How to Become a Fashion Model
By Dennis Davis
Although there is modeling work in every major city in the world, most of the models that work full time in the USA either live in or regularly visit New York, Chicago, Miami or Los Angeles. The fashion capitals of the world include Paris, France, London, England and Milan, Italy. If you are good enough, companies will pay for your travel expense as well as your time.
Modeling jobs fall into 3 main types: runway work, video work and print work, but all modeling is about selling a product or service. With runway work, you will be modeling shoes, jewelry or clothing. Although there is runway work available for children, plus size and older models, most runway models are tall, thin ladies ages 15 to 35 and between 5’ 8” and 5’ 10”, and tall athletic men with defined bodies and 6 pack abs, between 5’ 10” and 6’2” ages 15-35. Runway work pays the least, but in many cities it is regular – some department stores host fashion shows every week. You can expect $50 – $150 per hour for runway work when you are starting out in most major cities.
Much of video work is for television commercials, although models are used on TV shows as extras, or in movies. Some models take acting or public speaking classes so that they can get speaking parts on the commercials, which pay more. You could be selling anything – cars, boats, appliances, makeup, furniture, clothing, food, beverages – the idea is to show the product in use, and to make the product or service desirable. Sex sells and the sexier the model, the more attractive the product looks to the viewer. A television commercial that will be aired nationally could pay thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars. However, if it is for a local, small town car dealer, don’t expect that kind of money.
Print work can be for catalogs, websites (not print but usually the same images are used for both), magazine advertisements, magazine articles, billboards, product brochures, posters, greeting cards, etc. Makeup, hair care and clothing companies use models extensively to make their products look desirable. Even cheap, bad makeup will sell if a super model is used to promote it. Print work for clothing catalogs is very regular, and some models specialize in specific types of clothing, such as men’s suits, or women’s underwear. You should know what your best feature is, and go after jobs that show off your best attribute. If you have really great hair, go after shampoo and hair dye jobs, not shoe catalogs. Fashion magazines do not pay as much as advertising work, but they can get your face in front of advertising clients where you can make more money.
Print work usually pays $150 – $300 per hour for models with an agency new to the business. Experienced models can make $3,000 – $5,000 a day with catalog and advertising work. However, international brand hair, makeup, perfume, designer clothing companies could pay “super models” upwards to $100,000 per day to appear in their ads. However, there are only a very few models making that kind of money, and you would have to be really awesome and a good business person to get there.
Models are also hired for trade shows and business events, the thought being that beautiful women will attract business men to the booth so that the salespeople can present their product to them. Grand openings of stores, buildings, shopping malls, etc. can provide work.
There are two ways of getting jobs as a model, finding jobs on your own, or having someone else do it for you. Many models start out promoting themselves, and then work with an agency as they become more experienced. Getting a good agency to represent you is difficult, as they can only represent a small fraction of the people that want work. There are also lots of bad agencies out there – so be careful!
Being a model is a business, and you are the product! Products must be put in front of potential buyers in an attractive manner, and offered at a reasonable price. If you are promoting yourself, you need to be willing to do the marketing and selling of yourself, and this means working at it every day! The internet has made getting your face in front of potential buyers easier, and you need to have a profile on several major modeling websites. Popular ones include:
Many of these websites offer free portfolios, and offer “upgrades” for a fee. The upgrades may include higher placement in searches, more photographs in your portfolio, more emails per day available, etc. Many websites offer listings of “casting calls” or modeling jobs, as well as modeling agencies that are seeking new models. A part of your job as a model promoting yourself is to check these listings regularly, and go to interviews and casting calls.
The second method of promoting yourself is to research companies that use models, and make sure they have your photographs and contact information available when they are hiring. Models use “zed cards” or “comp cards” to promote themselves. These cards usually have 3-6 pictures of the model, as well as statistics such as clothing sizes, shoe size, hair color, height, weight, etc. Contact information should include a phone number and email address, as well as web links to your portfolios. You should also include a business card and 8” x 10” or 8.5” x 11” headshots in your marketing mix.
Companies in your city that should have your card include advertising agencies, photographers, department store chain headquarters, magazines, catalog companies, commercial photographers (wedding and family portrait photographers are a waste of time), clothing, shoe and makeup companies, and any other organization that you know uses models. With the largest and most promising companies, you should call to find out who to mail your card to, send your card, then follow up with another call and try to make an appointment to show your portfolio to the client.
Joining a good modeling agency is very difficult, but can mean success or failure for your modeling career. A good modeling agency can find regular work for you, and send you on all expense paid trips around the world. Modeling agencies want to know you are serious about your work, and expect to see images in your portfolio from several photographers before they hire you. They prefer to see published work in your portfolio, tear sheets from magazines and catalogs are best. Modeling agencies take a percentage of the fee they charge the client for your time, usually ranging from 15-25%. They will send your card out to potential clients, and put your image on their website or in their catalog.
Bad Modeling Agencies, Watch Out!
Almost all modeling agencies require that you sign a contract with them. Many require an exclusive contract, where you can only do modeling on jobs that they get for you – and the contract could be for several years. If you sign a contract with an agency that is very large, they may have a few models that make them lots of money, and they ignore you. If you sign with an agency that is too small, they may not have enough models to interest large companies or advertising agencies. Beware of the lazy agency, that signs you up and never bother to promote you and get you work. You could waste the best years of your modeling career with one of these.
Then there are the agencies that lie to you and take your money. Some agencies have photographers, hair and makeup artists on staff, and require that you use their photographers to create your portfolio if you want to work with their agency. Do not sign with these agencies! Often they hire inexperienced photographers fresh out of school, and pay them little more them minimum wage, yet promote them as “professional photographers.” This is a rip off, and a scam. The pictures they produce are not good enough to show you at your best.
Some modeling schools advertise themselves as modeling agencies, but they make their money off the models, not clients. They will not get you regular work, they will empty your pocket, not fill it. That is not to say that you cannot benefit from a modeling school. They can teach you how to pose, walk the runway, and do your hair and makeup, and many other valuable skills. Just don’t confuse a modeling school with a modeling agency. If you want modeling classes, take them from the school, then find a real modeling agency that will get you work.
Bad Photographers, Watch Out!
Unethical photographers may try to seduce, rape or even murder you. Models typically by definition are attractive. Many years ago I met a guy claiming to be a photographer that would see an attractive lady in a bar, store or park and walk up to them and say “wow, you are really attractive, are you a model? I am a professional photographer, and I think you should be a model. You know, models can make hundreds of dollars per hour. Do you have a portfolio? I would be willing to help you put together a portfolio of modeling pictures for free if you would like.”
Of course, it is very flattering to be told that you should be a model, and anyone with a computer printer and paper from an office supply store can make a business card that says they are a professional photographer. When the subject arrived at the photographer’s home, he would shoot some images of the model with clothes, and then suggest that they do “body shots.” Then he would say “wow, you really look hot! We should shoot some nude photos that show off everything you’ve got.” He claimed that over half of the women he used this technique with would end up in bed having sex with him. He was not really a photographer; he just did it as a hobby to get hot sex!
Other types of bad photographers are the ones that do not have the experience or skills to produce the quality photographs that you need, or they charge you high prices for prints, fancy portfolio books or other things you don’t need. You always need high resolution digital files on disk – if you have that you can make your own prints. Beware of hiring young photographers at high prices that don’t have a client list that includes companys you know.Some photographers may charge you full price for shooting your images, then have you sign a model release and sell you pictures – or even sell your pictures without a release!
What Kind of Photographs do You Need?
Composite cards are usually 8.5” x 5.5” to 8.5” x 11”, and have 5 or 6 pictures on them. They can be designed various ways, but one common style is to have a large headshot on the front and four smaller pictures on the back. Some of the websites listed able have on-line stores where you can purchase comp cards. A typical comp card might have a swimsuit or underwear shot which shows your whole body, a high fashion shot, a casual shot and a formal shot in addition to the large headshot. Think about what your best feature is, and make sure that feature – your hair, your torso, your hands, your eyes – is shown clearly in one of the images. Many models like to show that they can have different looks on their comp cards, and their hair style and look changes in every picture. Other models know what their best look is, and show that alone.
Many photographers sell comp card and portfolio packages, and this is a great way to start building your collection of images quickly. However, a professional portfolio is a collection of the best of your best images, and cannot be shot in 2 or 3 hours – it would take more like 2 or 3 days, which could easily cost $4,000 to $10,000 using a top quality fashion photographer. Also, less experienced photographers only have one or two styles that they are good at, and so all of your pictures end up looking the same.
Depending on your best features, you might want images at the beach with first flash, then using reflectors, then with available light only. Then you would shoot at the park with the same lighting types, then downtown in first business and shopping areas, then in more gritty urban looking areas like an alley. You could shoot in your home or a friend’s, in a living room, kitchen or bedroom. In the studio, you would want to be photographed in front of various kinds and colors of backgrounds, with and without props, and with simple and complex lighting setups.
Studio lighting can give you lots of different looks; the main light can come from above, below, to the side, behind high, behind low, etc. Secondary lights and reflectors fill the shadows made by the main or “key light”. There are photography books on the market describing 50 – 100 lighting setups for shooting portraits, and each of these setups can give you a different look. I suggest you pay one really great photographer to shoot your most important shots, and then arrange to “test” with less experienced photographer who needs to build their own portfolios.
Many student photographers and those recently graduated from photography school need to build their portfolio, and offer to shoot models for free in exchange for using their images for their portfolio and / or stock photography. Some photographers who shoot stock photography for a living also will do TFP or TFCD shoots which means “trade for prints” or “trade for compact disk”. You may still have to pay to get the best photographer’s to shoot you, but working with various photographers will do several things for you:
- You will learn to be more comfortable in front of the camera
- You will learn what your best features are, and what expressions and sides you shouldn’t show
- You will get lots of different “looks”, various styles, and lots of different settings
- You will learn new poses, and how to work under pressure
For your paid shots, ladies will want to visit a hair and makeup artist before the shoot, or have one at the shoot if the budget allows. Yes, men will also benefit from hair and makeup artists, particularly if they have skin imperfections or want to show different hair styles with each clothing change.
No matter what kind of model you are, you will need great pictures in your portfolio and on your comp card. Getting published work in your portfolio will give you more credibility and speed your acceptance by an agency. Contact small local newspapers, charities, small magazines and local clothing stores and volunteer to shoot for free, and leave your contact info.
For rates and package prices for model headshots, comp cards and portfolios contact DennisDavisPhotography@Gmail.com or call 213-434-3344