Taking the Next Step Forward: Working With Modeling Agencies

Taking the Next Step Forward: Working With Modeling Agencies

You’ve reached a point with your work at which shooting friends and family doesn’t quite cut it. Your curiosity to challenge yourself and move forward is piqued, and you have a good sense of established skills that make you think seeking out agency-represented models is your best move. The question is: Where do you go from here and how do you even start?

Where Do We Start?

For me, taking the leap of fate to recognize I was ready for this big jump was probably the hardest part of it all. As photographers, it’s easy to downplay our skill or not recognize what is next for us on our path, because everyone’s path can be so different. The final “I’m going to do this” came after listening to a podcast in which they broke down the process and what a test shoot could entail. It is a proven life lesson that we grow from challenging ourselves opposed to remaining with what feels normal and comfortable. So, I knew to grow as a photographer, I had to venture into what was considered unknown to me.

All captured portraits from my time testing with NoTies Management in San Diego.

Making Contact

We speak about how cold-calling is a dying thing in an age of social media and email. I found for me, however, that even though it can be nerve-racking to call them outright, it turned out for the best. I started by calling agencies within San Diego (where I lived) and Los Angeles, asking for contact information for those in charge of their “New Face” boards. These newer models were who we'd be working with initially until we built a relationship and portfolio more fitting to their main boards. I sent an email consisting of a short synopsis of who I am, what kind of photography I like to shoot, and what I hoped to get out of this relationship with their agency. Also included was contact information for me, my website, and a contact sheet with selected photos that showed my strongest work. Agents' time is precious, so when we are seeking them out, it’s best to make it concise and quick. I got my actual start with a local agency called NoTies Management. I spoke initially with an agent who was very warm at a time when I was extremely nervous and gave me the tools to help with my growth both with shooting and the business side of photography. I was capturing people who had either never been in front of a camera or were very new to it, and I had to make sure I left a lasting impression that would make them want to continue shooting thereafter.

Understanding the Process

Great! So you’ve made contact with an agency and heard back from them. The order from this point can be different depending on the agency and agent themselves. I’d begin by sending an email of a rough date that I’m looking at testing as well as a copy of my mood board. This gives them a rough idea of which models would fit this look and timeframe. Many new face models are still within school and or working other side jobs, so remaining flexible can make sure you maximize how often you can shoot. As some agencies already have an idea of how they’d like to brand specific models, they will follow up with a shortlist or package of models and their respective comp cards, from which you can choose who catches your eye. After the agent confirms the date and model, you’d follow up with a call sheet which has the who, what, where, when, why, and how of the current shoot. You can learn more about call sheets in my previous article, How to Plan a Portrait or Fashion Shoot.

The Model

 The main priority when testing with agencies is building mutual relationships. You build a more solid portfolio, while the new faces get test photos done in hopes of using them for future gigs. Since this is a two-way street, it is imperative that you capture images that are mutually beneficial. Usually, this means images of models that are more natural and less done up to reflect the model as a “blank canvas.” Usually, planning a shoot that is very simple is best; natural makeup, clothes, and backgrounds that are not unnecessarily loud, etc. This is a challenge initially, because your mind runs wild with vivid ideas that you’d like to see brought to fruition. However, to do this, I often planned mood boards that could be executed and that held a few looks that were more simplified and reflected the model opposed to everything else. I would then preface in the email with the mood board that I’d also be sure to get portraits free of dramatic makeup and or jewelry that reflected the model in a more natural state for their book. This is a way of letting the agent know I was also keeping their needs at the forefront of my vision. It’s also imperative that you match ideas with models that feel cohesive so that you can get the most out of your shoot and also a better likelihood that your pictures will be used in their portfolio and not discarded immediately. 

Go Out There and Shoot!

There's no way to predict exactly how the experience will go, especially in smaller communities. However, the formula remains pretty much the same: gathering contact information, understanding the vision and wish of the agency you seek to work with, and ultimately building a symbiotic relationship. I'd love to hear from around the world what everyone's experiences have been like working with agencies as well as alternatives that have worked in smaller locations.

Log in or register to post comments
Kalpesh Modi's picture

This article could not have come at better timing than this. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Matthias Dengler's picture

That was a really great summarised insight! Thank you!
Do you believe that working with agencies can in in the end also give you paid jobs for clients?
So that ultimately clients reach out to the agency asking for a model and/ or a photographer to shoot it with?

Brandon Laurent's picture

Absolutely! For a multitude of reasons, the biggest one is really that for your portfolio and any magazine submissions you seek to do they will request that it is with agency recognized models. So by even just testing with them you're already accomplishing that. Also depending on your relationship with the agency/agents you'll be invited to social outings where other influencers may be. They can also put your name in if someone is requesting or looking for a photographer. I've met agents who take care of the photographers they frequent just as well as the models they represent. I hope that helped in answering your question. Nothing is absolute but in the realm of networking this is always a big help.

stir photos's picture

Great article! I like the 30,000 feet approach, but enough details that allows some closer investigation for photographers that are interested. I have zero agency experience, but I had an experience whereby I met a new model that was interested in shooting with me, but then she moved to Australia.... haha. Any advice on how that situation might work? For example, if we'd actually shot, could she have showed some shots to her agency?

Brandon Laurent's picture

Thank you! I tried to make sure I left some vagueness to the subject because I do recognize that depending on your area the ability to work with agencies can be completely different. Some may have to travel frequently to neighboring cities etc. As for answering your question yes, they absolutely could. Usually when they approach agencies for the first time or get scouted. The model will have images that they are able to show that represents them. A makeshift portfolio of sorts, I've also experienced some agents who will have their newer models seek out photographers to test with independently while in the beginning stages of building their portfolio.

On the flip side of this, if you encounter a model via social media or in person and you guys decide that you'd like to work together. See if they are agency represented if they are it's in good practice to ask the model for their agents email just so you can make yourself known and setting up a test with them. This is just to ensure that the agency doesn't think you circumvented their services to work directly with their models. Which if done can sometimes get you blackballed from working with the agency all together unfortunately.

Jon Miller's picture

Yes, she could have the shots done anywhere and showed them to any agency she approaches. I did shoots for several models here in Australia so they have their "package" together when they arrive in Los Angeles. Having been a fashion photographer for several years in LA/ Denver for many years before I moved here in Australia I have a pretty good idea what the LA fashion group is looking for.

Gabrielle Colton's picture

Great tips, I love working with agencies ( Good Ones ). It can lead to a lot of jobs and lasting relationships in the industry.