Three Tips for Getting Models to Work With You

Three Tips for Getting Models to Work With You

One of the best ways to step up your photographic game as a portrait photographer is to improve the quality of your subjects. There are a variety of ways to do this ranging from improving your ability to coach strong expression, working with better makeup artists, or improving the quality of styling. The easiest method, however, is by working with experienced models who are practiced in interacting with the camera and already know the fundamentals of posing and expression. Finding a strong model to work with means the shoot becomes more of a collaboration that provides you the opportunity to elevate the quality of your work.

It goes without saying that having the highest quality relevant portfolio that you possibly can is a pre-requisite to attracting talented models. That topic is one far beyond the scope of this particular article but just know you should be making sure the model is able to look at your existing work and be able to predict the sort of images he or she will receive in return for shooting with you. That prediction should be a positive one. 

1. Offer, Don't Ask

Finding models was never particularly hard for me, even when starting out. I associate this largely with my personal aversion to "asking" for what I want. In life this can be a pretty bad thing in many ways and is something I continually work on. In a nutshell, I always feel incredibly guilty about asking for things. In order to mitigate this, I got in the habit of offering instead of asking when approaching models. Enter each potential collaboration from the point of view that you have something of value that the model would want and structure your approach in the form of offering them that value. "I'd love to offer you a free shoot" is far superior to: "Can I do a photoshoot with you?" This works well because it shifts the point of view from you asking the model for something of value (their time) to offering them something of value (strong portfolio images.) It transforms the request to shoot into a mutual exchange of value where both parties get something they want which is the foundation of any good transaction in a free market.

2. No Ulterior Motives

Unless you are a master snake oil salesman do not even consider using photography as a tool to get something else. (And if you are one, please change, your actions ultimately do harm to the entire community, including you!) When asking a model to shoot you are looking to create amazing images. You are not looking to go on a date. You are not looking to seduce the model for sex. You are not looking to take advantage of the model in any way. You are offering something very honest and leaving any other motives at home. Not only will this ensure that you remain genuine throughout but it will also protect your reputation. We live in an era where a single allegation of misconduct, whether true or false, can obliterate your reputation indefinitely. There is no reason to ever take that risk. 

3. Act Like a Pro

While you probably aren't a pro if you are having trouble finding models there is no reason that you can't act as if you are. (This isn't a manipulation technique, don't actually lie.) Acting like a pro means bringing mature professionalism to every interaction with the model. Always appear to be confident in your ability to shoot, even when you are not. Always speak directly and eloquently. No swearing, no crass jokes, and certainly nothing that makes you seem immature. Your goal is to act in a way that the model is able to draw on your confidence and reliability as a source of security. Being a model means voluntarily becoming vulnerable in front of someone you hardly know. That becomes much easier if the photographer is radiating calm solidarity through each interaction.


The best advice is almost always the simplest. Even if you ignore all of the above follow one simple rule: be nice. You have a responsibility to your work to treat each shoot with respect. Focus on making your shoots as professional as possible and you will see undeniable improvements in the quality of work as you will attract creative teams with greater skill to work with. Put yourself in your model's shoes and ask yourself how you would feel most comfortable if you were the one being approached for a shoot. Generally speaking, it isn't hard unless you make it hard.

Ryan Cooper's picture

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

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A must read for any and every photographer working with models! Pay attention to #2! Don't ever do this!

Normally models reach out to me but I get nervous to even try to reach out to models i really want to shoot because of #2. I never want to come off in that way. Great read.

4. pay them

Yeah this. The article should have correctly been called "How to convince models to work for you for free."

Both models and photographers need strong work in their portfolios. When collaborating, neither are working for free. They are working together to build the value of their brand.

Most young photographers don't have anywhere near the budget to pay standard modeling rates over and over while building their portfolio. Just like how most models also don't have that sort of coin to hire photographers to build their modeling portfolio. Plus, in the modern social media world both need a constant flow of content for their respective social media channels.

This is why both photographers and models have learned to collaborate. Models need even more content than photographers and most of them don't have budget to hire a photographer 3 times per week or more either.

The focus of your article is not "collaboration." Your very first point is about recontextualizing "collaboration". It isn't about "working together to get a better portfolio. Offering a "free photoshoot" is not an offer to "work together."

If you want to do a trade shoot with a model then offer her or him a trade shoot. Be open about collaboration. Use the proper industry terms so that everybody is clear on the deal. A "free photoshoot for the model" is not a collaboration. It doesn't recognize the skills the model brings to the table. Models do not necessarily need more content than photographers and most models have no shortage of photographers offering them "free photoshoots."

Paying the model for their time is a perfectly viable option and its astounding that you not only don't include it in your article, but you are arguing against it in the comments. If you have a bad portfolio then you bring nothing to the table. If you want an experienced model to work with you then paying her or him to model for you is a perfectly valid option that you should have included in your article. Out there in the real world models do pay photographers for portfolio pictures because sometimes the skill and the expertise of the photographer is worth every cent. And if you want an experienced model to work with you and you don't have a strong enough portfolio of imagery then why would things be any different? Even if they are a "young photographer with no budget?"

Lets be brutally honest here: If you are an experienced photographer with a strong portfolio then finding people to take photos of isn't a problem. If you are a "young photographer" new to the industry with a bad portfolio then offering a "free photoshoot" to experienced models is probably not going to work that well. So who is this article targeting?

While I agree almost completely with what you said, I believe the article is targetting new photographers on how to approach models (not professional models). If you wish, change the term "model" for "subject". That being said, then the article makes perfect sense. If you don´t have a strong portfolio because you are starting with photography, then no pro model will collaborate with you, and in most cases, not even for the money as her or his pictures (if badly taken) could damage her or his own image. When I started, I would target aesthetically pleasing models (not professional, not even amateur) and offer them a free shoot. Over 90% said yes. It helped me build my portfolio to a point where I got better and better, and eventually I would get at least 5 or 10 killer pics off of each shoot, enabling me to work with more experienced models.

I agree that the article is "targeting new photographers" which is exactly why I chose to comment as I did. And pro means "professional", which means (from the dictionary)"engaged in a specified activity as one's main paid occupation rather than as an amateur." So the thought that pro-models would regularly choose not to work with paying customers on the basis "they have a bad portfolio" doesn't really make sense.

Maybe it does not make sense, but I have personally seen it happen. Models that I know and have worked with, turning down paying jobs because of that reason. You know that pro models get approached several times a day on social media with offers for free sessions. Most of them don´t need a portfolio upgrade since they always keep it updated. It may not happen all the time, but trust me, it does happen (well at least in my country). Cheers!

I don't think country has anything to do with anything.

Do you personally know a model or two who have turned down paying jobs because of a portfolio? I'm sure you do. But I'm sure you can appreciate that your anecdotal experiences aren't representative of the industry. Model agencies do not inspect the portfolios of photographers and refuse to work on a commercial job because the photographer "isn't up to it." That just isn't the way it works.

And you are conflating paid work and free work again. You don't need to tell me that models tend to be selective when it comes to free work. Because I've acknowledged that already.

Agree 100%.

Not only are people more likely to say yes, but they'll actually SHOW UP!

Yes I would definitely agree with that! Shooting for free is a large part of the fashion photo industry. I think there may be some confusion over that in some comments posted above. But you're spot on I would never say the words "free" when contacting a model to shoot.

100% agree. Thanks for sharing!