Finding Models as a Beginner In Photography
Finding models can consume your life when starting out in portrait photography. My initial focus was to learn the craft and practice versus connecting with agencies and signed models.
What’s important to note is that modeling agencies want to help a model build a proper portfolio. This allows them to book paid jobs and build their career. Their primary goal is to help their signed models gain the necessary experience to grow their portfolio. Agencies will allow you to “test” with their model only when it benefits them.
So where should you start? My recommendation is to keep it simple by photographing people around you. My first portrait shoots were with a theater friend who was comfortable posing in front of a camera. After working with him, he introduced me to more actors that were at ease with modeling. Meanwhile, I also started making new connections and seeing if they would be willing to model for me. It may feel awkward initially to ask people, but the worst thing they can say is no.
Here are my top three tips for breaking the ice with people:
- Keep it short and sweet. If you’re contacting potential models through social media, my recommendation is to send a concise message asking them if they would be interested in working with you.
- Send them links to your portfolio or online accounts to give them insight into your style and approach.
- If they don’t respond, my best advice is to leave it alone. The reality is that there are plenty of potential models looking for opportunities to build their portfolio.
- My advice is to look for the right connection who understands your creative style and approach versus trying to force something.
Many people make finding models overly complicated. If a potential model isn’t interested in working with you, shrug it off. Keep working with new people that are willing to collaborate. I had models come back to me later in my career wanting to work together after initially saying no when I first asked them. I chose to view those situations as positive signs of recognition that my work had improved rather than looking at them in a negative light.
Keep in mind that being turned down and having models flake on you comes with the territory. It happened to me quite a few times. My advice is not to take it personally. Many times, potential models lack the confidence to be vulnerable in front of a camera, especially when asking friends to model.
Everyone gets into photography for different reasons. My initial goal was to use it as a creative outlet and fun activity to share with friends. I started out portraying my vision through images, stories and emotions that I couldn’t properly vocalize. My strongest pictures came from being vulnerable by sharing raw and honest moments with someone. Finding those “real moments” is still the most important aspect of photography for me. It's where I feel like I’m doing something meaningful. Artistic expression that matters beyond a pretty picture.
However, I like to continually challenge myself to grow in my photography experience. I’m never satisfied with staying comfortable. This approach has resulted in exploration of things like working with agencies and signed models, as well as editorial and fashion photography.
I would caution you that if your goal is to photograph emotional, meaningful, raw moments then maybe working with agencies and models isn’t the best route. I often come away from such agency shoots armed with very pretty images. However, I find those images while pretty often lack emotional meaning. It takes time and the right setting for more vulnerable images, and I’ve found it hard to make that connection in the short time frame and rigid settings usually requested by agencies.
What happens if you still want to work with agencies and signed models? The following section is for you, read on!
My first recommendation is to make sure you’re presenting the right image for agencies when they look at your portfolio. I’ll say it plainly. As a beginner, you should avoid nudity or risqué photography. Why am I so opinionated about this? For one, you are a beginner that is still developing and growing. When you put nudity and beginner level work together, it cheapens your appearance and the models you work with. In these cases, the images usually end up looking like a bad porno. Agencies then will often look at you (especially if you are a male) with the wrong perception that you’re into photography for all the wrong reasons.
Contacting the Professionals
Let your work do the talking. You should be photographing, curating, and publishing only your best work until you have a solid portfolio of work to show. This is the critical first step in booking test shoots.
Breaking it down to simple steps. Here are the top building blocks for working with agencies that you should have in place before contacting an agency:
A portfolio is the first and most important thing you should have in place. Agencies will decide if they’d like to let you work with their models based on your portfolio alone. Without a portfolio, they won’t consider you at all for booking shoots.
You can create a PDF portfolio to send with your email to agencies. My advice is to take it a step further and create a simple website that you can link to showcasing your portrait, fashion or editorial photography. Notice I named several specific types of photography. If you send an agency to your website, they should see a variety of styles. Looking at a website full of nature images means they most likely won’t consider letting you shoot with their models.
An agency needs to see that you have photography experience, which will add value for their models portfolio. A supporting social media account (Instagram for example) may garner additional bonus points depending on what that particular agency finds important.
2. Get in Contact
Are you ready to start moving to the next step of contacting agencies? Let’s break it down!
Agencies often have general emails on their website, but you’ll find that emailing email@example.com won’t get you a test shoot. The person you want to talk to is the booker. This is the person who takes care of setting up shoots for the models, and their contact info usually isn’t listed on agency websites.
I’ve found the quickest way to find out booker information is by going to the Instagram accounts for an agency’s models. They often will list their booker’s e-mail on their account. In particular, models listed as “new faces” usually have the address of their booker in their bio. “New faces” are models that don’t yet have a large portfolio. They typically are actively looking for up and coming photographers and stylists to work with.
Another approach is to call agencies directly. I know that this may sound a little intimidating, but it works I promise you.
- Call the agency let them know who you are, your profession (photographer), and ask to speak with the head of “new faces” division.
- Once you are connected to the “new faces” division, explain briefly that you’d like to test with some of their models and ask to email them with more details. They will often give you their direct e-mail address.
- Send them your portfolio and social media account links along with the short and sweet introduction we talked about above.
3. What to say in Your Email
Subject Line: keep it simple. I’ve often put “testing” in the subject line without anything else. Bookers are bombarded with tons of e-mails and appreciate a straightforward approach.
E-mail Content: introduce yourself and get to the point. Let them know that you’d like to test with their “new faces” models.
Asking for Specific Models: what’s important to note when asking for particular model is make sure to say if they are unavailable that there are others you’d be interested in photographing as well. You can also keep it general and avoid requesting specific models. In this case, ask them to test with some of their new faces with a link to your portfolio and social media accounts.
Important Note: keep this email brief! They don’t care who else you’ve photographed or companies you’ve worked with. In fact, talking yourself up that way can often turn them off.
What They’re Going to Need
- Mood Board: they will want to know if the images you plan to take have benefit to their models portfolio. The easiest way for them to get an idea of what you have in mind is a mood board.
- Team: they will probably ask if you have a team. What they mean is “do you have a makeup artist, hair stylist, and wardrobe/shoot stylist?” Having the full team may be a make or break deal at times. Keep in mind though that it’s not always a requirement. I suggest looking for a makeup artist and stylist working on growing their portfolio with some proven work to demonstrate their abilities. Remember this shoot should benefit not only you but everyone involved.
- Call Sheet: they’re going to want to know where you’ll be shooting, what time you’re starting and finishing, who’ll be there, your phone number and any other important notes. (See example call sheet.)
- Pre-shoot Meeting: some agencies like to meet with the photographer before a shoot. This request is normal and offers them a chance to make sure you a trustworthy person. Don’t sweat it! They may also give you a paper to sign with a few rules of what you can and can't do on a test shoot.
After e-mailing, wait a few days and then follow up. Keep it short by saying you're following up on your inquiry about testing. If you still don't get a response, try another agency or wait and try again in a couple of weeks. Don’t forget, you can always direct message (DM) a model on social media and ask them about setting up a shoot. They’ll often refer you to their agent and send a direct email address for their booker.
What happens when you do hear back? After you stop celebrating, this is when all that hard prep work pays off. They'll likely ask what your concepts are and if you have a team. This is the time when you send your mood board along with info on your make-up artist (MUA) and wardrobe/stylist. Make sure to let them know who your team members are along with links to their websites or social media accounts.
The last piece often requires the most patience. Agents are extremely busy, and you should expect a good bit of back and forth working out a date that works for both you and the model.
- PRACTICE: Take photos of the people around you. Start with family, friends, then friends of friends. Work on building up your basic foundational skills. If you want to work with agency models, you'll need practice and photos to show how working with you will benefit them and their portfolio.
- PORTFOLIO: a portfolio is essential. Work on creating a website to showcase your work. I use SquareSpace for the simplicity of setup with no coding required.
- SALES PITCH: don't get caught up trying to talk yourself up to agencies. Present yourself transparently and be concise about what you have to offer and what you want from them.
- REMINDERS: Agencies will need to know What (you're planning to shoot, this is where a mood board comes in), Who (you will be working with, makeup artist, hair stylist, and wardrobe stylist), When (date/time you'll be shooting, let them know all the details via a call sheet) & Where (location that you'll be shooting.)
Call an agency and follow the instructions above. Shoot me a DM or e-mail and let me know how it goes!