Getting people to model for you

Posted on January 29, 2012


A recent photographer asked in a closed group asked how one goes about getting people to model for them other than their close friends. The photographer is someone who is relatively new to the “pro” side of photography and shows lots of promise of becoming a great photographer. This is probably something that is asked by several new photographers to the industry frequently.

First, let me say that I don’t pursue models like a romance. I won’t chase after models. The most I indicate is that I want to work with them three times. If they haven’t done anything but say they want to work with me for those three times, I let them go as potential models. There are two reasons for this: a) it takes a lot of time and effort you don’t have as a photographer, and b) they are much more likely to flake on you for the photo session. Also, along the same lines, don’t have romances with your models. Their modeling isn’t for dating purposes. Even so, many models who are chased romantically expect photographers to do the same. Don’t do it!

If you aren’t familiar to the term “Flake”, it is a model who doesn’t show up for a photo session after confirming they will be going to it. Sometimes the flaking model will call some hours after the session, but for the most part, you never hear from them again once they don’t show up (I think only four models have contacted me after flaking in 30 years). I also will be including some of the things that I do as a photographer to minimize flakes. As a photographer, I have some of the lowest flake levels for models in our area, usually experiencing no more than 2% per year (although two years ago it was as high as 40% for that year).

Second, get used to people who say “no” or never talk to you ever again. This is a fact of life as a photographer who asks people who model for them. Also know that just because a person works with one photographer, the model may or may not work with you as a photographer. Each model is different and has different things that they look when considering a photographer. Most models don’t care who the photographer is and don’t check the photographers out – they just want to be in front of the camera. Others are very choosy about who they work and want to make sure it will be worth their time and effort. Others look at the images that are posted and don’t want to take anything like them. Some will hear about your reputation and not want to work with you. Some want to be paid. Others won’t like the “friends” you have on such and such site or because of their reputation. Know that for a multitude of reasons, a model will say “no”. Don’t take it personally. Just move on and find someone else to ask. Know that many people will say “no” immediately, but in time, they will contact you and ask if you are still interested in working with them once they know more about you, your work and your reputation. It is important to keep asking people. Over time, you will get better and better at asking people and the success rate will be higher.

Third, you will get a better response from asking people off the street than those you find on modeling web sites and social networks. This seems contrary to what you would expect, but amazingly true. I have also found that people who I find via these web sites are also a higher flake level, too. As a photographer, I have also noticed that certain photographers and designers seem to breed flakes. This may or may not be the situation in your area. When shooting in another city about 10 hours away from Indianapolis, I frequently find that there are just porn models (all they want is $200/hour for any kind of work) or flakes there. I have gotten to the point I won’t shoot anyone from that particular area or nearby cities to it. As a photographer, it isn’t worth my time.

Fourth, when you ask someone to model, be professional and provide them some information who you are and examples of your work. I frequently give them a business card in person that has several places that I have work posted (not to mention six images on the card itself). If they can’t see the type of work you do and the kind of person who you are, they will say “no”. To them, you are a total stranger who wants to take a picture of them. You may be that creeper who is after them. If they are on a social network or modeling site, I frequently have an idea of what I want to do as a photographer because I can see some images of them (the ideas are sketched out and are affectionately known as ‘chicken scratches’ by the models who work with me). Give some idea to them how you see them being in the images you want to take, their posing, and what they would need to do during the shoot. If they need to bring anything, let them know that, too. If it is just a test shoot, let them know this and what you expect to do during that test shoot. As a photographer who sketches out his ideas before a shoot, I have learned that most models don’t need to know all the details of a shoot and have started to restrict the information I give models who I haven’t worked before. This was a hard lesson to learn, but I have had one local model steal these concepts, put me off for varying reasons over a one year period, and then present them to other photographers as her own ideas and shoot them with the other photographers in that one year period. If you are a photographer, I highly discourage you from discussing specific concepts and lighting with the model until you have worked with the model a few times or they are at the shoot and can’t go to someone else to do the shoot. In my book, this is theft.

Fifth, I have many people contact me and say they want to shoot a concept with me. They tend to be some of the more expensive concepts – makeup artist, hair, costuming, and the like. The model frequently also wants to be paid for their work in these types of shoots. If you haven’t guessed, these are models who are from the modeling sites. When you look at their profile, there is nothing that convinces you that they can do the work you need from them or it is obvious that they can’t do the work. They rarely can write well in messages, and think modeling is just looking pretty in front of a camera. I tell those models that I don’t hire models for these shoots, and that I have to work with the model a few times before I (or my client’s) spend this kind of money on a shoot with models in something this expensive. There are exceptions to this, but those are very rare and unusual situations. The models that you deal with on the social networks and modeling sites often have an unrealistic view of the industry, costs involved with a job, and what they are capable of doing in most modeling situations. If you didn’t catch it before, they frequently flake a lot more often than someone you ask off the street.

Sixth, if you do work with someone who is not on a modeling site, they will frequently “catch” that modeling bug if you are a good photographer. Many of the people who are off the street that I ask frequently tell me they aren’t models and that they don’t look good enough to be a model. Once they are in front of the camera, and able to strut their stuff, they get addicted to being in front of the camera. That is normal. They finally see themselves through someone else’s eyes and the beauty that someone else sees within them. Some love the treatment they get – being done up and being able to be someone else. It is an escape from the world they are in, and nothing else matters once they are in front of the camera. If you do work with someone off the street, know that you may have to beat them off with a stick if you work with them a few times or they will expect to be your only model.

Seventh, as indicated above, being professional means exactly this. This means having a good and decent set of images on your web site. Showing decent work on the social network sites. This also means taking time and presenting a decent look at who you are – check your spelling, and have a polished look when you do appear on the web. I personally don’t change the work out that often. Many photographers change the work monthly and weekly. As part of this blog, I am hoping to post some variety of the work I am doing. One of the policies I have as a photographer is “privacy”. This means that the images I take of clients won’t be used or shown to anyone without a separate release. Most photographers have in their service agreement to be able to use and sell the images they take to anyone for any reason. If you do have this in your agreement, use moderation on the work that you post – don’t overwhelm people with a constant churn of photography every single week. Only post those images that show your best work. You don’t have to post everything. Of the few people who see most all of my work, many ask why I post less than 3% of what I can post. This is the reason – I only want what I think is the best and shows my best effort.

Eighth, as you establish a strong book of images and tear sheets and clients, you will be able to work with better and better models. Even so, I find that I like working with the less experienced models and helping to get the best from them. Part of this is that many “good” models try to take over the shoot, will but heads with you, think they know more than you, are stuck in routines that have worked with other photographers, and sometimes are divas. But, if you meet someone who is established as a model with lots of experience and not this way, you often create some very magical images. There are also those models that are like muses (can I say that?) to the way you work. They take direction, understand what you want, and make you the photographer very efficient at what you do. You want to hang on to those models as long as you can. I have been lucky to find two so far.

Ninth, when someone does model for you, treat them with respect and courtesy. Always give them some place safe and clean to change. Don’t touch them without permission – always ask before touching them. Keep the shoot light and fun. Don’t be a slave driver. It should be enjoyable for everyone at the shoot. Get what you promised to the model to them. Don’t take advantage of the models. If you do a TF* shoot, don’t withhold images or only give them one or two images of horrible quality. Models do understand that it takes time to edit a lot of images, so don’t promise them every single image from a shoot to be edited (I only promise 10 per three hours, and will usually give them up to an additional 20 if they were great models). If you pay all your other models, don’t skip paying someone when promised – especially with gas and travel expenses. When working with them, realize they are people and not sex objects – if they move in such a way that gives you an open leg look under a skirt, turn and look away if that isn’t the kind of shoot you have discussed you are doing with the model. And, finally, don’t be flaky with them before, during, or after a shoot.

In this post, hopefully you can see there are several things you need to do to work with models. Key to this is knowing you will hear lots of “no” and you should not take it personally. Don’t chase models – you aren’t there to have relationships with the models. You will have better response from people who aren’t on modeling sites. When you do ask someone to model for you, be professional and have professional items to support you. Have some idea what you want to do when you work with them before you ask. If you want to work with better models, create a strong set of images and clients. Be sure to show some of your tear sheets in your book. And always treat models with respect. Your reputation means everything, and is always important to keep in good standing with everyone you work. You never know when someone will overhear something from someone else.

Something that I haven’t mentioned above is to also attend meet and greets with models and photographers. This gives people time to associate you with a real person. Just know that first impressions are VERY important. How you behave, treat people, your appearance, and provide models with what you promise them will impact your reputation.

Now, get out there, create your professional appearance, and start asking away.

Posted in: Photography