I have a dilemma. My girlfriend is in to photography and wants to understand it more. She came in contact with a photographer who likes photographing woman either dressed or undressed. He said to help understand photography better would be to have pictures of her done, either clothed, barely clothed or unclothed. Do you think it's a good idea for her to do it? I just think it's his way of conning her into him taking pictures of her.
Is working as a model a good way to learn photography?
It can be, sure. Rather, if the question were more specifically, "is working as a model a good way to learn portrait photography?", sure, why not? Depending on some conditions, that is...
Is the photographer good? Is he experienced, does he know how to communicate with and direct models? Does he know his equipment? Does he understand lighting, blocking, placement, all the other elements of composition? Does he have vision, or does he make boring, predictable, "lame" shots?
There is plenty to learn from just being around professional portrait and/or fashion photographers. Professional models probably have a lot more experience and know a lot more about "the big picture" of how to do portrait shoots than most hobbyist-turned-semi-pro photographers: the scope of equipment involved; the amount of time a shoot takes; how to deal with schedule, weather, equipment, and personnel conflicts; placement of lighting; directing models and communicating with them to bring out their best.
These are not necessarily elements of all photography. And notably absent from my list are the things any photographer needs to know: how to use their equipment; comfort and knowledge with exposure, "reading" lighting; the "artistic eye".
So, yes, it can be a good way to learn many elements of portrait/session photography. Depending on the quality and professionalism of the photographer, and the student's goals and willingness to learn. But nothing helps someone take better pictures than going out and taking a lot of pictures — that is, being behind the camera.
Do you think it's a good idea for her to do it? I just think it's his way of conning her into him taking pictures of her.
Can't answer that question — it's completely outside the scope of this site. Your hunch may be right, but we don't know enough about you, your girlfriend, or the photographer in question.
However, what can you do, what can you look for, or what can you ask, in order to help you make your assessment of the photographer as "objective" as possible?
Encourage your girlfriend to ask to see his portfolio. If he has experience as a photographer, and has a portfolio he is willing to show, then you and/or your girlfriend can judge his expertise based on the quality of his work.
If your girlfriend is still interested in posing as a model for him, encourage her to require to see the contract and/or model release form before any shots are taken. What rights does she have to the work, will she be paid, is she paid a flat fee for the session(s) or is she paid after sale or publication of pictures, etc.? These are all pertinent details, and a reputable and respectable photographer will be prepared to answer these questions.
Judging by his portfolio, would you or your girlfriend be willing to pay him for photography lessons? That is, is her interest in photography strong enough that she would seek paid education (ignoring financial considerations), or is her interest more along the lines of "hoping to 'pick up' some tips and pointers"? And is his previous work good enough that she'd consider him a good photography mentor or teacher? Again, ignoring financial considerations, would the idea of working for him strictly as an intern be interesting? If the answer to these questions are "yes", then he apparently has something he can teach.
Would he be willing to teach your girlfriend if she paid for lessons? If so, then his primary interest is not getting your girlfriend to model for him.
I don't think modeling is a good way to learn photography at all. It's a decent way to learn how to plan and perform a shoot but it has very very little with photography. She won't be controlling the aperture, the shutter speed, the lighting, she won't be picking the angles and dictating the composition. She'll be sitting there while he does all of that.
It's worthless to her.
She'd be better off networking with a photographer that will let her come as an assistant, at least then she might learn a bit about the setup and lighting.
And in this particular case it sounds very suspect that I would want not only to see the portfolio but also get references that you can talk to or even video chat with to prove he isn't just showing you random photos off the internet.
Taking pictures of experienced models with the guidance of a knowledgeable photographer is a much better way. You will learn some things as a model, but you are going to learn much better as the actual photographer. I can't say I have ever heard this as advice to become a better photographer (not that I am an expert).
She would be much better off seeing if there are any photography meetups from something like meetup.com in your area. Any reasonably populated area probably has a few options for learning photography, from paid lessons, camera clubs or just informal get togethers with like minded people.
Being a model helps understand portrait photography and model photography yes, at a limited extent, the relation on clear indications vs the result, you can have a little idea on the position of the lights, but that is it. But:
He said to help understand photography better would be to have pictures of her done, either clothed, barely clothed or unclothed.
This is totally fishy. This is totally stupid. (I am not saying this for you, but If that is what the photographer said.
If her wants to have some sexy photos of her go ahead, but do not use the excuse to "learn photography". Just be sure the photos have a good taste, something her is proud of. Check a contract of what the photographer can not do.
It could be...but I would think one would be more apt to learn as an assistant... because models just stand their and look pretty or walk or pose or whatever the photographer wants the model to do...but the assistant gets to get their hands dirty, moving lights...setting stuff up...and maybe even shooting a second camera...