Knowhow: Starting Out

Over the years I’ve seen models do well, and I’ve seen models give up after a only a single shoot.

Starry-eyed models who want to hit the big-time with little-to-no effort are easy targets for unscrupulous people to take advantage of – physically or financially.

I’ve seen many posts asking for advice on “starting out” on social media, and lots of snippets of advice from well-meaning photographers – most of which are helpful, but very few single reference articles that describe the situation fully.

Whenever I have posted the below response to these requests on social media, I’ve had very positive feedback from experienced models and photographers alike. It might not be 100% complete – and I’m happy to add to it if you see something missing – but it’s a decent starting point, and should point new models in the right direction 99.9% of the time.

Starting out
First off, find a mentor – a model – with many years of experience. You might want to start modelling because you have a friend who models, or just because someone has said “you could be a model”. Please only ask your friend for modelling advice IF they have a number of years experience and a good quality portfolio with a number of different photographers. With the greatest respect, it takes many shoots – years of part-time experience – for anyone to be in a position to provide meaningful reliable advice.

Your Portfolio
To get work, you need to start work on your portfolio. Do this by working with photographers recommended by more experienced models. Look for other models in your area who have good portfolios and contact the photographers who are tagged there.

Just as new photographers will always benefit most by working with experienced models, new models will learn most by working with more experienced photographers. All too often, people get downhearted if the results aren’t what they expected, and having at least ONE experienced creative will minimise the chance of that happening. There are plenty of well-respected photographers who can help. Sometimes a photographer will offer a portfolio building session where you can get some great images at a knock down price. Other times, photographers will collaborate with models on a time-trade basis (TFP). In a TFP shoot, no money changes hands. The model offers her time to the photographer in exchange for a number of finished images for their own portfolio.

Shoot with a variety of photographers though, in the studio, on location in the city, the countryside. Shoot with animals, shoot high fashion and casual. Shoot with and without Makup artists. Many MUA’s are fantastic, others are still learning just like you. If you’re not comfortable doing your own makeup, then work with photographers to find a mua who has the style and experience you need. Shoots with the very best models & photographers can be ruined by an inexperienced creative who wants to “experiment” or make a statement. MUA’s and other creatives will have their own portfolio too, so check them out.

Make a folder of inspirational images that you love and use them when discussing ideas. Similarly, ask photographers for images showing examples of the kind of style they want to shoot you in. This is called a mood board. Not all photographers will do this, but it’ll get you in the “zone” easier and more quickly on the day of the shoot.

Working With Photographers
Check out photographers portfolios on social media if thats where you found them, but also check them out on industry sites like Purpleport etc. All reputable hobbyist model photographers will have a presence on PP.

Don’t EVER let a photographer talk you into doing anything you feel uncomfortable with – eg wearing sheer clothing, lingerie etc, or less. If you’re particularly young – under 18 – then that shouldnt even be on the table, but this applies just as much if you’re 18, 25 or 40. Dont get me wrong, once you’re a little older any style of your choosing is absolutely fine – but only if you’re fully comfortable with it. When I talk about being “comfortable” with a concept, it’s entirely normal to have butterflies, but they should be excited butterflies, NOT the dreaded gut-twisting, cold-sweat type of butterflies like waiting for bad news.

Model photography groups on social media are a great place to find photographers, but always check out their work and get references if you’re at all unsure.

Perfectly legitimate photographers can and do sometimes disallow chaperones. Don’t automatically assume that means they’re dodgy or sleazy, and dont let it prevent you from bringing someone along. In these cases the chaperone can sit outside, but should never interfere with the shoot.

Firstly, you DON’T need an agency (or agent) yet. An agent’s ONLY job is to get work for you. They pay you directly for your time, and they take a commission from the client who contacted them looking for a model. Agencies are generally used by fashion houses or clients looking to advertise products. In the “hobby” levels of photographic modelling, there really is no place for an agent or acency.

There are “hobby” agencies out there who’s hearts are in the right place (though I still can’t work out what motivates those who run these), and there are those “agencies” who purposely and fraudulently promise you paid work but will scam you out of your money and not get you any work at all, or ask you to perform test shoots with their “in-house photographer” in genres and at levels you may not be comfortable working in. There are also “managers” that will do the same. You’re far better off at this stage being your own agent and manager.

Dont ever pay an agency for anything, and I mean not so much as a pound – for ANYTHING.

If you dont have one already, set up a presence on Purpleport. A free account is fine for now, but a premium account is decent value at around £4/mo, and gets you more exposure in a greater number of search results.

Stay off the Purpleport forums. Don’t even read them. They’re full of absolute bellends. It’s a great place for castings though – which is essentially a classified ad looking for other creatives to work with. Castings are posted by photographers for models, and also by models looking for photographers.

Start putting together a decent and varied wardrobe of clothes. Look for statemenet pieces as well as “supporting ” items like leggings, shoes and tops. Keep an eye out in charity shops for things like ball gowns, summer dresses and oversized accessories. Pick up some vintage pieces, look for items with texture, such as rippled jeans/tops, or themed items such as Tie-Dye or Stetson hats. Attention to detail is everything. Make sure everything is clean though. Throw a small towel into your modelling bag too. Experienced models will be able to help you more on this.

I keep a couple of crates/racks of clothes and accessories for models to browse through during shoots. Everything is fully washed after each shoot. Its great to keep a few “staples” like plain black/white/nude sports briefs & top, or dancewear like a leotard and leggings.

As said above, your mirror is your best friend. If you dont have a full length mirror, get one, or use your phone. A good photographer will help you with posing, but a good model wont need that. Check out your inspiration folder and copy the poses – again and again. Think of it like playing an instrument. The shoot is your moment on-stage but there are long hours of practice that nobody else sees, that make the difference between a good shot and a great shot.

It’s a photographers job to design the lighting for a shoot, but try looking at yourself in the mirror under different lighting conditions: Side-on to a window, late at night with a single bedside lamp lit; fully lit – front on; and look at your shape, silhouetted from the back.
The photographer designs the lighting. Practice will help you work yourself into that lighting to get the best outcome.

Dont go on a bender the night before the shoot. Look after your body – and don’t forget to look after your mind as well.
Be reliable. I repeat… Be reliable…
I understand clinical anxiety and how it can affect people, but the modelling world is superficial and one or two “no shows” will really damage your reputation – and chance of future work.
Setting up a shoot is a commitment. Photographers put in a lot of work (and sometimes money) before a shoot, so unless something suddenly raises its head as alarming that hadn’t previously been agreed, you should follow through with that commitment.

My last little nugget…
People who use their bodies for their hobby or profession are ATHLETES. Athletes know every piece of their body inside and out. They know their strengths and they know their weaknesses. Their weaknesses are very real – everybody has them – but they do NOT define them as an athlete. They train to minimise their weaknesses and maximise their strengths. Knowing that models are athletes, that YOU are an athlete, is important.


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