The Right Way to Collaborate - Standard Photographer & Model Etiquette

The Right Way to Collaborate - Standard Photographer & Model Etiquette

Written and Photographed by Rohan Rath.

Disclaimer: Whatever is mentioned in this article is based on my experience and discussions with my fellow models and photographers. I have and keep having these discussions with folks from across the globe. I, in no way, mean to make any assumptions or biases. I hope you find this useful. Thank you!

The Art of the Collaboration

Collaborations help us achieve our creative pursuits and create content for our audience while simultaneously fostering growth and improvement. Collaborations have become an important aspect in the photography community. With the longstanding growth of Social Media (especially Instagram), we are exposed to numerous content creators, photographers, and models. All parties collaborate with the same common goal in mind:

Create Quality Work.

There is a beautiful community of photographers and models in every country/city around the world and we’re fortunate enough to have countless ways of staying connected. With more and more folks working together, there are plenty of healthy / positive interactions that can take place. Unfortunately, we must also address that there are bad and non-mutually beneficial experiences. I will do my best to outline a few simple points that can help us reduce those bad situations and ensure the community grows stronger.

Featuring  Neha Jain

Featuring Neha Jain

Table of Contents

Here’s an outline of the Table of Contents for this post. Follow along consecutively or feel free to skip around to the sections that you’re curious about!

  • Initial Setup / Communication

    • Approaching Someone to Collaborate

    • Send the Right Message

    • Outline Your Intentions

    • Don’t Be Inappropriate or Overbearing

  • Before the Shoot

    • Create a Mood Board and Plan

    • Discuss the Plan Thoroughly

    • Don’t Make Promises You Can't Keep

    • Arrive On Time

    • Do Your Research

    • Discuss the Costs

    • Background Check

    • Rule of Threes

    • Be Professional

  • The Shoot

    • Don’t be Late

    • Bring a Friend

      • Photographer

        • Hands Off

        • Appropriate Phrasing

        • Prioritize Comfort

        • Stick to the Plan

        • Normalize Active Feedback

        • Respect Respect Respect

      • Models

        • Kindness is Key

        • Delivery of Posture and Emotion

        • Speak Up

        • Normalize Active Feedback

        • Communicate

  • After the Shoot

    • Thank You Notes

    • Timely Delivery

    • Mutual Happiness

    • Posting and Crediting

    • Provide Feedback

    • No Forced Friendship

    • Good Referrals

Featuring  Abharana

Featuring Abharana

Initial Setup / Communication

Approaching Someone to Collaborate

It’s important to choose the right way to say hello! Honor the requested medium of contact. If the model/photographer wishes to be contacted by email, send them an email! You can use multiple channels as well but do not go overboard! Don’t go out of your way to immediately ask for their phone number until the initial discussions have taken place. Alternatively, just ask the person which medium would be best for communication.

Send the Right Message

Make sure you open with a positive, kind, and neutral toned message. The first message doesn’t have to be complicated! Keep it short and simple. Refer to the example below if you need a template: 

“I really like your work and was wondering if you’d be interested in collaborating on some projects together. Look forward to your reply. Thank you!”

Outline Your Intentions

Once you have connected with the person, make sure to highlight your intentions properly. What kind of collaboration, what are the themes of the shoot, share your ideas & logistics, etc. Highlight the mutual benefits (if necessary). Be straightforward and transparent about your interests! A collaboration means that both parties bring value to the table, bring your ideas, outfits, lenses, props, and anything else that may fit the proposed theme!

Don’t Be Inappropriate or Overbearing

Don’t try to sound “cool”, get over-friendly, or spoil your personal brand. Be careful with your actions because respect is the most important aspect to the collab. Always follow the community’s ethics and use your best discretion. If something feels off, keep in mind that it’s okay to request a third person be present, bring a friend along to support! (This will be discussed in a later topic.)

Featuring  Samyukta Rao

Featuring Samyukta Rao

Before the Shoot

Create a Mood Board and Plan

If you didn’t approach the talent with a mood board or sample inspirational images / concepts start pulling your documents / screenshots together. Create a basic plan such that it’s easier for both parties to visualize what lies ahead and what kind of output you are looking to achieve. This way both parties are aligned on the vision of the shoot.

Discuss the Plan Thoroughly

Share the plan, make iterations and gauge the other’s reception and comfort. Be transparent about what is possible and what you both would be good at.

Don’t Make Promises You Can't Keep

While planning, both parties should know their own limits and interests. Don’t promise to do something which you are either not good at or not comfortable with. Let the other person know if something is new for you and handle it well together.

Arrive On Time

Time is money. Cliche? Yes! But, time is our most valuable resource. Please ensure both parties are on time and shoot within a time frame that is comfortable. (45-90 minutes is usually more than enough time). Arriving late indicates that you do not value the other person’s time and is extremely disrespectful. Make sure to communicate effectively on timelines and if you’re running late keep everyone looped in. If you need to cancel, give more than enough time in advance for the other person to reschedule and plan a new date for the collab. Need to cancel last minute? THIS IS ONLY ACCEPTABLE IN COMPLETELY UNAVOIDABLE SITUATIONS AND MUST BE COMMUNICATED AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

Do Your Research

Make sure you come prepared and research your the theme, location, outfit, etc. Things like weather, hours of operation, wardrobe restrictions, etc must be known before arriving onsite. Another example: Always ask the model to try out the outfit/models should try out the outfits well before the shoot. Take a few photos of the clothes laid out on a flat surface so the photographer can get a sense for the style and color scheme as well.

Discuss the Costs

Collaborations, in most situations, mean that you will be splitting any costs attached with the shoot. In case, there are any other ways you need to split the costs, discuss it well in advance and do not negate it during/after the shoot. Keep in mind, the cost of props, entry to certain locations, and preparation time for the model as well as editing time for the photographer. Do your best to keep things even.

Background Check

Since this is likely your first time meeting them, do a background check! It’s not too difficult. Check Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, or if you know someone else who has worked with the other person, ask them and make sure you have enough good reviews to proceed. If anything sounds suspicious or dangerous, use your best discretion and avoid the situation. 

Rule of Threes

Ask the model if she wants to bring someone along / Bring someone a friend if you want the extra support. For both models and photographers/videographers it is always okay to bring a 3rd person for support. It can help deescalate suspicious activity and it always means there will be at least 1 witness. A lot of photographers/models like working alone, safety is also a priority. Use your best discretion!

Be Professional

Throughout the planning stage, make sure you use appropriate language. Don’t say anything inappropriate or suggestive. Be sure to keep in mind that respect and professionalism is most important during this process.

Featuring  Samyukta Rao

Featuring Samyukta Rao

The Shoot

Don’t be Late

Always try to be on time or within a 15-minute time frame. As a photographer, if you can arrive about 20 minute early to walk around and location-scout you’ll probably get better photos. Sometimes you get some creative ideas, right on the spot. Models should ensure they plan their make-up sessions properly to ensure they are able to reach the location on time.

Bring a Friend

As mentioned above, it is within your right to bring a 3rd person along for support if you don’t feel comfortable going alone. Even if you prefer to work alone, it never hurts to have an extra pair of eyes and hands- especially to ensure comfort of both parties.


Hands Off

A photographer should never touch the model anywhere (including fixing her hair) without asking. Even if you have worked with someone and are comfortable with them, you must still ask them in the beginning of the session or during as needed. 

Appropriate Phrasing

While asking the model to pose, do not use inappropriate language like “ass”, “boobs”, “butt”, etc. Replace them with “hips” and “chest”. Make sure the model is comfortable with the words you’re using and make sure it’s clear that they can tell you if you need to adjust your language.

Prioritize Comfort

Don’t make the subject feel uncomfortable in any way. Models work very hard to contribute to the scene and display certain emotions during a shoot. If they feel vulnerable or threatened at any moment that could significantly impact the creative vision and output. It is your duty to ensure that they feel comfortable. Treat them with respect, politeness, and patience at all times. Do not ask them to do anything they’re not comfortable with. Stick to the agreed upon plan and minimize curve balls. Do not ask them to undress more than discussed or ask them very politely presenting your idea in a respectable manner. If they say no, you need to move on and continue with the set plan.

Stick to the Plan

Along with what is stated above, make sure you are working within the bounds of the ideas discussed earlier. Try to create images that the model is expecting. The last thing you want to do is present images that are totally different from the expectations. There are of course exceptions due to unexpected situations and creative flow where both of you might need to wing it. In the end, only proceed if both parties are comfortable and willing.

Normalize Active Feedback

Tell the model if something needs to change, compliment them if they do something well; simple words like “This is great!”or “Beautiful” can help boost their confidence and morale. Show them a few of the shots and let them gauge what they can improve on. If they provide their input, listen to them and handle it professionally.

Respect Respect Respect

Just want to stress on this aspect again. RESPECT. ALWAYS.


Kindness is Key

There may be technical difficulties or some unforeseen issues such as lighting, be patient and give the photographer enough time to adjust settings and direction.

Delivery of Posture and Emotion

Since you’ve discussed some creative ideas before the shoot, you should try to practice some fitting poses and looks before arriving onsite. Now that you’re with the photographer, it is time to deliver the ‘looks’ as best you can!

Speak Up

If you aren’t feeling comfortable about anything, just tell the photographer. It’s easier to communicate often and adapt rather than to struggle to deliver.

Normalize Active Feedback

Ask for posing suggestions if you need any help. Tell the photographer if something needs to change. Ask to see a few of the shots and let them know how you feel about your poses / angles. Give some feedback to the photographer as well, say what you like, dislike and love. It will help boost their morale if they see you like the pictures as well. If they provide their input, listen to them, and handle it professionally.


During the shoot, silence can sometimes be troubling. Some photographers have a quiet nature, so having some sort of small talk could really help in keeping the vibe of the shoot up. Stay friendly and let them know at any point if you want to stop or don’t feel comfortable with some of their requests. Don’t be afraid to be honest.

Featuring  Vaishnavi Andhale

After the Shoot

Thank You Notes

A courteous and genuine thank you message and email should always conclude a collaboration. Feel free to share something nice about the shoot to ensure a positive ending!

Timely Delivery

Photographers— Even though it’s a collaboration, don’t take a very long time to deliver the pictures. Stick to the timeline you had discussed before the shoot.

Mutual Happiness

If the model wants to choose some pictures, let them (might vary for some photographers). If the photographer gives some reasons for not editing a certain picture, understand the reason because there’s mostly a technical issue with the picture in such scenarios. Just be honest with each other and let them know why certain decisions have been made!

Posting and Crediting

Models should respect the photographer’s edited images and not re-edit/apply filters to the pictures. Both parties should ensure giving credits to each other whenever the pictures are used in captions and tags.

Provide Feedback

After the materials have been delivered, feel free to give each other constructive feedback. It should always be healthy and useful. Even if you had a bad experience during the shoot, tell the other person so that they can take care of it in time for their next shoot.

No Forced Friendship

Once the photoshoot is complete and the pictures have been delivered, gauge how much contact needs to be kept with the other person. If things went well and you became friends, then that’s awesome! BUT keep in mind that it was a professional collaborative interaction. Keep it that way and don’t talk too much after the shoot (maybe until the next one if they want to work with you again).

Good Referrals

Collaborations should always be treated as a way to grow, become better and get more opportunities. Help each other in any way that you are comfortable with. Feel free to let other people know about your successful shoot. Words travel quick and speaking positively about the other is a great way to churn the talent pool and encourage creatives to work with other creatives outside their main network. Be honest and tell your friends how the shoot went!

Featuring  Samyukta Rao

Featuring Samyukta Rao

Thank you to our Focal Community member Rohan Rath (@RohanRath). Feel free to check out his website!

If you enjoyed this, check out Focal Collective’s other content Focal Points section of our blog. Feel free to look through our Artist Interview Series as well!

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