Requirements for being a Commercial Model

Posted on September 15, 2011


Continuing with requirements for being a model, our next type of model is the commercial model. This is the person who you see in almost every type of advertisement you see, can be someone you see in articles in magazines (editorial work), billboards, playing games, using appliances, and every model you see in a stock photographer’s collection of images. They also work in various shows, work to sell things at conventions with scripts you have to follow or showing things like cars on a small stage, and frequently are found in the local fashion scene of smaller cities. They often act in various commercials and some independent film. If they are lucky, they will have one or more contracts doing advertising with firms to sell their products. Fashion models tend to do commercial modeling work (also known as “commercial fashion”), but commercial models can’t do the fashion modeling. Fashion models sell higher end clothing, beauty products, and clothing accessories. Commercial models sell what is left. Because of this, commercial models are at a disadvantage at making a living from the start – there is significantly less money to pay them. The good news, though, is that if you are consistent and dependable, you will probably book more work as a commercial model than you would a fashion model. You won’t make loads of money as a commercial model, but you probably can make enough to survive or earn pocket change in most cities in the US. Most commercial models have two jobs: one for bringing a steady income, and the other being the modeling work. Being affiliated with a modeling agency is a requirement – they will not fill these positions with freelance models of any kind.

Requirements for a commercial model are significantly different – I don’t think I have ever seen anything in writing that says what they are. More generic types of looks are preferred. Frequently, I will see requirements like “retired school teacher” or “mom with two children” or “30ish year old that looks like she is a millionaire” for commercial models. The roles for models are to look like various people who you would find in the real world – stay at home moms, lawyers, doctors, postal workers, clerks, etc. The more real people who you can look like, the more in demand you will be. If you are a male, the most difficult person to find is a male from 25-45 years of age, so you will get lots of opportunity if you are in that age bracket. The key to remember is that you need to look like this in person, in print, and in motion. Acting and an outgoing personality go a long way in getting these jobs. If you can’t walk up to a total stranger and talk to them, this really isn’t the job for you. The bulk of the work you will do is talking to live people.

If I were to say general requirements, I would have to say that most female models are 5 ft 5 in to 5 ft 8 in in height. Males would be 5 ft 10 in to 6 ft tall. Models are typically healthy and vary with weight. There are no specific ages, but the bulk of what I have been asked to do has models from 20 to 30 years, and then again at 55 to 65 years of age. Again, I can’t emphasis this enough – the requirements are being able to portray someone in real life. This can be a parent, grandparent, honeymooners, professional, or anyone else. That is really the key to getting this type of job. It is important to be able to convey feeling or emotions with this type of modeling. If you are drop dead gorgeous, that might be enough in some jobs. Others will want you to convey a feeling. Remember: you are always selling something – a product, service, or idea.

You may be asking what kind of pay will I see? The pay ranges from nothing to $300 per hour. If you have an agent, they will want their cut of this pay, and you will be required to keep your files updated every six months with current head shots, comp sheets, zed cards, and various other marketing materials paid out of your own pocket. If you don’t work with an agent, you are significantly less likely to get paying work. If you travel, either you or the client has to pay for your travel expense, room, and board. The typical model that I know makes about $2,500 per year as a part time model. A full time model would probably make more. It also isn’t unusual to hear of models making $100,000 from one job with expected residuals for the next few years. Work will be spotty until you build a reputation, and there will never be a guaranty that you will always have work to do.

If you are a really good looking female, of legal age, and don’t mind showing your legs, arms, and a bare back, you might find a special and unique niche of commercial modeling: glamour. This tends to be more sexual nature of modeling and can be anything in lingerie, pin-up, cheese cake, or less clothing. If you are willing to be fully nude, you have a lot higher chance of getting jobs. These models have a very short career before new models take their places. If you can be well established, you may have jobs well into your late 30s or early 40s. They start at 21 years of age (some independents start at 18-but they strictly do full nude modeling), and typically last until around 26 years of age. What is interesting is that this type of work picks up again at about age 40 and continues on to the late 50s. The type of work is typically found on modeling sites like Model Mayhem, and One Model Place. The model may or may not have an agent. This is also the hardest, and the niche where you will deal with the worst this industry has to offer. Frequently, if someone is willing to be a glamour model, they can be pushed into doing more. Because of this, glamour models are frequently used as feeders into erotic and pornographic types of work. If you are a glamour model, and you dabble in the more erotic or pornographic work (including fetish), you will never get a job outside this area of modeling with the exception of being an art model. Model’s who work hard and travel often can earn six figure incomes. To the die hards out there, they won’t consider a glamour model as a commercial model and often look down on them because most glamour models are found in men’s magazines and porn web sites.

Speaking of another type of model who is not considered to be commercial anymore is the alternative model. They tend to propagate more to the glamour and glamour nude side of things because they pay more. The alternative model tends to be more Goth and Punk types of modeling, but can include anyone with lots of tattoos and piercings.

Finally, one type of model out there who needs to be there as a warm body filling in is called an “extra” model. They are people who fill in when a crowd needs to be there, or just a warm body that needs to be in the image. These don’t pay much, if anything.

In terms of photography work, commercial models may be required to do a lot more work for free. This is because the industry works on speculation or what is commonly referred to as “spec work”. This is where someone comes up with an idea to market a product or service, they cast the commercial models and test pieces are created. The test pieces are done before the contract has been accepted by the client, and is done in the hopes of landing a contract for a few years. This means that you might have to do quite a bit of spec work to get a contract that pays something. You will need to look at this work like playing the lottery initially, and you will figure out over time who your most likely people to get you a paying job as you do more work.

This should give you a good idea of what is expected as a commercial model. There will be additional blogs on the types of models and the work they do. If you have a request, feel free to drop me a line.

Edit: Thought I would add in being a lingerie model here, as a few people have commented that they are a commercial or catalogue type model and nothing is explicitly listed in these blogs about them. The requirements that they look for are 5 ft 7 inches, breast size of 32E or bigger, and an hour glass type figure. You can not have any tattoos or scars visible when wearing lingerie. Note that there are showroom lingerie models who model lingerie to prospective buyers, and this would be wearing lingerie in front of others (not just a camera). Personality is very important and a temperament to be wearing lingerie in front of total strangers is a requirement, and being able to talk and potentially sell the product while wearing it.

The infamous shameless plug at the end: If you are looking for a photographer for portraits, please take a look at XOIND Studios. More information can be found at XOIND Studios web page.

All information and images are ©2012 Don Krajewski on this post.

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Posted in: Modeling