If you’re a photographer who is just starting out, you’ve probably wondered what it takes to start shooting with models signed with agencies. To be frank, the answer is really simple.
E-mail the agency with regard to working with their models and provide some examples of your work. It also helps if you have a description of the concept or mood board with your ideas for the shoot and bonus points if you’re providing a team (makeup, hair, styling).
Wait to hear back.
After step two you’ll either receive an e-mail saying that they’d like to work with you, that they are not interested, or you may not ever receive a response back. If you get the last two replies, please don’t stress, it might mean that your work doesn't fit the look that they are going for or you just need to develop your skills more. Don't be afraid to ask why they declined your request, most agents are pretty straight-forward and it can help you figure out what you need to improve on.
If you got the first response, congrats! This is an awesome opportunity for you to start building a relationship with the agency and to create some amazing images. Note that I mentioned the relationship part first. If you plan on doing photography for a career then I suggest that you focus on building strong relationships for the future. There have been many times when I’ve booked a client for a lookbook, campaign, or catalogue shoot and they need models. By having a relationship with a modeling agency you can recommend them to your client and show them that you can fulfil their needs for the job. Sure, they may not book with your preferred agency but at least you gave them a good lead and showed the agency that you are looking out for them.
So, what next? After you’ve explained to the agency your idea and set a potential date, time, and location (very important), they’ll send you a package or a list of girls/guys who are available. Please note, if you are just starting out, they will most likely send you a package with their New Faces or Development division. These are models who have either just signed with the agency, have very little modeling experience, or just need more variety in their book. However, there is an even more important factor, most of these models are minors. SUPER IMPORTANT FACTOR!!! I've been lucky enough to work with a lot of new models and deeply believe that when working with a model (both experienced and inexperienced) it is extremely important to provide a safe, comfortable, and positive environment. To be frank, I feel like this is the last thing most photographers think about and I feel like it needs to be addressed.
When I started modeling, there were so many times when the photographer wouldn’t consider my safety by asking me to stand on a high ledge or directed me to wear clothing that was too revealing. It was these moments when I was younger that I didn’t have the courage to say “no, I don’t feel comfortable with that.” Photographers, it’s your responsibility to make sure whatever you’re shooting is age appropriate, that you’re providing a safe and comfortable place to shoot, and that you are looking out for the model. Trust me, if you respect and take care of your team, from the models to the hair stylists, then you’ll be remembered as someone who puts others before the vision.
Here are a few ground rules when shooting with models:
Always be there before the model gets to the location. You should be set-up and ready to shoot. Plus, if the model has trouble finding the location you can help them find their way since you’re already there.
When shooting new faces, parents will usually come to the shoots. Even if they don’t plan on staying ALWAYS invite them to come and join you. I’ve found that moms are usually the best stylists and having a parent there helps make the model feel secure.
Stick to the mood board. If you promised the agency happy lifestyle images then that’s what is expected. It doesn’t mean you can’t explore other looks, just make sure it would work for the model's book. If the model is a minor, they probably aren’t sending them to Victoria’s Secret castings or to be the next face of Guess. Just be aware of the models current market.
BE RESPECTFUL. This should be self-explanatory but I’ll explain anyway. No inappropriate behavior or lewd comments. I don’t care if the model isn’t a minor it’s not OK. Make sure you end the shoot when you said you would. Everyone’s time is valuable and it’s just basic etiquette. Provide snacks and water, it’s a nice gesture and lets them know you’re thinking about their well-being.
Focus on positivity and not on being a critic. Not everyone is CoCo Rocha in the beginning. It’s hard work trying to contort your body while acting natural, so be patient and positive. Often times if a model is having trouble posing it’s because they are nervous and don’t want to make a mistake. No one wants to look ugly on camera, especially models! When I find that a model is having trouble I usually show them a pose myself and tell them to just turn in a circle doing the same pose. It’s a good way to show them in the camera that angles matter and not every picture is going to be perfect. “Remember, we aren’t looking for twenty good pictures, we’re looking for one amazing image!.” Don’t say negative comments like “that looks weird” or “this isn’t working let’s try something else.” Try saying things with positive undertones such as “that was good but let’s try this!” or “take that same pose but place your arm on your hip.” You want the shoot to be a good experience and if the model is having fun or enjoying the shoot then the images will be just fine.
So many times I hear horror stories about how photographers were too demanding of their models and it hurts me. With every shoot I do, I try my best to keep the model in mind. I know what it’s like to be on the other side of the camera and it’s not easy. As I got older, I learned to say no to things I didn’t feel comfortable with and there were times when photographers tried to talk me out of what I was feeling. “It’s just underwear, it’s the same thing as a bathing suit” yeah, no it’s not. Being a model taught me a lot about the pressures of the industry and it can be really difficult to say “no”.
As a photographer, my goal isn’t just to create amazing images, it's to provide the perfect example of how a shoot should be, especially for those just starting out. I want to hold a high standard when it comes to my performance and how I treat people and make them feel. I want my models to leave confident, happy, and proud of the work they created. This is the part of my job that brings me the most joy. At the end of the day, it’s the people who make the image, not the other way around and I’m so grateful for all the talented artists I’ve gotten to create with. It’s those special relationships that count the most.
So photographers, hold your expectations high! Be passionate about your work and how you treat others. Trust me, the image looks way better with a happy model.