Intro to Modeling

Editorial Fashion Modeling

Kathleen and Kolton are now killing it in LA and Adam in New York. Kolton is seen in The Mens Warehouse national campaign with daily commercials in 2015/16.  These three collaborate and work really hard making their dreams reality.

Are you America’s Next Top Model?

I’m told I’m photogenic and I want to try modeling but don’t know how to get started?

I want to build my portfolio…wait, why do I need a headshot?

What needs to be in my portfolio?  

I want to model to build my self esteem?

I want to share my experience and insight as I frequently see questions like these being asked to me directly or via a variety of social media outlets. I view this from a very non-traditional perspective which I hope you will find refreshing. Not too long ago, I traded my career in the US Navy /business consulting into being a full time working photographer. I specialize in commercial photography that many times include corporate headshots and other promotional work. I love the idea that my photography helps others earn a better living. This provides a unique sense of purpose for me. I’ve also had the good (and sometimes not so good) fortune of working with modeling agencies. And I have shot headshot and portfolio work for models building their career.

When answering the question, it is important to understand what the purpose of modeling is all about and then figuring out if it is still something that is for you. If it is then figuring out what you can do to get started and to monetize your efforts is the big challenge and adventure you'll want to pursue.

Commercial Modeling is about personifying a product, service or even experience; that is making the viewer connect to the item or idea being sold. It’s making those things relatable so consumers will pay for those things. When you think fashion model, you may first think about the glamour, glitz, parties and exotic travel. And those things can and do happen BUT it’s not until it proven that you are able to show off the apparel in a remarkable way that makes people want to buy those specific jeans, that black dress, shoes or handbag. There is natural talent, skill, and awareness that make this happen. There is also a variety of commercial modeling opportunities. (I’m defining commercial as making money for a business or corporation.) Fashion modeling seems to be what we first think of but there are other types that require different attributes. Within Fashion, there is runway, editorial, print. And there are other genres such as Fitness, Lifestyle, Beauty/Glamour, Parts (hands, feet, hair, etc). Promotional models, trade shows, spokes models and the list goes on. Most talent agencies focus on this type of work where they work to establish and maintain relations with the top companies and advertising agencies.

And there is art modeling which is typically for non business work. Art modeling may be for professional, amateur or student artists learning to sculpt, draw, paint or photograph. Sometimes these works are then sold or auctioned by the artists. Because this work is very speculative, budgets are usually smaller. Talent agencies tend to shy away from this type, leaving the door open for freelance models tend to be the main source.  A healthy dose of skepticism will serve you well of people you work with and promises made.  As the saying goes, trust but verify.

Now, for those wanting to model to improve self esteem.  I advise against that if it's your main reason.  Yes you can build confidence and financial independence through modeling.  But you have to know it's a tough world.  Expect rejection and expect criticism.  Resist the urge to compare yourself to others. And it's an easy world for unsavory things to happen to people who appear vulnerable. (I speak more about safety in a separate article with links at the bottom of this page.

To make money as a model you will either be a free lance or an agency model. As a free lance model you working on your own to find your bookings, manage your schedule, market your branding, negotiate fees, pay taxes and bill for payment. You are your own business and need to have that mind set and processes in place to make a go of it. You are your own boss. As an agency model, they will help with many of the aspects such as marketing, fee negotiation, billing and payment, some mentoring, etc. In return they will retain a commission. You will go to a auditions / casting calls for the client. There will be lots of rejections. They are looking for someone specifically for to sell their products or services and many times it’s intangible but they know it when they see it. You cannot take it personally. You can just be you and own it. Now you can do research to know what they need so you can be the best version of you that is relatable to their needs and requirements.

A note about agencies. There are some terrific ones that have your best interest in mind. They are in business to make money off of your talent. To do that they need you to be successful. In the best case scenario it’s a win win. Because they may be investing up front cost in marketing you to land clients. They are incentivized to book you to recover their costs and make a profit. The more you make the more they make. That's an acceptable and respectable business model.

The rub can come in many forms. In order for you to be successful you should be prepared to invest in yourself (gym memberships, beauty products, some basic wardrobe, headshot, etc.) Remember it’s your brand and your business. Some agencies require that you make that investment to them directly which is a red flag because when they do this they basically recovering their cost from you and not the client. Because they don’t have to recover costs from the client there is less incentive in booking you specifically as long as they book someone from their agency. So they are getting paid by both sides. These agencies will take on as many models as they can. It helps with their cost basis AND it means their competition can’t have that model’s services. Bottomline, research your local agencies. Seek to understand their business model, placement statistics (is everyone getting booked or only the top 10%, client, lists, and the contract terms, checkout the Better Business Bureau, etc., and other references.) Keep in mind different people are going to thrive in different organizations.

Now that you can start to see what modeling is all about how you make money doing modeling, and still want to do this let me explain a few things that can help. As I mentioned, most of my work is for commercial clients. Sometimes when models are needed for my clients, I source the models. When I do this, my clients look through my headshots and portfolio work where they may tell me who they would like or at least give me an idea of what they would like in a model. From that information I can either contact that model directly and for their terms, contact the agency they are working for, or do my own casting call to find models who are interested in. I then submit five or ten to the client for their consideration. Clients like to see a headshot and a full length shot that accurately represents the talent. Along with basic measurements height, bust, waist, hips, hair color, eye color and shoe size, depending on what is being sold, more specifics may be needed. Essentially they want to see who is going to show up for their photo shoot with the look they need.  Surprises are not acceptable and very unprofessional.  Translation: Don't submit blurry, heavily retouched or digitally altered images for casting decisions (Note:  removing fly away hairs and zits is a lot different than digitally changing nose shape and bone structure and digitally masking tattoos.)

When I submit to clients headshots and full length (polaroids / digitals), I eliminate ones that have been over processed, ones that don’t show the models features clearly, and ones that have overly artistic lighting and lens distortion (these are fun but don’t help the process). I’m also less likely to submit photos that have distracting elements such as props, other people and even watermarks.  With regards to watermarks, it distract from you and promotes the other photographer.  Many photographer may not want to promote another photographer when they are trying to build a relationship with their client.   If the model has a resume or tear sheets I will submit those too. This shows the professionalism of the model.

What’s so important about headshots? Headshots are used by clients, talent agencies, and photographers to make casting selections. Actors have been using headshots for decades and there are some accepted guidelines many of which apply for models and other professionals that are beyond the scope of this discussion. Clients use headshots to see natural features face, eyes, nose, mouth, cheek bones, and overall structure. What kind of connection are you making with the viewer. It is used for quick comparison among several candidates that may suit the particular job.

Talent agencies use your headshot on their site that brands them as a certain type of firm and specifically you as model. Go to your favorite agency and take look. There are some subtle differences in the styles agencies use. When I shoot headshots for models, I take into account the agencies they are with or aspire to be with .  Then I shoot in a suitable style that works for those purposes.  Once your on say Ford Models, LA Models, or Wilhelmina you will see pages of headshots.  Take a look a the ones that stand out. You want that to be you, provided it’s for the right reasons.

Sometimes Photographers will hire you directly for a concept they have or when sourcing a model for one of their clients. When you are a free lance model you may be competing with dozens or hundreds of other models for a variety of gigs, so it is even more important that yours stand out. 1) you may be competing against some of the agencies and larger marketing dollars so you want to show that you can provide great value for them without sacrificing professionalism.  2)   And when you are submitting for trade or other types of shoots, having a solid headshot and marketing material will likely connect you with higher caliber photographer, HMUAs and other artists.

Professionally made Headshots are like compounding interest. The sooner you do this in your career the greater the benefits, opening doors that might not be available to you. The fact of the industry is that it favors younger models who appeal to large younger markets and can also be made to look a bit older, appealing to additional markets. Like an athlete, there is a prime time to make to the big leagues and there is not a lot of latitude for making it late in life. Though once established, long careers are possible. Check out Cindy Crawford...still going strong at 50!

Full length Polaroids / Digitals

Many agencies have specific requirements of what they are looking for. Essentially these photos show the model full length from the front and a profile. Sometimes turned in between those work well too. The idea is to see overall proportions, body type and posture. The model should not be retouched. It’s best to where form fitting black clothing. Black two piece swimsuit, workout or yoga tights. Jeans are okay in a pinch. The do not have to be professional but should have nice even lighting a white or bright background. It is best if you have someone else hold the camera as when doing a selfie your body gets distorted. These do need to be current and I suggest a least getting them done with your headshot. (I personally don’t charge extra for these)

Resume / Tear sheets

As you start to get hired for paying jobs where the photographs are used for publication or promotions. Collecting screen grabs and compiling a resume of your clients adds professionalism. Referrals can be helpful, too.


As a model you will be building a portfolio of photographs that highlight the work you have done, your modeling interest, and your awareness with the camera. The trick is using the photos that show off your attributes as a model and not necessarily the creative talents for the photographer. You want your portfolio to be consistent with your brand to it connects with your clients who may be hiring you for similar type of work. A basic portfolio with of course have your headshot, something with casual attires (jeans, summer dress), something more business appealing / young professional, something more sophisticated (high fashion, cocktail dress, Avant Garde) , and something more body oriented (fitness, swim suit, etc). Agencies help with these selections based hiring preferences of their clients. Having five to ten quality photos in your portfolio can help when choices are between you and a few others. Your portfolio will likely not be reviewed during the initially screening when there is a large candidate pool as that takes time to do that is not necessarily your most current work.


For many types of modeling, photos are the results that you will participate in delivering to your client with the help of your photographer and creative team in many cases. For these to look their best and for your team enjoy working with you, you have to take care of YOU. Eating healthy, working out and staying fit, getting sleep and being rested for shoots allows you to bring your “A Game” to the shoot. Taking care of your skin, hair, nails, etc is all about you creating your own brand. Learning about basic hair and makeup as can help your seize opportunities. Not all shoots are going to be glamorous high budget affairs where the model is pampered. Self Sufficiency with get you far! Researching the top agencies with models that have similar looks and vibes as yours can give you a bit of inspirations of what to do in front of the camera. Having a plan for what you will do is always worthwhile. Communicate and collaborate with questions and ideas you have in advance of the shoot. That way if you receive little or no direction you will at least be prepared. Then being open to direction and sharing ideas (when the time is right) can go along way too. With more experience you’ll get a better sense for the pace and styles various teams use for different styles of shoots. Being on set can be an absolute blast and very rewarding to be a contributing member of a creative team producing killer art.


Test shoots are when you are shooting with a photographer and in return, you receive photos that you may use for your portfolio. These are typically not paid events and it’s a good opportunity to try things that may not be practical during a shoot with a client. (I have a more detailed discussion on Trade vs Paid shoots that you may want to checkout.) In short, when done with the right people and a sense of purpose, it a great way to develop your skills and potentially add to your portfolio. There are pitfalls that when doing these with the wrong people, you may unknowingly acquire unprofessional practices or exposure that actually hurts your brand and sets you back. For example, if the photographer is brand new and post amateurish photos with your name tagged it informs your professional reputation. That said, you can treat a test shoot professionally ensuring high quality photographers and creative team. Have a contract that addresses usage for all concerned to help protect everyone’s interest.  Because this is your brand, if you are consistently participating in test or trade shoots, making the transition to paid shoots may be problematic.


With all of your shoots, ensure you details and expectations are documented.  Often there may be limitations with how you may be able to use the photos.  The photographer automatically owns the copyrights of the photographers by virtue of pressing the shutter button, but they allow you and others on the creative team to use images in return for your contribution to the shoot.    It's important to understand what is permissible and what is not.  Typically, you may not alter, print, publish (post), or sell images on unless you own the copyright.  However, photographers my assign specified usage so you can include in your portfolio and post for social media.  Sometimes, photographers have transferred their copyrights to a business or company for commercial shoots, in which case the copyright owner needs to give you permission to use the photos.  Be sure these details are fully understood when working out the terms for your shoots, whether it's a paid shoot or a trade shoot. 


There a several considerations for selecting a photographer and this can really make or break your initial experiences.   It's up to you to research who you want to work with and no one else.  That said and as a photographer here are a few suggestions. 1) Work with those who have an established body of work that they created.  Many photographers build portfolios through group shoots or send their work out to be retouched so you really are not sure what they are really capable of producing for you. 2) Decide whether you want to work with professionals who are working hard to make it in the industry or if you want to work with hobbyists. Great images may be possible either way but ask yourself what relationships you want to build and what angles others have regarding your best interest. 3)  When researching others you can check agencies like the Better Business Bureaus, Utah Business Search (, Google Reviews, etc.  Also, look for their footprint on social media.  Do they use a respectful tone.  Do they publish others work without credits or links. This is a pet peeve of mine when people post work without credit and even say "not my work". They just stole another's work for their purposes, and this may be indicative of how they will be to work with. 4) Do they broadly advertise free or trade shoots and then suddenly try to charge you?!  Are their prices listed on their site, if they even have a site?  Granted not every scenario can be accounted for but these are some thing you can use to gauge your selection and perhaps ask follow up questions. I have included more considerations about selecting photographers and protecting yourself in the following links. 


I hope this has shed some light on how you might get started. Many will say you should find test or trade shoots to see if you like it first. While I agree in principle I believe there is an important caveat. If your first experiences are with other photographers or creatives that are less than professional it may be counter productive or potentially unsafe. If it’s with a friend or someone you know and trust, then it may be a good way to get nice results with no monetary costs. If you are serious about treating this as a business and have little money to invest, then getting some basic photos, professionally made will likely be in your best interest. These may help you attract higher caliber photographers for follow on trade shoots, agency attentions, or even for direct submissions to paying clients.  This can accelerate your progress.  Time is of the essence when it comes to modeling, just like professional athletes.    It’s that whole first impression is a lasting impression concept. Getting a great start can lead to bigger and better opportunities! Good luck! Below you will find links to other topics that may be of interest. If you have questions or comments, my contact info is a the top of the page. 

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