How to Put Your Inexperienced Model at Ease

I met Danielle at a jiu jitsu tournament where she was a competitor.  Although she was comfortable on the mat having someone try to break her arm or choke her out, I could sense that despite her being interested in doing a shoot, she was nervous about it.

Danielle Kelly photographed by John Ricard

This shoot was part of my “Model Test Monday” series, where I do a model shoot every Monday.  Sometimes I utilize a full team of hairstylist, makeup artist and fashion stylist.  Other times it’s just me and the model.  For a test shoot, either scenarios.  This day it was me, Danielle and makeup artist Jessica Rios.

Here are 3 steps I took before and during the shoot to make Danielle as comfortable as possible.  Note, these tips are best suited for a shoot where you don’t have a specific agenda -perhaps a shoot where you are testing new lighting techniques.

1) I allowed the model to wear whatever she likes.  I didn’t give Danielle any clothing advice aside from suggesting a tank top be included in her selections.  This is risky in that I might not like any of the outfits, but I knew there would always be things I could do with lighting and composition to keep the viewer’s attention away from the wardrobe.  But allowing Danielle to shoot in whatever she felt most comfortable in, would help give her a sense of control and comfort.

2) I gave the model input into the hair and or makeup styling.  Often, the creative direction is decided long before a model is even selected for a shoot and by the time we are on set, the model has zero input.  This wasn’t the case here.   I was open to shooting pretty much any look.  So rather than saying to Danielle something like, “I’ve worked with Jessica dozens of times and she has already selected a great look for you,” I told her, “You and Jessica can decide on a look for you today. I’m fine with whatever you both agree on.”  This helped to give Danielle a feeling of control over the shoot and helped insure she would project confidence in the looks we were shooting.


3) I allowed the model to make the image selections.  Normally, unless the model has paid for the shoot, she isn’t the one deciding which images are released.  However, when I’m doing frequent testing, and I’m make sure to keep each test to 4 hours at the most, I’m not as vested in each individual shoot as I might be if I were shooting only once every couple of months.  I wanted Danielle to be comfortable with anything we shot, so I told her, “At the end of each look I’m going to let you look through the images and select any images that you are ok with releasing online.”  I didn’t look over her shoulder as she made her selections.  And honestly, it didn’t even matter to me if she was going to not select a really strong image.  I knew Danielle would likely be contacting me a few months down the road asking if I had any additional images from our shoot, and by that time, I would have another 20 shoots completed anyway.

All of these small steps on my part resulted in not just our creating strong images during the shoot, but I also earned Danielle’s trust.  This will pay off tremendously, should I decide to call her another project in the future.

Marissa Zando for Astound Magazine


Photographer: John Ricard / Model: Marissa Zando Hair: Britney Powell /  Makeup: Jessica Rios /

Photographer: John Ricard /
Model: Marissa Zando
Hair: Britney Powell /
Makeup: Jessica Rios /

Photographer: John Ricard / Model: Marissa Zando Hair: Britney Powell /  Makeup: Jessica Rios /

Photographer: John Ricard /
Model: Marissa Zando
Hair: Britney Powell /
Makeup: Jessica Rios /

I met first met Marissa at Unique Photo where I was presenting a seminar on studio lighting.  She was 17 at the time, but she did a great job posing in front of 20 or so photographers who were present.  By the time we shot this spread a couple of months later, Marissa had tunred 18.  I think my model release was the first one she ever signed for herself.


Model: Divani IG: @theedivani 

Hair: Ashley @alstyling

I’ve been doing model tests at my studio every Monday for the past couple of months.  It’s a creative endeavor with no real endgame.  Usually, I don’t know how I’m going to shoot the model(s) until I get to the studio and meet her in person.  I’ve been experimenting with light, props, wardrobe, posing and anything I can else that comes to mind at that moment.  Sometimes I shoot with a full team -hair, makeup, styling and nail tech.  Other times it’s just me and the model.  It’s about being creative. It’s not about seeing how many people I can bring into my studio for a shoot.

I created a hashtag on Instagram where all these images are grouped. It’s #ModelTestMonday. I’m curious to see how many different shots I can create over the course of the next 6 months or so.

Los Scandalous.  

My favorite city.  I shot these images of Kimera Morrell on a rooftop in downtown Los Angeles.  She’s an ex New Jersey resident whom I’ve shot several times in my studio.  

We didn’t have permission to be here and our shoot took about 4 hours.  During that period, not one person came up to use the roof nor did anyone come up to tell us to leave.  Things would be different in NYC.  Any location with cool backgrounds and great lighting would have dozens of photographers setting up camp daily.

All images were shot on the Leica M9 and Leica M240 cameras.  The M9 is such a great camera, that it is still the first camera I reach for when the light is good.  Using it is much like using the M240, even though the M240 is a more advanced camera.  I give Leica a lot of credit for creating a camera like the M9 that is still worthwhile even when its superior successor is released.  


I met Nikki at the NY Open, a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu tournament I was shooting for the IBJJF a few months ago.  In the photo below, she is the one who is standing.

Despite the fact that she was trying to choke someone out when I met her, I knew she would be able to pull off a delicate beauty shot in my studio.  I reached out to her a few weeks later and she told me that she had never done any sort of modeling at all.  While I enjoy the expediency at which an agency model can complete a shoot, I also enjoy the experience of shooting an inexperienced model who doesn’t have any preconceived notions about what poses work for her and what poses don’t work.

I expected that she’s be a bit nervous coming into the shoot, but I knew the atmosphere in my studio -(non stop videos courtesy of Vevo on Apple TV), and the team I work with, would erase that pretty quickly.  

The goal was to make her hair as large and busy as possible and still convey a feeling of sensuality even though we would only see part of her face.  Needless to say, Nikki pulled it off.

Photographer: John Ricard @johnricard

Model: Nikki Mak IG@nikki_mak21

Nails: Shakinya IG@sohoxshakii

Hair and Makeup: Ashley Lee IG @Alstyling 

Beauty Test Shoot with Ella and Kylie

Model: @kyealexis | Model: @banella | Fashion Stylist: @desyreenicole | Nails @tiana_hardy | Makeup: @beautyqueensandco | Hair: @alstyling

The model in the first 2 images, Ella, wasn’t originally part of this shoot.  She was only there as a friend of the stylist.  When one of the agency models cancelled at the last minute, I drafted her into the shoot.  She had never done a shoot before and was understandably nervous. I explained to her that she needs to accept the fact that she belongs here in front of my camera.  Often you see a model’s comp card and decide to book her.  When she arrives, she’s not what you expected and you’re only shooting her out of obligation.  If someone drafts you for a shoot right there on the spot and you aren’t even a model, then you have to appreciate the reality that you do indeed belong there and you’re not being photographed out of some sense of obligation.

The second model, Kylie is from Wilhelmina (Miami).  As you can see from the final image, she’s packed and ready to go South.

I’ve been trying to add a manicurist to all my tests lately.  Nails have become a big thing over the past couple of years.  Also trying to experiment a bit more with color.  For the past year or so, I’ve done most of my studio work on white seamless.  Channeling my inner Avedon, I suppose…  But lately I’ve been going back to a little color in my lighting.  Still can’t seem to make myself pull out a roll of pink or red or blue seamless from the closet though.

No makeup. No hair. No lights. Just natural beauty. #leica

Her name is Zulay Henao and she came to my studio to assist her brother Steven Escobar, a boxer who had booked me for a shoot. While I couldn’t help but notice that she was beautiful, what really struck me about her was how sweet her personality was. She thanked me several times for really putting 100% into the shoot and she was very complimentary about the actual images.

Although I’ve been shooting for decades, great photography isn’t something I can just guarantee to everyone. Photography is an art and by nature that makes it unpredictable. I can guarantee a technically great shot every time, but an artistically great shot? For that I need some magic to happen.

With that in mind, always nice when someone takes the time to acknowledge that magic is happening. Because Zulay had the type of personality where she didn’t feel it somehow lowers her to show appreciation to someone else, I really wanted to shoot her. And despite her having no makeup or hair on set, she allowed me to.

Thank you, Zulay.