Monthly Archives: May 2010

Modeling 101: And You Call Yourself a Professional


So, you think you might like to “be a model.”  You find out that you can post a free profile on a cool website called Models Wannabe, but you need 4 photographs and a couple of paragraphs describing yourself.  So you take a few cell phone shots of yourself and pull that txtspk blurb off your Facebook account for the bio.  At the bottom, you add, “im a proffesonal who dose this 4 a livin,” so “No tfp.”  In all caps, you boldly shout “I DOENT DO NUDS KEEPIN IT CLASSY,” even though one of your selfies was taken in the shower.  Then you sit back and wait for the offers to roll in.

Six months later, just for kicks, you check back in again and notice that you have four comments, all of which say something like, “Luv yr port.  Let’s shoot someday.”  Then you also notice you’ve had a dozen email contacts from photographers wanting to shoot nudes with you.  You don’t reply to any of them.  A year later, you haven’t checked in at all, and your newest hobby is your newest boyfriend who thinks it would be really great if you became a model and he became your manager because, well… managing your life is what he likes to do.  And, by the way, he just heard about this really cool website called Models… Something, and …

Not to be harsh, but the above describes the majority of profiles on the various modeling-portfolio sites—people who are infatuated by the idea of “being a model,” but who have neither the insight nor the discipline to do the hard work required to build a legitimate career in any field.  You don’t get to “be a model” by uploading a few amateur photos to the modeling-specific version of Facebook and declaring yourself to be a professional.  You get to be a model by modeling, and you get modeling jobs by presenting yourself as a serious person who knows and respects the business.

As we said in the previous article, it’s all about creating and fiercely guarding your brand.  Whether you’re being represented by a modeling agency or you’re booking your own jobs through the Internet, a successful model’s brand starts with understanding and consistently practicing professional standards of behavior.

Vocation or Avocation?

Of course, you may be asking yourself, “What’s with all this ‘professional behavior’ stuff? I’m just doing this for fun.”  It’s a fair question, and in the first article, we asked you to consider four of them, the first of which was, “Why do you want to be a model.”  If you already know that the answer to that is you just like working with photographers (or artists) and you’re not interested in making money at modeling, you’re ahead of the game.  But does that exempt you from following the same rules and exhibiting the same behavior that professional models adhere to?

Frankly, in my opinion, it should you make you more, not less, committed to bringing your best effort to the game.  Organized activities that you participate in as a recreational outlet don’t have substitutes to replace you when you’re absent (or  just absent-minded).  The little league baseball or soccer player, the clarinetist in the youth orchestra, the tenor with the important solo in the church choir—they don’t have the option of not showing up just because they’re only participating for the fun of it.  That community theatre actor who won’t take the time to memorize his lines because he’s only in it “for the fun of it” destroys the fun for everybody else in the company.  Fun in a group implies a responsibility to the group.

Modeling isn’t a solo activity.  At the very least, it involves you and a photographer or artist, and the higher up the quality chain you get—the more complex and rewarding the projects become—the more team members you’ll have the opportunity to disappoint, people who showed up for the opportunity to work with you.  When a professional model calls in sick on the morning of a shoot, the agency sends a replacement; when an amateur just doesn’t show up, the shoot gets canceled and everybody goes home disappointed.

Second, consider that, even though you might be indifferent about earning money from modeling, if you’re committed to working at a high level where the projects are the most challenging and personally rewarding, you’re going to want to work with other people who have the same commitment, and there’s a good chance that some or most of them are going to be in the business for money.  They’re not going to have a lot of patience for lowering professional standards just to accommodate your limited appreciation for how important their jobs are to them.

Professional behavior is first and foremost a set of working expectations that enable the work to go forward.  Whether you get paid or not, showing up unprepared to do a job (or not showing up at all) brings a production to a halt, and wastes the time and professional contributions of everyone else who did show up ready to work.  This is not a formal code you swear to; it’s an unwritten understanding you swear by.

The Latin root of amateur is “amã” (to love), and whether you model for the love of it or for a paycheck, bringing anything less than your best effort is an insult to the commitment of everyone else involved.  If you do have hopes of modeling professionally, of course, demonstrating by your behavior that you either don’t understand or just don’t respect the need for professional conduct is the ultimate brand killer.   Although most of what follows is directed toward freelance models, mastering the keys below will also dramatically increase your value to an agency.

The Keys to the Brand

“I’ve found that luck is quite predictable. If you want more luck, take more chances. Be more active. Show up more often.”  Brian Tracy

Over the years, we’ve found that the keys to building and maintaining a professional brand seem to consist of five components—Attitude, Conduct, Communication, Skill Set, and Presentation.  There’s some overlap, of course, but let’s look at each component individually.

1. Attitude

The first key to creating a strong, professional brand is simply making the decision that you want one.  You have to be willing to treat your modeling career like a real job, even if it’s not paying you anything.  Hobbyist or not, you’re going to be working with people who care deeply about doing the work well, and if you’re not as conscientious about the business as they are, you will quickly develop a reputation as someone they’d rather not work with.  You’ll have a brand alright, but it’ll be Model Lite.

Some of the best personal photography I’ve done has been in collaboration with amateur models who measured their reward by the level of their satisfaction with the finished result.  Their uncompromising commitment to excellence—their seriousness about the work—was obvious and appreciated.  People who are genuinely invested in their reputation as a dependable teammate don’t think about or describe themselves as “amateurs” or “hobbyists;” they just think of themselves as models, and when commercial assignments with real paychecks do come up for distribution, these are the people whose demonstrated attitude of respect for the work sticks in your memory.

It’s a job.  You show up for it—all of it, including your preparations, pre-shoot communications, on-site behavior, and follow-up—just like you would for any other job.  If you don’t have that attitude, you may be somebody who occasionally dabbles in modeling for a brief time, but you’re not a model, and the only photographers who will work with you are the ones with a similar attitude about their work.  Is this what you want in your portfolio?  If so, skip this entire article.  Don’t worry about assembling quality presentation materials, don’t answer your phone or return voice- or e-mail messages, don’t bother showing up for an appointment or calling to rearrange if you’re unavoidably detained… don’t worry about showing any respect for the other people involved in the model photography business.  There’s a whole world of GWCs (Guys With Cameras) out there who are dying to immortalize your glamorous self with a cell-phone camera in their bedrooms.  They’re happy if one model in ten shows up for what they’re offering.  On the other hand, if you want to work with pros, be one.  If being professional is a stretch because you’re not in it for the money, then just think of it as being serious.

2. Conduct

Conduct can be narrowly defined as the sum total of the behavioral decisions you make, but it also implies the theoretical framework within which you make those decisions.  If you have no philosophical foundation for the choices you make as a model, you have no guidelines for consistent behavior, and consistency is the hallmark of a professional brand.  You know what to expect when you walk into a Starbucks or a Holiday Inn.  You should also be able to have a reasonable set of expectations about the conduct of any professional service provider you work with, whether it’s a plumber, doctor, portfolio photographer, or professional model.  Real businesses have Mission Statements defining who they are and what they stand for; they publish employee manuals that describe the company’s ethical guidelines and policy procedures in simple, straightforward language.  When questions pop up, their employees don’t have to guess what answer would be consistent with the company’s hard-earned brand—they just have to consult the manual where they’ll find a formula for solving problems.  This should be easy for you—you’re the only employee in your business.  What’s your formula for problem solving?

Serious models who want to work regularly take the time to think about their own code of ethics and behavioral standards.  Whether you actually write it down in a formal Mission Statement or not (I recommend that you do), you should know who you are and what you stand for.  Among other concerns, the Model You brand should have a firm grasp of where it stands on the following:

—Customer Service. How far are you willing to go to accommodate your clients?  Is the customer really always right?  Unfortunately modeling isn’t usually a second-chance enterprise; if you make a major mistake at a trade show or during a commercial photography shoot, it’s unlikely that just being willing to do it over again will fix the problem.  Your best approach is to make sure you understand and are able to fulfill all of the requirements, bring a 100% commitment to the work, and then know how to offer a sincere apology if something still goes wrong.  If the problem really is the client’s fault, you need to know when to swallow hard and take the lumps you don’t deserve just to preserve the client relationship and when to confront the client and burn the bridge if necessary.  It’s an important concern.  We actually spend quite a bit of time thinking about what could go wrong with a job or a particular client and evaluating whether we think we’re equipped to deal with the fallout.  Don’t promise customer service you can’t or won’t deliver.

You also need to think through your contact policies.  Do you know how to manage a business phone call?  Do you know when to use text and when to avoid it, how to write a professional email?  How conscientious are you about returning messages?  At Sourcelight, we promise to respond to any contact from a website communication within 24 hours.  That implies that even when we’re out of town on vacation, we’re still committed to checking in for messages at least twice daily.  What can you reasonably commit to?  In addition to the technical, proficiency concerns that we’ll discuss below in the Communications section, managing your contacts promptly and consistently is a branding concern.  You will keep—or lose—clients based on how accessible, efficient, and consistent your contact policies are.  If you hate the telephone, only check your email once a week, can’t be contacted at your regular job, and you’re not available in the evening after 7 p.m., you’re seriously limiting your clients’ ability to work with you.

—Type of Work. What kinds of work are you available for?  Are you an athletic gal who loves the outdoors or a runway diva who never gets out of the 6” stilettos?  Are you an adventurous type who loves a challenge or do you work better when you stay inside your comfort zone?  If you’re a glamour model, you have a lot of policy decisions to make, including the amount and type of clothing you’re comfortable wearing, whether or not you’re willing to work with other models, and the level of eroticism you’re willing to portray.  Take stock of your own personality and behavioral limits, and don’t put yourself in a position where you’re uncomfortable with the behavioral expectations of the job.

—Nudity. Especially be clear with yourself and potential clients about your nudity policy.  Ironically, both the glamour genre, which often features nudity as a subject, and the fashion genre, which rarely does, have similarly casual attitudes about the naked body.  If you’re working a fashion show, the backstage area is a frenetic hub of wardrobe-changing activity, and the dressers are not going to be able to accommodate any extreme modesty on your part.  As Tyra Banks has noted, “As a model, you’re so used to taking your clothes off that you just don’t care.”  At Sourcelight we do a lot of conceptual work that involves creating wardrobe on the model out of draped fabrics—even if the shot itself doesn’t involve nudity, the model needs to be comfortable with nudity in the studio.  If your policy is “implied nudes” only, you should understand that it will probably only apply to the finished photo; if you’re actually nude or topless while the image is being prepped and shot, the crew will see you naked.  Think about it and be prepared before the decision comes up on a set, including discussing the crew requirements with your photographer.

—On-set behavior. What kind of atmosphere do you prefer—relaxed, with lots of humor, or formal, with clearly defined roles for everyone?  Are you okay with references to your “boobs” during a nude shoot or do you require everyone to use formal anatomical terms?  How do you express yourself?  Do you casually refer to the photographer as “Luv, Darlin’, or Hon?”  Are you a “toucher” yourself?  Yes, it seems to be a peculiar cultural trait for the waitress in your favorite breakfast diner to treat everyone like long-lost cousins, but it’s generally frowned upon in professional settings.  We have definite policies here at Sourcelight regarding language and physical contact on the set—what are your policies?  Being clear about it in advance helps to avoid misunderstandings on the set.

—Availability. How flexible is your schedule?  Are you only available on weekends and during the evening, or also during the weekdays?  How much notice do you require?  Can you accommodate unusual requests (the 4:00 a.m. call for the one-hour hike to a remote site, the extended shoot with three 12-hour days in a row)?  Your availability is a measure of your modeling commitment, but you can’t develop a policy in isolation from life concerns.  Before a contract offer forces you to have to make a choice that strains your marriage or jeopardizes your “day job,” make sure you know what you can and can’t accommodate in your scheduling.

—Compensation. If you’re agency represented, of course paid work is assumed, but if you’re a freelance model and you write “Paid assignments only” on your online portfolio, make sure you’re at a point in your career where it won’t seem like you’re oblivious to reality.  If your presentation, your communication skills, your commitment, follow-up, and basic posing skills all scream “amateur,” demanding to be paid as a professional model just looks arrogant and naive.  If you can pull it off, good for you, but if you can’t honestly say you’re in command of all of the above, have some humility in how you conduct your contract negotiations.  You might actually need to pay a photographer when you’re starting out, and TFP/CD (Time for Print or CD) trade work can be a good place to start.  Point of emphasis here: a TFx collaboration is not “work for free,” as this graphic pulled from a model’s online portfolio inaccurately bleats.


Personally, I would suggest a better motto: “Not understanding that ‘trade’ is not ‘working for free’ is moronic,” but that’s just me.

As a model, you should consider TF offers if they meet one or more of the following criteria:

1. You’re a new model and you need both experience and portfolio images.  If you’re serious about the business, you should consider paying a good photographer for this, so a TFCD offer from a credible photographer is obviously a benefit.  Even if you and your photographer are both just starting out, you’re apt to get at least a couple of keepers that are better than the cell-phone snaps they’re replacing.   Don’t settle for average photos, however.  As your abilities and your portfolio improve, you need to “test up”; i.e., keep looking for better photographers to work with.
2. You’re already a working pro with a dynamite portfolio, but you like working with new talent or old friends who offer you the opportunity to work on something unusual.
3. The offer comes from a star photographer whose very name enhances your portfolio.
4. The photos project a new image for you that will introduce you to a new set of potential PAYING clients.

Here’s a very sensible discussion by Damianne, an experienced model who understands the potential benefits of TF collaborations and who certainly doesn’t NEED to “work for free.”  She just appreciates that TF work can be a useful arrow in a model’s marketing quiver.

3. Communication

Nothing you do as a model will do more to define your brand than understanding and consistently practicing appropriate business language and protocols. We’ll repeat here the opinions expressed in the Working the Web article.   You want the language you use when you communicate with other people in the business to reinforce your image as a reliable, mature professional.  If your written communication is largely incomprehensible because of incoherent word choice, basic grammar mistakes, absentee punctuation, and spelling errors a minimally educated person would know to avoid, you are not creating an impression of a mature adult.  You’re demonstrating, correctly or not, that you are functionally illiterate, and quite likely unable to understand the abstract concepts and implement the directions that will be conveyed to you on the job.  Understand, this is not a matter of expecting you to write a master’s thesis every time you respond to an inquiry; it’s simply asking that you demonstrate the language skills expected of a minimally educated graduate of an average public school system.  Does it really matter?  Frankly, no, not to everyone, but it will matter to some, enough to be a deciding factor in whether or not you get hired, and presenting yourself as an educated person won’t damage your standing with anyone.  Why take the chance?  You know you have the ability, so the unwillingness to communicate in a professional manner is not a skills deficit—it’s an attitude problem.

You also need to be versatile in the number of ways you’re able to communicate. The dominant venues at present are email, telephone, and texting.  You probably could try to conduct a business conversation on Facebook or Twitter, but you’re not going to find anybody serious to talk with.  If you’re on one of the modeling networking sites, you’ll find a variety of ways to communicate, including leaving public tags on a member’s portfolio and site-specific email.

—Email. This is by far the preferred method of communication about modeling work.  It’s a written document that fixes the date, time, and content of the conversation in permanent language.  It provides a paper trail that eliminates misunderstandings about the what, where, and when of a modeling offer (or at least it should—make sure your email record includes all of the details you need to complete your assignment successfully).

As we indicated in the Working the Web article, if you’re starting a communication using the built-in e-messaging function on a model networking website the best procedure is to switch to private email as soon as the job starts to look serious.  Why?  Because the model networking sites periodically go down, often for days at a time, which can interrupt communication at critical junctures in the scheduling process.  Moreover, if the site ever closes down permanently or if you should eventually decide to cancel your membership, you will lose that valuable record of correspondence with the very people you worked so hard to add to your network.  Keep it “in-house” where you can back it up and control its security.

—Telephone. Remember when phones were for talking?  I’m amazed at how many models announce on model networking sites that they hate talking to photographers.  Huh?  It’s surprising how often I’ll get a cryptic and virtually undecipherable phone text from a model announcing that she doesn’t have Internet access and insisting that I communicate via texting.   Unfortunately, because so little useful information is ever conveyed in the average text exchange, I’ve seen these communications take up to a week when a simple phone call would have clarified everything in 3 minutes.  Guess how often we actually book work with this kind of non-communication?

Jobs pop up at the last minute—people who were scheduled to work get sick, major emergencies occur, concepts change and require more or different models… for any number of reasons, a producer or a photographer may need to schedule a model at 6 p.m. for an 8 a.m. shoot the next day.  Either he or your agent is going to call you, and if you don’t answer the phone immediately or at least return the call in the next few minutes, that booking opportunity is going to the next model on the list.  Do it often enough to make it a pattern, and the phone calls will stop coming entirely.

Why would anyone work so hard to avoid the most immediate communication medium available?  Here’s a typical response from a model in a Model Mayhem forum discussion that might provide some insight:

“The last time I talked to a photographer on the phone to discuss a shoot, he kept me on for an hour going ‘how would you like to shoot a bikini shot? Classy, not explicit. How would you like to shoot body paint? How would you like to shoot fashion? How would you like to be a mermaid and be digitally enhanced?’ and ON and ON for an hour. I was like ‘all of those sound cool’ and then he was like ‘fashion models have to be 5’8’ or above, you’ll learn about that.’ ETC ETC for an HOUR. I wanted to shoot myself in the face. It was a shoot in Florida, and I was like ‘well let’s get some details, when do you want to shoot, let’s plan this, etc.’ and then he was like ‘oh I don’t know, I have to look at my schedule, I’m going to move, yada, yada. How would you like to shoot something like a shoe ad? How would like to shoot underwater?’  I freaking hate talking to people on the phone.”

And I’m, like, thinking, like, wow, like how “freaking” clueless do you have to be to spend an hour on the phone in useless conversation because you weren’t mature enough to say, “Listen, I’m on a tight schedule.  Can we keep this short and on-task?” If you’re having this problem, the problem is you. One, you’re not managing your communication like a professional; two, you’re not working with professional photographers; and finally, one and two suggest that you’re not a professional model either.  This, by the way, is a perfect example of why treating your modeling experience like a career choice is a good approach even for hobbyist models—it keeps you out of situations like this.

Let me emphasize this: professional models do not have this problem.  They understand business communication and are able to manage conversations in whatever venue they occur.  They speak like adults, and carry themselves in a manner that encourages professional interaction with other people in the business.  Believe me, agencies do not fear the telephone.  They’re perfectly capable of having a 5-minute business call with a photographer in which the parameters of concepts, schedules, and contracts are discussed.  Only a typical Internet model would announce in public that, as a matter of principle, she “hates” talking to people who might want to work with her.  Here’s the bottom line—if you want to be taken seriously in the business, you have to have a functioning cell phone, and you have to answer it when it rings.

—Texting. Might as well admit it up front.  As the mini-rant above indicates, I’m not a big fan of phone texting as a means of conducting professional business.  For last-minute updates, confirmations, and progress reports, texting may have a place.  As the primary medium for an entire professional contact, the phone text leaves a lot to be desired.  Here’s why: texting is an abbreviated medium designed to encourage summary comments rather than detailed observations.  The extreme informality—the lack of attention to punctuation, spelling, and grammar—works against clear articulation of concepts and details, and the absence of nuance also provides your correspondent with no clue about your style of expression or general language competence.  Many of us who value written communication have begun to despair that chronic texters have essentially lost the ability to engage complex thoughts or to use words that can’t be conveniently abbreviated for thumb typing.  When the only words you’re willing to use in a text are those contained in the limited vocabulary of accepted abbreviations, the only thoughts you can express are limited to 140-character bursts, and that has serious ramifications for your customers’ perception of how capable you might be of providing for their business needs.  In the business world, the clarity, detail, and seriousness of your communication with customers is taken by most as a clear indicator of your ability to deliver the desired service.  It’s simple—if you are serious about your business, you don’t communicate with txtspk.  Here’s another perspective.

—Social Networking. Short and sweet here.  The social networking venues, specifically Twitter and Facebook, are great for defining your brand and building a professional network.  They’re good places to make general announcements about the work you’re doing, have recently done, or are available to do.  What they’re not is a reliable mechanism for nailing down the details of a session appointment.  For personal communication, my nieces and nephews and a few under-40 friends seem to have largely abandoned email in favor of Facebook.  In professional communication, however, the relative formality of an email is still preferred.

4. Skill Set

In general, everything we talk about in this article could be considered part of the professional model’s repertoire of skills, but there are a few specific items that absolutely define the difference between a professional and an amateur.

—Posing and expressions. The biggest skills deficit any photographer is likely to complain about with inexperienced models is the inability to strike an effective, theme-appropriate pose on demand.  The second most likely complaint is an inability to vary facial expressions.  Modeling is an abbreviated version of acting, and most photographers would rather describe a concept, theme, or emotion and let you translate that into a pose and expression than have to waste time moving your body parts into position (or worse—demonstrating them himself; you really don’t want to see me demonstrating an S-pose).  Tyra Banks claims there are 275 ways to smile (for the “advanced” model).  Imagine how much easier it is for a photographer to be able to just say “Give me the Angry smile (or the “Boyfriend smile” or the “Commercial” or “Fashion” smile) instead of trying to help you move your face muscles one at a time.  The fluidity, grace, and variety that pro models exhibit so naturally in their posing is often a result of endless hours of practice in front of a mirror.  Learn the large, basic poses, and then learn the subtle emotional differences that a slight shift in the direction of your eyes can have.  What’s the difference between happy and joyful?  Between sad and hopeless?  Can you show me with your eyes?  With your shoulders?

If you come to the shoot with a working repertoire of poses, an understanding of the emotional effect that slight differences can make, and an uninhibited ability to extend yourself emotionally through your body, you get to be a creative partner in the image making.  If you’re not prepared to participate—if you come in stiff and unresponsive without a clue what a body and face look like when they’re “apprehensive, fearful, joyful, proud, angry, etc.,” then you’re just a mannequin, not a model.

I did a quick Google search for “model posing guides” and came up with this free, downloadable chart with hundreds of sample poses in a couple of minutes: Tech eBooks Posing Guide .  On her blog, Thoughts of a Hobbyist Model, Rachel Jay provides links to three somewhat more technical discussions that attempt to help you understand the anatomical underpinnings of various types of posing: Body lines, Heads, and Legs.  I don’t know where she found these, but they’re an interesting and informative read.

Great posing is a matter of shedding your inhibitions, broadening your options with information and examples, and practicing until it all comes naturally.  You now have a good start on the information and examples; the inhibition relief and practice are something you’ll have to negotiate with your Attitude.  (See? We told you they’d overlap.)

—Creativity. Bring your imagination to the shoot along with all those nifty poses.  As a photographer, I want a creative partner in working out the solutions to my visual assignments.  I want to be able to explain the concept to you using the most descriptive and evocative language I’m capable of, and then I want you to give me something back.  Take my idea, expand on it, grow it bigger, and then show me what it looks like with a pose that I hadn’t already thought of.  I don’t just want a model, I want a muse—a collaborator whose open-mindedness, imagination, and enthusiasm for the concept help to inspire me in my work.  It won’t always be this much fun; sometimes, especially if you’re shooting a product ad with very precise lighting, you’ll just have to hit your pose and hold it within a hair’s width for 20 minutes for the lights.  But sometimes… little ideas grow Big Boy Trousers and turn into something special because the synergy of a creative team makes the concept evolve.

Recently we brought a model in for a basic glamour session, and ten minutes in we shifted gears because the range of emotional expression she was giving us was far more mature and interesting than we had expected.  What we’d planned as a routine technical exercise in a particular lighting style became an intense “intimate portrait” session with emotional depth and artistic flair.  Those kinds of surprises are always welcome.

—Basic make-up and hair-styling proficiency. You don’t have to be a professional make-up artist or hair stylist, but you should understand the basics of corrective and street make-up and be able to style your hair either up or down quickly and with minimal fuss.  On low-budget jobs, particularly in the Garage Glamour niche, you won’t always get the secondary support of a MUA/stylist, and the more you’re able to do for yourself, the more likely you are to come away with photos that represent your modeling brand with quality and style.  If you do have styling support, the more you know about and the more diligent you are about practicing basic skin and hair care principles, the easier it will be for your MUA and retouching specialist to make you look your best.  Find a good make-up artist and take some lessons if you need to.  It’s a good skill to have.

—Organization and efficiency. I used to teach a time management class for college freshmen.  It never failed to amaze me how often the basic notion of planning their day was a foreign concept for them.  On average, ten minutes of thinking clearly about your day and making an intelligent schedule could save you up to two hours of wasted activity.  Do that four days straight, and you can take Friday off.  Professionals are organized, and they don’t waste time on inefficiency.

It’s surprising how often models, like my freshmen college students, don’t understand basic time management.  They arrive late to sessions because they waited until the last minute to pack their gear, touch up their make-up and hair, and plan a route from their home to the studio.  For TF sessions, we make a conscientious effort to post the selects to an online proofing gallery within two days, and then we spend extra hours if necessary making sure we can meet our promised delivery date of one week for the finished CD.  For reasons we can’t fathom, however, models often take weeks to visit their proofing gallery and select the shots they want us to finish.  I have two CDs sitting on a shelf right now that have been there for over two months because the models haven’t been organized enough to drop by and pick them up.  Why would a professional photographer, modeling agency, or advertising exec who understands schedules and deadlines want to work with someone who doesn’t?  And it’s not the TF factor—one of those CDs is a $500 portfolio session that the model paid for in advance.

The bigger the production and budget, the more variables involved.  Those items in the check-off list that can be comfortably disregarded because they’re absolutely dependable are highly valued.  Models who demonstrate—through the timeliness of their communication and follow-up, their attention to detail, and their ability to set and stick to a schedule—that they are dead-reliable, become regulars in a photographer’s contact file.  Models who can’t manage their time, who can’t learn to prioritize the items in their to-do list, never give themselves a chance to experience just how good basic competence really feels and what it can do for their confidence.

—Grit. Having recently seen the remake of True Grit, we’re including this as one of those intangible characteristics that are, nevertheless, clearly recognizable when displayed.  Models with grit are not dismayed at the prospects of working long hours, standing in an ice-cold river, hauling their gear up a mountain trail, or busting an outrageous, ridiculous, embarrassing pose in front of a group of tittering bystanders.  They’re troupers who refuse to quit until the job is finished, and who keep the rest of the production crew going with good humor and good example when technical problems or human foibles threaten to bring production to a halt.  Gritties are the people whose can-do attitude and indomitable spirit just make their associates smile every time their names come up.   You can be a solid professional without grit, and I’m not sure you can develop it if you weren’t born with it anyway, but if you do have it, my crew and I are hopelessly in love with you already.

—General business awareness. You don’t have to be a legally registered entity to be a model, but you might want to consider it.  If the thoughts expressed in these articles about cultivating a brand to represent your business activity are resonating with you, give some thought to registering your modeling enterprise with the state.  Make the brand official.  Particularly if you’re using and want to have paychecks written to a “stage name,” you’re going to need to square that with the state you’re residing in.  Since 9/11, banks have come under intense pressure from new regulations to confirm the identities of their customer accounts.   I used to be able to endorse a check made out to my business and my bank would allow me to deposit it into a personal account—no longer.  Sourcelight checks have to be deposited into a Sourcelight account now, and I can’t get a Sourcelight checking account without providing the bank with documentation confirming that Sourcelight Photography is a registered business and that I am the registered owner with authority to cash or deposit checks.  If you’re really serious about modeling as a business activity, you might as well jump in and do it right.  If you want to earn money, you’re going to need someplace to deposit it.

A few months back I hired a local model for a brief session and had problems paying her because she didn’t have a banking account with the name she was using for her work.  She, of course, wanted cash; I prefer a business check because its passage through the system provides me with a paper trail for the IRS if I ever have to prove to them where the money went.  Professional transactions are just not conducted with cash, and the IRS and the various state taxing authorities tend to frown on such informal payment procedures.

If you insist on not accepting checks in payment for modeling services, however, there is a high-tech alternative to cash or checks that allows you to accept credit cards with a smart phone, tablet, or other mobile device.  Available for both the Android and Apple iOS mobile operating systems, the service is called Square, and it comes with free software and a miniature card-swipe device that simply connects to your phone/tablet’s audio connection.   The account set-up is free and virtually instantaneous.  Here’s a short video describing it.  Your transactions will be charged a 2.75% processing fee, but there are no other fees involved.  If you have a compatible smart phone or tablet, there’s no easier way to get set up to accept credit cards.  We like easy around here, so the Square application is how we accept credit cards at Sourcelight Photography.  We resisted accepting cards for a long time, but frankly there are just too many people who are completely unprepared to pay any other way; plus, up-selling an assignment to include extra products and services is much easier when the buyer can charge it than it is when the purchase is limited to the balance in a checking account.  Having a great session, but need to cut it off because the contracted time is up and the photographer doesn’t have any extra cash to extend it?  Mention the magic word—plastic—and keep right on working.

As an independent contractor, you should also be aware that employers are required to file a Form 1099 with the IRS reporting your social security number and income if it exceeded $600 in the year.  You’ll get a copy of the form, and if you s-o-m-e-h-o-w forgot to file it and the income it reported with your own tax return, we’ll both get a call from a snarky auditor.  The 1099 puts you on official notice with authorities, so be sure you’re keeping accurate, verifiable business records of your own income and expenses.  The “I’m just a hobbyist model and didn’t know I needed to file that as income” explanation won’t impress them.

In addition to a functional bank account and reasonable accounting practices, you also need to have a basic understanding of the legal documents you’re going to be asked to sign, such as performance contracts, usage rights, and release forms.  If you don’t have a good working knowledge of standard industry practices then you won’t be able to evaluate whether someone’s bland assurance that “everyone does it this way” is legitimate or a scam.

Beyond the legal issues, however, being on top of the business part of your business just reinforces your reputation as a serious professional.  “On top” is a good place for your brand to be.

5. Presentation

Presentation is a term for the collective resources you apply to creating and reinforcing a professional image in the business realm.  It’s what people actually see and hear, and it consists of the presentation materials we’ll discuss in the next article, primarily your portfolio book and comp card, as well as your personal appearance and demeanor.  How successful you are at coordinating the presentation of your image in a consistent manner across a variety of presentation opportunities is a key component in building your brand.

—Presentation Materials. For a detailed discussion of how to maximize the quality and effectiveness of your presentation materials, see the My Card, Sir article.  The centerpiece of a commercial or fashion model’s presentation is the portfolio book—a collection of approximately 20 professional-quality photos showcasing your modeling work in an industry-specific display book.  Beyond just proving that you’re attractive enough to be taken seriously as a model, the portfolio book needs to demonstrate your versatility—your age range, your ability to portray different characters, your best features, and above all, your personality.  All of that presumes that you have a good handle on your own appearance and abilities, and that you are realistic about which genres your preferences and physical type are appropriate for.  Glamour models rarely use a portfolio book, since their genre is usually not represented by main-stream agencies and much of their work is booked through online portfolios that they maintain themselves.  Even if most of your work is in the glamour field, if you do entertain hopes of working in the fashion or commercial markets, a portfolio book is still an essential component of your presentation package.

The Comp, or Zed, card is a 5.5” x 8.5” double-sided card that features a composite of 4-6 images, plus your measurements and size information and contact info.  If you’re exclusively represented by one agency, your agency’s name, logo, and contact info will replace yours.  The Comp Card functions essentially as a model’s business card, and is also a required arrow in the fashion or commercial model’s presentation quiver.  Even glamour models can benefit from both the tangible networking and booking advantages the Comp Card presents, as well as the intangible effect of reinforcing your brand.  Quite simply, professional models carry and hand out Comp Cards; amateurs don’t recognize the need.  When you show up carrying one, you make an impression.

The Mini-Comp is a business card-sized version of the Comp Card.  Although you won’t get the visual impact that you would with a full-size comp card, minis are certainly more convenient to carry and their resemblance to standard business cards makes them an easy and natural handout.  For glamour models especially, the Mini-Comp is a very useful presentation resource they can distribute as a tangible reminder of their identity and contact information.  Minis are not a substitute for a full-size comp card if you’re a commercial or fashion model, but if you can afford it, they’re a very nice complement.

—Internet presentation. For a detailed discussion on coordinating your online presentation across the Internet’s multiple venues, see the Working the Web article.  Whether your image is being presented in print or electronically, the primary objective should always be reinforcing your brand with a consistent appearance and message.

—Personal appearance and demeanor. This is a job in the image business; when you make a personal appearance, show up looking like somebody who understands that appearance matters.  Don’t let your first impression scream that you’re totally clueless about what the business entails.  Review the communication tips above on expressing yourself in a professional manner, as well as the discussions in Working the Web and Doing the Agency Dance.

Understand that you’re a model, not a reality-show “celebrity,” and your stock in trade is your ability to disappear beautifully into a visual concept.  It is your skill at functioning as an elegant, intelligent, cooperative clothes hanger that gets you respect and work.

At any given moment there are never more than a handful of super models anywhere in the world who can show up to a job hammered, harried, and harping, and still consistently get hired in spite of their behavior and appearance.  If you want to be the star bee-otch of a reality show, good luck with that.  If you want to be a working model, work on your presentation.  Know what the business wants to see from you, and be really good at delivering it.

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Modeling 101: Working the Web

Working the WebWhether you’re represented by an agency or not, Internet savvy is a basic skill you need in your modeling repertoire.  If you’re freelancing, knowing how to combine the promotional and networking power of the Internet into a marketable strategy is the difference between having a career and just having a dream.



The Biz

First, let’s be clear about this–Internet models who earn paychecks work predominantly in the Glamour field, and most of those paychecks are cut for nude work.  If you’ve already read the article on modeling genres, you already know that the vast majority of paid Commercial or Fashion modeling is booked through an agency.  Why?  Simple—Commercial work often involves large production teams, and the clients who book models will not risk blowing their budget on an independent model who might arbitrarily decide to exercise her independence by not showing up.  Instead, they’ll rely on the guaranteed security of booking through an agency.  As an independent, you might be that reliable too, but no one’s going to risk a day of expensive production to find out.  If you’re determined to represent yourself, your best option for paid work is in the Glamour field, and that’s going to require a heavy Internet presence.  You are your own agency now, and the Internet is your storefront.


Ironically, what we’ve come to learn in the past few years is that one of the best contributions the Internet can make to our e-commerce efforts is to facilitate one of the oldest marketing secrets in business—networking.

Advertising and marketing aside, business deals always eventually come down to a handshake between people who know each other.  Selling a product, landing a contract, getting a job… the most successful people are the ones who are the most skilled at getting their names and faces in front of the right contacts, and then making a positive impression when they get there.  They know how to gracefully circulate in a professional setting, how to turn a relaxed meet-and-greet into a high-energy business opportunity without seeming crass, how to make leaving their business card seem like the natural end to a personal conversation.  Every service business has always known that the best new customer is a referral from a satisfied old customer; it has always been about building a community of business associates who patronize and refer other patrons to your business.  It’s about knowing how to network.

Understand the difference; this business paradigm is not about advertising, it’s not about broadcasting a promotional blast to a world of strangers.  It’s about making contacts and building relationships with people who may someday become clients or refer clients to you.  Why?  Because they know you and have a good opinion of you.  Cultivating that good opinion is one of the primary goals of Internet modeling.

Networking the ‘Net

The beauty (and sometimes the curse) of the Internet is the sheer number of ways you can communicate on it—websites and blogs, email, Twitter and other social networking venues, and, especially, trade-specific networking sites dedicated to a particular industry.  Of course, you can still treat all of these as if they were just more efficient versions of the old broadcast-advertising model—a cheap and easy way to get your promotional message out to every “Friend” on your mailing list (whether they’re interested or not) and compete with everybody else who’s doing the same thing.  Keep bombarding all those contacts with sales blurbs and you’ll find yourself blocked by a spam filter (that’s the other beauty of Internet communication, heh).  When you stop thinking of all these venues as a no-cost electronic billboard and start thinking of them as a way to build your credibility as a member of a professional community, you’re ready to appreciate the value of networking.

Building the Brand

Your online presence is about two things: describing yourself to define your brand, and networking with others to distribute it.  Brand?  What brand?  For a model?!?

Oh yes.  You’re a business now, and the brand is a business’s public image; it’s the sum total of everything associated with how people think about that business—its logo and signage, its advertising themes, the pictures it uses to characterize its visual presentation, and the words it uses to describe its products and practices. Everything that the public sees or hears contributes to a composite impression of the brand, and the businesses you’re most likely to patronize are the ones that are the most successful in their branding initiatives. Every Starbucks you’ve ever sat in has a consistent look and feel.  The menus are identical; the baristas use company-approved language in talking to you.  In the espresso world, Starbucks is the upscale brand, and it’s an image they fiercely protect.

I used to produce informational, training, and promotional videos for some of the largest corporations in America, and I never wrote a script without consulting the company’s communications manual listing which words I could and couldn’t use.   Honda and American Express sent me Pantone color charts to ensure that the color schemes in their visuals were brand-accurate.   In short, the equity built up in a company’s brand is its most valuable asset.  You’re no different, except that you need to learn what these other businesses already know: building a brand takes planning, effort, and resources applied over a long period of time; destroying it, however, only takes one stupid mistake.  Ask Exxon and British Petroleum how long it takes to ruin years of branding with one careless oil spill.   For some good bad examples a little closer to your circumstances, consider the recent catastrophic behavioral gaffes of Mel Gibson and Charlie Sheen, whose ugly, public rants have squandered decades of painstakingly constructed equity in their personal brands.

Your brand is the memorable impression that distinguishes you from your competition; it tells clients and colleagues who you are and who you’re not.  Who you want to be is that friendly redhead with the beautiful blue eyes and the dazzling smile that made everybody feel good about working a 10-hour day in the rain; who you don’t want to be is the gossipy twit who showed up an hour late and picked fights with everybody on the set (or worse–didn’t show up at all).

So how can you use the Internet to brand yourself as the model people do want to work with?  Fortunately, if you’re under the age of 30, you’ve probably already started.

Network Strategies

Your online strategy should include multiple outlets, including social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.  If you’re already active, what you need to do now is reexamine your profiles through the eyes of a potential client.  Keep asking yourself, “What kind of image do I want to portray?  Are my Facebook profile and activities consistent with the image of a dependable, professional model?”  That anti-gay joke that your friends know you don’t really mean, that juicy bit of gossip about your last photography session, the political or religious diatribe you just can’t resist sharing…  not good strategies for building a professional network.  We’re not saying you have to lie about who you are—these are your personal profiles, after all—but just remember that the whole point of the Internet is to be a Web of infinitely discoverable connections.  If I get your name from one source, I can do a search and find you everywhere else too.  What am I going to find when I come across your social networking profile?

Eventually, by the way, you’re going to suddenly realize that all of these targeted site revamps are actually starting to make you look like a business entity.  At that point, you may want to consider creating a business page as an offshoot of your main Facebook profile.  A business page doesn’t have “Friends,” but your Friends or clients can become “Fans” of your page and receive any notices that you post.  Business pages are completely public (no privacy settings), and really do function as a formal presentation of your business activities—a free mini-website for Model You, Inc.

There are also a few specifically job-related networking sites that serious professionals use to find each other.  The best is LinkedIn.  Nothing fancy—just a well-respected nexus where job-seekers can place a no-nonsense resume and expect to have it read by professional colleagues.  It’s free, and with over a hundred million members, it’s silly not to be on it.  Once again, however, be professional; take the time to write a serious profile, with complete, grammatically correct sentences and real spelling—not the cutesy textspeak you use on your smart phone.  This is decidedly not the informal Facebook; this is the equivalent of a business mixer specifically arranged for you to introduce yourself to people who might want to hire you.  Don’t disrespect the occasion by showing up in cutoffs and a torn t-shirt.

Email is still a primary communication medium for most Internet modeling.  Regardless of how the contact may have begun, eventually it’s probably going to be finalized in an email (or on the telephone—see our telephone rant in the next article).  Being able to maintain a paper trail of all correspondence with a potential client can be extremely valuable.  If you’re working through a modeling website (see below) the best procedure is to use the built-in messaging function on your portfolio, and then switch to private email as soon as the job starts to look serious.  Why?  Because the model networking sites periodically go down, often for days at a time; on several occasions we have lost communication with models at critical junctures in the scheduling process.  Moreover, if the site ever closes down permanently or if you should eventually decide to cancel your membership, you will lose that valuable paper trail of correspondence with the very people you worked so hard to add to your network.  Keep it “in-house” where you can back it up and control its security.

By the way, take sensible precautions to secure your private modeling email address.  Absolutely don’t post it on any of your networking portfolios.  You are guaranteed to eventually draw the attention of scammers and spammers.  Instead, add a sentence on your profile that says something like, “If you’re interested in working with me, let me know and I will send you my private email address for all follow-up correspondence.”  I’d also advise against using your normal, personal email address for your modeling communications.  Create a Yahoo, Hotmail, or Gmail account specifically for your modeling work, and then don’t use it for anything else.  If it ever gets compromised in any way, you can just walk away from it without having to inform everybody in your life about the change.

Model/Photographer Networking Sites

The hub of your online modeling presence, of course, is likely going to be one or more of the various modeling networking sites that allow models, photographers, make-up artists (MUA) and stylists, retouching specialists, and others involved with the modeling business to maintain an online portfolio with extensive networking capabilities.  There are so many that you may find yourself feeling overwhelmed when trying to choose among them, but of course there’s no reason why you couldn’t maintain a portfolio presence on all of them—there’s almost always a free start-up membership level that comes with anywhere from 5 to an unlimited number of photo slots for your portfolio display.  Paid upgrades usually provide you with more slots and a few other amenities that, frankly, we rarely find compelling enough to purchase.

Before you commit $60-100 a year to an upgrade, ask yourself why you’re on the site in the first place.  Are you there because it boosts your ego to see a lot of photos of yourself, or because you want to use the site to solicit work?  Consider that the professional model portfolio book rarely contains more than 12-20 images, and modeling clients will tell you that a professionally shot series of 20 photos or fewer is much more impressive than a haphazard collection of 100 redundant photos of uneven quality.  Figure out what your specialties are and then carefully assemble a variety of images targeted at illustrating what you want to model. There’s nothing more boring than having to wade through a swimsuit model’s portfolio of 200 virtually identical bikini shots when 5 would have made the point.  Unless the genres that you address in your modeling are extremely diverse, 40 photo slots is more than ample.

Sourcelight, e.g., currently has a portfolio on 5 sites, including the 3 described below.  Although free memberships are available on all of them, think carefully about how much time you’re willing to commit to maintaining them.  If you want your portfolio to function as a career-building asset rather than just a vanity display of your work you need to check in on a regular basis, at least once a week and preferably once a day.  Nothing’s more irritating to a photographer than doing a site search for models in a shoot location, and then finding that the best choice hasn’t visited her own site in over a year.  It clutters the site, wastes time, and announces that you’re not serious about modeling.  Maintaining your on-line portfolios isn’t hard, but it does take time, and on sites that show very little activity, it’s hardly worth the trouble.

Fortunately, there are only two sites you really have to be on: One Model Place and Model Mayhem, plus a couple of others that show some promise.  Most of the rest are wannabe start-ups (or old has-beens) that are minimally useful at facilitating the kind of professional interaction that leads to paid work.

One Model Place (OMP) is the granddaddy.  It’s been around the longest and claims nearly 200,000 members world-wide.  Most urban areas have numerous models, MUAs, and photographers on OMP, and even if you discover them somewhere else first, you’ll probably find that they also have an OMP portfolio.  If you’re looking to plan a shoot in a rural area, OMP and/or Model Mayhem may be the only sites with members in the vicinity.  The confusing interface is deplored by members and mocked by competitors, and the site is frequently d-e-a-d slow.  For some reason, they’ve never programmed in the ability to sort the photos in your portfolio, so the newest additions are always at the top, regardless of what presentational order you might prefer.  OMP also has no provision for letting you know whether or not your message to another member has been read, so you’ll never know whether a lack of response is because the recipient hasn’t read the message or is simply ignoring it.

Their 21-photo-slot free introductory package is also the stingiest of any of the sites, and the cheapest upgrade is $80/year for 80 images, which may partially explain why its membership seems to have leveled off.  Plus, the site seems to want to present itself as a fashion-modeling hub and since that runs contrary to the reality that fashion modeling is almost exclusively booked through agencies, models who more realistically depend on online networking for their glamour contacts may see OMP as less useful.  As noted below, OMP recently purchased the newer, more networking-friendly iStudio, so one work-around for OMP’s miserliness is to simply post a link to a more extensive iStudio portfolio in the comment section of your OMP port.

On the positive side, OMP very helpfully forwards your travel notices and casting calls directly to the private emails of members living in the area you’re planning to travel to.  They also have a basic feature that some sites, curiously, don’t offer—a record of who has visited your site.  Both features are extremely useful in facilitating networking activities.  Models who are serious about using the sites to build professional contacts monitor their visitor activities closely, and send out a “Thanks for visiting my portfolio” message whenever someone views their portfolio.

Whether it’s a positive or just annoying, OMP is also extremely active in promoting itself as a modeling “store front,” bombarding members with workshops, comp card printing, and numerous other enticements for purchase.  The site’s overall feel is big, glamorous, clamorous, and not particularly personal.

Plus, of course, they’re still OMP, the 600-pound gorilla of modeling websites.  Like it or not, you ignore OMP at your own peril.

Model Mayhem is the other monster of model networking.  Claiming over 300,000 model and photographer listings in the United States alone, MM seems to have cultivated a personality—beginning with its name—as the “anti-OMP” site.  If OMP sometimes seems a little dated and stodgy, MM seems to pride itself on being brash and scruffy.   The huge membership count reflects, at least in part, the fact that the site accepts virtually anyone who applies and that its introductory “Basic” membership level is free with a minimal 15 photo slots (but you can sort them in whatever order you prefer).  Needless to say, the experience and talent level on MM is all over the map, and the number of models and photographers who use the site for professional networking and job generation is a small fraction of the total.  Certainly the opportunity is there to build a serious reputation as a professional with major exposure; there’s also plenty of room to waste your time in frivolous behavior.

MM’s interface is newer, arguably “hipper,” and a bit more intuitive to navigate.  Unlike OMP, it does conveniently list image comments below the image and does report whether or not your email has been read by the recipient.

Conversely, Model Mayhem’s biggest flaw is its inability to provide tracking reports on people who visit your portfolio, which deprives members of a major networking opportunity.  The inconsistency is puzzling—you’re allowed to know if a recipient has read the email you sent, but not allowed to know if anyone has visited your site.

The forums are notoriously fractious, with models and photographers frequently expressing a curiously antagonistic view of each other and then dismissing it with “Well, what did you expect?  It’s the Mayhem.”

In the end, are there any major differences between MM and OMP that would affect a networking professional’s ability to function? Frankly, none that really matter.  Both have large, active memberships with plenty of opportunity for seeking out serious colleagues and forming productive connections.  Both are also full of non-serious people who seem to have joined for the express purpose of wasting the time and energy of members who are serious about booking work.  At Sourcelight, we’ve booked almost identical numbers of models from both sites, which doesn’t really tell you much since most models we book have portfolios in both places.  If I initiate the contact and I have a choice, I generally prefer using Model Mayhem because of the way it tracks email.

iStudio is a relatively new site with a familial resemblance to Model Mayhem, since it’s obviously built on an identical site template.  Naturally it retains both the good and bad characteristics of MM’s interface and feature-set, with one curiously annoying difference.  iStudio is inexplicably lax about its portfolio-comment requirements, and the registration form’s default settings enable you to create a portfolio without posting any information about yourself.  It’s entirely possible and not at all uncommon to see a model portfolio that doesn’t list the model’s age, ethnicity, country, measurements, or nudity policy, something glamour photographers, especially, need to know.  It’s hard to understand why anyone would choose to create a modeling portfolio without any of the information people who book models need to know.   Of course, you can simply provide that information voluntarily and jump to the head of the professional modeling line.

The site is also still very small, with only about 36,000 models and photographers listed in the United States, and hasn’t shown much growth since its inception. It was recently purchased by OMP, however, and OMP claims that it can export your portfolio information to iStudio directly, which would allow you to log in using the same account number and password on both sites.  Although the networking value at the moment is negligible due to the small membership, iStudio’s direct ties to OMP and the 100 photo slots that come with its free account make it a useful addition for portfolio display.

Other Networking Sites The digital revolution has spawned so many Garage Glamour photographers that new modeling sites are constantly popping up to serve them.  Every would-be Internet entrepreneur wants to build the next Facebook, and most of the new ones use a similar design for navigation and features.  As stated repeatedly throughout this series of articles, the networking potential of the Internet is one of its strongest e-commerce features, so the pronounced networking focus of the new sites is a welcome and useful trend.  On the other hand, the Facebook similarity also tends to recruit an overwhelmingly amateur membership whose ignorance of professional practices is an even larger barrier to professional networking than it is on the older established sites, and the older sites don’t bask in glory either.

The fact is, none of these places is going to increase your “classy quotient,” particularly if you hang out in any of the forums (see “Negotiating the Forums” below).   Yes, if you consistently demonstrate the professional behavior that we’ll talk about next, you can distinguish yourself from the wannabe multitudes; but in the end, you’ll be known by the company you keep.  Visit the sites, do some research, and form your own impressions, but don’t buy into the self-serving hype you’ll find on all of them.  They all do the same thing in different ways, and the only evaluation that should matter to you is whether the site has been around long enough and has enough activity to attract enough of the serious players you want to connect with to make it worth your time.

Improving the Odds

The rules and the opportunities are the same for everyone, but most people are oblivious to the huge advantage that reading the manual provides. Below you’ll find a list of simple actions you can take to dramatically improve your networking results, but basically they all amount to one thing—a proactive attitude committed to creating your own opportunities instead of waiting for opportunity to find you.  Contact other members, respond promptly when they contact you, and then do the most important thing you can to tell serious members that you’re one of them—follow up.

Here’s a checklist of strategies that serious models use and dilettantes don’t.

• First, maintain your site.  Check in regularly and keep your portfolio up-to-date.  Your last log-in date is always visible to a site visitor, and if you haven’t been to your own site in months, you’re announcing that you’re a hobbyist, not a model.  Recently added photos also suggest that you’re actively modeling.  Remember: “Dependable Working Model” is your brand.  Inactivity suggests otherwise.

• Assemble a group.  If a member’s portfolio interests you, add his/her portfolio to a Favorites list.  Some of the sites (for example, One Model Place does; Model Mayhem and iStudio don’t) will also notify you when you’ve been added to someone else’s list.  Knowing that you’re each on the other’s list of favorite members is a pretty good starting point for discussing future collaborations.

• Use photo credits to augment your network.  Provide links to the portfolios of any other members who were involved in producing the photos in your own portfolio.  Ask them to link back to you if they post your image in their portfolios, and make it easy for them to do so.  Send them an email with the account numbers to all of your networking sites.  Hint: it’s even easier to exchange that information with everyone involved while you’re all still at the photo session.  Put your account numbers on your business card (What? You don’t have a business card?) and hand them out everywhere.

• Engage other members through their own portfolios.  If you like their work in general, leave a portfolio comment.  Each site has a different way of doing this; learn the procedure and use it.  Look at their photographs and if you find something you like, leave an image comment.  And don’t just do a drive-by “Wow, cool photo!” either—earn the response you’re hoping for.  Take the time to write a sentence or two explaining why you like the image. Here’s a subtle distinction that will win you some points from serious photographers—don’t offer a critique; don’t tell them their work is great (they already know that better than you do, and they also know technically why).  Just give them your honest response to the photo.  Not “Great head shot,” but “I like the model’s expression.  Seems friendly and approachable, like someone I’d want to work with.”  This, by the way, is the working definition of a commercial headshot, and if you say that’s what you got out of it, you’ll make the owner very happy.  No, most people don’t go to this much trouble, but you’re trying to open a dialog and build a relationship.  “Most people” don’t get that, which is why most people don’t get jobs from their modeling sites.

• Respond to members who leave portfolio and image comments on your portfolio.  Don’t wait a month (or worse—ignore their overture completely).  Return the courtesy by leaving a comment on their portfolio thanking them for visiting your site.  If you can reciprocate by finding something in their portfolio to praise, do it.  The member passed the ball to you by opening a dialog on your portfolio; now you pass it back by playing on his/her court.  Look, you’re practically teammates already.

• If the modeling site enables it (again, OMP does; MM and iStudio don’t), respond directly to members who visit your site with the usual courtesy comment: “I noticed you dropped in to visit my portfolio.  Thank you for taking the time.  If you liked what you saw and would like to talk about working together, please don’t hesitate to contact me directly.”  Since the only way you’d get the necessary email address to send this message is by visiting the other member’s site, while you’re there you might as well leave a portfolio and/or image comment.  See how this works?

• Use the site’s email to contact members directly.  I get positively giddy when a model contacts me through email.  If s/he actually followed the site link to the Sourcelight website and found my business email on the Contact page, I’m ready to drop my rate card before I even see the portfolio.   If the email is halfway literate, I’m getting out the checkbook.  The more direct you can make your appeal to someone you want to work with, the more likely it is that you’ll get past the built-in spam filter we all carry in our heads these days.  Don’t assume that because you tagged/liked/favorited/friended people or left a compliment on a photo that they’ll take it as a hint that you want to work with them.  Go straight to the source using a venue that isn’t public.  Why?  Because a private contact tells the recipient that you’re actually interested in opening a conversation about actual work, rather than just routinely spamming everybody in sight with a form letter.

• By now you should know the routine—if someone sends you an email, write back in a timely manner.  Acknowledge the contact whether you want to work with that person or not, even if it’s just to say, “Thanks for the overture, but I’m not interested at this time.  Let’s stay in touch.”  That’s how you demonstrate that you’re serious about the work today and that you’re committed for the long haul.  I just received the first reply from a model I emailed an offer to nine months ago.  Her cryptic “yes i would love to work with you!” would have been a lot more useful ¾ of a year back when I actually did have work I thought the model might be good for.  Look, if you can’t handle the responsibility of managing the basic paperwork of being in business, admit to yourself that being your own manager isn’t for you either.  Stay on top of your correspondence.

• Of course, it’s possible that if you’re not checking into your site regularly (and if you’re not, why aren’t you?), you might not realize that people are trying to contact you.  There’s no excuse for that either.  Somewhere in the Preferences settings of your account, you’ll find an option to turn on notifications.  Turn it on for everything available: emails, portfolio and image comments, local casting calls, and travel notices for people traveling to your area.  You’ll get an automated notification sent to whatever external email address you list (and which you do check regularly) from the site whenever any activity in those areas occurs.  You’ll stay informed, even if you don’t log in at regular intervals.

• You can also be notified whenever a new photographer registers in your geographical area.  Serious networkers send an immediate “Welcome to (The Site)” message.  It’s never too soon to start, and if you’re really interested, follow the public welcome post with a private email inviting the photographer to look at your work.

• If you’re traveling to an area outside your region, post your own travel notification, but don’t stop there.  Do a search of members in the destination area and send private emails to each of them that you might be interested in working with.  Be proactive.

• Tie it all together.  Provide links to all of your sites from all of your sites, and invite visitors to Friend/Like you everywhere they encounter you.  Now your network has expanded beyond each of the individual sites and become a super-network that leverages the combined reach of all of them.  When Google and Bing are trying to figure out what priority to assign your web-modeling presence in a search engine query, one of their primary criteria is how often other sites link back to you.  The more often search engines find your link on somebody else’s site, the more important they assume you are and the higher they’ll rank you.

Model Site Netiquette

Some of the things we’ll say here are implied in the list of smart practices above, but a few items always seem to be perpetual bones of contention and deserve more detailed discussion.  A working knowledge of the following will solidify your “good netizen” status in the modeling community.  Mastery will get you elected mayor.

• Responding to Contacts We said it above, but it bears repeating: When people in the network you’re trying to be part of talk to you, talk back.  A common belief, often vigorously defended in site forums, is that not responding to an inquiry about your interest in working with someone “is a response.”  Models often justify the non-response by complaining that if they decline the offer, it simply invites angry and abusive counter-responses from the disappointed inquirer.  Others insist that an inquiry about modeling work is just like a job application in any business and that ignoring your application if the business isn’t interested in hiring you is standard practice.  The first perspective is disproportionate to the size of the problem, and the other is just wrong.  Both are self-serving excuses for rude behavior that does nothing but detract from your brand.

Sure, declining an offer could make the offerer angry, but how is this any different from saying no to someone who wants to go on a date with you?  Or to your friend who just invited you to a movie you don’t want to attend?  Do you opt for the non-response, or do you take a stand and decline?  There’s always a possibility that people who offer you things you don’t want might get angry when you decline, but that’s their problem, not yours.  No is a good answer, and being prepared to accept it is the offerer’s responsibility.  If you get an angry response to a polite refusal, you make a note that you were right about not wanting to work with this person, then you block him from further communications and move on.  You’re still a professional; he’s a jerk.  Why is this a problem for you?

As for the notion that corporations routinely ignore job inquiries, that’s even dumber.  I’ve been the hirer in an industry with routine employee turnover that fielded hundreds of applications for dozens of jobs every year.  In six years not a single application ever went unacknowledged.  Ten years ago, I was laid off a script-writing job for a video production company and eventually filed over 200 applications in a tough economy.  Again, not a single company failed to respond.  Sure most of the responses that I sent in the first case and received in the second were form letters notifying the applicant that the position had been filled, but a response was sent. Anyone who tells you that ignoring employment inquiries from applicants is standard practice in business doesn’t know much about business.

Not responding to someone who shows you the courtesy of expressing an interest in working with you is not standard practice anywhere else in the business world—it’s rude and inconsiderate.  Worse, it’s unproductive and burns bridges you might want to cross at a later date.  Seriously, how long does it take to send back an email that says, “Thank you for the offer; the timing’s not good right now, but keep me in mind for later”?

No doubt, some of this is just the usual divide between people who intuitively understand civil behavior and people who don’t.  The rest is people who know better but use the anonymity of the medium as a cover for incivility.  It doesn’t make sense—as we’ve said over and over, you’re here to build and promote your brand, not disappear behind an avatar and a fake name.

• Friends Just how many “Friends” does a model need?  Should you accept all Friend requests or only those from people you actually want to work with?  It’s an ongoing debate without a really good answer.   On the one hand, you are here to network and the more satellites you have in your orbit, the greater your visibility.  On the other hand, collecting Friends arbitrarily just to build an impressive number is generally scorned, and the actual networking value of a few hundred more names with whom you have zero contact after the “add” is negligible anyway.  Many photographers and models state on their portfolios that they only accept Friend requests from people who actually contact them in other ways first—by image or portfolio comments or email messages—which seems reasonable and has the additional benefit of weeding out the gratuitous name-collectors who never follow up on anything.  Others correctly observe that it doesn’t cost anything, and routinely accept all Friend requests.  I don’t think there’s a winner in this debate, and would only urge you to integrate whatever decision you make into your greater communication policy.  When people send me Friend requests, I always post a thank you comment on their portfolio, and if I find their portfolio interesting, I follow up with an email introducing myself and leaving the door open for further communication.  I have plenty of friends in the real world; my cyberspace Friend-ships are strictly business. (On the other hand, I’m an obscure photographer in Boise, Idaho, so it’s not like I’m routinely fielding hundreds of Friend Requests every day; you can dismiss my opinion on this subject as largely irrelevant and most likely be mostly right.)

• TFP/CD Nothing in the Internet Modeling world causes more misunderstanding and hard feelings than the TFP/CD issue.  TFP means Time For Print, an arrangement in which the model and the photographer both agree to suspend their fees and work together in a session for prints, rather than money.  The modern, electronic equivalent is TFCD, where the images are delivered as digital files on a CD (or DVD) rather than as prints.  It’s a trade arrangement in which each participant works for images that he or she would normally expect to pay the other to acquire.  Think of it as “Time in exchange for images instead of money.”   What’s it’s not is “working for free.”  So what’s the problem?  Nothing, as long as the images are seen as equally valuable to both parties.  No one minds a fair trade.  The problem occurs when one of the parties concludes that the contributions made to the session are not equal.

Although the value of TF arrangements is self-evident for beginners, a new photographer’s work is unlikely to benefit an established model’s portfolio, and vise versa.  The difference in experience creates an unequal relationship and an unlikely basis for a TF arrangement.  Trade sessions are more likely scheduled between veterans who use TF as a way around the obvious paradoxical barrier: good photographers get paid for photographing models and good models get paid for modeling for photographers.  Without trading, how are good photographers and good models supposed to work together?  The answer is often a TF arrangement.

Problems tend to pop up for two reasons.  First, TF shoots are often mistakenly viewed as something you do only when you’re not good enough to charge for your services, and people occasionally choose to get huffy when they’re solicited about a TF session.  Here’s a bulletin: everybody does TF work occasionally, regardless of what they say on their portfolios.  Even veterans need to upgrade and diversify their portfolios and the best photographers have a need to try new techniques, styles, and concepts without the pressure of a paying contract.   If I’m at the top of my game and wanting to try something that can stretch my repertoire of skills, I’m going to be looking for a skilled model to work with.  No money involved for either of us, but a good opportunity to do some unusual work we’re not usually called to do.   Think of it as “TFE” (Time For Experience).  He or she may see intrinsic value in the proposed experience or not, but my offer of a TF session has nothing to do with devaluing the model.  If you think the offer sounds interesting and you have the time, say yes; if not, say no and move on.  There’s no reason to get insulted by a TF offer, and certainly no upside to arguing about which one of you is more valuable.

The other source of TF friction occurs when either a model or a photographer isn’t clear about the arrangement in the original offer.  If I contact you and say, “I saw your portfolio in Model Mayhem, and I’d like to have you in for a glamour session,” the general assumption is that I’m offering paid work. If, after you respond to my offer by sending me your rate card, I write back and tell you I was actually proposing a TFCD session, you’re going to feel tricked.  Even worse is if I write back and inform you that I was actually wanting you to come in and pay me for the session. We get solicitations like this all the time: “Luv your port and would really like to model for you.” We assume the model is proposing a TF arrangement, and when we respond positively, we get back an abrupt, “I only do paid work.”  Slap.  If you contact me about working together, I’m going to assume you’re looking to hire me for portfolio development; if you’re hoping to interest me in shooting TF, say so up front and describe the project you’re proposing.  I may or may not be interested, but at least we’ll know what we’re talking about from the beginning and there won’t be any hard feelings.  Conversely, it should be obvious that contacting somebody else to solicit paid work is generally considered bad form.  Don’t butter me up by flattering me about my work and then spring your rate card on me.  If I want to hire you, I’ll contact you.  Traveling models are the exception to this.  Models rarely tour the country for TF work, and I always expect a travel notification to include the model’s rates.

The pay vs. TF issue is a constant source of misunderstanding, and we’ll deal with it in greater detail in the And You Call Yourself a Professional section.

• Portfolio Bio All of the modeling sites ask you to write a brief description about yourself.  This is your first point of contact with everybody in the network, the introduction of Brand You.   It’s amazing how seldom anyone takes advantage of this opportunity to plant the first seeds of a flowering professional network.

Remember the Prime Directive for all of your Internet activities: create and reinforce your brand.  You want everything that speaks to your image to say “reliable, mature, professional.”  If the opening statement in your primary presentation medium is utterly incomprehensible because of incoherent word choice, basic grammar mistakes, absentee punctuation, and spelling errors a bright fifth grader would know to avoid, you are not creating an impression of a responsible adult.  You’re demonstrating, to put it bluntly and literally in your own words, that you’re either lazy, careless, or just plain stupid, or some combination of all three. Even worse, a poorly worded bio often contains statements that come off as antagonistic or even insulting.

Look, let us stipulate that model photography is about images, not words.  But let’s also understand that modeling is a collaborative endeavor that requires good communication skills.  You need to be able to understand abstract concepts and implement directions that will quite likely be conveyed to you in words.  If your own language suggests you’re functionally illiterate, you’re basically disqualifying yourself from being considered for the kind of interesting, challenging work that experienced models enjoy most.  This is not beyond your abilities—you were taught how to write a coherent paragraph in junior high school.  I know you were; I used to be your teacher.

We’ll discuss the semantics of professional language in more detail in the next section, but this section is about network etiquette.  Here are some things that are expected in your biographical profile and a few things to avoid.  Beyond what should be the obvious directive to write your comments in standard, correct English—

—Do write a short, informative introduction.  Briefly list your background and your objectives for modeling.  A couple of short personal comments about yourself are usually appreciated, just to establish your personality, but leave out any gratuitous information, such as declaring that you’re the mother of the “most beautiful 3-year-old girl in the world.”  First, the statement doesn’t provide any unique insight into who you are—I’ve never seen anybody claim to be the mother of an ugly child—and secondly, the only thing we need to know about your parental status is how it affects your availability for work.  This is your branding statement, your company philosophy.  Every business publishes a short, one-paragraph “Mission Statement” about who they are, what they do, and what they stand for, and this is your mission statement.  Make it count.  Anything less than a hundred words is a waste of a prime branding opportunity; but anything more than 300 is guaranteed to contain useless padding.  Spend some time thinking this opening statement through, and then write it down carefully.  Then rewrite it, and then rewrite it again, maybe with a dependable proofreader looking over your shoulder.

After your opening, deal with the next few items in their own locations:

—Do provide the information a photographer needs to know about you.  That includes height, weight, ethnicity, and full measurements, including cup size.  List your real age, and don’t think that making photographers guess will improve your chances of doing 18-year-old work at 35.  All it will do is hinder your ability to get 35-year-old work.  Modeling is a very specific industry, and your body type is either right for the job or it isn’t.  Be honest about who you are, and describe yourself accurately in your profile, either in the provided check-off area or in a specific paragraph.

—Do list any significant scarring or body modifications, or at least provide direct references to images in your portfolio that clearly show them.  We have an entire article on this one… it’s that important.

—Do feel free to expand on anything that you consider a specialty.  If you swim like a fish, ride horses or motorcycles, if you’re heavily into pin-up glamour and you have an extensive 1940’s wardrobe, or if you’re also a MUA/hair stylist who can do your own work, mention it.  However, unless that’s the only work you want to be considered for, be sure you don’t leave the impression that you’re unavailable for other types of modeling.  Either list the other genres specifically or just leave a general comment that you’re available for a broad spectrum of work.  Having a diverse image portfolio will certainly help make that point for you.

—Do list your policy on nudity.  Again, Internet modeling is heavily skewed toward Glamour and Glamour nude.  If you’re comfortable with, or even actively soliciting nude work, say so, and be specific about your limits.  This is not the time for false modesty.  If you don’t model nude, just say so in straightforward terms, without any unnecessary explanations or apologies.  This is a legitimate form of modeling, and pursuing it or not is just a choice.  Which also means:

—Don’t insult those who do choose to model nude.  Comments like “I’m keeping it classy” or “I respect myself” imply, none too subtly, that people who model nude have no class or self-respect.  “I don’t believe a woman has to be nude to be sexy,” or “Some things should be left sacred” may be a true reflection of your opinion, but offering it in this context comes off as uninvited judgmental criticism.  You’re entitled to your opinions, but any time you offer them as some sort of moral principle, you’re just inviting an argument.  Not a good idea.  Michelangelo’s work is on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel—here’s what he said in his portfolio comments:

“And who is so barbarous as not to understand that the foot of a man is nobler than his shoe, and his skin nobler than that of the sheep with which he is clothed?”

You’re “classier” than Michelangelo?  You have a better idea of what “should be left sacred” than the sculptor of the extremely nude David?  Really?  Phrases like that do nothing but create the impression that the Model You brand is self-important, holier-than-thou, and argumentative.  Sound like anybody you’d want to work with?  (It should be obvious, by the way, that if you are an enthusiastic nude model, comments implying that models who choose to remain clothed are wimpy prudes would be similarly inappropriate.)

—Don’t play the “Escort” card unless you’re prepared for the fact that most professional photographers will simply skip your portfolio if you insist on your right to bring an Escort to the session.  Most will see it as provocative, and many will take it as an insult.  This is probably the most divisive issue on any modeling site, and it’s important enough that we’ve devoted an entire article to discussing it.

—Don’t list your private email or phone number.  It’s harvestable to spammers and scammers and they will flood your mailbox with junk, some of which is likely to be dangerous.  See the discussion above under Network Strategies/Email for a better way to handle this.

—Don’t list irrelevant resumé information.  Your years of experience managing the shoe department at Walmart or your masters degree in marine biology is pointless here, unless you can explain in a sentence or two how it makes you a better model.  It might be an interesting personalizing reference in your opening statement (see above), but if it creeps into your factual information, you need to be prepared to explain how it improves your modeling resumé.  Otherwise, leave it out.  Unfortunately, your diploma from the modeling school isn’t going to contribute much either.

—Don’t confuse deliberately obnoxious language and behavior with expressing your personality, unless, of course, you actually are declaring that you only want to work with people who place a high priority on obnoxiousness.  Trust me, that’s a much smaller universe than you might want to believe.  When I read something like, “I’m a f**king sassy spitfire who speaks her mind, and I might be more than you can handle,” my first thought is, yeah, you might be right.  All I wanted was a model, not a life challenge.  This is what you expect to see in the site’s forum “discussions,” but forums are interactive venues that tend to encourage extremist, reactionary behavior.  Your profile is your exclusive showcase, and this is the best you could come up with to introduce yourself?  This is Model You?  You got personality?  Good.  I like personality and I like it bundled in a confident, self-aware package.  What I don’t like is drama on my set, and when your portfolio profile starts to sound like a forum rant, I start to lose interest in your brand.

As for the forums, that’s a whole other topic, so we saved it for last.

Negotiating the “Forums”

It’s a big, interconnected chatway here in Tron-land, and one of the problems with having so many communication venues is keeping your brand consistent from one medium to another.  You have to work hard to keep your networking activities from sabotaging each other, and one of the most dangerous places you can find yourself is a “chat” forum on a modeling site.

Site forums, in general, are rowdy and uncensored.  Thanks to the anonymity of the Internet, they seem to encourage a rude and aggressive communication style that would never be tolerated in a face-to-face setting or even in a written exchange if people were signing their real names.  Even the most innocent of topics can quickly degenerate into a fur-flying exchange of vicious, personal attacks.  Moreover, every venue has a few self-appointed “propriety guardians,” who hover over the forum and announce in withering terms that the topic doesn’t even deserve to be discussed, either because it’s inappropriate or because it’s been discussed too often.  Before you launch a discussion thread on “flakes,” “escorts,” “TFCD,” or anything else a new member might naturally have an interest in, do a search through the site’s archives for the topic.  You’ll probably find hundreds of old threads and save yourself a lot of grief from the topic police.

Critique threads are also popular and also fraught with unhelpful discussion.  Asking a group of anonymous strangers with varying degrees of sophistication and insight to critique your work is every bit as useful as holding a photo over your head in a crowded mall and shouting, “Do you think this one is as good as the others in my portfolio?”  It may be a terrific image that’s a little unusual, in which case at least half of the respondents will trash it because they’re not primed to understand different; or it may be a really bad photo, in which case half of the respondents will love it because it’s so daringly different.  The further any artwork gets from average, the more likely it will encounter mixed reviews, even from professional critics.  You’ll also encounter the critique version of the topic police, who exist only to announce that your picture is so bad that you shouldn’t have wasted everyone’s time by posting it.  How can this possibly be helpful to a forum participant who genuinely wants honest feedback in order to improve the quality of his/her work?  Whose opinion do you trust?

Which begs the question, why are you in the forums at all?  Serious models and photographers are busy working, not hanging out in forums flexing their “attitude” in verbal blood sport.  They’re spending their time identifying potential colleagues they’d like to collaborate with, and communicating with them directly to initiate a professional relationship.  So ask yourself–are you on a networking site to network with professional associates or to frolic with amateurs?  Sure, participating in forums does get your name and portfolio in front of the other forum regulars, but what is the general tone of the discussion doing for your brand?

There’s a Seattle-area figure model with a portfolio on Model Mayhem that I find interesting.  She’s the right age, seems bright and adventurous, has the kind of off-beat body we like to work with in fine-art nude photography, and she’s willing to travel.  Unfortunately, she’s a regular in the forums, where her participation is always defined by an aggressive, dismissive attitude and a liberal multi-tasking of the f-word as all-purpose verb, adjective, and noun, often, remarkably, in the same sentence.  Now she may be the nicest, most respectful and cooperative person on the planet, but in the forums she presents herself as an aggressively vulgar diva.  Yes, I’ve been known to drop the f-bomb in the heat of battle, and I’m fully familiar with its lexicographical versatility.  I don’t, however, make the mistake of thinking that its casual usage makes me look daring and au courant; in a professional context, it makes me look crude, stupid, and amateurish.  If you do choose to participate in the forums, ask yourself, “What is my purpose here?  Do I want to create an image of myself as a free-swinging member of the playground set, or do I want to establish a basis for networking with serious professionals?”

Being professional is not a part-time commitment.  This is a business—your business—and the only product in your inventory is you, a serious, reliable, PROFESSIONAL model.  That’s the brand you’re trying to create, and anything that is inconsistent with your brand is an unnecessary distraction. Gossiping in the forums, presenting yourself as a loud, disrespectful, and illiterate drama queen is a brand killer.

If you need factual information, ask.  If you have facts to offer, offer them.  Be civil, be literate, be aware of and true to your brand.  If the topic invites you to express your opinion, be careful.  If you ask for opinions, be prepared for the worst; in the forums, that’s just asking for an ugly argument, and ugly is the wrong brand for a model.

Look, advertising agencies and photographers who hire models don’t need attitude from their employees.  They have clients too, and those clients are the ones who are paying the bills for everybody, including you.  The agency got the job because they had a carefully cultivated brand, and the last thing they want is a loose cannon on the set whose behavior might threaten their relationship with the client.  Don’t be that person, and don’t let your forum participation suggest that you might be.

The bottom line with all of the various modeling-networking sites is that they are what you make of them.  If you treat them like specialized extensions of your personal social networking routines and behavior—like Facebook for models—they’ll brand you as non-serious and get you the attention only of the other non-serious membership.  On the other hand, those models who understand that these sites are far-reaching, remarkably inexpensive opportunities to establish the quality of their professional brand with other professionals, are able to consistently work the sites to their advantage and network themselves into paying jobs at a frequency that has nothing to do with coincidence or luck.

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Modeling 101: Doing the Agency Dance


The Agency DanceOkay, so you made it through the maze in the last article, you’ve done your research, performed your due diligence to weed out the scammers and pretenders, and you’ve found a couple of agencies you feel pretty good about.  Congratulations, you’re ready to do the agency dance.  Now what?  What’s the best way to approach a modeling or talent agency to secure that all-important first interview?   Phone, walk-in, email, snail-mail?  If they do want to see you, what do you say when you get there?  What do you wear?  Should you bring anything?   The answers to all these questions are as variable as the people you’re trying to contact, but there are a few common expectations.

First Contact

• Open Calls Agencies often run what are known as Open Calls—basically just open invitations for you to apply by either showing up in person at a designated location at a particular time or by completing and submitting a form (usually available on their website).  Submitting the form is so easy most people will use only that application method, which is why any particular application (including yours) is unlikely to get noticed.  An invitation to attend a meet-and-greet in person, however, works in your favor because unlike everybody else, you’re going to show up with a professional comp card and portfolio book, wearing the appropriate clothes and conducting yourself according to the information we’ll talk about below.  Getting a face-to-face is the primary objective in any first contact, so the Open Call is an ideal opportunity.

• Telephone. Quite simply, don’t.  Very few businesses in any industry want to be called on the telephone with employment inquiries, and it’s unlikely that you will be able to schedule an appointment over the phone.  The only reason to call an agency on the phone is for information: the time and location of an Open Call; how to submit an application; what the agency’s requirements are; the name of the person you need to specifically contact through a more appropriate medium.  If you ask for a contact name, take careful notes and make sure you get the contact’s title and the correct spelling of his or her name.

• Regular Mail. As archaic as it may sound in the electronic age, regular (snail) mail is still the preferred method of receiving applications for most agencies.  Be sure to write an articulate letter using a standard business-letter form on sensible white letterhead paper (if you don’t know what the format looks like, do a Google search for “business letter format;” here’s a good tutorial from the Purdue Online Writing Lab).  Address the letter to the person whose name you obtained either from the phone call in the previous paragraph or from the agency’s website, using the standard Ms. or Mr. salutations and the last name (no, you don’t start a business letter with “Yo, Cuz” or “Hey, Girl”).  Keep it simple.  In the body of the letter, briefly introduce yourself, including a description of your appearance with your basic stats—bust/waist/hips, and shoe and dress size for women, jacket and waist size for men.  Both sexes need to supply their real age and height, plus hair and eye color.  Explain your modeling interests and your interest in the agency, and conclude by expressing a polite request to meet with the addressee to introduce yourself in person.

Unless you have genuine, professional modeling experience to report, anything else you’re thinking of adding is probably a mistake.  All the agency wants to know is information pertinent to your ability to model.  Your love of the beach and abiding desire for world peace are irrelevant.  The fact that you played the Virgin Mary in your 3rd grade Christmas pageant or were the head cheerleader in junior high school doesn’t matter—leave it out.  The fact that you are a trained dancer, actor, or mezzo-soprano with professional performance experience does matter if you’re hoping to be cast in television commercials.  And don’t, whatever you do, imagine that the agency will be impressed by your modeling school diploma.  In fact, it’s a good policy to avoid volunteering any extraneous information in a first-contact letter.  You’d be surprised how often those little tidbits that you think are critical to understanding your personality are actually little land mines that will blow up your application.

If you’ve taken the initiative to put a comp card together (highly recommended), enclose it with the letter.  If the agency asks for photos, the usual expectation is for three.  They should include a good commercial headshot, a full-length shot, and at least one that shows you in the genre you’re hoping to model.  Write your name and contact information on the back of each in case they get separated from your application, and if you want them back, include a self-addressed, stamped envelope.

If you’re an actor, enclose your resume and your 8 x 10 headshot.

• Email. Most agencies don’t want to receive applications by email, and you don’t want to send them that way.  We’re all inundated by email overload these days—messages pile up in the Inbox and occasionally get lost in the queue.  The agency isn’t going to print your application out, so if the recipient wants anyone else to look at it, s/he will probably forward it, creating yet another opportunity for it to get lost in the electronic shuffle.

If you’re sending photos as attachments and using AOL as your ISP, AOL will strip the photos out of the file.  Your recipient’s email client may routinely treat all mail with attachments as spam and route it to the Junk folder.  If you do have to use email and need to include photos, embed them in the body of the message or provide a link to them on another site.  If you embed them, make sure you compress them properly.  Any photo file over 500K in an email is annoying to receive, and you’re probably sending three of them.  Try to keep your e-photos under 800 pixels on the long side, and compress them to a data size of 150K or less.  For more information on preparing your files for electronic display, see the notes at the end of the My Card, Sir article on presentation materials.

As for the content of the message, follow the format described in the Regular Mail paragraph above.

The Interview

Whether it comes as the expected result of an Open Call or as the harvest of the seed you planted in your application letter, the agency interview is the ultimate goal of your first contact efforts.  You’ll usually get up to 20 minutes or so, and it might take the full duration for you to close the deal.  On the other hand, if you’re not ready it’ll take you less than a minute to blow it.  The following are some useful tips to keep you in the game and out of the penalty box.

• Be early. Call ahead to confirm your appointment time, and be sure you have a contact number for the person you’re meeting in case something unavoidable (no, really—actually, unavoidable—not the fifth death of your grandmother in the last six months) comes up and you have to call to notify your appointment that you’re going to be late.  Oh, and… Don’t.  Be.  Late. This is business—in the business world on-time is late and 15 minutes early is on time.

• Be prepared. Make sure you have the correct address for the interview, and familiarize yourself with the route you’re going to take to get there.  Set your clothes out the night before and check them for problems.  Get some sleep.  I once interviewed for a job wearing a brand new suit after an 18-hour marathon work session that sent me to the appointment without any sleep.  As the interview was winding down, I noticed the large price tag on the sleeve of my suit coat that I had been waving around in front of the interview committee for the past 30 minutes.  I gesture a lot when I talk.  I didn’t get the job.  You want to discover details like this before the interview, not during it.

Do some advance research to provide yourself with background on the agency.  You don’t want to ask stupid questions you could have known the answer to if you’d only shown a little interest in the agency before you got to the interview.  It’s amazing how often people blow interviews in every industry because they didn’t bother to learn anything about the organization they were applying to.

Bring your portfolio book and a comp card.  The preparation for this began back when you were meeting with your photographer to ensure that the photos you used in your presentation materials were an accurate representation of the type(s) of modeling you were interested in and suited for.  Bad or average photos or photos showing you modeling a genre you’re clearly not right for are harmful to your cause, and if you’re not ready with the right photos, you’re better off admitting that you’re just getting started and don’t have any presentation materials to show yet.  They’ll understand that.  What they won’t do is cut you any slack for a bad book.

• Come alone. Unless you’re a minor, you don’t need an escort, and if you are a minor, one parent is plenty.  If you can’t handle a simple interview with a modeling agency by yourself, how is the agency supposed to have any confidence that you’ll be able to manage the stressful environment of a high-pressure photo session?  Models who insist on bringing escorts to photo shoots are the bane of the model photographer’s existence, something we discuss elsewhere in a specific article.  Agencies know that, and if they think you’re going to be dragging your own posse along to a job, they’re not going to represent you.

• Look the part. Start with that full night of sleep we mentioned above.  You don’t want to show up for an interview for work in an image business with haggard skin and blood-shot eyes.  Your hair should be clean and styled; your nails should be neat and the color conservative.  Make-up should be basic “street” or corrective.  Think natural and classy, not fashionable, and that goes for your clothes as well.  Aim for “corporate casual,” with nice jeans or dress pants and a simple top, like a solid-colored blouse or sweater.  Wear dress shoes, even modest heels if you’re comfortable in them, but leave the 8” platforms in the closet.

This may all seem counter-intuitive, given that your instinct is probably to show how you’d look in fashionable clothing and accessories.   The problem is that while your fashion sense may be exquisite, if it clashes with the agent’s aesthetic sensibilities, s/he may spend the entire interview evaluating your taste in clothes and never get around to noticing what kind of presence you have behind the product.  Don’t give an interviewer an excuse to overlook you.  Come as you are, and leave the wild purple mascara and outrageous jewelry at home.  The only dazzling accessories you want to bring to the interview are a great attitude and a killer portfolio book, both of which are prime examples of you looking the part.

By the way, do we really need to mention that the part you’re expected to look is the person in the pictures and description you sent in with your application?  This isn’t E-Harmony, and if you misrepresented your appearance to get an interview, your interviewer’s going to be miffed.  Remember when we said it’s possible to blow an interview in under a minute?  You’ll blow this one when you walk into the room.

• Be personable. This isn’t you portraying a character on a photo shoot.  This is you in a small room making a personal connection with a fellow human sitting across the desk from you.  Smile. Be natural.  If they weren’t interested, they wouldn’t be interviewing you.  People tend to operate on the wrong perception in situations like this.  When we find ourselves having to perform in front of strangers, we tend to treat the audience like an enemy who wants us to fail.  That’s not how it is.  The audience fervently wants the counter-tenor to hit every note, the ballerina to land gracefully.  The interviewer is pulling for you to succeed.  Relax.  Have some fun.  Make the connection.

• Pay attention. Listen carefully to what the interviewer says and read anything s/he gives you carefully.  Bring your day planner and take notes.  If you don’t understand something, ask questions. You were given that information for a reason, and make sure you get it straight in your head before you leave the interview.  And for cryin’ out loud, be smart and turn the damn smart phone off.

• Follow up. After the interview, send a thank you note to the interviewer, either by email or regular mail, and include a copy of your comp card.  If you’re using email, send a JPEG version, following the guidelines described above for emailed photos.  By all means, if the interviewer gave you feedback or suggestions on how to improve your appearance or presentation and then asked you to follow up, do it.


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