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How to Convince Amazing Talent to Model for You

Joe McNally once said: "the easiest way to take better photos is to point your camera in the direction of more interesting subjects." One of the most common challenges photographers face is finding incredible people to work with. There is a misconceived belief out in the world that convincing amazing talent to step in front of your camera is actually really terrifying and hard. Fantastic talent is always looking for the opportunity to create new images to toss onto social media, and thus is always looking for great new photographers to work with. 

Each time I get to the Q&A portion of a panel or workshop that I teach, one of the first questions is always one regarding how to find models to work with and most importantly, how to convince them to agree to work with you. For the most part, I've never struggled with this problem. The vast majority of people who I have asked to work with me have been eager to collaborate on a shoot. My strategy boils down to a few simple points which are accessible to anyone.

Be Respectful

I wish this went without saying, but from what I've been told by models over the years, apparently it doesn't. Someone whom you have no connection with whatsoever has no obligation to work with you. They don't even have an obligation to respond to you. When emailing them, offer a simple, concise message that expresses an interest in collaboration while presenting both your experience and concept. One email is plenty. Don't harass them, don't repeatedly follow up, and most importantly, don't try to get ahold of them through their friends or family. 

Don't Become Emotionally Invested

One of the biggest mistakes that I see photographers making is that their heart becomes set on working with a single model who they almost become obsessed with. This is a huge mistake. There will always be other models, just like there will always be other photographers. When looking for people to work with, send your message and immediately move on to the next potential candidate. In my opinion, it is reasonable to follow up a few months later if you haven't gotten a reply, but for the most part, don't worry about it. If the model doesn't reply, it wasn't meant to be. 

Don't Become Intimidated

As a society, we tend to place certain individuals on these glorious golden pedestals in our minds, which often means we become so impressed by them that their presence conjures a feeling of tremendous intimidation when we finally meet them. We are all just people, people with hopes, dreams, fears, etc. You won't ever truly connect with your subject unless you tear away the idea that they are somehow superior to you. Don't be afraid to engage with them from a very human place; find a mutual interest or experience, and use it to build a bridge.

Don't Use People as Stepping Stones

Again, I feel like this should be fairly obvious, but apparently, it isn't. Whether you are shooting with a model, athlete, actor, or whomever, make sure you truly want to work with them. You may think you are subtle, but it's wildly obvious when you are just trying to work with someone because making them happy will open doors to the "real" people who you want to work with. Don't be that photographer whose behavior leaves a foul taste, making the truly great collaborators steer clear. 

Don't Bring Ulterior Motives to the Table

Models are gorgeous, I get it. You are single, I get it. Too bad, act like a professional by never trying to date models who you are looking to work with or have worked with. There is an endless array of great ways to meet amazing people to date. When you are wielding your camera, you need to act like a professional. (even if you are an amateur). Acting like a professional means that models need to feel comfortable working with you on a platonic level, and as soon as they start getting the feeling that you may be lusting towards them, the professional relationship shatters, not only potentially ruining a great working relationship, but also tying an anchor to your reputation.

Don't Be Afraid to Step Outside of the Obvious

If you ever look at the stats for dating websites, you will find it unsurprising that twenty percent of the users receive over eighty percent of the messages. This phenomenon holds true in photography. Most photographers end up searching for models in the exact same way, so they tend to all stumble upon the same potential talent in their local community. That talent doesn't have time or a need to work with every new photographer who bangs on their digital door. Instead, think outside the box.

For example, the photos throughout this article aren't of a professional model. They are of a world-champion competitive climber named Sean McColl. He can, without a doubt, be considered an elite international athlete, yet he rarely is contacted by photographers to shoot. How did I convince such an impressive talent to step in front of my camera? I sent him an email and asked. No more, no less.

Have Some Work That Is Somewhat Good

We all start somewhere, and not everyone starts with a world-class portfolio. Regardless, don't let that stop you. Back when I first got going, my portfolio was rough. I was reasonably proud of it at the time for what it was, but looking back, I cringe at many of those old images. Yet, even then, I had no trouble finding models to work with. Some work is always better than no work; it shows that you are dedicated to your craft, even if that craft isn't developed yet. That sign of dedication builds confidence that makes models more likely to say yes.

Push Rejection out of Your Mind

You will get rejected; everyone does. Sometimes, that rejection comes with a reason; other times, it is a polite declination. Always go into every pitch with the expectation of being rejected. I've got a secret for you, though: it doesn't matter. When you get rejected, don't fret about it by trying to pick apart the why. Instead, move on to the next great candidate and completely forget about the rejection. Don't let rejection tear out your optimism, because that feeling will taint every new project you work on.


Finding great models to work with isn't hard. Don't let fear, intimidation, or anything else hold you back. Bring your professional A-game to every interaction, and you will be set. The portfolio that you have always dreamed of having is dancing at the edge of your fingertips; all you have to do is reach out and grab it.

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Chris Adval's picture

Great article, I didn't finish it but was curious to your lighting setup? It appears to be 3 light sources, but wasn't sure, maybe 1 very big light source from above?

Ryan Cooper's picture

The cover shot is an 80" octo above his head, slightly to camera left pointed down with a rim light behind him.

The other two are a pair of edge lights on either side of him, slightly behind him angled to create that sheen off his templates then with a big light source just above the camera as a key light. (Very similar to Joel Grimes' signature look)

Chris Adval's picture

Love the lighting, very inspirational setups :)

Chris Adval's picture

I totally agree with you Ryan. I've always struggled with the rejection part, especially when they ignore and don't give a reason I always want to know why and improve it if its something I can improve that reasoning for the rejection. Heck rejection involving my work at any level has been a huge struggle because of the amount of emotion and passion I put into my craft ever since I started 6 years ago. With models though I've gotten a lot better to just move on, but with clients has been tougher not knowing why and losing $2k-$15k jobs... but the more I lose the more chances I'll eventually get closer to the win. But in all honestly again, its hard to not know cause knowing the reason to that rejection would help me get closer to that win.

Robert Nurse's picture

Rejection, wow! This article is so timely. But, there are times when rejection isn't personal or about the photographer. Sometimes people just don't feel "photogenic" or even beautiful for that matter. I think that's where the photographer can come in by articulating their vision and where/why this particular model comes in. I think I need to do a better job at this. It might make saying yes easier.

Shai Bachar's picture

Thank you for this inspiring article!

Bram Berkien's picture

See I thought I saw a familiar face there! Cool shots of Sean, he's a blast to work with

Davion Washington's picture

"The portfolio that you have always dreamed of having is dancing at the edge of your fingertips; all you have to do is reach out and grab it." <---- This right here ! GREAT GREAT GREAT Article !!!!!