The Rise of the ‘Real’ People

I am often asked, ‘can we shoot with real people?’

By ‘real’, the client might mean people who aren’t models, or have not chosen the stage or screen as a profession. It may mean ‘relatable people’, perhaps more regular Joe (& Jo) than classically good looking. Or, they might mean people picked out by their relevance to the product or service being peddled. However, more and more companies are street casting or turning to their employees and customers to star in their ads and there are three key reasons for this.

1. Endorsement – the power of authenticity
Staff proudly endorsing their employer’s services, or customers talking about their experience sends out a powerful message. Even Sir James enthusing about the latest Dyson innovation signals confidence in the product. They don’t even have to be perfect, if it’s a little rough all the better – it adds to the authenticity.

We now look for confirmation that our purchase is going to be what we expect. We’re in an age of the endorsement, and we expect to read a review or check feedback before buying or eating or booking a holiday.

2. Relatable People

Casting briefs will often contain words like ‘relatable people’. Or likeable, accessible, down-to-earth. The intention is that their customer can see themselves in the character.

3. The ever decreasing budget
In a world where another 12.5% is shaved off last year’s ad spend but there’s still the same level of expectation – to deliver a TV campaign, a print ad and dozens of social posts – companies are looking to their staff, customers and regular Joe’s (and Jo’s) when considering the talent for their next project. Non actor/models don’t have agents to pay, promotional fees or exposure concerns. As a result, they can prove considerably more cost effective.


The non actor/model can create more work for the photographer or director and therefore eat up production time. With that in mind, here are a few ideas to keep the shoot on schedule and everyone on side:

1.) At the casting – put the person through their paces so you can see what they are capable of. Don’t leave anything to chance.
2.) On set. Create somewhere comfortable for your subject(s) to be when they’re not needed. They don’t need a trailer or a Green Room, just somewhere they aren’t in the way and can compose themselves.
3.) Nerves. Create a character name (if there isn’t one), a role and talk about what this character would say or do. This gives the non actor/model a focus away from themselves.
4.) Make the shoot a less intimidating environment by making it smaller with screens to break the subject’s eye line. This should make any subject more comfortable and relaxed.
5.) Show them. If while directing the non actor/model they’re not quite getting it, put them at the camera and act it out step by step.
6.) Never let them see frustration or concerns. They’ll pick up on it and you’ll lose them in the eyes.
7.) Finally, schedule more time for each take or shot.


Never work with children or animals, so the saying goes. However, when you do work with children or animals and it goes well, you get a great sense of satisfaction. Similarly, shooting with ‘real’ people may be an unknown quantity and have its challenges, but nurturing a performance from someone who has no training or experience – is very rewarding and can produce a great result for all involved.

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