Is There a Difference Between Agency Models and Amateur Models?

Is There a Difference Between Agency Models and Amateur Models?

If you are a beginning photographer who has only worked with amateur models, it may be your dream to work with a professional model one day. Is there a noticeable difference between working with a professional model and an amateur model?

I work with both types of models pretty regularly, and while neither is inherently better than the other, there are indeed some distinct differences between the two. I don’t have a preference. For me, it always comes down to who is the right person for the specific project I am shooting.

Jiu Jitsu competitor Danielle Kelly. Although she is not a model, I am confident I can produce at least one perfect image if I were to book her for a paid beauty shoot shoot. Leica M9 with 35mm Summicron.

Danielle Kelly in the environment where she is most comfortable. Leica M10 with 35mm Summilux.

One difference between agency models and non-agency models is that the non-agency models tend to be more agreeable when it comes to being photographed outside the established parameters of the shoot. If the agency model was hired to shoot footwear in a photo studio, she may not have any interest in doing a portrait on the rooftop during her lunch break. Last week, I was on set and there was a model present who had been booked through an agency as a hand model. I was on set in the capacity of lighting and digital tech. I had also been shooting BTS images of her throughout the shoot. At the end of the shoot, she put on her coat and then a colorful head-wrap. It was an interesting look. We were both standing near a ring-light style makeup table. I asked her if she would take a quick photo looking into the mirror. She replied: “I am sorry, but I am really tired.” During the shoot, she was very cooperative, even going beyond her expected tasks. She assisted the photographer with slicing the strawberries needed for a scene and even helped swap out the background paper. Her denial of my request had nothing to do with the actual work of posing and everything to do with the photograph that would have been created. Perhaps she wasn’t comfortable with her makeup-free face being photographed, or maybe she simply didn’t trust my photographic ability to capture a strong portrait of her in that setting. It is possible that she had checked out my Instagram and did not want to be featured there. I have no problem with her refusal to be photographed by me, and I knew when I requested that that there was a chance it would be declined. An amateur model would have had more trust in my vision and would have likely been eager to be photographed. That same amateur model might have even suggested the makeup table shot herself. When I am shooting multiple models for a beauty shoot, I don’t normally photograph them together but I have had several occasions where an amateur model has bonded with another model on set and asked if they could be photographed together. I find amateur models are always interested in being photographed once they are on set.

Lucy Almanzarrj was an unsigned model when this image was taken. She is currently signed to New Icon NY. Leica M9 with 75mm Summarit.

The agency models may not be as much fun to work with as compared to their amateur counterparts. This may or may not be important to you. If your goal is to schedule a four-hour catalog shoot and complete that shoot in the allotted time, you probably don’t care how many times the model might make you smile. You want to work with a professional that will get the job done. However, if you purchased a brand new state-of-the-art Nikon Z 9 and you want to book a full glam squad and film a YouTube video about it, you might want a model who helps make the day fun for everyone involved. While I’m usually having a blast on any given shoot, I’ve worked with many agency models who seem to be just going through the motions just like someone who is working a 9-to-5 job. During downtime on set, it is common to see a non-agency model taking selfies and asking everyone for their social media handle. Conversely, an agency model might be just sitting in the corner quietly scrolling through her phone. I’ve photographed lookbooks (a catalog featuring 20-80 photographs of a model wearing the latest collection from a clothing line) with agency models where we were on set together for more than five hours but barely said more than a few sentences to each other. The agency model might not mention your shoot on her social media or follow your account when the shoot is over. If she is booking jobs regularly, it is possible that your shoot isn’t worth mentioning on her IG. If she has photographed something similar many times in the past, your shoot might not be representative of where she is trying to take her career. By contrast, the photos you take of the non-agency model may be the best photographs she has ever seen of herself. She might ask you for the full take of images from the shoot, and if you were to give them to her, you can rest assured that she’s going to post every single photograph you took of her.

Paaula Montes, who is signed to Next Models. Nikon D810 with 85mm f/1.4G.

This article is not meant to judge either type of model. I’m merely sharing my observations. I’m making generalizations here, and things don’t always go exactly as I am describing, but the statements I’m making are based on my experience on set for many shoots with both types of models. It should be noted that the agency model may have learned that if she is too friendly on set, it is easy for males to get the wrong impression about her. If she is modeling swimwear or lingerie, or if she is alone in another state or country, it is wise for her to be sure that everyone on set understands that she is a professional who is there to complete a job. Party time can take place when the work is done, under her terms and with whomever she pleases. For the non-agency model who may work a boring office job, your shoot could easily be the highlight of her month. All eyes are on her, and she has a full team of talented artists working on shaping her into the most beautiful version of herself that she has ever seen. So, it is understandable that she is fully engaged in the experience of being on set.

Brittani Bader, who is signed Castaway Model Management. Leica M9 with 75mm Summarit.

When it comes to their actual ability to produce a strong photograph, the biggest difference between the agency model and the non-agency model is not their look. Rather, it is in their efficiency in nailing a shot. If a girl has the right face for a beauty shoot, I am confident that I can produce a strong image no matter how little experience she may have. I enjoy working with first-timers in this regard. The difference in working with a professional, however, is how quickly I can get that shot. It might take 10 minutes with the amateur but only 10 seconds with the professional. When I’m doing a test shoot or filming a YouTube video, this difference may not matter at all, especially when you consider that I can book the amateur for free. For certain client jobs, however, expediency does matter. The total number of keeper images that I can create also matters on some shoots. Although I can guarantee that I will produce one killer image with the amateur, I can’t promise that I will deliver enough six-page spread. Anytime a client hires me for a catalog shoot where we will be photographing 40+ outfits, I insist on booking an experienced model who knows how to pose.

Raw video of Brittani Bader posing. Notice how she can flow for almost a full minute without coaching from me.

You can improve your ability to pose a model by working with a professional. If you are at a point where your lighting and camera skills are good, but you don’t know what to do with the model once it is time to press the shutter button, then working with an agency model can teach you a lot. I’ve worked with models who don’t need any direction from me. They may have poses or body movements that you haven’t seen before. These models can help you create shots that don’t even look like the work you normally produce, and that can help take your photography to a new level. On test shoots, I am quick to let the makeup artist, fashion stylist, or anyone else suggest a pose or concept. I am working with these people because I respect their creativity. Once I have photographed a model doing a specific pose, I now own that pose, and it becomes something I can use for my next shoot.

Agency models can also help you on a catalog shoot if they are keeping track of which specific images need to be captured. On a lookbook shoot, I usually develop a rhythm with the model where she understands that for each outfit we will photograph sequence along the lines of front of the outfit, left side, right side, the back, and then close-ups of the shoes. If we reach outfit number 27 and I forget to shoot the left side, she will let me know. She understands that if we don’t get this shot, at some point later in the day, the client will be reviewing the images and realize that the shot is missing, and she will have to put that outfit back on just so we can shoot the left side. Similarly, agency models are good at noticing things like tags or loose threads that should not be in the shot. By contrast, a non-agency model is focused on herself, and she has no comprehension of what is going on as it relates to the different elements that makeup the shoot. Sometimes, I feel there is nothing a non-agency model loves more than taking a black hair tie from her hair, putting it on her wrist, and leaving it there for the entire shoot. Of course, no one on the glam squad ever catches this, and it falls upon me to remove the hair tie in post-production. For details on this process, check out this Fstoppers article: Tips for Removing Those Pesky Hair Ties From Photos.

The most important distinction between the two is in their reliability. If you book an agency model, she will be there, and she will be on time. With a non-agency model, you don’t know if she is going to show up until you see her open the door and walk into your studio. Even if she texts you, “I am 10 minutes away,” you cannot be assured she will show up. Non-agency models have no issue with not showing up no matter how much time or money you have put into the shoot. They don’t care about the four or five people who are on set waiting for them. Even though the amateur model generally stands to gain the most from the shoot, they are the only ones who are likely to cancel at the last minute. Many of them won’t even let you know they don’t plan on showing up. If I book an amateur in a studio that I am paying for or if I have involved other people besides myself in the shoot, I always book at least one additional model so we have someone to photograph if the first model did not show up. My policy when an amateur says she is running late is to keep my communication with her to the barest minimum. When she begins sending a series of texts explaining that she will be late, my replies consist of nothing more than “ok” or “I understand”. If she is a no-show, I will delete her contact from my phone and unfollow her on social media. I live in NYC, where we have thousands of models suitable for the projects I shoot. If someone is unreliable, I don’t want to give them a chance to work with me again.

Although the article details the positive and negative aspects of working with professionals and amateurs, I hope that your focus will be on the benefits of working with each type of model.  Perhaps you’ll even consider booking the opposite type from what you normally work with when you plan your next project.

John Ricard's picture

John Ricard is a NYC based portrait photographer. You can find more of Ricard’s work on his Instagram. accounts, and

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For me, the biggest difference between agency models and not is having to deal with their agents. My experience has always been that agents introduce a giant ego factor and another voice insisting that they are part of the creative process. Especially for test shoots. Personally, I stopped working with agency models for that reason. The headache factor skyrockets.

Other than that, I find agency models to be fairly indistinguishable from nonagency models.

Also, I haven't had the same experience with agency models being reliable. I've had plenty of agency models not show up or show up super late even when getting paid. I remember one time years ago I was attending a Scott Bourne workshop and he ended up having to use his assistant as the model because all three agency models he had hired for the workshop didn't bother showing up. Though I do imagine it varies from agency to agency but in my experience dependability and models almost never go hand in hand.

(That said, I will mention I have never worked with really high-end agency models. I imagine the sorts of models who command a day rate that is in the thousands of dollars probably are much more dependable and professional)

Well, I hope they are more dependable if their day rates are in the thousands.

It depends on the agency. A lot of my TFP shoots organised through Instagram are with agency models, but I never actually deal with the agency themselves. I can just contact the model directly. It's only the high-end agencies where you have to deal with a middleman.

Absolutely, though I had a really bad experience doing that one time where the agency found out the model shot with me without their involvement and the agent was EXTREMELY mad. She started threatening lawsuits. (I knew she didn't have any actual grounds for one, I had a signed model release but even if I knew I would win it wasn't a headache I wanted to deal with)

Definitely not trying to draw any concrete conclusions. I am just relating my own experiences. Might have been better for me to make that a bit more clear in the article. Also, don't be so hard on the people making comments. It's just a casual discussion. Nothing is really at stake here and there is no barrier to entry. Anyone who read the article, or even just the headline, should feel free to comment. Doesn't mattter if they have any experience with agency models. More discussion is better for everyone.

Location may have affect how reliable the models are. I live in NYC where we have some of the top model agencies in the world. Those agencies probably enforce strict rules for model behavior. The smaller agencies may be following their lead.

Totally true. I was in Vancouver when I was working with agencies so definitely a smaller industry than NYC but also not the middle of nowhere either. Agencies like Wilhelmina have a presence there.

"The main difference is their efficiency at nailing the shots" SOOOOO TRUE! Great piece

I am not surprised that the first model declined shooting with you. it is unprofessional for a photo assistant to ask the model to shoot when it is not your set. Even if you were shooting BTS, you stepped out of your place once you made it about you.

I don't disagree, but I would point out that all of the photos I took were given to the client. Sure my shots will end up on my personal IG, but ultimately, had she taken that particular photo that I requested near the end of the shoot she would have done something that benefited her client as much as it benefitted me. But to be clear, I dislike it if I hire an assistant and they are shooting pictures on my set. It's unprofessional, unnecessary and can put me in an awkward position if bad photos from my set are going out into the world. Also, I don't need my assistant working the room and letting everyone know that she is a photographer too. That has no benefit to me, and if I brought you on my set, the things you do there should benefit me. So I get what you're saying. In this particular case, I had discussed my shooting BTS photos for her, prior to my accepting the job and she welcomed my doing so.

I think that it depends. When it comes to doing a commercial project, like ecommerce or a catalog, experienced agented models can be amazing. They can change into an outfit, step up and bang out 3 or 4 shots in seconds. It's because they've done it before and they know how to rock a pose to accentuate the clothing quickly and efficiently.

However, what works for the above just doesn't work for more creative shoots that I like to do. Fairly often I have agented models reach out to me to do something different for their portfolios. Almost always I spend a considerable amount of time working with them to NOT pose. The reason is because if they want to actually get shots that are different than what they already have, throwing out your go-to pose isn't likely to do it.

Some of the best models that I've worked with are not agented. They're good because they know their body, know their angles, and know how to project some kind of emotion.

But keep in mind that I'm coming from a perspective mentioned by another commenter: I've never worked with high-end agency models. The only ones I've worked with are with the handful of regional agencies in my area.

You remind me of an element that I forgot to include. Sometimes when you photograph an agency model you don't feel as if you are really creating the shots. She's doing her go-to poses for you just like she did for the photographer yesterday. And, she's hesitant to do what you ask because she has learned which side she likes to be photographed on, and what angles she doesn't like, etc. Conversely, sometimes you get an amateur model who is more trusting of your process and you ultimately create images that feel more like something you created.

I agree. I've done shoots at the request for some agented models strictly for the purpose of adding something "different" to their portfolio. They've reached out to me for that purpose. After several minutes of shooting, I'll pull up their IG or agency profile page and A/B it with what we've shot up to then (shooting tethered). It's easy to point out to them that we're simply doing the same shots they already have but, maybe, with a bit different lighting. Usually it's an ah ha moment and they start becoming more receptive.

Most of the time I think it's a comfort zone thing. I know I've fallen into the comfort zone trap as a photographer as well.

I rarely worked with agency models (now I mostly do boudoir and except for modell calls, all of my 'models' are paying clients) for several reasons:

1. They are less likely to embrace ideas about angles and posing that are different with what they feel comfortable.
2. They tend to have a big ego. Again, not all, but in my experience, too many for my taste do.
3. A lot of times, again, not always but more often than what I would like, they keep communication to the minimum. And in my experience, when the environment is 'friendly', it shows in the final results.
4. I consider myself fairly good in conducting and posing models, so the price associated with paying a model agency does not make it worth the time saved vs getting a non model.

I have probably more reasons but those are the ones that came to mind right now.

Having said that, having an agency, experienced model, does have its benefits. It is of course a pleasure to work with models who know how to pose and, I agree with you in regards of no shows. .Agency models rarely don't come.

My experience has been that amateur models need to be told how to pose.

Yes, agree. What I was trying to say is that while true, I´ve found that I do well in directing them so it is not troublesome for me. Once I tell them the pose, or have them mirror it (I do it myself) then they tend to do it well so while it takes a bit longer than with a pro model, the difference is not that much.

Here is the biggest difference, pro models know how to be attractive without being seductive. The thing I have seen with amateur models is that they always go straight to the "**** me" poses... I think a lot of them must be former or current strippers.