Where do I start as a model?

One of the questions I often hear is “Where do I start as a model?”  As a photographer, I don’t know why you choose to model or what your goals are. This is important for anyone who wants to work with you as a model to know. Almost always, I ask the person who wants to be a model and an escort to meet me somewhere to discuss this, model security, things to be aware, types of modeling, and similar things to get an idea of why someone wants to model, and the types of images they want to create. That was quick. Done. Not so fast. Let us get some things talked about first. These are some of the same things I would normally talk about with a new model are below.

Why are you modeling?

First and foremost, you need to decide why you want to be a model. For some, it is to build self confidence. Others, they like being the center of attention and love to perform (on stage or in front of a camera). Yet others want to show a part of themselves that they can’t show any other way. Still others love to dress up, get their hair styled, and put lots of makeup on. Some want to make money. Your reasons for modeling may be one of these. Your reason may be a different reason. Your reason could even be a combination of reasons. There is no wrong answer here other than telling people the wrong reasons for why you want to model. Expect almost everyone who you work with as a model to want to know why you are modeling. Be honest about this when you are asked. Being honest will make your modeling experience better.

What are your limits?

Second, know your limits of what you will do and not do as a model. Limits would be the state of undress you will go, heights you will go, and if there are things you won’t do. In this industry, people will push you to do things you wouldn’t normally do. Part of this is because people in this industry are good manipulators, and once they find your weakness, they will exploit it. For instance, one of the frequent tricks is something called a “casting couch”. It can start with an advertisement that says “models needed for…” When you respond, that position is filled but another one that pays really well is available but they lead you on and avoid telling you it is porn.  Or, maybe they are looking for models for a calendar and get you to strip down to your underwear because you will be showing more off than that and you didn’t bring a bathing suit with you. Before you know it, you are nude and doing sexual favors to get an “in” to get that modelling position in the calendar. Or, they want you to show your sexy side and “just one more with a little more showing”… before you know it, you are completely nude and doing something you never intended to be doing. Your desire to be a model and this being the only way to get your foot in the door causes you to do something you wouldn’t normally do. Chances are that you will have undermined any chances at being a “pro” model by doing those favors because they end up on some porn site. Always convey your limits to the people who you work before a shoot or show. Know your limits before you do any work as a model and stick to them. When you don’t, you will feel taken advantage and the harm to your career could be irreparable.

Decide your path

There isn’t a single path to being a model – there are multiple ways depending on your route. The bulk of photographic modeling occurs by models who aren’t associated with an agency or those who are working for little or nothing associated with an agency. Almost all promotional modeling occurs through agencies. Most modeling agencies for photographic purposes will be in one of the larger cities in the US. The closest to me is Chicago. In large cities in general, there will be several promo model agencies who are always looking for people to represent things like alcohol and tobacco on a regular basis. Most models should try to get through the modeling agency door as soon as possible. This can be done through an open call, sending a letter and photographs (properly taken and exposed images, not casual snapshots), or scheduling an interview. The best way to find out which is the best way to contact them is to either call them on the phone or send them a e-mail and ask. If you have a book or portfolio of images, be sure to take it with you when visiting them. Take the time to investigate each one you go before you sign a contract. The requirements are rigorous and very defined at modeling agencies. Don’t give up. Stay in contact with them. Agencies are always looking for new talent, and if you don’t meet their needs today, you might a few months or a year down the road. The reason for this is that they operate on providing models that fit the needs of their clients. This changes frequently and almost month to month. Another is that most model’s careers are over by the time they are 28 years old, and as such, the industry is weighted with young models. If the agency route doesn’t work, then the freelance route is another option. This means you will be responsible for marketing, booking, and producing yourself as a model. If you are freelance, know that there are certain requirements for different types of models and if those requirements aren’t met, be realistic and know there is very little you will be able to do to change them. Both require a lot of hard work, education about the industry, and effort. Being a model isn’t easy.


When you go to a casting call or modeling session, ALWAYS bring someone as an escort with you. An escort is someone to accompany you for your protection and not be in the way. If the person who you are going to see doesn’t allow escorts, ask if you can bring one with you, and if they still don’t, that should be a red flag that something might be up. This doesn’t mean that everyone who doesn’t allow escorts is going to try to take advantage of you, but the odds are fairly high that they will. I personally encourage escorts, but know how one more person on the set can make things difficult for me as a photographer. Don’t ever bring your father, or don’t bring a boy friend who is easily jealous. Giggly friends are someone you don’t want to bring with you. All cause problems at a shoot. I will typically call the end of the shoot if I feel we aren’t being productive. Other photographers don’t tolerate problems with escorts and call an end immediately. You always want to bring someone who is non-disruptive, could help if asked, and who you trust. When you bring an escort, make sure you both talk about your limits before getting there, and exchange code words. One is for you to say, “get me out of here because I am getting creeped out” and one for them to let you know that you have gone beyond your limits and are being manipulated. What ever goes on during a shoot, don’t ever feel bad about walking out on someone. If you don’t do what the individual photographer wants you to do,  they will try a lot of things to make you do what they want. One of these is to make you feel really bad about walking out – they will tell you how their time is worth money, how much money is on the line, how it cost a lot of money to do the shoot. Yes, it costs money to do a shoot. But it should never be used to make a model do something that they wouldn’t normally do. If you feel bad about it, this can be exploited. Don’t let it bother you. THEY are the ones who went beyond your limits and anything you do should have been discussed prior to the shoot. If it wasn’t discussed prior (or was, and ignored), you don’t need to worry about how much money is being wasted. Something else you ALWAYS need to do is bring a two piece bathing suit to anything you do in modeling. It is far better to have one with you and not need it, than need one and not have one with you. A typical two piece doesn’t take up much space in your purse. If you are on a test shoot, go-see, meeting with a designer or agent, you will need one. Most will want to take pictures of you to see what your body looks like. How many tattoos do you have? How many scars do you have? Do you have tan lines? If measurements are taken, it gives the most accurate measurements when you have very little clothes on. The option if you forget a bathing suit: doing them in your underwear or nothing.

Nude and Glamour modeling

In the modeling industry, no one will require you to do nude modeling to get started as a model (except photographers who want to shoot you nude or other purpose). Contrary to various modeling reality TV shows that say you must do nudes to be a model, you do not have to do any nudes at all. All agencies will ask you if you do nudes or not do nudes when they register you as a model. To them, it is a check box to include those assignments for you. As a general policy, most agencies do not like models who have done nudes prior to signing up with any agency. From their perspective, there is a possibility that whatever you have done will damage the reputation of the client that you would be representing. Nudes done while at a modeling agency are OK, and they know those images shouldn’t hurt the prospective client. Anyone who tells you that you must do nudes to get in the business is not being truthful.

On the flip side to this, some models want to do body painting, nudes, and lingerie type images (or other types of images like bondage or porn or fetish or others). If you are someone who does want to do nude or semi-nude modeling, one thing you need to do is talk with the people who you work to be very clear what you will be doing. It isn’t uncommon that a model will indicate to me that they want to do images for a company like Suicide Girls because they won’t have to get nude – yet in the Suicide Girl model application in fine print, the contract says they expect full nudity. Always ask what is expected of you as a model and what you need to be doing. Ask for examples. There is nothing worse than being stuck in a shoot and being directed to do something you didn’t want to do or had no intention of doing because you didn’t ask enough questions. Make sure you always convey your limits before doing a shoot or show of any kind. Also know that if something is showing at any time during the shoot, if it is photographed, and you sign a release, the photographer can use those images without your approval unless it is explicitly on the release not to include the images you don’t want. Don’t ever show anything more than you want in an image seen by the general public. And remember, if it isn’t on the paper release, the photographer or staff can tell you just about anything they want and not abide by it. There was an example of this in Atlanta, I think, a few years ago where the photographer hid in fine print that he would be raping the model. When it happened and the model pressed charges, he held up the release and said that she agreed to it in writing prior to the shoot. The second lesson here is to read through anything you sign and make sure you understand it before signing the agreement. Always keep a copy of everything you sign.


Something I am starting to hear occurring more is now that cameras have video capture capabilities is that photographers are photographing models in off moments with video portion when they aren’t expecting to be photographed. This may be times during changes, moving from one place to another, or even in the bathroom. Be aware that most modern cameras can video tape people and be aware that some photographers may be doing this to you. If you didn’t agree to doing video or talk about it, you should notify the photographer and walk out.


Yet another thing you should do: get a copy of any release you sign, and keep them on file. There is nothing worse than agreeing to doing work as a model and not getting anything from it. Yet, you signed a release allowing the photographer to use the images and sell the images. If you aren’t paid, don’t get photos from the shoot, or the photographer doesn’t do any other work for you, that contract is null and void. Depending on the images and where they are shot, the use and sale of images without a valid contract will cause many monetary and legal issues for the photographer. You must have a copy of the contract you signed before a lawyer will consider helping you with these remedies.

I also need to state that if you do nude or images for a cause, you have to agree to the purpose in which it is being used if something can be inferred from the advertisement or use of the image. For example, someone can use your image for just about any regular advertising without much difficulty. But, if the use is for an Aids advertisement (or other sexual disease), mental type advertisement, or the like, you should have the purpose spelled out on the release. If not, then the photographer can’t use the image in this manner. Likewise, sexually oriented releases should also have that on the release, so if you are doing an erotic set of images for a magazine or website, that purpose should be listed on the release. While some photographers think a general release is enough, many models are suing photographers, web sites, and magazines when they use the images because it wasn’t the intended purpose of the images. This may or may not apply in your state, so talk with a lawyer if this applies to you.

Problems will happen, what do I do?

When you do have problems with a photographer, I highly suggest trying to talk with the photographer first. In many situations, you will find that it is a simple oversight or where the photographer is overwhelmed. If the communication fails, then let other models know what is going on with your experience with that photographer. If you have checked out the photographer, you already know some people who have worked with the photographer. Even put a “Will not shoot” list on your modeling sites that you have your images with the reason why (“No images provided when agreed”, “Didn’t pay travel when agreed”, “Didn’t pay promised amount for job”, etc. On many of the smaller sites, many of these behaviors by photographers aren’t tolerated and the site will take action to warn the photographer to banning the photographer from using their site to recruit models. On the larger two modeling sites, it will take a few complaints of bad experiences before anything is done if at all. The last course of action is to get a lawyer involved. Do this only as a last resort and never threaten a photographer with going to a lawyer when talking with them. This will only make the situation worse, and it is best to just have the lawyer contact the photographer directly.

Keep modeling life and personal life separate

One more thing is if you want your modeling life and normal life to blend together. No matter what you do, modeling will permeate your life to some degree. One of the ways to minimize people you don’t know getting in your life is to use a different name while modeling. Frequently, the models who do this also use a city location close by but far enough away that stalkers won’t find them, too. Ask any photographer who has been shooting models for more than a few years, and they probably will all tell you that they have had models with this type of problem. The easiest way to stop this from happening is use a different name from the start.  If you are worried about the photographers and other people who you work, be sure to get a postal box and use that for your address.

This also means using a different profile for your modeling life and keeping your personal profiles separate. I know this is difficult, but it is easy to do. Also make sure no one tags you with the wrong profile.

Next Steps

The last thing you need to do is talk to a photographer and get a book (portfolio) together. You will need to work with several photographers – not just one (there is a list below). Talk to others who have done modeling or people who you have seen who have images taken by other people. If you are going directly to a modeling agency, you don’t always need to do get images done and the top agencies prefer that you haven’t done too much with other photographers. Snapshots will do for them. But, if you want to model with anyone else, they will expect you to have a portfolio or book. If you are lucky, the photographer will do the shoot TFP (time for prints) or TFCD (time for compact disk). This simply means that you contribute your time modeling, and they do the shoot for free for you in exchange for them to be able to sell and use the images they take for their use. If you don’t want to release the images, you will have to pay for your shoot.  One thing to note here is that there are a lot of “schools” and “model agencies” who say they will do this for you, then say you have to work with their photographers and pay their photographers (or them) for this to be done. Nothing can be further from the truth. One recently going through Indianapolis indicated they would personally train and coach the model for $6,000. One of the real agent’s comments when finding this out was “Seriously. For that much money, I will train you and personally take you to every agency in New York along with some amazing headshots and maybe even a manicure and a new wardrobe or something :)” Be aware that most model training schools are scams to separate you from your money. Be aware of modeling agencies who are exclusive in their contracts, charge you a repeating fee to be one of their models, or require you to shoot with their photographer. Being exclusive means you can only model for them – no one else. You are then stuck with what they can get you for work. Frequently, the exclusive agencies outside of New York, LA, or Chicago require you to have updated books every six months as your cost, and never get you work. Modeling agencies that charge a fee to be a model are often called “clubs” and they rarely do enough to recover your monthly fee to them, and you still have to pay them a percentage when you do find work whether you got the job through them or not. Modeling firms that require you to use their photographers only tend to make their money from those images, and not from paying clients. This isn’t to say they all are like this, but that there are agencies like this out there.

Once you have a few images, find one of the modeling sites that are out there, and post them. The two biggest are Model Mayhem and One Model Place. There are other smaller ones, too, so don’t be surprised when you hear about them and don’t be afraid to put a profile on them. Some examples of the smaller sites include Model Insider, Miss Online, and Model Brigade. Most are of these sites are free, but they also allow you to post more images, send more messages, and other things with a paid yearly subscription. Beware if you do put a profile up that you will get those who may creep you out, and try to get you to do things you didn’t want to do. Just ignore or block those people. Some advice about “friending” people and the images you post: they are indicative of who you are and what you plan to do as a model. For instance, if you friend someone who only does nudes and you don’t, they will expect at some time in the future that you will work with them as a nude model when they ask. Look at those people who “friend” you and make a decision if you would ever work with them. If you won’t, then don’t friend them. Second, don’t put images up that you have no intention of ever doing with other photographers. I often see models posting images of themselves showing a lot more than they would normally do only because they are “more current” images. Don’t do this. Photographers and agents look at these, and make decisions of what they will do from these images. If you don’t plan to do what you have in the images posted with every photographer, don’t post them to avoid getting in awkward and difficult situations or even being turned down for work because of them. Another thing, if you put an image up on the Internet, it is impossible to take it back. Be sure all images you post are images you want out in the public. If they aren’t, then don’t ever post them (or let them be taken so someone else can post them).

Modeling is Work

Modeling is not just looking pretty. Modeling is work, you know, that four letter word meaning that it isn’t meant to be fun. Most of the models that I see who start out get upset that they aren’t doing things right because I push models to pose correctly for an image and heavily direct models who don’t know what they are doing. I often explain why and demonstrate the proper way to do things.  Not all photographers will do this. If you want posing to be the way you want it to be and where you really just look pretty, then you don’t need to be modeling. Modeling means you will pose correctly and constantly learn new things to improve how you model. If you get to a point where you don’t need constant direction, then there is a good possibility that you will get paid work and actually make money. Until then, don’t expect to get paid because you think you deserve it.

Modeling is learning to take care of your skin, applying makeup, having the right makeup, and getting outfits for shoots. This is why modeling isn’t always going to make you money. You have to pay for this out of your pocket. While many models insist on a MUAH being there doing their makeup and hair, this isn’t always a possibility. This means you have to learn to do this on your own. Don’t expect someone else to do it for you.


I hope this explains a little that you need to be aware of and what you need to do to get started. You will find that most people will give you consistent advice in your modeling career, but there are also many that conflict. Part of this is that each person gives advice on their own experiences with this industry. A photographer like me will give you certain advice, a small town modeling agency will probably give you another bit of advice, an agency specializing in parts modeling will give different advice, a high fashion photographer will give other advice, a makeup artist will give even different advice, and a large town modeling agency will give you another bit of advice. Part of this is because the modeling industry is very large, and has many specialties. This doesn’t mean that some are right and others are wrong. As I said before, each is giving advice based on their view of this large industry. Be sure to frame all the advice you get from the perspective of the people who are giving it, and know that no one can guarantee that you will be a top paying model by paying them a non-refundable fee, specially done images, or if you do certain provocative nude images.

This probably sounds a little doom and gloom. Part of this is that you need to always be on guard. I work with three to four models a month who have been forced to do modeling that they didn’t want to do, and help them pick up the pieces after this happens. You also have to think about your safety. You are also dealing with a lot of people who are trying to separate you from your money because you are naive. And, there are quite a few people out there who only want to get you out of your clothes. Realize this and be prepared to deal with these types of people.

Some blog posts that might be helpful to you


Requirements for being a Fashion Model
Requirements for being a Commercial Model
Being an under aged model
Being a child model


What do I bring with me to a photo shoot?
Things to know about the modeling industry
Casting Calls: what to bring and wear
Checking References (for models)
Nudity Limits – Described
Escorts at shoots
What is and in a Modeling Bag


Modeling Misconceptions
A Tale of One Model (or what not to do)
A Tale of One Model (or another example what not to do)
Another bad experience with a model
Modeling and the Statistics
I want to be with an Agency
Doing Glamour and Any Kind of Nude Work

Scams and the like:

Casting couch, and similar scams
Models Beware!
More on Modeling Scams


Books, Comp Cards, and portfolios
What should go in a portfolio
The Pay Me and TFP Trap
The “Modeling Resumes
Modeling Profiles and what should go in them.
Modeling is Marketing


Posing 101, Part 1
Posing 101, Part 2
Posing Tips and Suggestions
And the Eyes Have It
Being on the other side of the Camera


Model Releases
Thoughts about signing with an Agency or Brand


Makeup for Modeling and Photography
Photoshoot Makeup, Part 1
Photoshoot Makeup, Part 2


More on Modeling”
Modeling Reputation and Why it’s Important
Why you need good quality images
Magazine Work for Models
What does a photographer invest in a Shoot?
Comments on the Internet
Dog Eat Dog World
Shoot Classification for Models and Photographers
Photographer Rants and Models
Do comments on the Internet make you a bad model or photographer
The Quickest Way to end a Modeling Career
Thoughts about signing with a Brand or Agency
More on Modeling
Image and Reputation
Interpreting Models (from a Photographer’s Perspective)

Warning: I am seeing a lot of advertisements promising large amounts of money for models out there from $200+/hour to flat rate day amounts of $1500 or more. If you see one of these advertisements, they will typically say the work will provide training required and are for 18-26 year olds. Beware! These are solicitations for adult nude modeling in the porn industry. Frequently they will also include a requirement of being filmed on video. If you don’t want to do this type of work, don’t respond to these advertisements.

Recommended model portfolio development photographers in the Indianapolis and surrounding area. I know all of them personally, worked with each of them, and have listed them here without reservation (I included myself, too).
Ambience Artistic Photography (Michelle Collins, Photographer, Martinsville)
Faith Blackwell Photography (Faith Blackwell, Photographer, Indianapolis)
Graceful Images (Alex Grace, Photographer, Scottsburg)
Jeremiah Laughner Studios (Jeremiah Laughner, Photographer, Indianapolis)
JWB2 (James, Photographer, Evansville)
Lip Gloss Studios (Loretta Kendall, Photographer, Scottsburg)
The Loft Studios (Jay “Gambino” Esparza, Photographer, Ft. Wayne)
Kerri Jean Photography <Kerri Jean, Photographer, Pendleton)
Slowburn Images Photography and Video (Scott Allen, photographer/videographer, Indianapolis)
MDS Dezign (Anthony Johnston, Photographer, Anderson)
Michael Trace Photography Studios (Mike Trace, Photographer, Bloomington)
WCCG Studios (Don Swain, Photographer, Evansville)
XOIND Studios (Don Krajewski, Photographer, Indianapolis)

Off site resources:
Modeling Scams dot Org
Link to article of photographer/agent raping models (not sure how long link will be active)

One Response “Where do I start as a model?” →
  1. Wow, really useful information.


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