November 11, 2023

The Zone System is the language of light and shadow and for digital shooters it’s invaluable.

What makes the Zone System such a big deal for better photos?

I teach Zones deeper in my free classes like Shadow Hackers and in Master Classes like Exposed. I’ve done a lot of Zone videos over the years but this updated video will make Zones easier than ever for whatever skill level you are at today.

You can check out my Lumist 2 actions here for live Zone control. In the video, I also mentioned Elegance speed masks and Natural HDR.

Choose carefully how to apply the Zones.

Exposure in photography is often left to meters to decide. You can use aperture priority or something like that on the go. But the key is that you are still taking control.

But when you combine Zones and the concepts of Shadow hacking you have the understanding of what makes a photo dramatic and also the ability to know whats happening in every moment of light and shadow.

When I use auto mode for streets or on the go I watch the feedback on the screen and most importantly the histogram. I’m seeing the Zones as I move and I use exposure compensation to quickly adjust them while staying in that auto mode.

I’ll show in the video how extreme this initial exposure was.

Edit with your Zone System visualization.

Zones give you control over light and shadow in a way nothing else gives you. So you can be in a flat-lit portrait scene or in a super contrasty sunset landscape and the Zone System will work equally to let you manage the tone value.

The secret is to expose your zones in the camera and then edit for those zones in the post.

For example in this portrait, the background was not a lot darker than the subject even with our strobe. But I exposed the subject where I wanted knowing that I would edit with a little more contrast in post and darken the background.

It’s not so different from how in the past we pushed and pulled film or burned and dodged. But the key here is you are seeing finished results before you press the shutter because you can easily use zones to plan and visualize.

I’ll show you this lower-contrast scene also in the video.

Using a spot meter for the Zone System

On the other side of this is a full manual. if you have time to set up, You’re shooting a landscape or a building. Use that tripod. use a spot meter in the camera or externally and place Zones exactly where you want.

Don’t just use the histogram as a rough guide in program mode. When possible use the full details of Zones and doing so will help you to understand them better in those moments when you are on the go and can’t stop to spot the meter.

Place your primary subject tones where you want, then make sure the rest falls into place.
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May 18, 2018

Here’s how I learned to find amazing models in Mexico for my projects and what you should know if you need a model or want to do modeling in Mexico. by Gavin Seim,

Need a model in Mexico? or want to do modeling in Mexico?

Gavin Seim - Master fashion photographer working with models in mexico

I’m Gavin, a bilingual photographer, filmmaker, and consultant living in Central Mexico. I’ve been a photographer for 20+ years and I’ve lived in Mexico full-time after moving from the USA. There’s a lack of information about working with models in Mexico. I made this so you don’t get scammed as you learn how to navigate being or working with models in Mexico for creative or commercial projects.

The first time I booked a model in Mexico it was intimidating.

You’re not alone here. I learned a lot since then living in Mexico as a professional Photographer. I’ve also discovered a lot of new models in Mexico with my own projects and I’ve updated this for 2023.

Whether you have a large-scale project on a budget, need an ongoing stream of modeling for your clothing line, or need to shoot a music video. Mexico has great creative people and amazing locations.

You can see many of the models I’ve worked with and trained on my Instagram and my gallery. But today I thought I’d share some tips on finding and photographing Models in Mexico.

Cisla, Model in Mexico black and white session

Feel free to contact me about Mexico models or modleing in Mexico. I offer consulataions, photography and filming services. I sometimes do collab sessions as well for models wanting to shoot in Mexico – Reach me via email –

Most of my 20-year career was commission sessions.  I used my daily work to earn international image merits to get my master’s degree in Photography But working with models is different. The poses and setups are often easier, but finding the right people can be a chore.

Melena, Model Querétaro Mexico session with Gavin Seim
Melena – Model in Queretaro City Mexico, a session with Gavin Seim

1. Shooting models whether for paid projects or for practice is good for your creativity.

Others might feel intimidated by the pressure of hiring a model in Mexico where it can be hard to find companies that are not seedy and that are actually responsive. Doing so with a language barrier is even more intimidating.

If you’re not a Spanish speaker You probably want someone along that speaks some English, because most of the models won’t unless you get a pricey agency from Mexico City and they will usually charge you way above normal Mexico rates, give a small portion to models and pocket the rest.

Models in Mexico project in central Mexico with Gavin Seim
Yara, Model in Pachuca Mexico
Cisla, Fashion model session in Veracruz Mexico
Cisla, Veracruz Beach Session with Gavin Seim


I worked with my first models through an Edecan agency.

Edcans book models for projects and most work in events and in stores for weekend promotion etc. Yes, like vegas booth babes. But it’s not only women. It’s a big business here in Latin America because stores want attractive people presenting their products. If you’re a reputable photographer looking for a project, most of them will be glad to be doing modeling rather than just handing out brochures in the hot sun.

Here in Mexico, we paid about $250 US dollars for two models for about 4 hours of shooting and including travel costs of a few hours.

We contacted an agency and worked through the fact that things are different here. In Mexico, people are more laid back and even companies don’t always respond fast. Sometimes they are downright disorganized by the standards we’re used to from the USA and beyond.

Our models showed up on time along with a representative/security guard. We are after all gringos 😉 — In seriousness, though everyone was chill and the representative was there to take the money and keep an eye on things. But it was all a little stiff feeling. These models are more often than not handing out flyers or looking attractive in front of a cell phone store but they did well.

We had them sign model releases (I use the Easy Release app which has multiple languages) and off we went to make this video and photo project I was working on at the time.

“I want to do modeling in Mexico”

Ok. If you are a model and want to shoot in the exotic beauty of Mexico. Plan a trip first to work with people you trust. There are larger agencies in Mexico City you could contact. But don’t expect to get paid any rates that you expect in most countries unless you’re already well known.

Don’t rush to meet up with just anyone you meet online as you might in the USA or Europe. While many of the things you see in the news about Mexico are sensationalized, there are shady deals at times and it’s still a culture and likely a language you are unfamiliar with.

If you want to be a part of the modeling in Mexico, I suggest starting with people you trust. You don’t have to go to a tourist resort for this. Get in a car and take a road trip. Head inland like to the beautiful jungles in San Luis Potosi. A town like Xilitla, or Tamasopo is stunning, welcoming of full of incredible locations. You can drive to these places from the Texas border in about 15 hours.

Once you start getting a portfolio here, you can use that to further your work and do more modeling in Mexico with these examples and connections you make.

Sondra, Gringa model in Mexico. Photo shoot in Hidalgo Mexico
Cassi, Modleing Sesison in Hidalgo State Mexico

Getting models. An agency can be a start for models in Mexico.

But there are frustrations as business culture tends to be less responsive here and the service in these types of places can lack especially if they don’t fully understand you. There are agencies that cater to English speakers and commercial projects, but they tend to charge way over the market rate and take advantage of your ignorance. So do your homework.

Avoid scams by asking for references from your market, looking only for reviews can also be useful, and NEVER pay in full before the project. A small retainer is normal, but no one should be asking for full payment here until you all arrive on-site. It is NOT normal to pay in full in advance in Mexico as people are very wary of scams. For the same reason, you need to be very transparent with the agency/models about what you need and what you are willing to pay. Don’t assume the price they6 quote is set in stone. It’s not!

Couple fashion session gave seim
Couple model in Mexico – Gavin Seim
We did most of this shoot with natural light and a single strobe. I’ll show you hands-on in the coming PhotoKit videos.

2. Finding great models that simply want to collaborate in Mexico.

So you can hire models for a one-off project from these Edecan agencies. But most of my photos were done with aspiring models who may or may not be with an agency but if they trust you they are happy to go and create amazing sessions in trade for photos. In this type of session, it’s often their first time doing real modeling so come prepared to know and demonstrate poses.

For just exploring light this is my favorite way to find models. I usually buy clothes from Shein or a site like that so they have lots to try and let them pick their theme.

Mexico is a very different culture. How do you find these models?

The problem is the girls are pretty used to men being creepy here. So when they get an Instagram message saying… “Hey you’re really pretty I would like to take photos of you” what they actually hear is, how much do you charge to go to a motel with me? Yes, it sucks, but it’s true. Men will be slightly less suspicious, but folks are very cautious with new people here.

Even if you have a great Instagram and social proof with photos (you should), don’t expect models in Mexico to simply come and meet you for a session just because you sent a message. They will assume you’re just a creep. In fact, I NEVER found a model by using Instagram messages.

Modeling in mexico throwing gair
A mixed modeling session in San Jan Del Rio QRO Mexico

I find models by referral of friends who know women that want great photos or by promoting the collab on Facebook links to my page with lots of details to help them know I’m legit, not a creeper.

Even then only about 50% of the models that scheduled a session with me showed up. Some of them literally said they changed their mind because they were afraid despite me having credentials. That was after many messages, having them tell me what kind of clothes they felt comfortable in, etc.

Be very open, honest, and transparent. I’ve had women in their mid 20’s that asked to bring their dad to a swimsuit shoot. Yes, many new models will jump at free (collab) photos if you are a good photographer, but not everyone is ready to be a model. So be understanding of the culture here, but also use how they respond as a filter. They have to respect your time also.

When I’m working with models in Mexico for the first time I always meet them in a public place like a cafe and have them sign a model release. Then we go take photos, usually with my wife or one of their friends. With women, I generally say no to them bringing male friends because the men tend to leer or take their own photos the entire time. But I encourage them to bring a female friend to help them with clothes and help them relax. A friend like this actually becomes a session assistant.

You can set your own boundaries, just ensure you protect yourself and your models and be very honest and considerate of their needs. Avoid going out alone with new models. That’s good practice anywhere.

Do these things and you will gain a reputation and soon have more models than you need wanting photos, referring friends, etc. This is amazing for portraits and lighting experiences.

Ivanna shoot with Gavin Seim
Ivanna – Model QRO Mexico

3. Find amazing locations to work with models in Mexico!

There are beautiful people everywhere, but the exotic nature of those from other cultures makes it easy to get that creative energy. You could rent a studio or building depending on your needs but theirs a lot of outdoor scenes and urban places that are really eye-catching for projects.

The land is beautiful in Mexico also and there’s so much color in the trees. So even if you don’t have a studio, you’re fine. It’s good to know the area you are in and whether it’s calm (most are). You can legally take photos in pretty much any public space and I’ve never had a problem after many sessions on streets and in parks. It’s normal here.

Let models be themselves. Photographing beautiful people is easy; sort of. You still have to stay on top of things. Pay attention to your lights and setups and detail and do not get pressured by the fact that you’re working with experienced models and feel like the shutter needs to be clicking at all times to prove yourself. Like any portrait session, take charge, take a breath and make a plan.

Yara and Evaristo did a great job. We loaded up and headed out to some epic outdoor locations like an old mine, the bus stop, and the forested roadsides of beautiful Mexico. But that was just the start and since then I’ve started building my own list of models for when I have projects so I don’t have to use a middleman and we can collaborate as equals.

But it’s Mexico, Gavin, surely I’ll be robbed. Don’t believe the hype so easily. I’ve roamed Mexico for months. Just like any country, there are bad parts of town, but most areas of Mexico are perfectly safe and wandering around to cool locations is no problem. We were in Querétaro and Hidalgo State which in most areas have less crime than many States in the US.

Model Ivanna in a Mexico session on the River in Hidalgo
Hidalgo Mexico. One of my favorite Riverside modeling locations with Ivanna

There are talented undiscovered models of Mexico. Treat them with respect and everyone will leave happy!

Unless you’re shooting a movie, you probably don’t need fancy models that are promoted in US agencies. If it’s a commercial project you can find models from an Edecan like I did my first time or you can scout out your own. It’s a warm culture full of beautiful people.

Get out there and take some photos and then go edit them with some of my presets 😉

I also do session directing and consulting for projects in Mexico so you are welcome to send me a message if you need some help with your upcoming project.

Gavin Seim

Beach session Cisla with Gavin Seim
Cisla – Model San Juan Del Rio Mexico
Model underwear shoot central mexico
Karen – Model QRO Mexico
Models in Mexico dance session with Gavin Seim
Montse – Dancer and model, Queretaro Mexico
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