How to Break the Ice With a Model You Would Like to Collaborate With

How to Break the Ice With a Model You Would Like to Collaborate With

The biggest hurdle faced by many budding portrait photographers is the need to find amazing subjects to collaborate with. Reaching out to and communicating with models can be intimidating, but it really shouldn't be, as it can very easily lead to a very rewarding collaborative shoot for both parties. 

Reach Out

This isn't fifth-grade recess where you are hoping the model notices you are interested in working with them. The first step to actually breaking that ice is by reaching out and beginning a dialog. Don't dig into your online dating toolkit or any sort of manipulation scheme. Instead, be straightforward, honest, and professional. If you are communicating digitally, make sure to communicate in full sentences that are free of slang and emoticons while also being careful to use correct grammar and spelling. Show the model that you take every step of the process seriously and want to bring professionalism from start to finish. 

Have a Concept

Virtually every model is constantly beset by new photographers asking to shoot. Surprisingly, however, very few of them actually have an idea. Rather they just want to shoot or do some variation on a casual shoot where the model just shows up at a location and snaps some photos. Your goal is to stand out and catch the models attention. An interesting concept that will help him or her push their modeling in a new direction is a great way to do so. Show the model that you have taken the time to actually craft an idea that has vision and interest. This will separate you from the masses of other photographers out there yammering with just: "Let's shoot sometime!"

Have a Creative Team

The first time a model works with a new photographer requires that the model take a tremendous leap of trust. One of the best ways to both show that you are serious about your trade and also not a predator is by finding a creative team to work on the shoot with. When initially approaching the model, let them know that you will be supplying a creative team containing perhaps a makeup artist, hairstylist, and/or wardrobe stylist. This will help the model feel more at ease and worry less about shooting with someone they have never met. Make sure each member of the creative team has an online portfolio the model can evaluate.

Have Relevant Work

This one can often be one of those chicken/egg scenarios where you need to work with models to have relevant work to show models to get them to work with you. This is fair, but always try your best to show the model as many relevant examples of your work as you possibly can. If you have a portfolio full of landscapes and are all of a sudden emailing a model to shoot pin-ups, then you will raise some eyebrows and come across less genuinely. If your portfolio is completely empty, it might be worthwhile investing in a few workshops before reaching out to models. At a good workshop, the teacher will not only provide you with amazing education, but they will also supply models for you to work with so that you can at least craft the beginnings of your portfolio.

Be Willing to Pay

It probably isn't realistic for a new photographer to pay full modeling fees for every shoot while they are first getting started just as it isn't realistic for models to pay photographers for every image while they break into the industry. This is why models and photographers learned to collaborate. When collaborating, however, expect to work with models of a similar experience level to you. A highly experienced professional model doesn't have much to gain from working with a new photographer looking to build a portfolio, which means collaboration won't be appealing to them. You can, however, accelerate your growth by working with models beyond your experience level by hiring them. Always remember that regardless of whether or not you are planning to work collaboratively or not, both parties always should be paid for their time. Sometimes that payment is in the form of portfolio images, other times that payment is in dollars, but don't expect a model to ever work for free just as you should never work for free yourself. 


Often, the biggest challenge for new photographers looking to connect with models is only fear. Don't let fear of rejection or failure stand in your way, or you will never get anywhere. Instead, take a stand, wearing your professionalism as armor. Use it to break that ice and take the next step towards creating the images you have always dreamed of. Nothing is standing in your way except yourself. 

Ryan Cooper's picture

Ryan is an mildly maniacal portrait/cosplay photographer from glorious Vancouver, Canada.

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I don't know. Usually, I send a message saying "I like your work, my portfolio is Do you want to shoot sometimes ?" and that's it. No "creative team", no concept, 95 % of success. I even shot nudes with models who usually didn't.

You be nice, you don't ask if she has a boyfriend, you don't make comments on her ass, you address to her as you would to your mother, and you shouldn't have to prove you are cleaner than clean.

Maybe the most important part is to have some beginning of a people portfolio. And have some males in it, just to hide that you are a perv on the market for a girlfriend.

But the core problem is so many photographers are weirdos, so it goes back to basic conversation skills really. They bury themselves in panic and overcompensate with compliments, which usually does not the expected effect.

Like, you compliment a model on her work, her expressivity, not on her body/beauty/booty. And you keep that part minimalistic.

Also, go to museums and exhibitions so you have something relevant to say that could show you are actually into art, not just a Guy With Camera.

I'm engaged to a professional model, I manage some of her emails and there are pieces of work out there...

I suspect it varies from place to place. I've noticed models in some cities are much more open to collaboration requests from random photographers than others. Thats fortunates that you live in a city that is so open to it. It is a problem I often run into with students complaining why they never get responses from models and they are often using messages as per your example.

Region has such a big impact though. I'm always amazed at how much more open people are in LA when I go down there compared to Western Canada.

Yeah.. kind of echoing most of my thoughts here. And to be blunt, if you aren't getting any responses from models it's probably not because of how you're asking and simply because your work isn't good or fitting with what they'd want.

I wouldn't necessarily agree with that having talked with many models. I know some that get hundreds of messages per day. They don't even bother clicking on the portfolio unless the message with the request stands out to them.

Sure, makes sense. :) Definitely good to have a more thought out pitch.

I can assure you of the contrary. I can only speak for my girlfriend and some of her models friends (freelance travelling fine-art models), but the portfolio is really the only thing that matters. This and the models you already worked with who can vouch you are not a rapist.

I agree with Ryan.
Having a clear CONCEPT has been the magnet of my
At first this IG page started as an idea using friends and family.
Then I linked up with a couple local Coffee Shops and started developing it into a "Project", or to use Ryan's word into a concept.
Now clients see the work and contact me for paid sessions.
I still do collaborations here and there, but now is mainly for business

Arturo that's a great concept … a very simple idea too. Starting with friends and family demonstrated the concept to others. Models can see what you're trying to accomplish and also see that other models took a chance and got some good content.

Thanks Daniel, that reminds me of one little thing: after EACH collaboration in 2017 I asked models to leave me a REVIEW on my Google listing. This has translated into literally putting my business on the map when clients type "photographers in the Boca Raton area"

Last year I had the privilege of working with model VikTory. I saw she would be in my area, I instantly developed a concept for a shoot, I sent a shoot proposal to her, I asked her about her rates, and in almost no time I booked her.

Pictures or it didn't happen, right?

It's business. I added a makeup artist to my "team", but otherwise I was it. I knew Vik's work, I'd done a year's work with a ballet company, I knew how to write a story, and I attended a wonderful ballet in NYC earlier in the year, "Giselle" at the Lincoln Center.

We communicated, we had a great shoot, and all went well. It's business. Vik's just another person. At the same time she's a very nice person, an extraordinary model and ballerina, and a complete professional. I'd work with her again any time.

As an aside, the entire project cost me $1,000 and directly made $0 for me. So what? It isn't every day you get to work with a model who represents a new icon on the New York City skyline. Her photo with the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building in the windows is classic art. I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

I just ask politely mostly on IG and about 90% say Yes, they would love to. Don't be afraid to ask models you want to shoot, even if they are big and even if you have to ask permission from her/his agency prior to the shoot. It really doesn't matter how many followers you have on social, it's about your quality of work and style.

I can see why they'd say YES! Great work!!!

Thank you Arturo! I'm not there yet, but getting closer with every shoot :)