Where to Find Models to Shoot and How to Approach Them

Where to Find Models to Shoot and How to Approach Them

One of the most popular and sought after genres of photography is taking portraits of both male and female models. Getting started can be quite an uphill battle at times. So how do you really get started?

Where to Find Models

You want to start shooting portraits of models? Great! But where do you find them and how do you get them to shoot with you? This article is intended for those starting their journey in this genre. Here are a few options to find subjects to shoot with:

Your Friends

Most likely, you’ll start by asking your friends if they would be interested in shooting with you, or if you’re lucky, you’ll have a friend who models. I’d actually recommend starting by just shooting friends; you’ll likely be more comfortable shooting with them and it will help you become more comfortable with a subject in front of you. It’s great practice, so that way you won’t make as many rookie mistakes in front of a professional model. 

Model Mayhem 

I know, I know. I can already hear half of the crowd grunting as I write this. The fact is Model Mayhem is a resource where photographers can meet and collaborate with models, makeup artists, and stylists. There you can create a profile where you select what genres you're looking to shoot, showcase your portfolio and interact with other creatives. I personally have had some success when I was just starting out. I’ve heard both sides of the spectrum where there are some who swear by it, and others who haven’t had much luck on this platform. Needless to say it is worth a shot for you to at least try the website out.

Facebook and Facebook Groups

This option is where I found the most of my initial success collaborating with models. You can also throw in Instagram into this discussion. If you live near a metropolitan area, chances are there is a Facebook group that is set up for photographers and models near you. Simply search [Your City] Models and Photographers and there you will find dozens of models and photographers in your region. I'd suggest making a quick post stating that you're interested in collaborating with models and even photographers.

Word of Mouth

After trying at least one of these options, chances are that you will land a photoshoot or two. From that point, as you have successful shoots with friends or models that you’ve shot with, word of mouth will get around and from that point opportunities should arise for you. Do not underestimate tagging on social media; it’s a powerful way to get more eyeballs on your photos and expose your name. As you can tell, networking is crucial and the more people you meet, the more likely people will shoot with you. 

How to Approach Them

OK, that’s all great, but how do you approach models? How do you increase your odds of them shooting with you?

Usually when you ask to collaborate or "test" with a model, the first question they will ask you is, “Do you have a portfolio I can look at?” This is where you can find yourself stuck if you have no set portfolio when starting out. Using these tips will help you land a photoshoot. 

Professionalism

It really goes without saying that you should be professional right from the get-go. Since I’ve been told horror stories from models, this deserves to be at least mentioned. Be professional during every aspect of your shoot from prep to photo delivery. If you’re not professional, you will not make it too far. 

Have A Plan

Simply saying “hey let's shoot” or some other passive aggressive inquiry will not help your chances. When reaching out to them, make sure to let them know who you are, where you're from, compliment their work, what you're looking to shoot, concept ideas, and so on. Treat it like you’re looking for a job, be prepared and have a plan in place. 

Mood Board

Building mood boards is where you’ll begin to stand out from the amateur photographer crowd. A board that includes the model, location, styling, and the concept will make a great impression and help your chances. I usually use Google Images or 500px to find my inspiration images. After I cull images together, I go into Photoshop and create an 8.5-inch by 11-inch collage of images that inspire the shooting concept. Sending this to a model shows that you gave the shoot thought, preparation, and perhaps even selected that model for that specific concept. It is also a great tool for preparation and communication, everyone will be on the same page and more likely capture exactly what the team has in mind. 

Makeup Artist

When shooting with a professional model, working with a makeup artist is almost a must. Some models have candidly told me that whenever a photographer reaches out to them for a TFP or "test" shoot, having a makeup artist at the shoot is a deal maker or a deal breaker. They may not exactly need a makeup artist if their good at their own makeup, but it shows that you're more legitimate and professional when assembling a team. A makeup artist is a portrait photographer’s best friend, so be prepared to work with them on a regular basis.

Hiring the Model

Don't be surprised if a model messages back with his/her rate. I'd recommend hiring one if you aren’t having any luck finding a model to test with; especially if you don’t have a portfolio or someone willing to take a chance on you. Hiring a professional model may work in your favor, they are experienced professionals and used to emoting in front a camera.

If you're interested in pursuing portraiture, the key is having human beings in front of your camera. So by any means possible, shoot as many people as you can when you start out. Once you get that one successful shoot out of the way it becomes easier. Using some of these tips will help you become successful in your journey.

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21 Comments

Dr. Dominik Muench's picture

Finding potential shooting models can seem a bit intimidating at first but is actually quite simple as long as you stay friendly, professional and honest.

However I found approaching women (as potential shooting models) in real life one of the hardest things to do and can go south very quickly if done the wrong way.

In the last few years I have only cold carde maybe 8 women in total and when you do....politeness, humility and subtlety is the key. NEVER NEVER EVER approach a woman in an arrogant or cocky demeanor , tell her you're a big time photographer keen to shoot and ASK HER for contact details.

Instead have a business card ready, explain to her your intentions and what you are interested in doing (ideally in no more than a couple of sentences, don't start a whole lecture on photography and why she should be the next victoria's secret angel) and finish with something along the lines of "here is my card, have a look at my website, if you like my work and you are interested in working with me, I'd love to hear from you". This is the critical point....NEVER EVER ask the girl for her contact details and after you handed over the card.....leave !!! dont try and chat her up or make awkward small talk.

Nick Pecori's picture

Great points made. Be professional, polite, and straight forward.

David Moore's picture

I've been coming in contact with models on Instagram more and more. And for me, the hard piece of the puzzle is always the hair and make up. I can usually find models I want, but have to throw down the money for a MUA.

Nick Pecori's picture

Yes, I'm experiencing the same trend on Instagram. And I definitely agree, HMUA's are the glue of photoshoots.

Dr. Dominik Muench's picture

have a look and see if there are any beauty/ makeup schools in your area and get in touch with their students, they are usually quite happy to work for TFP and build a first portfolio.
As for MUA's ....I only work with makeup artists now who do airbrush makeup....looks absolutely fantastic and flawless and saves you a lot of time during postproduction. especially when you're shooting film work.

David Moore's picture

I will have to look into both, I haven't used anyone that used airbrushing yet.

Spencer Lookabaugh's picture

This is a fantastic article! Lots of good info for those starting out. I know that I had a lot of similar issues when I started out, but it truly is surprising as to what kind of connections that you can make. Nice work.

I enjoy doing the Mood Board. For me it like my homework before the shoot. I really think about the images and story I want to create. Not using words but photos to explain myself. I use Pinterest, www.pinterest.com/billbertphoto to collect images I see and like to refer to. This way when I ready to the Mood Board, I have images ready to refer to. Images that I like!

Funny thing is being in New York City, some models I have worked with their agency say no, but they find me on Model Mayhem if I post a casting. Also models I rejected when I shooting a runway during NYFW I would see walking down the runway.

Also if I looked back when I started and things I wish I would have done differently it would be shooting one style of photography. I shot beauty, fashion, bathing suits, pinups, lingerie and so on, in the past. I only shoot one type now. This means I looking for a certain type of models to fit my fashion photos. The models are in turn looking to fill out their book and would be willing to work with me if they wanted more fashion type photos.

Nick Viton's picture

So if an agency explicitly tells you No, but the model finds you on MM and wants to work with you, then it's fair game to work with him/her? The model isn't bound by the contract with his/her agency? What a great loophole if that turns out to be true!

Nick Pecori's picture

This scenario goes on a case by case basis I believe. I've had models that would've like to work with me but their agent declined. On the other end of the spectrum I've had models work with me without going through their agency. It really all depends on the models agreement with their agent.

We have a local Community School of the Arts in my hometown supporting a broad art culture with a focus on dance and theater. It is a great atmosphere for working on your photography technique. Students range in age from 8-18 and have already signed photography releases. The students and parents both love someone capturing images of their participation. Headshots, theater rehearsal and production photos, and studio dance photography is a challenging environment to work and a great learning environment. Outside photographers are basically shut out of dance competition photo opportunities, but studio work, clinics and local dance recitals present the chance for a lot of shooting.

Leigh Smith's picture

I have found Instagram to be a huge help in model shoots. I've got two shoots lined up this weekend from Insta!

I've found MM has a lot of "models" that can't actually commit to a shoot. But I did meet one on there who has worked with me on two projects, both of which went very well.

Anonymous's picture

This is the worst advice ever. This guy does not have much experience. Dont listen to him. You go to real modeling agencies to find models and you as a photographer never ever pay a model. You are creating a product for them. Not the other way around. 99% of the time the model pays the photographer. People forget everything you read by this guy in this article. Smh.

Nick Pecori's picture

"This article is intended for those starting their journey in this genre." (i.e. Someone who is starting with no portfolio)

Sean Molin's picture

I'm really not sure what the problem is. The article specifically suggests in multiple places that this is advice for those just getting started. I sure as hell wouldn't waste time and money with a modeling agency until I have a basic understanding of what it's like to work with models. There are plenty of people out there that would be happy to experiment with you TFCD/TFP where you both get something out of while you learn. You've got to start somewhere and I don't believe jumping into a modeling agency is the place to do it unless you are moderately experienced.

stir photos's picture

My grandfather once told me, "people only want 2 things from you- be reasonable and at least somewhat competent"... Your response seems at least somewhat competent, but not very reasonable. Here's why I think that... I'm an amateur photographer, and as such, a lot of this article makes perfect sense to me. The spirit of the article is completely reasonable. I get asked very often, "where do you find these girls?" I can tell them, sure... In fact, I can tell everybody who reads this how I managed to meet all the models I've worked with in the last few years, but the fact of the matter is that at the end of the day, it's all bullshit to them. Why? It's simple; really, every beginner out there is not going to have the same journey as me, the author of this article, and for that matter, you. For example, if I told them that I was neighbors to a couple of models and that helped me out early on, big woop for me, but if their neighbors aren't models, how does that help them? Your journey has taken you down the road of modeling agencies, big woop for you, but what if beginners reading this A) can't afford it, or B) don't have a qualified portfolio that justifies a represented model just doing a shoot for them pro bono? Now all of a sudden MM, Instagram, and yeah, maybe pay a small fee for a model when you can afford it doesn't seem so unreasonable. I'm from and live in LA; again, big woop for the guy who lives in Big Toe Mississippi... Buuuut, he either has or makes a friend in Big Toe that can model for him, uses MM to query a search for models close to Big Toe, or maybe, just a maybe, he finds someone to model for him via FB or IG.

Chris Adval's picture

A bit late to the commenting but had the chance to read most of the article and one important part was missing I thought should be noted to "Hiring the Model". Do your homework before hiring a model. Literally any model, professional or not, can be self-proclaimed professional, and ask or demand pay. Does not mean they should be paid purely because of their look in most cases. I think a big part of hiring a model is the look but as well skills, experience, portfolio, reputation, etc. Granted even some self-proclaimed models can be paid but not the same rates as actual professionals, i.e. self-proclaimed aspiring models I'd say $20-$50/hr vs. an actual established professional model ranges from $100-$300/hr in my state at least. Many of the self-proclaimed aspiring models will try to get the same rates of these actual professional freelance models, but a smart photographer will not budge (excluding GWCs). Remember ROI (return on investment), do not invest into a model and assume you can sell prints/calendars, etc. where in most cases this will not happen unless the model has great salesmanship skills to sell the items for you to their fans (if they got fans), so breaking even is unlikely, and only really hire for personal projects/portfolio building aspects. That's in my opinion and experience though.

Michael Murphy's picture

I have been a Photographer on and off for well over 20 years. I used to work with 35mm and medium format, unfortunately putting my photography on the shelf and moving multiple times my film portfolio didn't much survive. I have just recently decided to get back into Photography on the digital side and I myself am also seeking modeling talent and to begin amassing my 'Digital Photo Portfolio'.
I haven't ever had any problem approaching women anywhere and have had about a 50/50 success rate getting an approval to allow me to shoot her. I usually Exchange “TFM (Time for Money)” which isn’t exactly accurate. I meet with the woman/model ahead of time usually a minimum of at least a day or two before the agreed upon shoot date or some date after the initial encounter but before the shoot date to discuss where we both are in terms of what is expected from the shoot.

What my method is, ‘we’ provide ‘our’ time, you have in your head (hopefully) what you wish to shoot and she (hopefully) has an idea of what photos she is looking to get and ‘we’ provide the mutual inspiration as to what will be shot, she provides the subject to be photographed, I/you provide the technical aspect of the shoot (i.e. the camera, equipment, lighting and hopefully the talent to get the shots).

After review of the photos which I have a dedicated laptop for, usually on sight if possible, I offer to give her ‘free of charge’ digital copies of the photos we just shot together. Having the laptop ‘on site’ allows you to show her the results of your ‘Test’ shots and your ‘between break’ and ‘costume changing’ sessions allows you to discuss what you like/don’t like, posing suggestions and how to make the next shots better. Trust me she will appreciate your attention to detail and also including her in the discussion so she knows better what is expected and gentle guidance on how ‘we’ can help to improve the shots. It is also a great way to loosen any tensions during the breaks and get her more comfortable with you.
Trust me this is HUGE! I have had models/amateur models decide they trust me more than enough that they decide it would be okay to go beyond what we discussed ‘if it is okay with me’. Keep it professional and fill your portfolio. When she tells other women/potential models she knows how professional, talented, easy to work with and comfortable she was around you as well as the great photos she received from the session; you will have them begging to pay to, to shot them.

Most laptops today have a CD/DVD Buner built in standard and it usually takes less than 10 minutes to burn the photos onto a disc for her once you are both satisfied. I also will touch up whatever needs to be done using Photo Professional and/or Lightroom and Photoshop and also provide ‘free of charge’ a digital CD/DVD copy for her of the finished photos so she can see the before and after shots. I would warn you to go easy on whatever ‘touchups’ you do in the software, she is looking for portfolio type shots not to be made into Taylor Swift or Marilyn Monroe. I usually stick to the hair wisp, brighten the eyes, whitening the teeth/removing any lipstick smudges and gentle complexion correction/acne removal.

As one of the repliers stated, “Be profession, polite and straightforward.” The Woman/Model will respond in kind to you bringing it up a notch and it helps her perceive this as a business opportunity, not being ‘hit on’. Dress professionally, even though we are photographers it never hurts to step up your appearance whenever possible. When meeting to discuss what you wish to shoot try to wear a button down wrinkle free collared shirt with slacks are great; if you have to wear denim jeans as most photographers I know actually do, don’t wear blue jeans to the meeting.

I have several pairs of ‘dress’ jeans that I wear that are black and pressed with a crease front and back if they are recently bought. I usually take my ‘dress ‘jeans to the tailor and ask them to sew the crease permanently in them. Yes this sounds weird to do but I learned it from the son of a Tailor and you won’t believe how much people judge you just by what you wear or how you wear it. Also shoes or boots, icxs-nay on the sneakers or loafers.

Know that you know what you know, own it. If you are not as confident as you would like don’t try to hide it or ‘fake it until you make it’ unless you are sure you can pull it off, be honest but be professional. If you are trying to get your portfolio up and/or want to get more comfortable with your gear/new gear or new equipment you haven’t used much (i.e. you just got off EBay and received in the mail yesterday) and experiment some let her in on it (not the EBay stuff) just reassure her that she will get great photos from your time together.

I agree with the writer of the article and most of what has been said in the replies except for the gentleman nixing the validity of the article writer’s stance. Without a 'Portfolio' and a rather good one at that modeling agencies will not allow you anywhere near their models unless you pay a premium and provide prints or ‘digital’ copies of the photos for free or at the very least at cost. So the Article Writer is spot on with his advice to you.

That being said; I don't know if this will help any of you out there but here goes. On the internet there is a site called ‘Meetup.com’ on there, there are various ‘Photo and Modeling’ Groups in various locations. I’m sure no one will have any difficulty finding one or several near their location. I belong to several and usually the photographers meet together to discuss their craft, their equipment, exchange ideas and techniques.

These groups usually setup meetings, classes and modeling photo shoots. They are usually reasonably priced $30 dollars per person for a few hours to between $100 and $200 for the day. Most organizers will provide the lighting, possible even the studio space and even guidance if needed. And here’s the thing if you have a techno hiccup with any of your equipment that you can’t figure out there are many people around just like you who can lend assistance. I have gone to several group modeling shoots where there are anywhere from a small amount of models (2 – 4) to a large picnic type setup outside at a sponsored venue with more models than you could possible shoot in a day. I’m going to a ‘Sponsored’ Event tomorrow at a State Park less than an hour from where I live, it’s a free picnic for photographers and models will be provided. The only requirement is for everyone to bring a food item and not tie up any model too long so as that everyone gets the opportunity to shoot them.

How long do you think it could take you to get a half decent size portfolio out of this?

Another avenue worth looking into would be Gentleman's Clubs or "strip clubs', 'go-go bars". The women there are already used to removing their clothes just be professional and explain what you wish to accomplish with the photo shoot. Offer professional grade non- nude, professional Portraits, Beautiful Head-shots, regular clothed photos and/or HDR Beauty photos also as perks.

Eddie Flickinger's picture

This company called Exposure connect models & photographers together. They just released and it's going to be game changing for the community!

Check it out 🙌
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/exposure-collab-create/id1392892581?ls=1...

I made a video sharing my experience of how to approach models :)
Feel Free to check it out and I hope it inspires y'all

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3sq5Yuj9JeY