Casting is time consuming! It can suck up all your energy. It can leave you exhausted and frustrated. It is mostly the one part of photography that always demands tons of effort, and does not always reward us with the results we hope for. That’s why there are casting directors, both in the stills and film industry. It is a job! When you are working on your portfolio you rarely have the means to hire one, so better to get efficient with it on your own. If you are a landscape or a still life photographer, move along gleefully.
We all know that the right casting will take your images to a higher level or at least will allow you to really just focus on the image you want and not on fixing the undesirable. (Hope you read my tips on directing models)
Casting is more then just getting the right model for the job (Beauty - great skin and hair / Fashion - perfect body / Sports - stamina and skills / Lifestyle - easy smile). Photography careers have skyrocketed with conscious casting. It is yet another component of the style you are putting forward that deserves your undivided attention. Some shoots have no value if the casting is not spot on. Wait before producing them. One day, the sun rises and hallelujah, you meet your muse and it all comes together. Every shoot demands a lot of energy and time. Don’t let it go to waste just because you did not do your homework.
I know all the excuses out there. You might be starting out in a little town where talent is scarce. You might be just beginning in your career and agencies don’t take you seriously. You might be a successful commercial photographer but want to expand your personal work so that implies starting all over. Yes it hurts - unless you have the best bookers on speed dial, it is a mission to get the type of talent you want. But it is a necessary pain to get your career rollin’. Think of it like stretching. In the beginning you feel like a mummified dinosaur and then you morph into a Russian ballerina. Practice makes perfect.
When should you cast? Apart from the obvious commissioned job, or project that has a timeframe, all the time! Especially if you are not based in one of the mega poles for talent. Cast on the streets, in bars, in concerts, festivals, in the gym. Anywhere is game. Ok maybe not in a sauna, but you get my drift. Granted I am referring to wild casting here but talent is talent. Sometimes you don’t need a person to cry on command, you just need a face that will stop you in your tracks. For portraits, beauty, and personal projects you don’t need a fashion model, just charisma. There is plenty out there just waiting to be discovered.
You might not be planning a specific project the day you stop that person and ask for their contact, but they may become handy later on. If you are expanding your portfolio and have shoots in mind, but no model agency nearby, check out the actors, dancers, and performers in your area.
With social media you can cast all day, every day, from the comfort of your worn out pajamas and your favorite couch. There really is no excuse not to. Oh and by the way, professional models often work independently as well as being represented by an agency, so you might get a better deal for your client and have more model choices. How?
Think of the enormous percentage agencies take (it’s starts at 50%). The 2000 dollars your client has becomes 1000 dollars in the models pocket when working with an agency. If you go directly to her/him you might be able to book them for a smaller cost.
Moreover talents represented by agencies have no say on whom they work with and for. Some of these girls/guys would have wanted to work for a lesser pay or on a personal project because at that moment in their career they are bored or need the extra cash.
You might object that amateurs are harder to work with. It really depends on what you are shooting. No fashion model can pose like a ballerina. Dress the ballerina in designer brands and you have a fashion spread with a twist.
Having a list of possible models on hand is a great economy of time when you do get an opportunity to shoot. Either because suddenly you have a few days of slack between the commissioned gigs, you find a great location available for a short period of time, you meet a stylist that has a new collection she/he can borrow or you get a job where extras are needed. A client always appreciates when their photographer can help out on production.
Casting can be done in a conference room, in the agency, or in your flat.
For specific demands, inherent to shooting lingerie or nudes, make sure to switch off the Sade playlist that was on a loop during your breakfast with your night’s conquest. You could also ask a girl (assistant, friend) to be around. Give them space to undress in privacy. And in a perfect world have a waiting space for all the models that come at the same time. Yes even when you give specific time frame for meetings they always come at the same time. It’s just Murphy’s law. Or it’s my Murphy’s Law. Anyways, moving on.
Depending on what you are casting for use a place appropriate to your project. Light, whether artificial or natural, and enough space to do a full-length pola without using a wide lens. I was producing a job for a photographer who got commissioned for an advertising gig. We were casting for, um, knees and calves in a Scottish outfit. He asked me to do the casting at his place. I obliged. He ended up by having a fight with his girlfriend in his tiny apartment, while I was asking guys to take off their pants in the hallway to get my casting shots. Each time the elevator opened I was in an awkward position. Literally. Thank god the neighbors were Dutch and open minded. The models were a little less, understandably. Don’t underestimate the space!
Wild casting demands simply some basic social skills, a smile, and a card with your info. I don’t think I really need to explain the difference between behaving like a stalker and a being polite.
Casting with agencies is quite another ball game. It is politics. Make friends with the buggers, oops sorry bookers.
When you are new and approaching them for the first time, send an email, call for a meeting and show up with your portfolio and your upcoming projects. Bookers see tons of imagery and have taste, if they are compelled by the art that they see in your work, they will help you out. They might even enjoy playing the mentor. Use that to your advantage. You might learn something.
In the big cities there are a lot of agencies. Hit them all! The top ones might be snobbish at first but when you come back and they see the evolution they will open up.
Ok so you are not that new anymore. Great! But there are new bookers all the time! Working at a modeling agency feels like a chair game to me. Every year there is a rotation. Michael that was at Ford has moved to Elite, Donna switched from City to Marilyn, while Betty quit everything to be a chef. You need to update that Excel spreadsheet on a regular basis.
I tend to try and work with a few agencies where I have a personal contact with a booker. I might take her/him out for coffee or lunch from time to time. I will shoot a test of an extra girl she needs new images for. I want to get in her/his good graces. It really is about building a relationship. You give, you get. My booker will not necessarily give me their icon model, or change rates for a job but they might be more flexible in negotiation, they will answer my emails in the best time frame they can – which is a life saver in some scenarios- and they might be tempted to give me a bigger model then I could expect for an unpaid editorial. Little things that change your life as a photographer in the long run.
Yes casting is time consuming. But it is just as important as your light knowledge, or your marketing skills. Don’t minimize its importance. The sooner you start getting fluent with it, the faster your workflow in pre-production will be. Saying that I need to get back to my emails. I have a workshop in Cape Town that will be held in a month and I already started preliminary casting even though I am not in South Africa yet! Time is of the essence.
All images are screen shots of Tim Walker 's website. His work is captivating.