let them know that you are passionate about photography and that you sincerely need their help to get started. Provide a trade of some sort for helping you accomplish a goal.
The bottom line is: if you want to shoot portraits, you have to practice shooting portraits. Whether those portraits are of you, some toy, or a family member, shooting, editing, and organizing a portfolio of work are the things that will ultimately land you the photography gigs you dream of. So what are you waiting for? Go Shoot!
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