A Guide to Working With Modeling Agencies: Part 2

A Guide to Working With Modeling Agencies: Part 2

Alright, So you've made it past the hard part, making contact and getting the ok from the agency to work with their talent (As discussed in Part 1).  Now what?  Well now you book your first model!

Soon after your initial meeting and chit chat (we're talking next day or two here), you'll want to officially book your first model with the agency.  Likely you were given a stack of comp cards to choose from, but for the sake of education, lets assume you didn't.  The first thing you need to do is contact the booker.  From this point on, emailing is the preferred method, because let's face it… you are looking for a free shoot with a model and aren't really high on the priority list; so don't expect to be catered to like Steve Meisel by calling and requesting specific models.


The Model Request

This is a really simple email exchanging pleasantries and then cutting to the chase.  Explain to the booker what your project is, and what you are looking for (ideally) with that project.  It's a good idea to use their knowledge and let them have the reigns.  In other words, don't be super specific in your request, keep it very open ended.  For example:

 "Hello Jerry, it was a pleasure to meet with you the other day, and I'm excited to get a working relationship rolling.  I have an upcoming fashion project and I'd love to have the opportunity to work with one of your models.  The concept is… blah blah blah blah… I'm thinking ideally of a caucasian model, blonde hair, sample size, but am open to suggestions. If you have anyone available the (date of the shoot), I'd love to see who they are, and I'm sure I'll be able find someone to fit my needs."

Yeah, I know, there is a lot of ass kissing in there, but it's kind of a pre-requisite considering you're a new photographer (to them).  For the most part, agencies will then respond by sending you what is called a "package".  It's usually a gallery of images from different models, or just an attachment of comp cards.  If this is your first time working with this agency, assume that what they sent is all that is available.  Truth is, there are likely way more models around, but you're a newbie, you've got to earn your stripes. Like I mentioned in Part 1, this first batch is likely newbies or models in need of new images.  Take your time, evaluate each model, and make a decision on TWO of them.  Why two?  You pick a main model, and a backup.  Requesting a backup not only covers your ass as far as emergencies, it also shows the agency that you know your way around the industry.

When sending in your final selections to the booker, you need to include a call sheet, or at the very least a firm date and time for the models to be on set.  Bookers need to know when and where there models are, in case another gig comes up.  Bear in mind that just because you've secured two models from the agency, that you are still the low man on the totem pole, especially if a paid gig comes along for that model (hence the backup).  Also, ask the booker if there is anything in particular they are looking to get for the chosen model's book.  You are in no way committed to do this, because the agency has already agreed to send you models for your project, but it never hurts to show that you care about helping them out.  If the booker needs a new headshot for the model, take a few frames during the shoot and get in close.  You never know you might get something the booker loves, and that'll move you up the corporate ladder a bit.

One noticeable difference in working with agencies as compared to online models is the significant lack of communication on their (the agency's) part.  You'll have a desire to confirm, and reconfirm with them, over and over.  It's not necessary.  If you are working with a legitimate agency, it's almost a "set it and forget it situation".  You probably won't even hear from them or the model until she knocks on your studio door the day of the shoot.  This is both nerve wracking and one of the greatest reasons to work with agencies.


If a model flakes on you from the internet, there isn't much you can do.  However if an agency model flakes, you can call their booker which most likely will not be pleased with their model.  When working with agencies, you do NOT deal with the models directly until they are on set. All scheduling, clothing requests, and anything that you'd normally want to request from the model (like model releases); you need to request from the booker.  Some photographers aren't really comfortable with this, but trust me, it's better for everyone in the long run.


Model releases

This is one of those things that absolutely has to go through the booker.  You may be used to just tossing your model release in front of your internet models and saying "sign it, or no shoot", but it doesn't work that way with agencies.  By default, assume you won't be getting a model release from the model.  You are dealing with true professionals now, that make money from their likeness.  The likeness is typically what our model releases are designed to give us rights to, so of course agencies won't be ok with it.  However, if your project requires a release, perhaps it's for submission to a contest, you need to clear it with the agency before booking a model.  Typically the agent will ask to see your release and want to make MANY revisions to it. These revisions can be as simple as making the release "for promotional use only", to being a complete re-write.  Each and every situation and agency is different in how they will handle model releases.  You need to protect yourself and your work, but understand that the agency is doing the exact same thing.  Be open minded and find some middle ground.

Once all of the details have been worked out, just sit tight until the shoot.  I'd suggest a quick confirmation email 2 days before the scheduled date just to touch base with the booker, but other than that, just focus on the rest of the pre-production and trust the agency.

Post Shoot responsibilities

So you've had an amazing shoot that will blow the doors off of every editor in the business. Now what?

Send an edit (selection) to the booker.  I personally like to send over a web gallery with the first cut from the shoot, especially if it was a brand new model.  Agents use images to educate their models on what they are doing.  There is no need to send them the whole shoot in hi-res, but give them a quick view of what your shoot was all about.  Give them the option to have whatever they want in hi-res though.  Most agents won't pick more than 3 or 4 images even for new faces because a bunch of the same looking images doesn't do them any good.  An added bonus is that some bigger agencies won't even ask you to retouch them.  Some agencies actually have retouchers in house that can do basic cleanup.  But if you feel the need to do your own retouching, that's your prerogative.  Also, be a good sport and send anything you retouch for yourself over to the agent.  Particularly if you do something dramatically different than the proofs you initially sent.  It's good business, and you might impress them with something they weren't expecting. One thing I need to note is that it's very bad etiquette to send the model images from a shoot, or even exchange personal information. Bookers, particularly with large agencies, do not want you communicating in a business capacity with the models. It's one thing to be friends with models, but remember that you have that model because of the agency. Follow the chain of command, and let the model get their images from the agency.



This is a sensitive subject, because agents hate watermarks on images.  However, I'm of the opinion that "you need to pay me to get that watermark off".  Use your best judgment here.  If an agency asks you to remove your watermark, see if they would be ok with a smaller less noticeable one.  My personal watermark is pretty small and really only noticeable if you are looking for it (as you can see in image at the top of the post), but I still get asked to remove it on occasion.  My one condition to removing it for free is to be credited in any print materials that feature my image (i.e. comp card).  This isn't an unreasonable request, but one that may take a few shoots with an agency before they'll go for it.  Either way, remember that this is a business relationship your are building, and they aren't in the business of selling photographers, just as you aren't in the business of selling models, be flexible.

Hopefully now you have a bit of confidence to work with because in the next installment, we start talking paid gigs!

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This is just as awesome and informative as part one!

Hopefully one day I'll be able to use what I learned here

Great post. Thanks for writing.

An idea for your next post might be how to create a call sheet. I had no idea what a call sheet was until models and makeup artists started asking me to send on before a shoot.

That's a great idea!

Thank you! This information is very valuable. I don't think you have a clue on how much you've really helped me here.

Thanks Yvel!

You're welcome. What's the best way to submit your photos to magazines after you have the shot you're looking for with a model?

Stay tuned, I'll be talking about magazines in the near future as well.

has this article been posted yet? I'm really curious as to what to do after you've tested enough models and gotten your foot in the door.

Bookmarked for future repeat visits!

Great article! Producing a shoot, especially procuring locations in LA is one of my challenges. I would love to hear some great tips from you in this regards. Thanks!

- Joe

A Guide to Working With Modeling Agencies:GETTING PAID Part 3 . cant wait for that one lol

Deff need help in how to start getting paid by these agencies... Ive been working with one for a little while and i feel like some kind of pay should be coming in..... help!

Can anyone point me in the right direction of a good standard model release template to use on a test shoot? I am working with a fairly large agency in San Francisco and don't want to appear unprofessional!

The model release issue can be a big deal, I don't know if you've written a separate article about this, but some basic do's and don'ts are a great idea for photographers looking to get into this line of work.

Rich, wonderful article! But I did have 2 question/comment.... When setting up a test shoot, who is responsible for paying the make up artist and/or hair stylist? In talking to 1 agency, I secured H/MU to trade their services, but the agency said that the H/MU people could not use the images for their portfolio, as it would've been considered a "commercial" usage of the images. Thus, I would have had to pay the H/MU people roughly $1000 to help out on the shoot and not allow them the right to use the images in their body of work. Obviously, for test shoots, I would like to minimize costs by trading services. So is it typical for the photographer to pay for all other services... Hair, make up, wardrobe, etc?

Open question: I'm a fairly new photographer, living in a city with a very small and closed fashion industry, but full of lovely people to shoot. Specifically, Prague, Czech Republic. I keep running into girls who are photogenic, offer to shoot them, then they will tell me they are in an agency. What is the etiquette/protocol for this? Is it taboo to just take an agency girl and shoot her yourself without talking to her booker? Or is the agency only like a "finder" wherein if I found her, I can shoot her..? In short, would I be making bad blood by shooting whomever I find on my own, agency be damned? It's a small small small circuit here and the last thing I want is to inadvertently step on toes... any and all input welcome. Thanks!

Thank you, Rich. Very good post and really helpful to learn from someone who really knows what he is talking about.

Rich would love to read the next part to this. What are our next steps after we get our foot in the door? How much FREE do we do before we start getting paid? How do you get paid gigs from this resource? Thank you!!!

Thanlk you for this!