Modeling 101: So You Wanna Be A Pro Model

If you want to get paid to model there’s two primary paths: with an agency or by freelancing on your own. It’s possible to travel both simultaneously but time constraints and exclusivity contracts can make that difficult. (If you prefer to be your own boss, skip ahead three paragraphs!)

Agencies typically have strict physical requirements. If you are tall and slender (at least 5’8, ideally 5’9 or above) then I would go straight to a fashion agency in a major city during one of their open casting calls (click here for an extensive list of US modeling agencies). If you are 5’6 or 5’7 and fit I would reach out to agencies or divisions that specialize in commercial/print work. (Sometimes they’ll be labeled a “talent agency” rather than a “fashion agency.”) You’ll need to call ahead to find out when exactly they have open casting times, and if you have a headshot or portfolio, bring it along. If they sign you (it’s not unheard of for them to do it on the spot) you’ll be in for a life of casting calls, infinite wardrobe changes and (with a little luck) big bucks. 

WARNING: if an “agency” asks you to pay them for photos or anything else besides comp cards/promo material, DO NOT WORK WITH THEM! It’s a scam. 

A note on nudity: most commercial clients are skittish about it, while magazines and photographers love it. Whether or not you do nudes is up to you, and whether or not it’s in your portfolio will be up to your agency’s discretion. Always remember that you are you own best advocate! If you book a gig ask your agent for transparency about the payment, costs and what’s required on set. If they send you to a photographer with a bad reputation (not uncommon, unfortunately), know your boundaries and stick to ‘em. Consider joining The Model Alliance too- they are a non-profit promoting fair treatment, equal opportunities, and sustainable practices for models in the fashion industry. 

Freelancing requires much more hustle. I’ve been signed to commercial agencies in the past but because I’m petite the majority of my work has always been self booked. I promise that no matter what your measurements are if you want to be a model you can be! This job is about unquestionably about looks but I would argue that confidence and drive are more essential characteristics, especially since social media shook up the industry. The art world and the world of fashion are hard to infiltrate and slow to change, but there are creative folks making amazing work that aren’t reliant on traditional structures. It’s up to you to find them and convince them of your greatness!

A note on social media: clout is king. Having a beautiful face or an idealized figure is no longer an assurance of success, because it’s so easy to find thousands of people with both. Putting your personality on display is more important than ever, whether you’re a lifestyle ambassador or an irreverent ingenue. You can be heavily tattooed, trans, or a dozen other “unconventional” things and if you’re able to pull followers you’ll be able to monetize. (It’s certainly harder to build and keep a big following now though, thanks to shifting algorithms and long-standing prejudices, but that’s a whole other story.) Major companies started to take social media stats into account when booking gigs, and agents and managers quickly encouraging their talent to curate an online presence. It’s the same old thing in a shiny new package: the more influence you have, the more valuable you become. We’re in the business of selling, after all. 

You’ll need to post photos and videos and reels and stories that show your style or humor or lack thereof, and you’ll need to do it often. It’s more sustainable grind if it’s authentic. So what do you want? What do you care about? What do you stand for?

If you haven’t yet built a modeling portfolio, there’s a long way and short way. The long way is great if you’re young and just starting out: dress your best and ask photo-minded friends to take your picture or look for local photographers in your city who do trade (TFP). The short way is to look up a few professional photographers whose work you love and hire them. Before you go down either route you will need to know your boundaries (Are you comfortable with nudity or no? If so, how much exactly are you willing to show?) and you will need to be able to stand up for yourself. 

And please, please join a modeling safety group before you start shooting so you know who is okay to work with and who needs be avoided- there’s usually one on Facebook for every area! If you can’t find a group, contact the models in the photographer’s portfolio and ask them for a reference. 

Now for the nitty gritty: booking paid photo shoots. Frankly, I think everyone who is doing nude work should be getting paid for it, even if you are a very new model. I no longer do long-haul modeling tours but for 10 years I traveled to shoot locations all over the world, hitting the road anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months at a time. Since the beginning I’ve used to contact photographers and it’s still the best site I’ve found despite its glitches and mixed reputation. 

Step 1: Update your portfolio with your best work. Less is more, honestly. It’s a good idea to include a few photos that are more candid or raw (something that’s not heavily edited) so photographers have a good idea for what you “really” look like. I like to post simple, brightly lit front/back/face shots (often called “digitals”) if I have current ones available. Not essential, but a good practice. 

WARNING: a photographer should never ask you to send them nude selfies to book a shoot. This is deeply inappropriate and a major red flag! Check out my article Red Flags: Working with Photographers for more behaviors to watch out for. 

Step 2. Decide on travel dates and locations, then add it to your profile and refresh your bio. I like to be very clear about what types of shoots I do and don’t do, and my goal is to be professional warm without being aloof or intimidating. When in doubt it’s better to be formal than casual and make sure to check your spelling! A smiley face doesn’t hurt either :) 

Step 3. Browse photographers in your chosen location and message them, making sure to read over their profile. Don’t be that rude model who messages a photographer who specifically states that they don’t pay. I’ll also message photographers who have worked with my friends or previously messaged me, as well as those who have tagged me, written on my wall, or left comments on my photos. In the message I’ll specify the dates I’m available, that I’d love to work with them, and that my rates are XYZ but I’m able to be flexible (within reason) as to their budget. A brand-new model should accept no less than $75/hr for nude modeling; once you have a decent portfolio and at least of year of experience $100/hr is the standard rate for non-explicit nudes. Playboy models and those who are very established or very well known can set their own rates, often but not always in the range of $150/hr. Some models do different rates for topless shoots or fully clothed shoots, personally I feel that my time is my time no matter what I’m wearing and it’s worth the same amount regardless. Many freelance traveling models offer discounts if photographers book half days (4hr) or full days (8hr). Keep in mind that these are all guidelines and the best price for anything is whatever works best for you! 

Step 4. Respond to every message promptly and politely, even if they say “No.” Photographers all gossip (especially in smaller areas) and a rude attitude to one of them can make others reluctant to hire you. A good reputation is key to long term success. For photographers who say “Yes” to booking I will reconfirm the date and time, request their phone number and the address of where we’ll be shooting, and then add their name to my calendar right away so I don’t forget it or double book (there was a particularly stressful time in Barcelona that I’m not eager to repeat!). I find a smart phone and a digital calendar to be essential, but I know a very successful and established model that only uses a flip phone and a physical planner. So again: do whatever works best for you! 

Step 5. Confirm the shoot a few days before. To help me stay on track I organize all my messages into folders that correspond with the photographer’s location. This feature may only be available with ModelMayhem’s Premium or VIP membership plans but gmail folders would work great too!

Step 6. Rest well the night before and double check your alarm so you show up on time, ready to shoot. if you’re running late or have to cancel, make sure to let them know! Please don’t just ghost a photographer, it really does negatively effect the entire the modeling community.

Step 7. Have fun! At it’s best, there’s nothing like modeling to make you feel beautiful, valued and energized :) 



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