Working with models can be an exciting part of photography, as each model can lend a different look and unique perspective to your vision. Casting a model appropriately for each project is an important part of a photographer’s job, as it speaks to their ability to manage their ideas and make them a reality. Just as a casting director will carefully select the best actors for appropriate roles, the same is true for casting the right model for the right photoshoot. Below we will review some guidelines for making the most out of working with models, in order to produce the best photographs possible.
1.) Variety in Portfolio Images
When examining a model’s portfolio, the first thing you want to look for is variety. This is in regards to the model’s expressions and ability to emote, as well as their ability to demonstrate a dynamic range of poses. Another aspect you are going to want to look for is that the model has worked with multiple photographers. I consider this a sort of unspoken reference that the model has experience working with different professionals in the industry, rather than one artist that they’re comfortable with. In those rare instances, the model may not be as comfortable with direction or your own vision if they have limited experience with only a couple photographers.
A model that cancels last minute or that ‘flakes,’ is perhaps what keeps photographers up at night the most. Try to avoid this by looking for references, either clearly labeled or otherwise. A model with an extensive portfolio has worked with many different professionals, and is a good sign that they take what they do seriously. If a model is agency-represented, then that is also a sign that they consider their modeling to be a profession rather than a hobby, and are likely to be more reliable and committed.
2.) Similar Genres
Keep in mind what the genre is that you’re planning to shoot. Are you casting for a high-fashion editorial, swimwear, lifestyle, or commercial images? While there are models who can easily adapt to any genre, usually they are positioned for particular genres, and that’s what you’re going to want. For example, if you’re casting for a beauty editorial, then a fitness model would not be the ideal choice, as their skin and movements may not be the delicate look you’re aiming for. Another example is if you are casting a more commercial model for a fine art project. You may discover that they weren't the best fit for it, and that you should have cast a model with a portfolio that was more in-line with the look and feel you were after.
If you can cast a model who is inspired by the theme or style that you're shooting, the results will be at their best. It’s always easier to do what you enjoy, and being able to feed off of that energy is great for the production all around when those involved are enthusiastic.
3.) Recent Work
You may come across a model’s portfolio that hasn’t been updated in some time, perhaps even for over a year or more. If this is the case, request to see their most recent work, as they may rely on social media sites like Facebook or Instagram to display their newest work, and that doesn’t necessarily mean that they aren’t active in modeling.
If the model does not have any work to show within a reasonable amount of time, then exercise caution. The model may not be accurately represented in their portfolio, which can adversely impact the shoot. Politely request to see a recent ‘digital,’ which is an agency-specific term to refer to a simple digital photograph without any editing or retouching. If the model is not associated with an agency, then request a recent photograph, perhaps under the guise of needing to know their current look and hairstyle for styling purposes.
4.) Their Portfolio Should Reflect Their Experience
Freelance modeling website such as Model Mayhem allow the model to list their experience. This can range from no experience to being very experienced, and is often how a model reinforces their intention of exclusively doing paid assignments rather than collaborative work. While it is absolutely a model’s right to be paid for their talents, and many freelance models are well worth their rates, you want to ensure that their portfolio matches up with their level of experience. If the quality of the images and the variety is lacking, then you may be dealing with a much less experienced model. There are very few photographers who do not allow their models to display the final images for social media use, so there really are no excuses why a model’s portfolio should be bare if they are actively working.
5.) Compensate Appropriately
This is perhaps the trickiest aspect on this entire list, as many photographers have differing views on the matter. If a model lists that they are only doing paid assignments, there is no harm done by inquiring about collaborative work. However, do not be offended if the model comes back with their rates. It may be that the model didn’t find value in the offered project for their portfolio, but that should not be seen as an insult to you as the photographer.
Just as you do not enjoy it when a potential client expects you to work without any pay because they do not have a budget, the same can be true for a model. If the resulting images will not improve their chances of getting paid work, then it should not be a surprise that they expect to be compensated for their time and talent.
Consider the project, and how vital that model would be to the success of it. If they have the best look and experience of those that you were considering, then the investment in paying their rates may be worthwhile. Be sure to also consider that a model’s rates are likely to vary between editorial and commercial work, so do not mislead them in order to get better rates. If the project is for commercial purposes and are destined for commercial use by your client, then the model should be compensated appropriately.
6.) What To Avoid
You may encounter a few red flags when working with models that should be avoided whenever possible. If a model requests to have all of the images, then it’s a sign that the model is inexperienced and may not have a grasp on the industry. Quality over quantity is always key, and a professional will understand that.
If a model has agreed to collaborate with you in exchange for images, but suddenly asks for compensation, then it’s time to go. Compensation should be clearly defined early on in communication, because no one will be happy if that discussion is handled close to the shoot date. Make sure that you and the model are on the same page when it comes to what the terms are. While discussing the topic of money can be challenging for some, it absolutely needs to be covered. Miscommunication on this point can put the entire shoot at risk, and is a topic that can not be tip-toed around.
7.) First Impressions Matter
When reaching out to a model that you wish to cast for your shoot, keep in mind that first impressions are vital. If this is your first communication with the model, then respect their time and provide them with as many details as possible. Let them know the theme of the shoot, potential dates, team members, provide a moodboard, and any other relevant information. Providing a model with this early on will greatly increase your chances of a positive response, as it demonstrates that you're serious about the project. It also allows the model to check their availability, and avoid a time consuming back-and-forth. While collaborating with a model for ideas can also be enjoyable, it's best to give them a foundation to work with.
What are some of your own best practices for casting the right model for your own shoots? Please do feel free to share your own ideas and experiences below.