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.
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 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.