Category Archives: Modeling 101

Modeling 101: The Head Shot


It’s ironic, especially with Internet models who tend to get their starts without any input from industry professionals, that when we look through their online portfolios the one thing we don’t seem to be able to learn is the most important piece of information we need: what the model actually looks like.  Particularly in the glamour field, it’s not uncommon to be able to see—in graphic detail—everything about the model’s appearance except her face, and that’s really not helpful for your marketing and networking efforts.  Unless you’re planning to meet prospective employers in a bikini—or naked—you need to show us something in your portfolio that 1) lets us recognize you when we meet under normal—i.e., clothed—circumstances, and 2) makes us want to meet you in the first place.  What you need is a professional headshot, something every working model already has.

By now you’re probably thinking, what’s the big deal? I have that massively retouched senior-portrait photo from back in high school and that cool mermaid shot taken in the river last summer with all the gnarly character make-up, plus all those brilliant selfies I’ve been posting on Instagram… sure, I’ve got the headshot thing covered.

No, you don’t. What you think of as a headshot and what the modeling/photography industry expects are most likely miles apart. A good headshot is absolutely not easy to produce, either for the model or for the photographer.  In fact, for something that looks so deceptively simple, it’s one of the hardest shots to do well, even for experienced professionals who might otherwise be excellent portrait photographers.

Okay, so what’s a “professional headshot?”

Pretty simple actually, but it might seem contrary to what you’d expect for the acting and modeling businesses where the ability to project an image that’s different from your natural appearance is sought after and rewarded. Whatever else it might be—and that can vary according to the market you’re applying to—a headshot is a picture of your face that presents you as you really are. It’s clean, unadulterated, and accurate. Technically, it’s well lit and simply posed. After studying it, I should be able to easily recognize you if I were to meet you on the street. As said above, there are some variations in content and presentation, which we’ll discuss below, but one thing every type of headshot has in common is that, first and foremost, it’s a picture that conforms to the expectations of the target industry for the express purpose of marketing the subject.

That last part is important. Your headshot is a marketing tool; it doesn’t exist to demonstrate your ability to look cool in character make-up or play an old woman at age 18 (unless that’s what you’re applying for—see below), and it certainly doesn’t exist to prove how creative your photographer is. In fact, if your photographer insists on cluttering your headshot with his watermark, find another photographer who understands that the sole purpose of the headshot is to find paid work for you, not for him.  That all should imply that this discussion is primarily for people who want to work professionally in the commercial-modeling world, either for editorial or advertising clients, or who want to audition for acting roles. If you’re just modeling or acting as a hobby, this discussion probably isn’t for you.

If, however, you are serious about modeling or acting for money, then you (and your photographer) need to know the basic headshot characteristics common to all the markets as well as the specific details that distinguish one market from another.



As mentioned, the headshot is intended to market you “as you are” (accurate as to age, size, and proportions, for example), but in the most positive light possible, emphasizing your best qualities and minimizing the flaws (and yes, we all have flaws).  A well-done headshot will provide the viewer with a sense of the subject’s natural personality and character, or suggest potential for a particular role the viewer is looking to fill.

Contrary to what you may hear, even the best headshot won’t guarantee you the assignment, but it’s often the only thing a casting director ever gets to see, so if it doesn’t make a favorable impression immediately, a bad headshot will certainly eliminate you from even being considered.  By presenting you at your best, a good headshot gets you in the door if you are indeed the type the client is looking for, and if the shot conforms to industry standards, it will reassure the client that you are likely to be a reliable professional who will help, rather than hinder, the production process.  Like other activities we’ve repeatedly mentioned elsewhere in this series, the headshot is a prime opportunity for establishing and promoting your personal brand. Even if you don’t get this job, the headshot puts your name and face out there, earning you advance consideration for the next job.

For another perspective, take a look at this short video from model scout Trudi Tapscott.

Size and Framing

Headshots for models should be printed at 9”x12” and always in the portrait—or vertical—mode. When potential employers are quickly rifling through a large stack of headshots, they don’t want to have to pause to turn yours sideways.  Demonstrating that you don’t understand industry conventions is the wrong way to stand out in that stack of modeling hopefuls.

Actors always use an 8”x10” photo, also in portrait mode.

The head shot, by the way, doesn’t necessarily have to be restricted to the head or tightly-cropped head and shoulders. Particularly if you specialize in character roles or modeling assignments, you may decide to opt for a ¾ shot.

Color vs. Black-and-White

Like the comp card, which has largely moved away from the old black-and-white glossy, headshots are almost always done in color these days. They need to be printed as photos, not Xerox copies, and color photos cost the same as B&W now.  If you’re a theatre actor or a glamour model there might still be a place for B&W, but if the jobs you’re looking for put you in front of a camera selling some kind of product or service, use color printing.


It’s important to remember that the headshot is neither a formal portrait nor an informal snapshot that just happens to include your head. It’s a carefully styled photo that conforms to the expectations of the market you’re applying to.  This is not the place for wild-and-crazy concepts, weird compositions, or funky borders and distracting backgrounds.  For the same reason, your clothing should be, well… boring, with casual style and neutral colors. In general, the more creative the photo’s technical aspects are, the less important the subject becomes.  Remember: keep it simple, direct, and appropriate for the intended market.


There are three basic types of headshots plus a fourth for children, which we won’t go into here.  There are also variations within each type that are intended for a specific offshoot of the market which that particular type addresses. If you model or act in different markets, you may very well need a specific headshot for each one. In this business, there’s no such thing as a “one-size-fits-all” calling card, and the first question you need to ask before you shoot or hand a prospective client your headshot is “which market is this job in, and what kind of headshot is expected?”

Commercial Headshots

As we indicated in the article on modeling genres, most modeling work is commercial and most agencies represent commercial models, so the commercial headshot is what most models need. Obviously, actors who want to work in the commercial arena also need a commercial headshot.

As we also mentioned in the modeling genres article, commercial work is, by definition, about commerce—selling stuff—so the models and actors who do the work need to be somebody the viewer/buyer will find likable enough to buy from.  Your headshot needs to make a connection and show you as friendly and accessible, like someone the viewer wouldn’t hesitate to walk up to and strike up a conversation with. Forget the dramatic lighting with the mysterious shadows and the selective focus. You need to look open and available in the commercial headshot, not mysterious and forbidding, and that requires soft, even lighting with minimal differences in the key:fill ratios.

Makeup for women should be what’s known as “clean,” i.e., close to the subject’s natural skin tones and facial features, but subtly tweaked to create 3-dimensional contouring in the photo’s 2-D plane. Clients want to know what the model looks like naturally, and the make-up should help to emphasize that illusion without being noticeable.

Avoid anything that’s glossy or shiny because it will look wet and oily in a photo, and be sure to blend everything extensively. Focus in the commercial headshot is always extremely sharp across the frame, and any visible edge where the cosmetic stops and starts will stand out in high relief.

For men, the only make-up that might be used is some color-free powder to cut down on glare from bright lights on shiny skin.

Avoid extremely tight cropping.  While it might be dramatic, it’s also claustrophobic, and frankly, counter-productive.  Why pay someone to produce a headshot for your resumé and then chop off portions of what you paid for?  Extreme crops, even all the way into the subject’s face, are a recent, not-so-well-received fad that has many casting agents rolling their eyes and wondering how an applicant could be so oblivious to industry standards. In brief, make sure your headshot actually includes your head, and a comfortable amount of room around it.


In addition to the standard commercial headshot, there are two variations: commercial glamour and “character”.

Commercial glamour is what it sounds like—commercial modeling (or acting) with a glamourous, often sexy, component. Think Swedish Bikini Team girl, not soccer mom or corporate executive. If you’re pursuing this type of modeling, your head shot can suggest dangerous or seductive rather than open and accessible, and your make-up can also be more exaggerated to promote the illusion, although not extreme enough to be considered theatrical.

Actors and models whose appearance and personality put them in supporting roles rather than in the romantic leads, often use headshots that show them in character, including wardrobe, props, and character makeup that suggest the roles they’re likely to be cast for.

Theatrical Headshots

Models who are interested in assignments that require dramatic acting and, of course, actors looking for theatrical work, will need headshots that are more intentionally serious looking than the straightforward commercial headshot.  The theatrical headshot does more than simply present you as you are; it also suggests the ability to assume a role in the assignment that goes beyond your natural look. Make-up can be more stylized—less “clean”—and lighting can also be more directional, with higher key:fill ratios to create stronger shadows and a greater sense of drama.


Marlene Dietrich by George Hurrell

One variation of the theatrical headshot is the “glamour headshot,” not to be mistaken for the “commercial glamour” headshot described above. This type of headshot tends to present a look that is even more consciously romanticized than the typical theatrical headshot, and has its roots in the Hollywood Glamour style of portraiture, exemplified by George Hurrell, its best-known practitioner.

Unlike a Commercial or standard Theatrical headshot, this type is often characterized by complexion-smoothing, soft-focus diffusion to enhance the romantic aura of the shot. Other technical elements, like make-up and lighting are also exaggerated for effect.

An even more extreme variation on the standard Theatrical headshot is the Character headshot that makes no pretense of presenting you as you are, but specifically uses make-up, costume, and lighting to depict you in the types of dramatic roles you’re likely to be applying for.

Beauty Shots

Fashion models whose work is going to appear in an editorial medium, either a magazine or online presentation, often use a “beauty shot” as the headshot. Again, and like the Theatrical Character shot above, beauty shots make no pretense of depicting your natural appearance.  The intent of a beauty shot is less to show “what the model actually looks like” than “what the model could look like with full production styling”.  This type of headshot simply can’t be done without a first-class makeup artist and hair stylist, and the lighting and styling can be quite extreme in some cases.

Probably because the beauty genre implies a certain, unapproachable distance between the viewer and the beauty fantasy the model is portraying, beauty headshots are the one place where the model doesn’t have to be looking into the camera and making a direct connection with the viewer. It’s all about the fantasy, not the model, which should tell you that if you’re not already modeling fashion products in editorial media, you’re not ready to use a beauty shot for a headshot.  Your headshot still needs to be selling you, not some product or lifestyle you might be demonstrating.



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Modeling 101: Links

LinksThis section provides some useful links to a variety of information and vendor resources for the working freelance model or for prospective models wanting some background information before jumping into the business.  If we can recommend a source from personal experience, we will; if we have no personal experience with a particular source, we’ll try to note that as well.  As always, do your own research and perform your own due diligence before sending your money to a vendor.  The Internet is a marvelously comprehensive resource in itself, and if you know how to filter out the noise, good information is available on virtually anything you have an interest in.  So is bad information, if you’re gullible, so… caveat emptor.

Modeling information sites

General information on the modeling business is readily available all over the Internet, but unfortunately the more you read, the more confused you’re likely to get.  Perspectives vary from local to international, and many so-called sources are thinly veiled recruiting appeals for their own interests.  Some self-proclaimed sources about the entire industry are mostly just diaries of one person’s experience—interesting reading, perhaps, but not a useful guide from which to generalize advice for your own career.  Our advice?   Look for common themes.  Those things that all the sources agree on are likely to be the points of useful information that you can reliably integrate into your own career map.  That said, here are a few sites that we do recommend: One of the most reliable and respected sources for modeling information on the Internet.  This is the first place we always send people who call us about getting started in the modeling business (after sending them here, of course, heh).

The Busine$$ of Modeling Tips from well-known model photographer and mentor, Joe Edelman.  Joe’s a photographer, not a writer, so don’t expect a lot of elegant prose, but for an insider’s perspective on how to manage the business, this is a good place to start.

Modeling Advice Another unevenly written source for modeling information, but the advice is generally reliable.

Benjamin Kanarek Blog Benjamin Kanarek is a fashion photographer who maintains a blog that primarily discusses the fashion photography industry.  There’s no how-to modeling information here, but there is lots of current information about trends in fashion modeling from an industry insider.  Full disclosure: I have an article on the BK blog also (don’t let that deter you from visiting Ben’s blog though).

Thoughts of a Hobbyist Model A well written, informative blog by working model, Rachel Jay.  Her take on escorts is especially insightful, and her links to other informative sites are extensive and helpful.

Adventures of a Traveling Model A blog by sassy glamour model, Jessica Robinson.  Not a lot of general information about the business, but an entertaining read with some useful perspectives on how to  present yourself as a working professional.

Model networking sites

One Model Place See the discussion in Working the Web

Model Mayhem See the discussion in Working the Web

iStudio See the discussion in Working the Web

Model Insider A relatively new site with a spiffy interface and what appears to be a good set of networking features.  However, we’ve had a Sourcelight profile here for over a year without much activity, so unless the site begins to show some unexpected growth, it’s hard to recommend it at the moment.

Model Woot Relatively new site with few members and little activity after its first year, and probably won’t grow much more.  Uses a Facebook-like interface.  We had a profile but dropped it because of the small membership and consistent inactivity.  Not highly recommended.

Model Harmony Another start-up site with few members and little activity to date.  We had a profile here for awhile, but the lack of activity and surprisingly unprofessional management caused us to drop it.  Your mileage may vary, but from our perspective, not highly recommended

Muse Cube An older site with little activity.  Not highly recommended. Very international flavor.  Functions more like an agency-model registry than a freelance portfolio host.  Strange critique section by site members following each model’s portfolio.

Prime ModelingPrime Modeling claims to be a networking site where models can connect with agency representatives.  Whether it works or not… who knows?  The sign-up is free, however, so if you want to try it out, come back and tell us how it went.

Artnudes Network Small site specifically dedicated to models and artists, including traditional (non-photographic), who want to create fine-art nude images.  Not a lot of activity, but it’s refreshing to find an informal model/artist networking site that specifically doesn’t cater to garage-glamour nudes.   If the fine-art nude genre is of interest to you, sign up and give them your support.

Comp Card printers

Model C Cards, Zed Card Printers, Model Cards, Buy Comp Cards, Comp Card, My Zed, and Comp Card Express are all Internet-based comp card printers offering basic products and services for reasonable prices.  I don’t have personal experience with them, so I can’t vouch for their quality or their service.  Most do offer a free or low-priced print proof, so before you order 250 cards, be sure you approve the quality of their work.

Color Comp Cards uses the premium custom offset lithographic printing process and offers some of the highest quality printing and card stock available.  The cost is a bit higher, but not significantly so.

Portfolio Book vendors

Portfolio Mart A nice selection and range of affordable professional modeling cases in 9 x 12, 11 x 14, and 8½ x 11 sizes.  The prices range from as low as $20 to as high as $80.

Itoya This California company’s Art Profolio line is an excellent low-cost alternative to more expensive books.  The Evolution EV-12-9, a clean vinyl-covered book with simulated stitching around the edges, can be purchased from respected online photo equipment giant Adorama, for example, for a measly $7.47.  The PU-24-9 is a surprisingly luxurious case that goes for around $35.  Itoya doesn’t sell directly from its website, so you’ll have to track down one of the distributors listed on the site.  We’ve purchased numerous items from both Samy’s and Adorama over the years, and can recommend either one.  If you can find an Aaron Brothers Art & Framing store in your city, you may be in luck—at least some of the outlets carry Itoya portfolios.  Boise, Idaho models rejoice—there’s one in town and it carries Itoya products.

Brewer-Cantelmo offers custom made portfolios with prices to match.

Business Rating/Review sites

These sites exist primarily as user-rating repositories.   Sadly, very little in the modeling business is officially licensed, although some jurisdictions do require agencies to register as employment agencies, so it’s rare to find any official ratings of businesses.  Any business that maintains a “landing page” presence on sites like Google Maps or Yahoo’s Local Listings is subject to customer reviews, although it’s easy for the business to fake positive reviews and negative reviews should always be taken with a grain of salt.  The sad truth in business is that unhappy customers always tell everyone while satisfied customers just coo happily to themselves.

Unfortunately, the only business-rating organization that most people know about—the Better Business Bureau—is largely useless.  The BBB is a membership organization and only rates businesses that have paid expensive dues to belong.  If they receive complaints about a business, they will investigate, but all the business has to do is file a response to have the complaint expunged or “closed”.  Personally, I don’t know a single photography business or modeling agency that belongs to the BBB.

Here are a few sites that you can use to check up on businesses that serve the modeling industry:

Complaints Board Just type in the name and location of the business you’re investigating to find out if there have been any complaints.  If you have experience with the business—either good or bad—write your own review.  It’s not perfect, but it’s probably your best option for information about photographers and modeling agencies in your area.

Biz Compare Not a complaint registry, this site just compares the particular business you’re interested in with industry-wide metrics for all businesses of that type.

The following are consumer-oriented rating sites, similar to Google Maps or Yahoo’s Local listings.  Unfortunately, you will only find reviews of businesses that have taken the initiative to create a profile on that site.


Get the Rating

Business Apps

Credit Card Processing

Square is a credit/debit card processing application that comes with free software and a miniature card-swipe device that simply plugs into your smart phone’s or tablet’s audio connection.   The account set-up is free and virtually instantaneous.  Your transactions will be charged a 2.75% processing fee (if you physically swipe the card; it’s 3.25% + $.15 per transaction for phone orders), but there are no other fees involved.

Treasure Valley, Idaho Resources

Modeling Agencies

If any of them ever return a message so that we can check them out, we’ll see if any are worth recommending.  At the moment, alas… Our best recommendation?  If you really want to work in the Northwest, build a killer portfolio and make the rounds of top agencies in Seattle.  Give us a call and we’ll point you in the right direction.

Model Portfolio Photographers

Sourcelight Photography Sure, we’d love to help you get started in your modeling career.  Services include preliminary consultation, modeling photography, and portfolio book and comp card design and production.

Make-up Artists

GlamourEyes Artistry Kristen Tomlinson is in Meridian.  We’ve only had one opportunity to work with her early in her career, but were very impressed by her skills and professional approach.

Apocalipstick Lynzie is a Treasure Valley-based freelancer who works out of the Lunatic Fringe salon.  Personable, conscientious, and creative.

Graphics and Web Design

If you’re interested in setting up your own blog or personal modeling website, or looking for help in designing your presentation materials, these vendors are people we’ve worked with and trust.

Y-Axis Amit Thakkar is one of the best graphic designers and absolutely the best 3-D animator I’ve worked with.  A dependable professional with shrewd business instincts who can help you organize your presentation, including a viable web presence, into a dynamic brand.

Patrick S. Perkins Patrick is a “WordPress wizard” and a genuinely nice guy who specializes in customizing the design of WordPress-based websites and optimizing them for search engines.  If you want your website to be visible to Google or to run on either an iPhone or an iPad (now that Apple has declared war on Flash), you’re going to need to build it in some architecture other than Flash, and the easiest way to get started is through a WordPress blog template.  When you run into problems (and you will), Patrick’s your man.

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Modeling 101: The Escort Issue


The Escort IssueIf you like melodrama, try this exercise: go into a forum on a modeling networking site and open a new topic thread by asking, “How do you all feel about escorts?”  The hostile collective moan that ensues will astonish you.  What seems like a sensible question to you is actually one of the most divisive issues on any modeling site, and few decisions will call your professionalism as a freelance model into question quite like insisting on bringing an “escort” to a photo session (or asking about it in a modeling forum).  Without realizing it, you will instantly polarize everyone you’re hoping to contact with your online portfolio.   Some—a very few—will nod their heads; almost all professional photographers will simply cross you off their list of models they want to work with.  At best, the “escort requirement” will be taken as a naïve indicator of your inexperience; at worst it will seem provocative, and even insulting.

New models often understandably feel nervous about going out alone on their first few shoots with unknown photographers, and almost as a reflex post their intention to bring an escort for their own peace of mind and personal security.  The problem is, when you say “escort,” the photographer hears “body guard;” when you say “personal security,” the photographer hears an accusation that he’s dangerous and untrustworthy.  You’re announcing in advance to someone you’re hoping to work with on a creative collaboration that you’re afraid of him, and fear is not a good basis for a trusting relationship.  While you may feel that you’re simply posting an objective, general policy that shouldn’t be taken personally, it often will be.  Even though you may not be explicitly making that accusation in your portfolio comments, as photographers, we’re all too accustomed to seeing comments like these, pulled at random from actual model portfolios on Model Mayhem and One Model Place:

“I will bring an escort if we work together. I like having all my fingers and toes.” Then she added a smiley face.  Funny, eh?  Photographers love being characterized as sadistic dismemberers.  Hey, what photographer doesn’t tuck an axe in with his filter collection, just in case the model’s fingers need to be removed?

“For safety reasons, I reserve the right to bring a chaperone.” A chaperone? Aren’t chaperones what teenagers try to sneak away from at the prom?

“I will be checking for references and I will be bringing an escort with me.  You can never be too careful.” And…

“I reserve the right to bring someone along to any modeling jobs, for my personal safety, THIS IS THE INTERNET, NOT 100% SAFE for young women.” And…

“I will bring a friend/escort on every shoot for my safety.”

“I will not do a single photoshoot without an escort.  I do not care who you are or how good you are.  I do not know you and I will not trust anyone without having someone there.  If you are uncomfortable with an escort than you have alternative motive on your mind and I don’t want to work with you.”  So my reluctance, for perfectly sensible reasons shared by virtually all professional photographers, to have an unknown escort hovering over the session is proof that I “have an alternative motive on (my) mind”? Ask yourself…… would you want to work with this person?  

Models who put statements like this on their portfolios seem to be overwhelmed with paranoia.  Where does all this fear come from, and how reasonable is it?

The biggest source of irrational fear is the pervasive myth that models are constantly being attacked by photographers, a belief driven primarily by a very small number of sensationalized cases.  Would an escort have prevented any of those assaults?  It’s hard to say; in some cases, the attacks appear to have been incidents that just spiraled out of control, and might or might not have been moderated by the presence of a third party.  On the other hand, it’s not a stretch to imagine that an actual sociopath might well have extended the assaults to both the models and their escorts.

In fact, it’s not unheard of in modeling assault cases to actually have an escort present.  In 1996, an L.A. photographer was accused of raping a 14-year-old model-hopeful while her mother was having her make-up done in another room in preparation for having her own photos taken.  In 2003, a serial rapist in England also assaulted a teenage victim who was being escorted by her mother.  Even weirder is a recent complaint in a Model Mayhem forum by a model who alleges that she was groped by a photographer while her husband was in the room.  She said it made her so uncomfortable that she and her spouse only stayed for another 45 minutes of photography before leaving.

There’s more.  In 2010 a Connecticut model acknowledged that, although she claimed to have been groped by a photographer during a fetish-photography session, she and a friend returned to the photographer three days later to finish the session.  Six months later, the same photographer was again accused of raping a different model during a fetish shoot which the model allowed to continue even after the photographer greeted the model and her male escort in his underwear.  After taking a break from fetish photos and rape, the model and her escort then stuck around to pose for a spirited spanking session for the photographer.

This is not to make light of the attacks described above, but merely to point out that in the past 35 years, the number of models who have been violently assaulted by actual photographers can be counted on the fingers of both hands, and many of the assaults can be attributable to horrendously bad judgment by the models, often when accompanied by an escort.  Although there are numerous other cases of models being assaulted by people posing as photographers, they’re not relevant to this discussion because even the most cursory background check would have exposed them as frauds.

Even a single rape or murder is both tragic and frightening, but it’s critical to keep the numbers in perspective.  The world is not 100% safe, but for most of us it’s not unreasonably dangerous either.  Tornados occasionally ravage the Midwest where I’m from, but people still fearlessly live there; Californians go about their business in full awareness that earthquakes and mudslides are a remote threat to their well-being.  Every time I board an airplane I’m aware that it could crash, but I also know that the odds are so infinitesimally small that I choose to fly anyway, and I don’t feel compelled to insist that the airlines allow me to wear a parachute just because “I like having all my fingers and toes,” and because flying in a commercial jet “is NOT 100% SAFE”   And I’m pretty sure if I announce to them that I WILL NOT fly without a parachute!  If you have a problem with that, then I will not fly with you” that I will be told to go away.  By the way, those miniscule odds of crashing in a jet are still greater than the odds of being attacked by your photographer during a modeling session.

In fact, every crime study ever conducted inevitably concludes that the person most likely to attack you is someone you know very well.  According to the U.S. Department of Justice, from 2000-2005 over 73% of rapes were committed by known assailants, including 38% by a friend or acquaintance, 28% by a boyfriend or husband, and 7% by another relative.  Nearly 2 in every 3 female victims of violence were related to or knew their attacker.  In the past two years of working with models, I haven’t heard of a single attack on a model by a photographer anywhere, but two models scheduled to work with me here in Boise, Idaho were beaten so badly by their boyfriends the day before their sessions that they had to be hospitalized.  One scheduled glamour-photography customer’s husband canceled her appointment the day before because of the “terrible car wreck” she had just been in.  I used to work as a domestic violence counselor—guess how many times I heard the “I had a wreck/fell down the stairs/bumped into a door knob” explanation for a battered face.  You want to really flirt with danger?  Tell your jealous, controlling boyfriend that you’ve just scheduled a glamour-modeling session.  You have an escort to protect you from him?

The weird specificity of this paranoia is mystifying.  The irony is that women who think nothing of going home with a stranger they just met in a bar or through an Internet dating service will still refuse on principle to pose for a photograph without an escort.  There are documented cases of women being sexually assaulted while under sedation in their dentist’s chair; why is no one defiantly announcing on her Facebook page that “for safety reasons, I reserve the right to bring a chaperone” to the dentist’s office?  What in the world is so uniquely dangerous about photographers?  How did a bunch of geeks and gadget freaks ever get so scary?

The uncomfortable truth is that you simply cannot eliminate risk from your life—there’s no such thing as a zero-percent probability that nothing bad will ever happen to you, and sensible people don’t waste psychic energy trying to eradicate risks that barely register on the danger scale.  An agency would be horrified and fire you on the spot if they learned that you had showed up for a job with an escort in tow, and experienced freelance models wouldn’t dream of bringing one either.  This unreasonable fear is strictly a rookie Internet model phenomenon.

Why insist on bringing one then?  Why brand yourself so obviously as an amateur?  Let’s consider the main reasons that are usually offered.

• An escort keeps the model safe. If you brought an escort to keep you safe, then let’s call him what he is—a bodyguard.  Photographers call them “Sluggos”  (and frankly, as the crime statistics above suggest, you’re statistically more likely to be in danger from your escort than you are from your photographer).  Sure, it’s possible that an aggressive Sluggo who physically intimidates your photographer might discourage him from engaging in behavior—say, inappropriate comments or touching—that you would find uncomfortable.  If he’s really intent on harming you, however, it’s likely that a violent psychopath would do one of two things: either behave like an angel this time so that you’ll come back without the Sluggo next time; or just harm both of you.  Keep yourself safe by doing what every experienced model does every time: do a background check (more about that below) and listen to your own intuition.  The fact is if you felt uneasy enough about the photographer to want a bodyguard for protection, you should have avoided the shoot entirely instead of putting yourself and your escort in harm’s way.  If the false sense of security you might get from bringing an escort keeps you from performing the appropriate due diligence, then the escort decision will ultimately make you less—not more—safe.

Oh, and one more thing… if your photographer is in fact a gentle soul who just wanted to shoot some good photos of you, what effect do you think your Sluggo’s menacing attitude will have on that objective?

• An escort can help the model “get in the mood.” Let’s start with the obvious—if you need an emotional “fluffer” to help you get in the mood to do your job, then you don’t know how to do your job.  Being able to deliver a variety of poses and facial expressions on demand in order to execute a visual concept is modeling.  The truth is, the escort you’re depending on to help deliver the emotional goods is often more likely to intimidate you than relax you.

When I got back into model photography after my long video-production layoff, I allowed a young model to bring her husband to a TFCD portfolio shoot.  Frankly, he was fine, but she was a mess the entire session, full of anxiety, and constantly looking to him for reassurance.   She couldn’t smile, at all, but did finally suggest that if hubby would stand behind me and “make funny faces,” she might be able to give it a try.  No, we didn’t get anything worth keeping from the session.  Cute kid—not a model, and, frankly, I wasn’t much of a photographer that day either.  It was a good learning experience though; I did remember why we never allow boyfriends or husbands on the set.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t finished with the refresher course, because a couple months later I allowed another new model to bring her more experienced modeling friend along for company.  The session was a near disaster because her more experienced but far less talented friend did not understand the concept and kept interrupting with unnecessary and counter-productive posing directions.  When we had a chance to chat about it later, the model admitted that her friend had been such a huge and annoying distraction that she’s never brought an escort to any of her shoots since then.

If you want to be in the business, study and practice your craft.  Your modeling performance is your responsibility, not your escort’s.

• The escort can provide transportation. Fair enough, but in this case s/he is a driver, not an escort.  Your driver can drop you off and then go somewhere else to wait for your session to finish.  S/he does not need to be on the set or even in the facility.

• The escort can help with the shoot. This may sound like a reasonable excuse for sneaking a Sluggo onto a set, but there are numerous reasons why it’s a bad idea, and we’ll discuss them in more detail below.  The most important reason, however, is this: whatever I need on my set, including production assistance, I’ll provide.  That’s my job.  If I need an assistant, I’m going to use somebody I’ve already trained, know I can trust, and have on my payroll and insurance policy.  Handling photographic gear is a specialty, and I don’t want untrained people touching my gear.  Moreover, I don’t need a second voice directing the model and I don’t need somebody constantly jumping in front of the camera to rearrange hair, make-up, and wardrobe.  If the assistants I bring to the production don’t understand proper set decorum, I can fire them; all I can do with your escort/assistant is get annoyed.  And I will.

• The model is underage and needs an escort. Different story entirely, but only if we’re talking about a freelance model (agency models operate under a whole different set of policies).  Underage models absolutely should be escorted, but that escort should be a parent, if for no other reason than that a minor can’t legally sign the contractual documents that may be involved.  Moreover, as a former public school teacher and coach, I can appreciate more than most the value of parental involvement in a child’s activities.  In fact, if you’re underage and your photographer is urging you to come to a modeling photography session alone, this is one of the few times when your creep alarm should be going off.

• The model is disabled and needs professional support. Well, of course, but in this case the “escort” really is performing a necessary service and is a functional addition to the production team, not just an idle bystander whose primary function is to get in the way as often as possible.

• Allowing an escort proves the photographer is professional. An assumption based, I suppose, on the premise that only someone who has bad intentions in mind would object to having a witness present for the inappropriate behavior he’s planning to display.  Unfortunately, the logic of the premise is faulty for two reasons: first, as said before, the overwhelming majority of professional photographers don’t allow escorts; and second, the sleaze balls you’re worried about actually rely on that logic.  They’re hoping that if they tell you they’re fine with your escort you’ll assume they’re okay and leave your Sluggo at home.  In fact, requiring an escort actually increases the odds that the only people you work with will be exactly the kind of people you’re trying to avoid.

Look, predators target the weak and vulnerable, and if I were a sociopath using the pretext of a photo session to find victims, I’d specifically target people with a rigid escort policy because it would tell me three valuable things: 1) They’re inexperienced,  2) They’re timid and fearful, and 3) They’re likely to substitute an escort policy for the due diligence that would have exposed my photographer facade as a fraud.

If you’d prefer to hear all this from a model’s perspective, check out a very good point-by-point blog post by Rachel Jay, a professional model who serves as a mentor on Model Mayhem and forum host for Model Insider.  If you’d like to know why so many photographers are adamant about not allowing escorts, here’s the short list:

• Escorts represent a danger to the photographer and crew. Hopefully, you did a background check on me before you agreed to model for me; I certainly did one on you and everyone else who had a reason to be there.  The only person whose background I can’t confirm is your escort.  Not only do I not know anything about him, but I can’t even confirm that he is who you say he is.  In one of the interminable escort threads on Model Mayhem, a model admitted to going to a bar to pick up a beefy stranger to escort her to a shoot because her boyfriend/escort had opted out of accompanying her at the last minute and she didn’t want to lose the job.  Photographers are threatened and even attacked by belligerent escorts at least as often as models are assaulted by photographers, and lots of models at group shoots report that they’ve been harassed by someone else’s escort.

Look, I don’t want to have to waste money hiring my own escort to protect me from your escort.  Where does the paranoia end?  If we’re going to work together, at some point we have to trust each other, and if we can’t establish any trust, we’re better off not doing the shoot.

• Escorts are a distraction. As indicated in the examples above, escorts, particularly husbands and boyfriends, tend to be a distraction for both the model and the photographer.  Since the model vouched for the escort, she’s going to worry that his behavior is consistent with his recommendation.  If their relationship is at all uneasy, she may unconsciously calibrate her modeling to suit his biases, looking out of the corner of her eye to gauge his reactions to whatever the photographer is asking her to do.  Even if the escort is sitting quietly, the model may be preoccupied with worrying about whether he’s bored and wanting to leave, and if he’s sitting in the corner tapping his feet and singing along to his IPod, everyone’s going to be annoyed by his rudeness.

Even the presence of a benign stranger on the set whose temperament and perspective are unknown can be distracting for an inexperienced photographer who might be a budding genius overflowing with innovative concepts and technical approaches, but who doesn’t yet have a lot of confidence.  We learn by doing and failing, and no one wants to fail in front of an audience, which means your genius photographer is likely going to risk flexing only a fraction of his talent on your escorted shoot.  And if the escort happens to be having a bad day, his surliness can be intimidating even for an experienced photographer.

On the other hand, the escort might be a great guy who just happens to be interested in photography and can’t refrain from asking the photographer to explain the shoot’s concept and the equipment and techniques that are being used to execute it.  If the photographer also shoots events, particularly weddings, he’ll be used to that.  If not, it’ll take about two questions about which lens he’s using and how many megapixels the camera has before he explodes.  Anybody on a set who doesn’t have a designated job is a distraction just by being there and soaking up some of the attention that would have otherwise been applied to productive work.

• Escorts represent a risk of theft. Models will occasionally suggest as a reasonable compromise that the escort can just go sit in another room, but that’s even less acceptable than having him remain on the set where the photographer can watch him.  Things tend to disappear when escorts are allowed to walk around a studio unescorted.  We have tens of thousands of dollars in highly “fence-able” gear stashed around the Sourcelight enclave, and we’d like for it to still be there when you and your escort are gone.  You can claim, possibly quite honestly, that you didn’t know what he was doing, but I’m not going to care.  You vouched for him, you insisted on bringing him, you’re responsible for him.

Even if the escort is perfectly honest, many studios are in private residences, and very few people, probably including you yourself, would be comfortable having a stranger wandering around their home alone for hours at a time.

• Escorts complicate the insurance policy. Non-essential people on a photo set can represent serious problems for the photographer’s insurance policies.  If equipment is broken by someone not authorized to be there, the comprehensive insurance may not cover its repair or replacement.  Liability insurance may not cover injuries to an escort who isn’t directly involved in a production, and if your Sluggo hurts somebody else, who do you think is going to bear the brunt of the lawsuit?  Every time somebody walks into my studio, I assume legal responsibility for his/her well-being.  Even if an injury is demonstrably the result of the victim’s own stupidity and unsafe conduct, many insurance companies will simply elect to pay the damages rather than contest the claim in court, and then they’ll simply raise the premium for the policy holder in order to recoup their losses.

• Allowing escorts doubles the “Flake” factor. Booking a shoot and then not bothering to either show up for it or call and notify the photographer that you can‘t make it is known in the Internet modeling world as Flaking.  It happens so often that it’s probably the second-most hated topic on modeling-site forums.  It’s insulting when someone displays so little regard for your time; it’s infuriating to find yourself waiting with a crew for a model who didn’t care enough to show up and to also be thinking about all of the other things you could have been doing; and, occasionally, it’s expensive when that crew you assembled and the site you reserved have to be paid for even though the shoot doesn’t happen.  When your model insists on bringing an escort, the flake risk doubles.  Now we not only have to worry about the model’s irresponsibility, but we also have to allow for the possibility that even a conscientious model won’t make it to the shoot if the escort decides at the last minute that he’d rather go to a football game than hang around a photo shoot being bored.  The fewer people who have to be accounted for before a shoot can go forward, the better, and the non-essential escort who has no stake in the session is the weakest link in that chain.

Real Security Measures

If you’re now in despair because we’ve systematically destroyed the illusion that an escort is a viable security measure and you don’t have a Plan B for protecting yourself, take heart—here’s what experienced models do to maximize their own security.

• Establish a professional brand. Over and over again throughout this series of articles we’ve stressed the necessity of establishing a consistent professional brand.  If you act like and present yourself as a confident, experienced professional, you attract competent photographers who only want to work with strong, competent models.  If your haphazard portfolio and sloppy demeanor indicate that you’re a timid, erratic amateur who doesn’t have a firm grasp on what kind of behavior is and isn’t acceptable in the business, you will, at best, attract amateur photographers who are themselves intimidated by pros, or, at worst, predators who know that professionals will sniff them out long before they ever meet.  Your first line of defense is your brand—establish a reputation as the kind of no-nonsense pro that people of marginal character just don’t want to mess with.

• Confirm the photographer’s background. Beyond checking references, a practice we’ll discuss in its own bullet below, look for other signs that the photographer is who s/he claims to be.  Does s/he have a website with a proprietary, professional address?   Not, but .  If you do find a dedicated domain name, go to a domain registry service like Network Solutions and do a “whois” search for the website.  You’ll find lots of details, like the name and phone number of the official contact person for the site and how long it’s been registered.  This is one of the ways Google determines how serious a business is when it’s trying to decide where to rank it in a search result; why shouldn’t you?

Speaking of Google, do a search for the photographer, using both his personal and formal business names if they’re different, as well as any pseudonyms he might be using on modeling sites.  Many models publish their own blogs these days, and you may find honest comments about your photographer—both good and bad—that you won’t find on the model/photographer networking sites.  You can also check sites like Complaints Board for any reviews or complaints that have been filed (of course, the only thing you’ll find will be complaints—no one writes to a complaints board to praise a business).  Unfortunately, the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) ability to monitor the activities of businesses that haven’t paid the hefty membership dues to belong is limited.  You won’t find any positive reports of non-affiliated businesses and you’ll rarely find any legitimate photographers who don’t consider a BBB affiliation to be an unnecessary extortion of money paid in exchange for protecting their reputation.  All that “being a member of the BBB” means is that you bought an expensive membership in a fairly non-exclusive club (here’s an article about it).

Does the photographer have a verifiable, registered phone number—not a throwaway cell—that you can look up in a phone book?  A published business location?  The latter may not help that much, since many serious photographers operate out of a home studio. The Sourcelight studio, for example, is in a dedicated section of our private residence, and since all of our business is by appointment and we don’t want people randomly walking in off the street, we don’t publish a street address (although we’ll certainly give it to you if you ask).  Moreover, some of the biggest and most successful names in photography may not have a permanent location at all, opting instead to either shoot on location or rent studio space when needed.  If you do get an address, however, drive by it and check out the neighborhood.  Does it seem more likely to support a professional photography studio or a meth lab?  Is there a sign up for the business?

Finally, creepy though it may sound, if you’re really concerned about your photographer’s criminal history, you can always run a background check on various sites that maintain a registry of sex offenders—CriminalCheck or Family Watchdog, for example, or just run a Google search for  “sex offender registry” and the state you’re interested in.  Every state maintains one, and searching them is free.

• Check the photographer’s references. Just be sure you know how to do it effectively.  Don’t ask the photographer for references—why would you expect a photographer to provide you with the names and numbers of models who wouldn’t recommend him/her?  Instead, go to the photographer’s online portfolios and select your own references from among the models s/he has already worked with.  If the photographer provides links to some of the models but not to others, the ones who aren’t linked are the ones you should start with, especially if they have portfolios on the same site.  Send the model an email introducing yourself and asking a variety of open-ended questions, like “How comfortable was it for you to work with him?  Did he respect your boundaries?  Did he communicate his intentions clearly and stay with the concept you’d agreed to in advance, or did you find yourself being pressured to do something unexpected when you got to the shoot?”  Ask how well the session was organized and managed.  Don’t ask how much the model was paid—that’s rude—but do ask if the photographer delivered whatever was agreed upon in a timely manner.  If the session was TFCD, ask if the photos met the model’s expectations, based on the photographer’s portfolio.  Use your judgment in processing the information you get.  Polite answers without much detail won’t tell you much, and a single complaint in a sea of glowing references may just be one of those occasional, unfortunate cases of incompatible personalities or conflicting styles.  Cut through the polite indifference by asking the one question no responsible model will blow off with a fluff answer: “Would you recommend that I work with this photographer?”

Unlike bringing an escort, checking references will actually enhance your reputation with professional photographers.  When your portfolio comments say “I do check references,” I immediately add you to my preferred list.  That tells me you’re confident, and confident models address their full, uninhibited attention to finding posing solutions to the conceptual problem we’re dealing with in the image.  When I see “I reserve the right to bring an escort for my own safety,” I roll my eyes and pass on to the next portfolio because that suggests a timid and fearful model who won’t be able to concentrate on anything but her own worries.  Fear doesn’t photograph well.

• Keep a “paper trail.” No matter how much you hate it, use email to document your correspondence with the photographer.  Having a written, time-stamped record of your communication removes any ambiguity before, during, and after the shoot about what exactly was agreed to by all parties, and its existence helps to discourage a phony photographer with criminal intent in mind.

• Meet the photographer beforehand. Although some photographers don’t like it, and it’s not always convenient or even possible (e.g., traveling models or photographers trying to book shoots in advance of their arrival), meeting for an informal chat in a public place like a coffee shop is a good way to get a first-hand impression of your photographer.  Frankly, I prefer it when possible for that reason plus one very selfish one that suits my needs—I get advance warning of the model’s Flake potential.  Flaking, as discussed above, is one of the more annoying facets of the Internet modeling industry, and if the model doesn’t have the character or discipline to honor a professional appointment, I’d rather find that out by myself over a chocolate mocha in Starbucks than with a full crew and client representative standing around impatiently in a prepped studio set.  Shabby photographers have been known to flake too, by the way, so feel free to use the pre-shoot meeting as your own advance Flake test as well.

Use the meeting to assess your photographer’s personality and character.  Does he seem focused and on-task?  Are any personal questions he asks of you or revelations he offers about himself appropriate to the purpose of your meeting?  For example, questioning you about your attitude toward nudity can be very appropriate if you’re discussing a nude shoot, but questions about your sex life—or revelations about his—aren’t likely to reveal anything useful except his prurient interest in topics that are none of his business.  A little personal chit-chat helps to establish the basis for the rapport you’ll need to collaborate on the set, but pushing to transform a professional relationship into an artificial friendship is a clue that the photographer doesn’t handle boundaries well.  Being friendly doesn’t necessarily imply being friends, and professionals understand and effortlessly preserve the distinction.

Discuss concepts and modeling expectations.  If nudity is involved, both of you should agree on the boundaries and purpose.  Find out who else is going to be on the set—lighting assistants, make-up artists and stylists, client representatives if it’s a commercial shoot—and make sure you’re comfortable with the staffing.  If it’s inappropriate for a model to drag non-essential personnel onto the set as escorts, it’s inappropriate for the photographer to allow non-essential people there as well.

Make a point of asking the photographer to explain how s/he manages security on the set and use the answer to form an impression of the photographer’s grasp of the issue and preparation for dealing with it.  Security simply shouldn’t be an issue in a studio, but managing public interference on a location set can be complicated without a functional strategy.  If the photographer waves your concern off as insignificant and tells you not to worry about it, worry.

Confirm that you’re both in agreement about the terms of compensation—the money, of course, if it’s a commercial job, or the number of photos and amount of retouching if it’s a TFCD arrangement—and get a firm commitment about the time of delivery.  All of these considerations, by the way, are things you should already have discussed in emails.  The pre-shoot meeting is primarily a social meet-and-greet and your terms-talk should be confirmations rather than new discussions.  Finally, just to make sure the point about your own professional attitude has been made, take written notes and confirm your impressions before you leave.

• Evaluate the Forum personality. In the Working the Web article, we suggested that you minimize or at least sanitize your modeling website forum participation because its free-flowing incivility is such a seductive invitation to destroy your brand.  It works both ways.  Does the photographer you’re vetting maintain a regular presence in the forums?  If so, is his/her participation characterized by helpful insights expressed in professional language, or does s/he come off as an aggressive, opinionated, bully?  Supercilious attitudes that don’t respect the rights of other participants to express a differing opinion, and which tend to argue using caustic, personal attacks are good indicators of a bullying personality that won’t show you a lot of respect on the set either.  You don’t have to be physically attacked to have a miserable experience on a photo shoot.

I once worked briefly as a scriptwriter for a small media-production company with a big client list and a passive-aggressive owner driven by a world-class inferiority complex.  He hired skilled specialists and then proceeded to systematically undercut their talent in ways both subtle and overt, even to the extent of diminishing the quality of his company’s output for clients.  Forcing everyone to acknowledge that he was the smartest man in the room was more important than encouraging his staff to produce the kind of excellence that made his company competitive.

During the ten years that I acted in theatre, I had occasion to work twice for a seriously emotionally flawed director who would hire the best actors he could find and then undermine them by humiliating them in rehearsal.  Although he clearly knew it would diminish their performance in front of a paying audience—which would also diminish the brand equity in his theatre company—indulging his emotional instability was more important than preserving his brand.  It’s mystifying, but it happens.

If you know what to look for, you can spot these people.  They’re generally threatened by competence and take a respectful demeanor in others as a sign of weakness.  They’re not good in groups, and tend to sabotage projects that require a collaborative effort.  They lead by intimidation and ridicule, and their humor is often sarcastic and cruel.  If this describes anybody you’ve encountered in a forum discussion, you’ll have little reason to expect anything different on location.  Over the years, I’ve worked in a lot of creative, collaborative fields that required the ability to strike a healthy balance between a strong ego and a cooperative team spirit.  Without exception, the most talented people I’ve worked with have also been the most humble and accommodating.  Conversely, the biggest jerks have had the least talent.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence.

• Notify your backup. Do the same thing hikers and backpackers do—leave your itinerary with someone you trust.  Tell him/her what you’re doing, where you’re going, and when you’re going to be there.   That means the backup should have the photographer’s name, address, and phone number and the cell number of the phone you’re going to be carrying with you.  When you get to the shoot, confirm the duration of the session with the photographer, and then call your backup in the photographer’s presence and tell him or her when the shoot will be over and when to expect your next phone call.  If you forget to make the call when you’re working with us here at Sourcelight, we’ll suggest it, and any credible photographer will understand what you’re up to.

Of course, don’t forget to make the second call, especially if your shoot runs over.  You don’t need to be interrupted by the police breaking down the door because your backup got nervous and called for help.

• Be assertive. Take charge of your part in the production.  Bring your skills, a can-do attitude, and a professional demeanor, and expect nothing less than a positive working environment.  However informal the setting may be, there are certain behavioral standards that apply to any photo shoot, and basic respect for the dignity and personal autonomy of all participants is at the top of the list.  Every good photographer knows that the difference between a great photo and an average one is the model’s ability to shed her inhibitions and reveal something she normally keeps private.  You don’t have to be nude to feel naked and vulnerable, and asking a model to reveal herself, whether physically or emotionally, implies an obligation to be respectful and supportive.  If the set environment doesn’t inspire that kind of trust, you’re not going to do your best work, and you might find it impossible to work at all.

If someone on the set makes inappropriate sexual references to your body or suggests by word or action any kind of relationship beyond the job at hand, stand up, literally, and say, “Hey, I’m trying to do a job here, and I didn’t expect to hear a comment like that on a photo shoot.  If that continues, I’m leaving.”  Wait for the apology, and if you don’t get it, and you’re not confident that the atmosphere is going to improve, gather your things and leave immediately.  Don’t finish the shoot—not now, and not three days later as the nitwits in the example above did.  Any comment that demeans or offends you is grounds for a work stoppage, at least until you’ve expressed your disapproval and the air is cleared.  Any comment that you take seriously as threatening is legally an assault, and if you were physically handled, the charge will include battery.  Call the police and make a formal complaint.  Plus, if you met the photographer on a modeling site, file your complaint with the site moderators—no modeling site wants to get a reputation as a recruiting ground for predators.  Craigslist has been laboring—none too successfully—under that reputation for years.

Don’t be passive, and don’t let yourself be bullied into doing things you’re uncomfortable with or tolerating conduct you know would be wrong under any other circumstance.  If you’re conducting yourself in a professional manner, you have every right to expect everyone else involved to do the same; and if the photographer allows, or even precipitates, unprofessional behavior on the set, you absolutely have the right to leave.  And you should.  The sooner you get over your misguided phobia that this kind of behavior is rampant throughout the industry and realize that it’s actually an aberration that the vast majority of professionals despise and condemn, the sooner you’ll start to enjoy your modeling experience.

For some specific advice on how to deal with inappropriate behavior on the set, here’s a link to a thoughtful article by Austin, Texas-based model, Damianne.


Allow me a brief personal digression, and please forgive the indulgence.

I have 30 years of riding motorcycles all over the country.  I’ve been in every state but Hawaii and Alaska on a bike, and I still have trepidations every time I go through an intersection with cars waiting to cross my path.  Not long after I started riding, a driver jumped out in front of me, causing me to T-bone the car, fly across the hood, and tumble over a hundred yards down a Kansas City arterial.  Eventually, I came to rest with numerous minor injuries, including three cracked ribs, but I lived through every motorcyclist’s worst nightmare—the irresponsible, distracted driver who doesn’t see you.  I lived because I’d already done everything possible to manage what I could control—a well-maintained motorcycle and a full suit of protective clothing, including boots, riding pants, jacket, gloves, and a full-face helmet.  Even in 100-degree heat I don’t ride 3 blocks to the grocery store without the full rig.  Uncomfortable?  You bet, but, at least once in my bike-riding career, a life-saver.  The bike and the gear were totaled, but four weeks later the insurance settlement had me back on a new bike because I like riding.  My enjoyment of what I do trumps my fear of the remote chance of a disaster I’ve already experienced once.

I manage what I can; I ride sober, with quality gear, and I stay alert.  Cars nose out in front of me all the time, and then slam on their brakes when they see me.  I’m prepared for that—it’s routine, barely a blip on my radar.  I know, because I have over a hundred thousand miles in the saddle with only one accident, that the car that doesn’t stop is the one-in-a-million disaster you can’t prepare for.  I’m okay with that, but when my routine alertness begins to warp into crippling paranoia—when I can no longer approach an intersection without reading disaster in every car I meet—that’ll be the end for me.  You cannot ride a motorcycle on the street without an element of risk—you can minimize it, but you can’t eliminate it, and if you can’t find a way to reconcile your fear of the fall with your enjoyment of the ride, the only way left for you to manage the risk to an acceptable level of comfort is to stop riding.

If you are, at base, afraid of strangers and uncertain of your ability to manage the routine social awkwardness of the occasional jerk, an escort will not help you become the kind of confident, professional model who can take an inappropriate comment in stride and salvage a gig.  If your modeling choices are governed by fear rather than the joy of the work, you are simply in the wrong profession.  Yes, there may be a sociopath with a camera out there somewhere who wants to hurt one of the million or so models who are going to step in front of a camera this year, but odds are, it’s not you.   The worst thing you’re going to face is a handsy creep with a foul mouth, and he’ll deserve every bit of the humiliation you’re going to rain down on him for his unforgivably rotten behavior.

Hey, call me crazy, but in spite of the risks, I’m going to keep right on flying commercial airlines without a parachute.  Crazy photographers… it’s a wonder flight attendants don’t demand escorts to protect them from us.

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Modeling 101: My Body is My Canvas


Body Modifications & ModelingWow.  What used to be territorial markings sported by prison inmates, inner-city gangs, and Marines has gone mainstream with a vengeance.  The extensive tattoos and body piercings that might once have seemed daringly anti-establishment have become a de rigueur fashion statement as common as shoes and socks.  Have we arrived at a new era in personal expression or are we just going through one of fashion’s periodic cycles?

There always comes a point when an extreme fashion statement crosses the cultural divide and either becomes entrenched as a new standard or reveals itself as a temporary fad.  For the past hundred years or so, the male executive’s uniform has had to be a suit and tie in dark, conservative colors.  In the psychedelic ‘60s, bright colors, turtleneck sweaters, and Nehru jackets made a brief, but spirited run at changing the dynamic, but ultimately died as quaint fads.  Although long, uncombed manes and scraggly beards didn’t make the cut either, the now fashionable 2-day stubble is vying for permanent recognition as an acceptable grooming choice.  Jewelry for the fashionable man has always been limited to a modest ring or two and a designer watch.  While Catholic men could wear a crucifix on a chain, it was hardly a fashion statement, and the horrendous attempt to turn the gaudy pendant-on-a-chain look into required fashion during the disco era mercifully died a quick and unlamented death.  Earrings may have been an exclusively feminine accessory at one time, but over the past decade the small, modest diamond stud in one earlobe does appear to have some staying power for the fashionable guy.

Fashion, by definition, is transitory, and determining whether a major shift is going to cut a wide enough furrow to create a lasting standard or simply be cast aside for the next wave of innovation can take a decade or so to determine.  At this point in time it’s hard to know whether the extreme body modification movement is going to permanently change the standards of personal expression or simply leave its current devotees with indelible reminders of a temporary cultural fad that can’t just be thrown into a box in the attic for the grandkids to chuckle over.   At the very least, it’s going to be an interesting development to watch.

What I can say for certain is that if you’re a heavily tattooed model, your skin art will have a limiting effect on your career; as a model photographer, I can tell you, it’s a concern.

Fashion and Commercial Modeling

Whether tattoos are a problem for the commercial market is at least partially a matter of degree—the delicate rose on the hip, the small star on the ankle, even a medium-sized “tramp stamp” on the lower back (amusingly referred to, by the way, as Arschgeweih in German, which translates roughly to “ass antlers”)—tattoos that are small and easily concealed by clothing are much less of a problem than the full sleeve or back piece that creeps over the collar line.  In general, tattoos are acceptable in inverse proportion to the difficulty of covering them up, and if they’re too big, too graphic, too… much… to ignore, you won’t get called for the job.  Even if the job is a photo shoot featuring tattoos as a theme, guaranteed your ink isn’t what the art designer had in mind.  What he wants is virgin skin that he can paint his own design on—one that’s consistent with the concept.

I can hear the protests already… “But Heidi Klum has a tattoo inside her wrist, Gisele Bundchen has a star on her wrist and a moon on her foot… what about Freja Beha, Daria Werbowy, and Anna Beatriz Barro? Allesandra Ambrosio, Petra Nemcova, Isabeli Fontana… all inked. Ehrinn Cummings has a tiny, discreet frog on her right breast and elephants on her butt, Carolyn Murphy has a giant koi wrapped from her hip to her back, and James King has fairies tattooed on her back …”  Yes, they do, all of them.  The other thing they have in common is that they’re all supermodels, which means they’ve made the transition from being anonymous clothes hangers to celebrities whose names are now bigger than the brands they model.

According to Forbes magazine, Gisele Bundchen made $30 million between June of 2005 and June of 2006.  She’s listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the “world’s richest supermodel,” with a net worth of $150 million.  If you’re a mid-level designer, you wish Gisele Bundchen would say nice things about your brand, and if she wants to sport a Mike Tyson face tattoo while she’s posing, you’ll nod your head enthusiastically while you’re writing her the check.  (Of course, you might also live to regret that largesse—see the legal discussion below.)

It doesn’t matter.  Unless you’re poised to dislodge Gisele as the world’s richest supermodel, the rules are different for you, as they are for every other hard-working fashion or commercial model in the world.  In the real world, bland is better for blending in, and if your skin has more color than the swimsuit you’re modeling, it’s a problem.

Why? Because body mods are all about self-expression; modeling is… not.   Modeling is about expressing somebody else’s concepts, showcasing somebody else’s clothing designs, make-up, or handbags.  Commercial models are a prettier version of the girl next door, and the girl next door doesn’t have an eyebrow piercing, nose stud, and cheek-bone rivet—all at once—at least not yet.  Her ears are pierced—which is expected—not plugged, which isn’t.

Similarly, fashion models exhibit their own peculiar kind of interchangeable beauty.  On a runway, they’re virtually indistinguishable, which may sound insulting to say out loud but which is real and by design.  The product is the star, not the model, and the degree to which the model’s singular beauty calls attention to itself is the degree to which the audience is not watching the product.  Models are considered clothes hangers in the business, and the designer does not want his/her creations to be upstaged by the hanger.

Unless you’re a supermodel and your super-name supercedes the product, anything on your body that makes you stand out as an individual is a liability.

Fine Art Modeling

You’d think that fine-art modeling would be different, and if you’re modeling for a painter, it might be.  A painter can easily rearrange body composition that doesn’t fit the concept, including turning your nose sideways if he’s Picasso.  Skin-art distractions are minor concerns if you’re already depicting the body as a collection of abstract cubes.  Drawing and painting are additive arts—if the artist doesn’t like what he sees on a model, he just doesn’t add it.  Omitting distracting skin compositions for a photographic artist, however, is a subtractive procedure.  The photographer has to capture whatever appears in front of him, and then apply extraordinary means to remove anything that doesn’t fit the artistic concept.

If a landscape painter doesn’t want the power lines that are crossing his subject to appear in his artwork, he just doesn’t add them.  If a landscape photographer wants to eliminate power lines, he has to either laboriously remove them in post or find another landscape that doesn’t have power lines in the first place.  It’s no different if your subject is a body-scape—it’s still easier to find a model without visual distractions on his/her skin than it is to remove them from the composition.

One of the more annoying presumptions I often read in heavily tattooed models’ portfolio comments is “I have a lot of tattoos, but you can always remove them in Photoshop.”  For me, that’s like reading, “I’m 40 pounds overweight, but you can always use Photoshop’s Liquify filter to make me thin.”  Sure, those kinds of alterations can be made, with varying degrees of difficulty and success, but why would I want to waste my time and creative energy accommodating a model’s personal decision to ignore industry expectations?  If you’re paying me to fix that in your portfolio, I’m happy to comply; but if I’m paying?  I’m going to look for somebody who made life decisions more consistent with her professional ambitions.

The reason it matters involves a subtle point about fine-art photography.  Unless you’re sitting for the photographer as a portrait subject, most fine-art modeling is going to immerse you in a universal theme or compositional study in which your individual identity is not only not important, but distracting if recognizable.  Any “artwork” on your person will read like a picture within a picture and draw attention to itself, particularizing you instead of allowing you to function as a more generalized compositional element within a larger theme.  If it’s a figure study designed to explore the universally recognizable curves and planes of the human form, anything on that figure that isn’t universal is a contradiction.  For the art photographer, having to work around somebody else’s art is like a painter starting a new work on a canvas that’s already half-covered with a previous painting.

Glamour Modeling

Glamour is the one modeling genre that does grant some leeway with body modification.  Indeed, there are fetish-based sub-genres that even feature it specifically.  Even in this genre, however, the more prominent and extensive the modifications are, the more narrow the opportunities become.   At some point in the race to cover your entire body with art, you stop wearing it and it starts wearing you.  What’s more important—the gallery wall or the art that’s on it?

The Legal Landmine

Finally, all of the genres share a problem with prominent body art that’s not usually discussed, but which is potentially worrisome.  It turns out that the more artistic your body art is, the more likely your tattooist is to protect his work as any other artist would—with a copyright—and to demand royalties for the use of his art in a derivative work.  There are cases winding through the courts right now in which tattoo artists have sued for copyright infringement because their work on a client’s body appeared in commercial applications without authorization.   You can read an interesting legal discussion here.  Given all the usage-rights hassles photographers already routinely deal with, who needs this developing mess?  If I hire you to pose for an image that I intend to sell or develop myself as a commercial product—poster, greeting card, T-shirt, etc.—the only person I want to have to pay to secure the rights is you.


So you got ‘em, but sometimes you wish you didn’t.  Is there any reasonably effective way of temporarily concealing a tattoo?  Most make-up artists would agree that covering tattoos is a complicated specialty with varying degrees of potential for success.   Ironically, many of the best cover-ups were originally developed as special effects make-up to create color effects for the movie industry.  Here’s a list of some products the MUA community routinely uses:

Ben Nye Neutralizers and Concealers


Cover FX

Derma Blend

Ferbs Cosmetics

Kat Von D

Skin Illustrator

Tattoo Cosmetics

The Temptu Dura line of make-up was originally developed as a way of airbrushing tattoo inks as temporary body paint.  Dura was used in 1998 to create a full back tattoo simulation for Absolut Vodka’s “Absolut Restraint” advertising campaign and was used most notably to create Rebecca Romijn’s blue skin in the X-Men movies.  Although it is intended to be applied with an airbrush, it can also be applied using the usual methods.

The Kett Cosmetics web site also provides some very interesting videos on techniques for applying their coverage products.

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Modeling 101: The Nude Model

The Nude Modeling Decision“Man’s naked form… belongs to no particular moment in history; it is eternal, and can be looked upon with joy by the people of all ages.” Artist and sculptor Auguste Rodin

“Nudity is a problem for Americans. It disrupts our social exchange.” American painter and sculptor Eric Fischl


Ahh… the nude.

How ironic it is that one of the most honored traditions in all of art history should also be one of the most controversial.  Americans, in particular, have a peculiar collective inability to “look upon man’s naked form” with anything remotely resembling joy in this or any other age in our history.   In fact, a paralyzing ambiguity about the moral implications of the nude human form seems to be hard-wired into our national character.  On the one hand, we are viewed throughout the world as a dynamic, progressive society that champions personal freedom of expression, even to an extreme; on the other, we also are notorious for being one of the most prudish cultures in the Western world where human anatomy is concerned.  It’s hard to imagine any other “free” nation that would go to so much trouble to define just exactly how much female nipple can be displayed before the exposure becomes legally “indecent.”  While nudity is often featured in European commercials, try to imagine a commercial like this one ever appearing on American television (warning: bare breasts on display—lots of them.)

We think lots of weird things are funny, like kicks to the crotch, beer bottles smashed over the head, and fart jokes, but topless sky-diving invariably qualifies for a special condemnation on Sunday morning in America.  If you’re a Congressman, you can survive getting caught taking bribes and selling out your constituency, but if you get caught “sexting” photos of your forbidden parts, you’re banished.  We are, flat out, schizophrenic about the human body here in the Colonies.  Our no-compromise options seem to be limited to either legally suppressing and culturally censuring any exposure of the body that suggests its innate sexuality, or wantonly demeaning it through tasteless, explicitly sexual imagery as a provocative over-reaction to censorship.  Regardless, whether the impulse is to hide it or flaunt it, either extreme suggests the same maladjusted inability to just accept the body’s naturally interesting physicality and implicit erotic energy.

Why we’re that way and who’s to blame for it is grist for another article, and I’ll tackle it in more detail later in the Photography Articles series.  For now, just know this—here in Puritanica, if you choose to pose nude in front of an artist, well… Lucy, you got some ‘splainin’ to do.  Your family, friends, colleagues, employer, therapist and significant other will all feel compelled to speculate about your psychological stability, moral perspective, and cultural awareness. Your modeling agency will have an opinion too.  Is it any wonder that the decision to model nude always seems to involve considerations about everything except modeling?

It is a big decision.  Just how big depends on a variety of factors, both personal and professional, including a reasonable consideration for the effect of your decision on those people listed above.  Some of the factors you can exert a measure of control over; some of them you can’t.  All, however, deserve your attention.

Defining the nude

“The nude does not simply represent the body, but relates it, by analogy, to all structures that have become part of our imaginative experience.”  Art Historian Kenneth Clark


First, let’s be clear about what we’re discussing; frankly that can be more difficult than you might think.  Both the culture in general and the modeling world in particular have definitions of nudity that are at the same time precise and ambiguous, sensible and foolish.  So, what is it?

In general, it seems obvious that nudity can be defined as the human body without any clothing.  In practice, however, that’s not always enough.  For modeling, as long as the nipples (for women) and genitals are concealed, the exposure is defined as “implied nudity.”  In other words, whether the model was wearing a skimpy G-string and pasties or not, an “implied nude” image allows the viewer to infer that the model is fully nude behind the concealment.  How about fully naked from the rear or the side?  As long as what people in the business often jokingly refer to as the “naughty bits” aren’t visible, it’s not usually considered nude, although bare buttocks are occasionally defined as formally naughty.  Even legal jurisdictions that strictly forbid nudity even in private clubs will usually allow exotic dancers to perform as long as they’re wearing a minimally concealing G-string and pasties over the nipples.

Of course, walking down a public sidewalk with your hands over your otherwise naked pubic area and breasts will get you arrested in spite of your insistence that your nudity was only implied.  In the city of Boise, Idaho, for example (as it is in most municipal jurisdictions), the definition of public nudity is very explicit.  Here’s the ordinance:


“Nudity” means the showing of the human male or female genitals, pubic area, or buttocks with less than a fully opaque covering; the showing of the female breast with less than a fully opaque covering of any part of the nipple; the exposure of any device, costume, or covering which gives the appearance of or simulates the genitals, pubic hair, natal cleft, perineum anal region or pubic hair region; or the exposure of any device worn as a cover over the nipples and/or areola of the female breast, which device simulates and gives the realistic appearance of nipples and/or areola.


They do graciously recognize some exceptions:


This prohibition shall not apply to any child under the age of ten (10) years of age, or any person exposing a breast in the process of breast-feeding.


(In a culture driven by religious doctrine that still tends to sanction sex only for the purpose of procreation, it’s probably not surprising that the only time it’s considered appropriate to see a female breast is when it’s feeding an infant.)

Online modeling sites tend to enclose their nudity definitions within a “Mature” description, which is intended to help keep a visitor from accidentally popping a nude photograph up onto his monitor screen at work.  Without actually defining nudity, Model Mayhem, for example, lists the following as “Mature” themes which are acceptable images in a member’s gallery, but which are not allowed on the public portfolio page:

“…female nipple or areola, bare buttocks (thong or not), flaccid penises, pubic area (whether hair is present or not), see-through or semi-transparent clothing or body paint which shows any of the above.”

The nipple prohibition, of course, doesn’t apply to men, a fact which has been legally challenged by women on numerous occasions as an example of discrimination on the basis of sex.  On the other hand, males who model nude have their own unique barriers to clear since they tend to be ostracized by everybody, including female nude models.  The topic frequently comes up in online forums, and it’s always surprising how often both photographers and models who work in the fine art or glamour nude field express disgust for the nude male form.  That, of course, is ironic, given that Classical artists from the Greek and Roman eras preferred male models for their nude work on the assumption that only the male figure was worthy of artistic depiction.

The real world (at least the American version of it) where nudity is forbidden and the modeling world where nudity is commonplace are two different environments with strikingly different attitudes about the naked human form.  Which life you prioritize higher will probably determine which definition matters to you.  If work is more important to you than your personal life, then your primary concern is professional—you just need to determine if nude modeling is a good business decision—and accommodating personal issues is less relevant.  On the other hand, if your personal life is a higher priority than steady modeling work, you won’t regret any loss of opportunity that a rigid policy against nude modeling might create.

For the working model, nudity is simply one of many decisions about professional genres and personal preferences, and the definitions are all about creating billable categories.  Why is it important to be so specific?  Because, as we’ll discuss below, modeling is a service business with a rate card that reflects both supply-and-demand concerns as well as personal preferences, and nude modeling is a unique service with unique rates (full nude, implied nude, topless-only, no nudity at all…).  As we’ve also discussed throughout this series of articles, defining and publicizing your personal brand is a key part of distinguishing yourself in the Internet modeling marketplace, and a precise, matter-of-fact explanation of your nudity policy is an expected component of your brand description.

Personal  concerns

Let’s start by dealing with a reality that far too many people, including glandular teenagers, arrogant politicians, and the occasional Miss America, foolishly disregard until they’re in the middle of the disastrous consequences—anything that hits the Internet is there forever, and it’s accessible to anybody with a web connection.  Basing your decision to pose nude on the thin hope that you can control who sees it is a recipe for disaster, and unfortunately, these revelations have a tendency to pop up at the worst possible times.

Ten months into her reign as Miss America of 1984, Vanessa Williams was notified that nude photos taken of her had surfaced.  Two years earlier, while working as an assistant and make-up artist for a local photographer, she had posed nude with another model for what the photographer had described as “a new concept of silhouettes with two models.”  Although Williams believed the photos were private and insisted that she had never signed a release permitting them to be used, the public uproar and pressure from pageant sponsors forced her to resign.  This was pre-Internet; today those photos would have gone viral within minutes of the pageant results.

Moreover, your relative anonymity is no buffer against this kind of exposure.  Just because you’re not a celebrity doesn’t mean you’re not visible.  Your mom and dad may not be cruising the Internet looking for nude pictures of you, but it’s a good bet they know somebody who is.  All it takes is one disgruntled friend, bitter ex-boyfriend, passive-aggressively competitive co-worker, or nephew over the age of 10 to spread the news about the nude photos on your modeling portfolio, and you’re permanently outed.  One of our frequent models doesn’t pose nude even though she’s personally uninhibited about nudity, because she’s a single mother embroiled in ongoing custody disputes with her child’s father.  She doesn’t want to take the chance that nude photos might complicate her legal standing as the custodial parent.

When your professional activities include public photographs, you can’t expect to keep them separate from your personal life.   The rule here is brutally simple—never pose nude unless you’re willing to deal with the absolute certainty that your photos will become public at some point.  That’s “will,” not “might.”  What’s more, even if you don’t plan to become Miss America or a Supreme Court Justice, your spouse might.  One of our favorite models is completely relaxed about nudity in the studio as required for wardrobe construction, but doesn’t want nude photographs taken because she’s married to a prominent local banker.  She knows that nude images of her floating around on the World Wide Web could potentially have a negative impact on his professional reputation.

It’s tough to guess at age 18 what your privacy concerns might be when you’re 30 or older.  You may eventually decide that the nude modeling phase of your life is something you’d like to put behind you; the Internet, however, will not respect your preferences.  If you’re not prepared to integrate the title, “Nude Model,” into your life now and forever, exercise caution before you make a decision you can’t un-make.

Personal Opportunity

“There is nothing in all the world more beautiful or significant of the laws of the universe than the nude human body.” Artist and educator Robert Henri


Now that we’ve explored all the problems nude modeling can create in your personal life, you might wonder why anybody would ever make the decision to pose sans clothing, especially if large sums of money aren’t involved.  Surprisingly, many models actually prefer nude modeling for a variety of interesting reasons.

The core of their decision invariably includes a relaxed personal attitude about their own bodies and a philosophical commitment to affirming the natural dignity and beauty of the human form.  These are not people who worry about society’s disapproval of their life decisions, and as a result, for them the usually tortuous and socially perilous decision to model nude simply isn’t an issue.  In fact, it’s often a justification.  Some of our models and many of our glamour clients call us about nude photography for one or more of the following reasons:

• Defying social disapproval is exhilarating.  People who are natural rebels don’t respond well to being told how to think and behave, and their natural reaction to prohibitions that they consider unrealistic and/or unnecessary is defiance.   For the model whose personal compass doesn’t always point due north, the fact that the average person would never model nude is often the best reason for doing it.

• Nude modeling is personally fulfilling.  It affirms a model’s sense of self by moving beyond crippling self-censorship. People who are able to get past the Genesis mythology that equates knowledge and self-awareness with original sin are free to experience their bodies without guilt and explore the Freudian possibility that eroticism is a core part of human identity.  Models who cross that bridge understand that being sexy isn’t synonymous with being evil and that nude modeling is one of the most direct and accessible ways of expressing that realization.


“When we respect the nude, we will no longer have any shame about it.” Robert Henri
“Modeling nude makes me feel comfortable but also self-aware. I learn what every part of me looks like, feels like and how to control it with regards to posing/lighting, all the rest of it.” Australian Model Emmpress Mystique


• It’s socially and politically satisfying.  Nude modeling takes a quiet stand against society’s arbitrary and unrealistic linkage of personal appearance and personal worth.  Especially for women, it challenges society’s implicit decree that women are incomplete without a fashionable wardrobe and face-concealing make-up.  Nude is unadorned and simple; it exposes the body’s flaws and declares that perfection is not a requirement for beauty.

• The nude is part of an honored fine-art tradition.  Many nude models enjoy being able to participate in producing photos of an artistic nature, and they appreciate the fact that the nude is traditionally one of art’s most challenging forms.


“Shooting nudes gives us the opportunity to take chances and experiment. It’s about pushing boundaries—in art and in life.” Photographer Alex Waterhouse-Hayward


• It actually isn’t a “big deal.”  Objectively, who cares?  Think of it as the humor version of mind over matter—if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.  Or, as Tyra Banks admits, “As a model, you’re so used to taking your clothes off that you just don’t care.”  Sometimes perception trumps reality so hard that reality gets completely lost in the shuffle until somebody asks, “Seriously… what’s the big deal?”  While we urged caution earlier because it’s hard for most people to know who they really are at 18 or to be able to predict what their lives will be like at 30, the fact is that some people do know themselves that well, and warping their lives in the present to fit some frightened hypothetical future just isn’t in their nature.

Professional considerations

This one is short and simple—unless you’re a supermodel who gets to write her own custom rulebook to suit her preferences, nude modeling will generally end any chance you might have at commercial work.  Agencies don’t want to take the risk that 10-year-old nude photos of you might suddenly appear to sour their relationship with a conservative client who wants to use you for an extended campaign, and all corporations are conservative.  If you choose to model nude, your career will probably always be grounded in nude and glamour-based work.  There are exceptions, of course—mostly local, where the scrutiny will be less—but if you’re lucky enough to be considered for a national appearance, you can bet you’re going to be asked to swear there aren’t “incriminating” photos out there waiting to embarrass your new employer.

Professional opportunity

Why do it then?  Quite simply, it pays.  If you’re not interested in going through an agency or doing large-market commercial work, nude modeling, particularly in the glamour field, is a viable, steady-paying option, and it’s well-suited for freelance Internet modeling, especially if you know how to network online (see the Working the Web article for a good start).

It’s also unlikely that any nude modeling you do will adversely affect any opportunities you might have for trade-show modeling, and although it may not be the most glamorous assignment, being a “greeter” at a trade show is a dependable commercial mainstay and steady paycheck for many models.

Finally, even if the finished work doesn’t feature nudity, photographers like to work with people who aren’t overly modest in the studio because they tend to be less inhibited and more adventurous in their modeling.  That’s a big help in conceptual work, where experimentation and collaborative input are far more common than they are in straight fashion or commercial photography.

Show me the money

As we said above, modeling is a service business with a sliding-scale rate card.  What any type of modeling is worth is whatever a model is able to charge that a photographer is willing to pay.   That varies according to the market, the type of work involved, and the relative experience of the model and the photographer.  There aren’t any hard-and-fast industry guidelines to help you set your rates, so good negotiating skills and a quick mind for spontaneous, creative contract revisions are as important as your ability to pose.  Nevertheless, how you handle rate-setting for nude modeling tends to be a function of two conflicting perspectives.

1. Supply and Demand.  One perspective recognizes that since the supply of people who model nude is significantly smaller than the supply of those who don’t, nude models are likely to be more in demand than clothed models.  For the amateur GWC (Guy With Camera), that’s usually true.  The non-pro glamour photographer can talk his next-door neighbor into posing clothed for a portrait, but if he wants to shoot lingerie or nude photos, he knows he’s going to need a model and he expects to pay for the service.  Models who operate on a supply-and-demand marketing strategy usually go to elaborate lengths to further delineate the market.  They distinguish between implied nude and full nude, between full nude and topless, between erotic and non-erotic, between straight and fetish; some are up for virtually anything (if the price is right); others are willing to model nude only for “tasteful” or “artistic” photos.  And each category carries a separate rate based on the level of exposure and/or adult-content.

This tends not to work as well with professional photographers since pros don’t usually pay models unless it’s for a commercial assignment that pays both of them, and unless the photographer is routinely shooting for a men’s magazine or online nude site, most commercial jobs don’t require nudity.  This can get to be an amusing problem, especially for new models who jump into the Internet-nude market without any noticeable modeling skills other than a willingness to appear nude, but who have been told that nudity is the magic bullet that triggers large paychecks.  It’s not unusual to read something like the following, lifted directly from an actual model’s online portfolio:


“I’m an amateur model looking to expand my portfolio. I’m interested in glamour, lingerie, pin up and most of all, more fetish!  I’m willing to start out with select TFCD and work my way up, but nude/adult shoots need to be compensated, reasonable rates of course!”


The amusing part happens when she then just as predictably adds:


“I would prefer a photographer who knows how to take creative control and give good directions. I’d love to learn more about posing correctly.  Communication between photographer and model are (sic) key, I’d love to learn from you!”


By her own admission, this is “an amateur model” who would “love to learn more about posing correctly,” and “love to learn from you.”  If the “you” that she wants to “learn from” is me, I’m going to be asking myself why I would want the honor of teaching her how to be a model at my own expense.

The bottom line here is that modeling is a service business that requires certain skills and if you’re not ready to deliver those skills at a reliably high level, then just being nude is not an adequate excuse for doing your job inadequately. You may be nude, but you’re not ready to charge a pro photographer for your modeling services, and that sliding scale is only going to work for you in the amateur-photographer market.  That’s not, by the way, intended as an insult for photographers who shoot for fun instead of money.  Many experienced nude models love the GWC shooter since he is the most likely to pay for his models.  If he’s respectful, appreciative of the model’s effort, and sincere in his desire to produce quality photography, then he can also be a nude model’s best customer.

2. Modeling is modeling.   The flip side to the “Supply-and-demand” perspective refuses to turn nude modeling into a separate category as a matter of principle.  If at least part of your decision to model nude is based on one or more of the considerations listed above in the “Personal opportunity” section, then choosing to charge extra for nude work can seem like a betrayal of your own beliefs.  If you’re genuinely committed to the notion that the human body is naturally dignified and beautiful and you reject the societal insistence that revealing (or viewing) it is morally inappropriate, then creating a special rate card for nude modeling is a philosophical contradiction.

If you think about it, attitudes about nudity are at least partly a function of attitudes about clothing.  If you think the only real purposes of clothing are protecting your body from the elements and decorating it as personal expression, then a nude body simply implies good weather and a lazy sense of fashion. If, however, you think the primary reason for wearing clothes is to protect the body from being seen, then nudity represents moral jeopardy.  For those people who don’t feel morally inadequate in the nude, modeling is modeling, and they charge for the posing, not for the skin.  In fact, I know of at least two nude models who charge extra to wear clothes because maintaining a wardrobe and getting fashionably dressed for a shoot is more trouble than posing nude.

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Modeling 101: Presentation Materials


Presenting "Model You"If you’ve read through our Solving the Agency Maze, Working the Web, and You Call Yourself a Professional articles, you’re already dialed in on the need for creating a strong, recognizable brand for yourself.  We’re going to assume that you have a handle on the business in general, that you’ve given some careful thought to the type(s) of modeling you’re interested in, and that you’ve worked through the agency-vs.-independent modeling decision.  What we’re going to talk about in this section are the printed materials you need to represent that brand to potential clients.  The business world calls these presentation materials, and they’re usually designed as a package with a consistent branding theme.  Typically the presentation package includes brochures and business cards, letterhead and envelopes, and packaging materials.  Fortunately, a model usually only needs two presentation items: comp cards and a portfolio book.  At the end of this article, we’ll also talk a little bit about optimizing your images for display in your on-line galleries.

You may be wondering if you still need printed presentation materials in the digital age.  After all, you’ve given your Facebook and Twitter accounts a face lift to make them look more professional, and you have portfolios on six different model networking sites… is anybody still asking to see a paper resumé?  The short answer is yes, especially for commercial and fashion modeling jobs.  The formal portfolio book is expected and if you don’t have one when you show up for a casting call or interview, you may just get sent home.  Glamour clients, on the other hand, might or might not ask to see your book.  Agencies rarely handle glamour models and most work is already being scheduled from Internet contacts where potential clients may have already seen your online portfolio.  Still, even if the client doesn’t ask for it, the mere fact that you have a book is impressive—it shows you understand the business and have made a professional commitment to equip yourself with the tools of the trade.

Moreover, the first “client” you present your comp card and portfolio to could very well be a modeling agency.  The best way of talking an agency into representing you is to show up for the interview fully prepared with your impressively professional presentation materials under your arm.  Agencies spend a lot of time and effort grooming new models to a professional standard just to get them ready to start assembling their presentation materials; if you walk in ready to work—that is, prepared to earn money for the agency from Day One—you jump to the head of the line.

That actually brings up a question new models often ask—if you’re working for an agency, whose responsibility is it to provide the presentation materials, and whose brand goes on them?  If you’re an XYZ Agency model, shouldn’t your comp card feature the XYZ brand and contact info?

First, let’s get one thing straight—you don’t work for the agency, you’re not their employee, and they don’t pay you a salary.  The fact is, they work for you, and you pay them to perform a variety of services with a percentage of the money you receive from the modeling clients who actually do pay you to work for them.  In reality, very few agencies can provide enough work to enable all of their models to earn a full-time living, and no agency has access to all of the work that is available in any given market.

That should suggest to you that if you want to stay busy, a significant portion of your jobs will have to come through other sources—either through your own networking efforts and attending open casting calls or from other agencies that also represent you.  If you’re represented by several agencies (very common, especially in smaller markets) or you’re representing yourself, the only brand that is common to all job opportunities is you, and the only reason to sign exclusively with a single agency is if that agency can reliably line up all the work you want.  If not, their insistence on branding your presentation materials with their own logo is neither reasonable nor a requirement.  It’s your career; you need presentation materials to pursue it successfully, and those materials need to work for you.

The only commercial models who don’t need a book or a comp card are pre-teen children, for the same reason you don’t send them off to school every day in $100 shoes that they’ll outgrow in six months.  A growing child’s appearance is constantly changing and it would be wasteful to commit extensive resources to a portfolio book that would be outdated by the time it was finished.

Quality Counts

Consider that you’re going to be working with photographers, make-up artists, stylists, and art directors—people who are visually creative and accustomed to working with sophisticated imagery.  You shouldn’t have to be told that the materials you use to promote yourself as an equal member of that team need to be of the highest possible quality.

Your photos have to be professionally produced modeling images.  Your cell phone pics won’t work; neither will your high school senior portrait.  They may both be exquisite enough to make your mother cry, but they’re not portfolio photos.  For those, you need a model photographer, so either dust off your negotiating skills and find some soft touch you can talk into a TFCD session, or be prepared to hire a working pro who knows how to produce the kind of images you need.  Quality make-up isn’t optional for these either, so expect to dig down again for that.

The concern for quality also applies to your comp card, which needs to be sized correctly and professionally designed with an appropriate mix of images.

So what, you’re asking about now, is an “appropriate mix of images?”  What should you put in your portfolio book (and just what is a “comp card” anyway)? The answers can vary depending on the market, so let’s take a look.

The Portfolio Book

Portfolio BookThe portfolio book is exactly what it sounds like—a book of photos showcasing your modeling work.  Also referred to as a “portfolio case,” “model portfolio,” “model book,” or just “portfolio,” the portfolio book is your first, best, and sometimes only opportunity to sell yourself to a prospective client.  Beyond just proving that you’re attractive,  the book needs to demonstrate your versatility as a model—your age range, your ability to portray different characters, your best features, and above all, your personality.  Especially for commercial work, don’t just settle for a series of haughty fashion poses on white seamless paper—think high-end catalog shots where the models seem to be engaged in an activity.  Look approachable and friendly.  Icy beauty gets attention, but so does a bright personality that makes people smile.

This is where you collect the dividend on all that work you did earlier in identifying the genres that align your modeling interests and physical characteristics.  Your portfolio needs to highlight your ability to be a star in the kind of work you want to do.  If you don’t know what that is, and you’re trying to hit a little bit of everything in your book, or worse, you’re showing photos in a genre you’re clearly not right for, you’ll be wasting time and money and squandering every casting opportunity you get.  You’ll get one chance to make that critical first impression, and your book needs to be perfect.

Talk it over with your photographer and shoot with a well-thought-out plan designed to capture exactly the kinds of images you need to showcase your unique talents and market yourself in the genres you want to work.  The photos in your portfolio book should tell a very specific story about you, so clarify the narrative with everybody involved before you start shooting.  Bring lots of outfits, by the way.  You do want your story to suggest that you’re an experienced model who’s been around for awhile; you don’t want your portfolio to look like it was all shot in the same day.  Don’t use more than one image from the same recognizable location or showing the same clothing in your book.

How many photos do you need?  First let’s emphasize a basic and inescapable point—the photos in your portfolio book must be professionally shot images of outstanding quality.  Anything less is unacceptable and merely good cannot make the cut.  (You can post those on your Facebook wall if you must, but don’t let a casting agent see them in your book.)  Seriously, you need to be brutal about evaluating your own work, because your portfolio book should generally have a total of no more than 20 images, and they all need to be amazing.  If you’ve only been working for a year or so and you can honestly (brutally) only find 10 images that make the cut, then your book has 10 photos, period.  Quality is all that matters, and average photos that you include for filler will hurt you, not help you.  New models will often have only 6-10 images in their books, and that’s acceptable.

Industry-specific model portfolio books usually come with either 20 or 40 photo sleeves.  The extra 20 are for your tear sheets, and after you’ve been working for a while, tear sheets will be your strongest and most effective images.  Tear sheets are copies of actual advertising images that you’ve appeared in, literally “torn” from the magazine and displayed in your book.  If your photos are the promise of your modeling potential, your tear sheets are the proof.

Here are a few other considerations:


Good enough is good enough.  Your book should be durable and contain the specific features described in the next paragraph, but don’t buy more book than you need to accomplish the primary goal—displaying your photographs clearly and efficiently.  High-quality, modeling-specific books can be purchased for well under $80 from a variety of vendors (see a sample list below), and carrying a $500 Corinthian leather case with your name embossed on it into an interview with a modeling agency representative just announces that you’re the kind of person who can be tricked into buying superfluous extras.  Believe me, they don’t need that kind of encouragement.


Most true modeling portfolio books have a solid cover that is wrapped in faux-leather, although rigid vinyl covers are common.  Depending on how informal your market is, you may also see less expensive books with flexible covers.  A nice feature available in some books is a pocket inside the front and/or back covers for you to store your comp cards, slides, or job vouchers.  It’s important that the sleeves that hold and display your photos are crystal clear, and made of a material that won’t get cloudy or break down and secrete gases that damage your photos over time.

Portfolio Book detail, binding

Having the sleeves sewn into the cover spine is a lot neater and more professional looking than the 3-ring binder look.


Most portfolio books are black, although it’s not uncommon to see clear covers these days, especially in smaller markets.  If you’re represented exclusively by a single agency, they’ll probably insist that you carry their agency-branded portfolio book, which may feature the agency’s logo colors.  If it’s your choice, get black; it’s traditional, unpretentious, and exudes business-class, like a grey flannel suit and a power tie.


For decades, the standard size for a model portfolio book has been 9″ x 12″ and that size is always acceptable in every market.  In a few of the larger markets, most notably New York, the more prestigious agencies might use 11” x 14” books.  It makes for a very impressive presentation, but it’s also bulkier to carry around and more expensive to create and maintain.  Tear sheets will usually be taken from a magazine page, which, in the U.S. usually means 8½” x 11″, which still fits fine inside the 9 x 12 sleeve.  Actors always use an 8×10 book.   Obviously, if you’re represented exclusively by an agency, your “preferred” size will be whatever they hand you.  You’ll need your photos printed in the book’s nominal size, and 9 x 12, in particular isn’t a standard size for your local one-hour photo lab.  Your photos should be in the portrait (vertical) mode, by the way; the person who’s looking at your book doesn’t want to have to keep turning it sideways to view landscape-mode photos.


You can find decent 3-ring binder albums almost anywhere, including photography stores, framing shops, and business supply outlets like Office Depot and Staples.  Most will have 8½” x 11″ sleeves, though actors may find 8″ x 10″ books at photo stores.  Art-supply shops usually carry dedicated portfolio cases, although it’s unlikely you’ll find anything in general-purpose retail outlets that specifically displays the traditional 9 x 12 modeling portfolio  photograph.  For that, you’ll need to look at specialty shops that cater directly to the model and actor markets.

One of the best is Portfolio Mart, which carries a terrific selection and range of affordable professional modeling cases in 9 x 12, 11 x 14, and 8½ x 11 sizes.  The prices range from as low as $20 to as high as $80.

California-based  Itoya’s Art Profolio line is an excellent low-cost alternative to more expensive books.  The Evolution EV-12-9, a clean vinyl-covered book with simulated stitching around the edges, can be purchased from respected online photo equipment giant Adorama, for example, for under $8.  The PU-24-9 is a surprisingly luxurious case that goes for around $35.  Itoya doesn’t sell directly from its website, so you’ll have to track down one of the distributors listed on the site.  We’ve purchased numerous items from both Samy’s and Adorama over the years, and can recommend either one.  If you can find an Aaron Brothers Art & Framing store in your city, you may be in luck—at least some of the outlets carry Itoya portfolios.  Boise, Idaho models rejoice—there’s one in town and it carries Itoya products.

If you really can’t resist the urge to flash the ritz, Brewer-Cantelmo offers custom made portfolios with prices to match.  If you got it, you might as well flaunt it, but if money’s tight, hiring a good photographer to upgrade your photos is a better investment. There’s a limited number of potential clients who will be impressed by the fine leather and embossed name on your book, but everyone can appreciate superior photos.

The Comp Card

The Composite (Comp) Card is your modeling business card.  It’s also occasionally referred to as a Zed card, a mispronunciation of the Sed Card named for Sebastian Sed, an early developer of the product.  As the generic name indicates, the comp card is a double-sided composite of the model’s photos printed on card stock.  The standard size is 5.5” x 8.5” which is a letter-sized (8.5 x 11) document cut in half.  The usual format is a single strong image on the front, with a diverse selection of 3-5 images, plus the model’s basic stats on the back.

The Zed/Sed or Comp Card

If the portfolio book is your modeling story in pictures, the comp card is the sizzling movie-trailer highlight reel.  Everything said above about creating an impact with your portfolio book goes double for the comp card.  You have a maximum of six pictures to create a favorable impression of your personality and demonstrate the range of your talent.  Your front-side picture, especially, has to stand out.

Imagine that you’re a commercial photographer who’s just landed a contract to provide all of the images for a clothing catalog; or you’re an advertising agency art director who’s about to start production on an advertising campaign.  It’s your job to find models for the assignment.  You could call models you’ve already worked with, except that the client wants fresh faces who haven’t already appeared in his competitors’ advertising.  You don’t have time to post a public casting call and risk not having the right people see the notice, so you email your requirements to a modeling agency and ask them to send you a list of their people.  The agency immediately sends you a huge stack of comp cards.

Even that might take too much time, so you go directly to the agency’s office and ask to look through an even bigger stack yourself.  You may very well find—in no particular order—all of the agency’s model comp cards arrayed on a display rack.

Here’s what’s going to happen—you’re going to pull the fifteen or twenty cards that jump up and grab your attention and spread them all out on a table top.  Again, the six to ten cards that stand out are going to get picked up and carted back to the office for a final decision by the creative team.  At every step in the process, if the feature image on the model’s card isn’t an attention grabber, it doesn’t make the cut.

A quality comp card is an essential component of the working model’s networking tool kit.  It sees the client before you do, and opens the door for you to come in for the interview; it stays with the client after you’re gone and continues to lobby for you.  It’s your calling card when you’re trying to get an interview with a modeling agency, and as you walk out the door, it’s what you leave with the receptionist at the front desk.  After it helps get you a job, while you’re sitting in the chair with the make-up crew, you ask them, “Do you mind if I give you my card?” and then you ask them if they have a card for you.  The photographer asks if you have a card he can add to the file he keeps to remind himself which models he’s enjoyed working with, and which he can also pull out and show to any of his own clients who might ask for his advice on selecting a model.  You give it to everybody.  This is how you play the networking game, and the comp card is your ace-in-the-hole.

Other concerns:


The basic layout for your comp card is a full-page head shot on the front side with either your first-only or full name and no other copy, and a symmetrical display of four shots on the back, with your full name, contact information, and required stats.  The key “stand-out” element, of course, is the quality of your photographs, but a striking graphic design can certainly help with the “wow” factor.  If you’re graphically inclined, you can make your own basic design using templates at most of the printers listed below, and some of them also provide custom design services.  Many model-portfolio photographers also offer comp card design and printing services (yes, we design cards and arrange for printing at Sourcelight Photography—well, you were wondering, right?).


Cards should be printed on a good white card (not paper) stock with a minimum of 100# weight.  Stock quality may also be expressed in point size, and anything over 12-point is acceptable.  14-point is excellent.  Some companies also will apply a UV coating that adds a glossy sheen and a bit more perceived weight.

Color or Black-and-White

The perception that presentation materials for models and actors have to be black-and-white is a holdover from the days when color printing was second-mortgage expensive, and B&W was simply the only medium most people could afford.  That’s all different now, and most comp cards are in full, rich color.  Can you still use black-and-white?  Of course—it never goes out of style, and a well-shot B&W is always impressive.  You won’t get a break on the printing costs, though, which should tell you how affordable color has become.

Printing Processes

There are three processes you’re likely to encounter when you’re researching printers.  The cheapest is color laser printing, which has improved tremendously in the past few years, but still has problems rendering the kind of high-density color you find in model portfolios. It also tends to lose detail at the contrast extremes of shadow and highlight, and can’t print on glossy paper stocks.  It’s not recommended for photographic documents where showing off the quality of the photo is the point of the document.

The next step up in quality is digital offset printing, and the quality of the newest generation printers, like the HP Indigo Iris, is, for all intents and (most) purposes, photographic, and there’s no limitation on paper stocks.  Since it’s a digital process, it works from files rather than mechanical plates, which means the setup is no more expensive for a single print than it is for a thousand.  The process is relatively expensive, but since there’s no setup fee, offset digital can be an affordable option up to about a hundred copies.

The most common high-quality color printing is done on a traditional, offset lithographic press.  These are large industrial presses that apply CMYK color inks in 4 separate passes.  Since the setup is often the most expensive part of the job, offset lithography is rarely affordable unless you need at least 500 copies.  If you do, however, the per-copy price can be quite reasonable, and the quality is what you see in high-end magazines.

Most Internet comp card printers will probably be offering either color laser or digital offset prints, although one, Color Comp Cards (see next), amazingly claims to use offset lithography, and their prices are only marginally more expensive than the other printers listed.

Printing Companies

Local printers. Don’t hesitate to contact local print shops.  They know what they’re up against from the Internet vendors, and they’re often surprisingly competitive.  Since they won’t specialize in comp card printing, their graphics departments won’t have templates and will be available for custom designs.  I always prefer to patronize local business if I can rather than sending my money out of state, so at least give the locals a chance before you hit the Internet to check out the next few options.

Zed Card Printers, Model Cards, Buy Comp Cards, Comp Card, and Comp Card Express are all Internet-based comp card printers offering basic products and services for reasonable prices.  They’ll generally ask you pick a template and either upload digital files or mail in prints that they will scan and insert into the template.  Several of them also offer basic design services if you don’t feel like populating a template yourself.  I don’t have personal experience with them, so I can’t vouch for their quality or their service.  Most do offer a free or low-priced print proof, so before you order 250 cards, be sure you approve the quality of their work.

My Zed is quite possibly the most rudimentary do-it-yourself comp card creation site I’ve ever seen.  If you’re determined to design your own card and following simple written directions is too complicated for you, this is the Sesame Street version.  Needless to say, the templates are… straight-forward.

Color Comp Cards uses the premium custom offset lithographic printing process and offers some of the highest quality printing and card stock available.  The cost is a bit higher, but not significantly so.   They also offer custom design services, and in fact boast that they don’t use templates.  This also means that you can’t build your own card on their site, although if you (or your designer) are capable of creating your own design without a template, you can send any of the printers listed here a finished file.


Printing costs for everything have lowered considerably with the advent of digital printing, and color comp cards are now reasonably affordable.  Most of the printers listed above start their prices at around $100 for 100 cards, and the price drops to under $200 for 250 cards.  As mentioned, Color Comp Cards is a bit higher—$139 for 100 cards—but the promise of photographic quality from an offset lithographic press is certainly worth looking into.  Obviously, if you could afford it, buying your cards in lots of 500 or more could potentially drive the price down to pennies per card, but I don’t recommend it.  Especially in a small market, 250 cards should easily get you through a year, and as a new model, you’ll probably want to update your card with some of the new photos you’re going to be posing for.


Mini-comps are comp cards reduced to business-card size (2” x 3.5”).  You can design them just as specialty one-sided business cards, with a single image and your contact information on the front, or create them as actual mini-comp cards, with an additional picture and all of your contact info and stats on the back.  Most of the printers listed above also offer minis.

Obviously you won’t get the visual impact that you would with a full-size comp card, but mini-comps are certainly more convenient to carry and in some circumstances may be less intrusive to hand out.  Handing someone a comp card is an unmistakable marketing gesture, which is fine if the recipient is embedded deeply enough in the industry to expect it.  People who are only marginally involved with the modeling industry, however, and who might raise an eyebrow at your comp card wouldn’t think twice about receiving a simple “business card.”  Minis are not a substitute for a full-size comp card, but if you can afford it, they’re a very nice complement.

Web Portfolios

Finally, a few tips on optimizing your photos for online portfolio display.  For a more general discussion on choosing a portfolio site and making a splash with your verbal presentation, see our article on Working the Web.

Image Sizing

Your images need to be sized to fit the expected display space provided on the modeling site’s interface.  Some of them pop up a non-resizable window and if your image is larger than the window, it will fall outside of the display and have to be scrolled for full viewing.  That’s annoying.

Even without the window, you have to anticipate the average resolution setting on most monitors.  That dimension has steadily grown over the years as monitor prices have fallen and people have upgraded the size of their monitors.  At one time the average monitor was a 14” display and the largest practical resolution was 800 x 600 pixels.  If you tried to display a 1000-pixel-wide image, 20% of it would fall off the monitor.  Now that affordable flat screens are available, the average monitor size is probably 19” or more, and the default resolution is going to range anywhere from 1280 x 1024 pixels all the way up to 1600 x 1200.  Conservatively then, that should mean that anything smaller than, say, 1200 pixels wide by 1000 pixels tall should display without scrolling.  As a practical matter, however, a few model networking sites limit image size to no more than 800 in the longest dimension.  If you upload a larger photo, they’re going to compress it using their crappy site algorithms, and you’ll likely wind up with a heavily pixelized JPEG mess.  Consequently we always deliver our model files at a maximum dimension of 800 pixels on the longest side.  It’s big enough to provide decent detail and quality, but small enough to fit all displays without scrolling.  Oh, and the model sites will leave it alone.

A word about DPI (dots per inch), by the way.  There’s a lot of misunderstanding about this term on the Internet, and you may come across some confusing discussions in the forums of your model networking site.  Images are usually tagged with a DPI rating, usually something like 200 or 300 for print and 72-100 for monitor display.  The monitor-display setting is an irrelevant holdover from an earlier era, and you can safely forget about it.  DPI has nothing to do with monitor display; it is strictly a print specification that tells a printer how many ink dots to spray inside of an inch of paper space.  An inch is always an inch on paper, so if your 1200-pixel-wide image gets sent to the printer with a 300 dpi specification, it’s going to print at 4 inches wide (1200 ÷ 300 = 4).  If you told it to print at 200 dpi your 1200-pixel image would be 6 inches wide, and so on.

Your computer display, however, is measured in pixels, and the number of actual inches of display that will create is a function of your resolution setting.  Here’s an example.

Let’s say you have a monitor that measures 14 inches across, and let’s say you’ve set your resolution (remember, it’s a Preferences setting; you can vary it) to 1280 pixels wide by 1024 pixels high.  That means that one inch of actual distance on your computer monitor is going to contain approximately 91 and a half pixels ((1280 ÷ 14 = 91.43) or, roughly 91 ppi (pixels per inch).  So how many inches wide is your 72 dpi, 640 x 480 image?  As you’ll see, that’s strictly a function of the relationship between your actual, fixed monitor screen size and the arbitrary resolution that you selected for display.  Since a 640-pixel-wide image will occupy exactly half of a 1280-pixel-wide display, and since your monitor screen is 14” wide, your image will be 7 actual inches wide.  If your monitor was 20” wide your image would now display at 10 inches wide using the same 1280 x 1024 resolution.  On the monitor, it makes no difference whatsoever what dpi setting you specify; your monitor ignores it and displays the image according to its actual pixel count.

Clear as mud?  All you need to remember is that when you resize your image for web display, make the long side 800 pixels.  Since most of the images we deliver are in the 9 x 12 portfolio aspect ratio, that usually means a 600 by 800 pixel image.  We also try to strike a healthy balance between a fat, juicy bit count for maximum quality and a decent respect for the site’s bandwidth/display concerns.  You’ll have the option when you apply the final JPEG compression to choose a quality level, and we always shoot for something that yields a file around 150-200k in size.  Again, big enough to maintain some quality, but small enough to load quickly.

And, just for kicks, set the dpi specification at your age.  For some of us, that’s a pretty respectable number.

Color Space Issues

Frequently, a model or photographer will post a desperate question on a modeling portfolio website that goes something like “Why do my photos look so awful when I upload them to my portfolio?  They’re fine when I view them in Photoshop on my computer, but when I look at them in my online portfolio they’re all washed out and the color is off—what’s wrong with this site?”

The answer is a complex problem with a simple fix.  The colors in your photos look desaturated and inaccurate because you’re using the wrong color space.  Say what?

Accurate color is actually a very complex challenge to reproduce.  Creating a particular shade of blue in the typical 4-color print process, for example, requires a very precise mixture of the base cyan, magenta, and yellow inks.  It’s called CMYK, with the K referring to black, since a pure black is hard to create by simply mixing the other three.  Accurate color also has to take into account the relative whiteness and reflectivity of the paper the photo is being printed on, and every paper stock will require a custom color formula to create the same color value.  Those formulas can shift over time as printers age and inks and paper are replaced, so pro labs recalibrate their process almost daily (which is why we don’t enthusiastically recommend that you have your Sourcelight photos printed at the local WalMart 1-hour lab).

Color on your computer monitor, however, is created and displayed by shining a back-light through an equally complex mixture of red, green, and blue pixels.  It’s called RGB, and there are 256 levels of each color, ranging from deep, saturated color to an almost washed out version.  When you multiply 256 x 256 x 256, you get nearly 16.8 million color possibilities.  The tiny differences between any two adjacent colors are far too small to be processed by the human eye, which is in fact the basis for JPEG compression.  JPEG’s sophisticated, bio-based algorithms simply evaluate the image and eliminate color differences it knows we can’t detect anyway by creating an average value of any 16-pixel grouping.  So if we can’t see them, why do we need so many colors in the first place?  Because color in the real world, meaning the visual landscape you capture in a camera, is actually a broad spectrum of mixed shades.  Accurately depicting a blue sky requires thousands of shades of blue from the darkest to the lightest points in the sky; throw in a deep red sunset on the horizon, and you’re up to millions of colors.

Why does all this matter?  Consider the simple problem of trying to match a computer image’s colors in a print—one is made with combinations of red, green, and blue light; the other is comprised of a completely different mixture of cyan, magenta, and yellow ink.  It would be a lot easier if the processes used the some component colors, but since they don’t, making them compatible requires the use of extremely sophisticated conversion formulas.  How does a little bit of R, a little bit more G, and not very much B translate into some comparable mix of C, M, and Y?  Figuring it out can take a lot of time-consuming calibration and expensive trial and error, and in the end, the conversion is never perfect.  RGB simply doesn’t translate perfectly into CMY, and the prints we get from digital files are always a compromise.

We have similar problems inside of digital display.  CRT monitors can display colors differently than flat-screen LEDs.  Expensive professional monitors show more colors more accurately than cheap consumer models.  Software programs that deal with color all have their own ideas about how to create the RGB-mixing formulas.  How do we deal efficiently and consistently with those 16.8 million colors so that they all look the same in every circumstance, in every software program, on every monitor?  The question got prickly and real as the Internet evolved from a text-based medium to a visual medium.  The eventual answer was the sRGB color space, a lowest-common-denominator standard for displaying color on a computer.

In 1996, Hewlett Packard and Microsoft got together and asked the basic question: “What is the minimal performance standard we can expect from the average consumer computing system—OS, software, display card, and monitor?”  If you‘re interested, you can read a technical presentation about the process here, but the gist of it is they were looking for a consistent method of managing color so that it would display in a similar manner across the widest possible spectrum of display devices.  The specification they created, sRGB, has indeed become an industry standard and is now the defacto display mode for all Internet-based color.  The problem is that in order to make it compatible with home-based computing systems, the standard was deliberately dumbed down to encompass only the limited range of colors expected in consumer-level displays.  It’s quite possible that the system you’re reading this on is capable of displaying richer and more natural color than you’re seeing, but you won’t see it because all of the images have been translated to the reduced-spectrum sRGB standard.

Professional image producers typically work in a larger color space that doesn’t limit the full range of color available to them.  The most common professional color space is Adobe RGB, a standard created by Adobe for use in their image-processing programs like Photoshop.  More colors mean better fidelity to the original image throughout the process, from camera capture through professional printing.  In a professional system that recognizes and can support the broader color space of Adobe RGB, colors will also display accurately on a computer monitor.  Unfortunately, when an Adobe RGB image is displayed on consumer-level equipment that is expecting the smaller sRGB range, weird things can happen.  Colors get washed out and are often displayed inaccurately, particularly in the blue and green range.  Most notable are typical red skin tones, which turn a sickly green (see the example below).

sRGB vs. Adobe RGB colorspace comparison

If your photo looks color-accurate on your monitor in Photoshop but green on the same monitor when displayed in your modeling portfolio, then either the modeling site or the browser you’re using is incapable of reading the color-space info planted in the metadata and is simply defaulting to sRGB display.  Some browsers, Firefox for example, are smart enough to detect the color space and display your images correctly; others—Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, for example (no surprise)—can’t read color space tags and always default to sRGB.  The solution?  Before you upload your Adobe RGB photo files to an Internet-based display, convert the color space profile to sRGB.  Be sure to use the “Edit/Convert to profile” rather than the “Edit/Assign Profile” option.  Photoshop understands the process and applies sophisticated algorithms to minimize the damage, and unless you have some extreme and unusual color ranges in the image, you probably won’t notice a difference.  Sure, it’s annoying to have to essentially degrade the quality of your images in order to accommodate the arbitrary limitations of a display medium, but it beats letting Model Mayhem recolor your images on the fly.

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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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Modeling 101: Solving the Agency Maze


Go to Agency InformationIf you’ve read this far, you already know that a modeling career won’t just happen by itself.  You know it’s going to take disciplined preparation, a sound marketing strategy, and intelligent management.  You also know that if you’re interested in Fashion or Commercial modeling, your management needs to come through a modeling agency.  You may have even looked into it, and discovered that it’s not only hard to find a good agency, but even harder to find good information on how to apply to one.  If you’re really industrious and keep digging, eventually you’re going to open Pandora’s Box and find so many confusing terms you may start to wonder if they’re muddying the waters on purpose (hint: sometimes they are).  Don’t give up; it is possible to find your way through the maze.  But first, we need to run down some of that confusion.

Let’s start with the most basic: “What is a modeling agency?”  There’s a simple answer and one you need to hang onto as we meander through the cornfield: a modeling agency is an organization that finds paid modeling work for models. Whatever else it may or may not do, if it doesn’t book modeling work for its members, it’s not an agency.  That implies two very important criteria: an agency has both clients that need models and models that it can supply to clients. Those clients might include photographers, advertising and marketing firms, large corporations, or anybody else that routinely uses models.  This may seem obvious, but it’s really not.  Think about it—it’s not easy to become a real agency.  You can’t get a workable group of reliable models if you don’t have a critical mass of clients to hire them, and you can’t get reliable clients if you don’t have a critical mass of models to supply them.  It’s a Catch 22 that explains why a lot of organizations presenting themselves as modeling agencies really aren’t, and why the first two questions you should ask when considering signing with an agency are 1) How many models do you have, and 2) Who are your clients?  And be specific—pick 5 names at random from their model list and ask for their contact information.  Then call the models and ask for their impressions of the agency’s ability to find them work.  Call a few of the bigger names on their client list and speak with the marketing department to ask how often they book models and how satisfied they are with the service they receive from the agency.  In a local market, talk with advertising agencies and commercial photographers and ask the same questions.  Sound like a lot of work?  Why, yes, it is.  You are serious about this, though, right?

Another important distinction: model agencies make their money from commissions on their models’ contracts; if the models don’t work and don’t get paid, neither does the agency.  Why does that matter?  Because a legitimate agency won’t sign models that it doesn’t feel confident it can regularly place in paid modeling work.  Commissions are how they make their money, and it should tell you that if the “agent” you’re talking to is asking for a hefty signing fee to take you on, s/he’s not for real.  Real agencies don’t charge up-front signing fees, which is how you know they’re going to work really hard to find you the paying jobs that do put money in their pockets.  It’s pretty simple: do you want to contract with someone who has no incentive to find you work after you hand over a few hundred (or thousand) dollars in a signing fee or with somebody who only makes money when you’re actually working?  (There are, by the way, legitimate start-up expenses that you should expect to incur when signing with an agency—see Agency Scams, below—but you’ll never be asked to pay a fee just to be accepted.)

There are a few other things to look for.  You’re in the image business now, and so is the agency.  They have to look the part to reassure both models and clients that they’re for real.  It’s a pretty safe bet that a real agency is going to have an actual, brick-and-mortar address with a business telephone and somebody to answer it.  They’ll be listed in the business section of the phonebook , and they’ll have a website with a dedicated domain name.  If your would-be agent is working out of his car and you can’t find him either in the phone book or on the Web, he’s not for real.  (It’s not a bad way to evaluate a photographer either, by the way; whether or not s/he maintains a studio, a pro is going to make the necessary investment in professional presentation.  While we’re on the subject, it’s one of the ways photographers evaluate how serious you are too.  We’ll talk about that more in And You Call Yourself a Professional.”)

By the way, just to confuse things a bit, you should know that not every legitimate modeling agency calls itself by that term.  In some markets, most notably New York, the companies that do the work of agencies call themselves “Management” companies, and don’t mention the words “model” or “agency” in their title anywhere.  This has nothing to do with the work they do, and everything to do with the legal definitions and regulatory hoops they’re required to jump through by the local jurisdiction.  To make matters worse, there are people who call themselves “Model Management” companies, but don’t book modeling work.  Whatever the title, you still evaluate their legitimacy by asking the same question: do you find paying work for the models you represent?

The Model Manager

The “management company” title that NYC agencies use as a legal convenience is regrettable, because it’s similar to another type of representation, the Model Manager.  The similarity is unfortunate because the model manager function is so often abused that its legitimate functions are virtually lost in what seems like a perpetual fog of bad intent.  So what is a model manager?

In theory, a model manager could be someone who knows the modeling business well and helps a new model prepare him/herself to apply to an agency.  That may include initial consultation about the industry in general and the model’s particular opportunities, portfolio development with quality photographers, comp card design and printing, and some measure of training in how to present and conduct him/herself as a working professional.  If the model’s goals require changes—weight loss (or gain), skin care, better physical fitness, make-up awareness, posing techniques, communications skills, etc.—a good manager will be able to recommend viable resources to address perceived problems in the model’s presentation.  Certainly, a model should be able to expect a legitimate model manager to be able to recommend at least a few modeling agencies that s/he can apply to and some reasonable advice about how to make the application.

What the model manager doesn’t do, however, is book work for the model.  As you already know, that’s what an agency does.

Unfortunately, all too often the “model manager” title is taken as an unregulated invitation to abuse and exploit impressionable young women who have a dream of working in the modeling profession.  They almost always charge extravagant advance fees for their “services,” have little or no incentive to help the model pursue modeling work from other sources, and in fact often obstruct models from branching out and growing in the profession.  Since most of their income is derived from “signing up” new models, it goes without saying that they’ve never met a prospect who wasn’t the next big success story, but after they collect their fee, they have little interest in furthering the model’s career (of course, if she does manage, almost certainly without his help, to secure a paying job, the manager will be happy to collect a hefty commission).

Who are they? Occasionally he’s the model’s control-freak boyfriend, who has little interest in helping her become an autonomous professional capable of functioning independently without his “guidance.”  More frequently, he’s a self-proclaimed “glamour photographer” who uses a young woman’s insecurities and desire to please to talk her into posing naked in his studio.  Since his interest is exclusively in nude photography, he steers the 18 and 19 year-old women he prefers to photograph toward glamour nude work and gives them the impression that any natural reluctance they may be feeling about posing naked in front of a stranger is an aberration in the modeling business.  What he doesn’t tell them is that the all-nude portfolio he’s about to produce will effectively eliminate their ability to sign with a mainstream agency, since nudes are precisely what the agency doesn’t want to see on a model’s resumé.  It won’t help with professional commercial photographers, either, as many will simply refuse to work with models who are represented by model managers.

The bottom line: the typical model manager’s influence probably won’t hurt your career  if what you want to specialize in is Internet nude modeling (and we’re not saying there’s anything wrong with that) since mainstream agencies weren’t going to handle you anyway.  On the other hand, if your model  manager is presenting himself as an agent who can book commercial work for you, he’s misleading you.  That nude portfolio and his bad reputation are going to kill any chance you might have had at a mainstream modeling career before it began.

The Mother Agency

Here’s another term you’ll eventually run into if you spend enough time in the maze, and like the model manager, it can be applied both to someone who performs a valuable function and to unethical people who use the label to take advantage of would-be models and their families.  Briefly, a mother agency is a local agency that has strong ties to a larger agency in one of the major markets, perhaps even including international locations, and can ease the way for a local model to gain representation there through the larger agency.  The mother agency finds talented local models with big-market potential, grooms them with training and local work while s/he prepares for the transition, and then provides introductions for the jump to the big time when the model is ready.  Like a good model manager’s function, the mother agent’s job is finished when the model signs with the bigger agency.

So what’s wrong with that?  Nothing, if the agency actually does what it claims.  In fact, it can be extremely valuable if you’re determined to make the kind of full-time career out of modeling that a small market just can’t sustain.  Without knowledgeable preparation and insider introductions, you’ll be just another pretty face in a huge crowd of pretty faces trying to crash the big-city party without a calling card.  If you’re already in New York and you really are talented enough to interest a big agency, you can get enough information from sites like this and the other links we’ll provide to make the rounds on your own; if you’re an inexperienced newby from Boise, Idaho, the Big Apple can be a scary—and expensive—place to wander around in looking for work, and the support of a good mother agency would be helpful and welcome.

A bad mother agency, however, is anything but helpful.  Bad mother agencies start off by being bad agencies.  They don’t pass the basic test of finding local work for their local models, so they don’t make money on commissions.  Instead, they make money by selling you everything else—sign-up fees, expensive training, overpriced photography by their in-house photographer, boring generic comp-cards at custom-design prices, and anything else they can talk you into believing you can’t be a model without.  A bad mother agency is probably a scam, and we’ll deal with that in the Agency Scams section below.

So, how do you find a good mother agency?  Assuming you need one, start with a process you’ve already been through.

You start by doing the basic work of verifying the legitimacy of the mother’s “agency” status using the same criteria as above, beginning with the base question: do you find paying work for models?  If it doesn’t pass the smell test as a local agency, then it’s not likely to be a legitimate mother agency either.  Additionally, even if you determine that the agency is doing real work locally for its models, you then have to find some way of verifying the claim that the agency has a mother relationship with the bigger agency.  That can be difficult too.

The mother agency concept is real.  Large, primary-market agencies do seek out partnerships with local and regional agencies to identify and groom local talent.  Consider the Wilhelmina International example.

Wilhelmina is a well-regarded New York-based agency with a global reach, including branch offices in Los Angeles, Miami, and Munich, Germany.  It also actively solicits relationships with regional agencies for the purpose of finding new talent.  From the Wilhelmina web site: “Wilhelmina Models also works with various licensees as well as hundreds of local model management firms across the country and globally to garner a variety of talent.”  There are, in fact, Wilhelmina “affiliates” all over the country, including Salt Lake City and Denver in our area sporting the Wilhelmina name.  Even Boise has an agency that appears to have been a local branch of the Salt Lake City affiliate at one time.  So does that make them all Wilhelmina Mini-Me’s?  Hardly.

Mostly they’re just local agencies that pay a considerable fee for the privilege of licensing the Wilhelmina name.  Wilhelmina International apparently does not prescribe or monitor their activities, nor are they subject to the parent corporation’s published Code of Ethics, which clearly states that it applies only to “the Company and all of its subsidiaries and other business entities controlled by it worldwide.”  To repeat, Wilhelmina International does not control its affiliates, much less those “hundreds of local model management firms across the country.”  In fact, a Portland, Oregon affiliate, Wilhelmina MTG, appears to have recently crashed and burned through mismanagement and accusations of fraud and financial improprieties, both from clients and former employees.  Wilhelmina UTG in Salt Lake City is on a Utah model cooperative’s blacklist, and generates the usual round of complaints about “bad mother agency” practices.  Their own website uses the usual sleight of hand to confuse visitors about the nature of their relationship with Wilhelmina International: “Wilhelmina Models is one of the largest modeling agencies in the world, founded by legendary supermodel Wilhelmina Cooper in 1967. Today, we lead the industry in diversity and depth and represent some of the biggest models and celebrity talent across the globe.”  Wilhelmina UTG even lists itself in the “About” section of the site as one of four U.S. offices, along with New York, LA, and Miami, even though, as indicated above, they are only listed as an affiliate by Wilhelmina International.  Uh, notice how that “we lead the industry” got slipped in there?  There’s no “we” here; Wilhelmina UTG is not Wilhelmina International, and that impressive client list didn’t get generated out of Salt Lake City either.

Even Wilhelmina is concerned enough about the abuses conducted using its name to issue the following disclaimer on its website:

“ is the only official website of Wilhelmina International, Inc., one of the preeminent model management firms in the world. Impostors have used websites and email addresses incorporating the Wilhelmina name. Such activities do not have the authorization of Wilhelmina International, Inc. and they are fraudulent.“

Not to pick on Wilhelmina—they’re a major player in the business and their reputation is solid—but if even Wilhelmina recognizes that its name is no guarantee of authenticity, how are you supposed to vet your local agency’s claim to have a functional mother relationship with a large agency?

My conclusion is that if the local agency’s primary value to you is its claimed mother relationship with a big-market partner, you should exercise caution.  Choose your local agency because they’re doing a good job of placing local models in local work.  If they seem to be more interested in titillating you with promises of the big city than they are in helping you make the most of your local modeling experience, keep an eye on your purse.  Personally, I wouldn’t believe any extravagant mother-agency claims until I’d had a chance to sit down for a believable, non-pressure chat with the person in charge and been given the names and contact information of several local models who have made the jump to a large market with the assistance of the person sitting in front of me.  Ask hard questions and expect real, verifiable answers.  If you don’t get ‘em, walk.

Modeling Schools

Do you need to go to a modeling school?  In a word, no.  Are they completely useless, maybe even a scam?  Not necessarily.

A good school—that is, one that’s managed by somebody who actually has real experience in the modeling business and some teaching ability—can certainly help you improve your posture and probably teach you how to walk less awkwardly in heels.  They could give you some instruction on skin care and personal make-up, although it probably won’t be the very specific information required to know how to prepare your skin for a photo shoot.  The best thing they could teach you is something about how the modeling business works, about how tough it is and how small your chances are of making a living at it, but do you think a “school” that depends on inflating your unsophisticated dream of becoming a supermodel is really going to include that in the curriculum?

Modeling school can be fun, and if you or your family can afford it as a recreational lark, by all means, go for it.  Just don’t expect that your Barbizon diploma will improve your chances of getting a job as a model, because it won’t, period.  It’s highly unlikely they’ll teach you the most important thing you could learn—how to apply to an agency—and in fact, most legitimate agencies would really rather you didn’t go to a modeling school; moreover, sad to say, if you’ve already attended, it’s not going to be a real asset for your resumé.  If I were you, I wouldn’t mention it.

Are they a scam then?  Let’s try this definition: a scam promises you a service under false pretences, takes your money for that service, and then does what it knew it was going to do from the beginning, which is either fail to deliver the service completely or bait-and-switch it with a cheap substitute.  The better modeling schools will deliver what they promise; it’s just that what they promise isn’t really what you need, and in fact what you do need can be acquired from other sources, usually for free.

Sharon Johnson, my wife and Sourcelight partner, is a former runway model who actually used to teach informal classes for her modeling agency.  She could teach you everything you need to know about walking a runway in about ten minutes.  Buy her a decaf latte, and she’ll be happy.  Buy her lunch and she’ll teach your whole family.  Any good model photographer can teach you most of what you need to know about posing techniques in a couple of hours.  Work a session with him, and he’ll offer a lot of it for free just to help move the session along.  The rest you can learn by standing in front of a mirror with a posing chart.

You become a model by modeling in real modeling settings, and a good agency will help you achieve that by arranging for test shoots with actual photographers working in the field and/or by sending you out on low-pressure jobs.  If you really do need training, most good agencies have at least some informal training available to specifically address shortcomings in your technique or appearance and there’s usually little or no charge for it.

But up to a year of formal classes that mostly flatter your dream without actually teaching you what you need to know to achieve it?  How much discretionary income do you have available to blow on extravagant whims?

By the way, I’m not trying to promote Sourcelight Photography as some kind of pseudo modeling agency, and we certainly have no desire to function as a school for models.  I’m just saying that most of the technical information you need to work in the modeling field can be and often is provided by a good agency, model manager, or, yes, even a photographer with specific experience in model photography.  Most do it as a secondary part of their primary function, and generally for little or no cost.   This is the electronic age; good information is out there and it’s easily accessed.  Read this series, including the links to other information sources provided in the last section, and start working.

The Agency Scam

It’s a strange business with very few rules and a lot of very slippery assumptions.  As Geoffrey Rush tells Keira Knightly when she demands to be treated according to the “Pirate Code” in Pirates of the Caribbean, “Well, Missy, it’s not really a code… more like a guide.”  For me, personally I wouldn’t sign with any agency, mother- or otherwise, that told me I was perfect for modeling after a 1-minute interview and then handed me a list of start-up expenses. Whether it’s perpetrated by an agency, a mother agency, a model manager, or one of the infamous modeling schools, the scam works like this:

You’re approached on the street or in a mall by a self-proclaimed agent or you respond to an ad in the local paper or on Craig’s List.  The pitch is the same: we have modeling/acting/talent jobs just waiting to be filled and you would be perfect for them.  When you go for your interview, you’re almost immediately told that you’ve just been accepted as their next model/actor and then, after a bit more flattery about your perfect looks, height, weight, face, voice, etc., you’re handed a list of expenses you’re going to incur.  Those expenses include acting/modeling/voice lessons with the “agency’s” training department, an expensive set of portfolio photos shot with their designated photographer (who is invariably presented as a “professional from New York with decades of experience in fashion photography,” but who often turns out to be their own in-house flunky), and “your share” of various advertising and marketing expenses, including the cost of posting your photos to their on-line galleries.  Depending on how arrogant the scammer is and how gullible you are, the fees can vary from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.  Those modeling jobs they lured you in with?  They’re real alright, but they’re almost always national—never local—and they’re pulled from exactly the same on-line job-listing sources you could access yourself with a minimal amount of research, including that “Career Builder” ad where you found the scammer’s original solicitation.  Don’t believe me?  Go to Career Builder on-line and do a search for jobs in the genre you’re interested in.  Be even more specific: try sites like Casting Call, Star Search, or All Casting Calls or even, shudder, Craig’s List.  There are many more.  See what pops up.  See how hard it was to become your own agent?  Starting to wonder how anyone could have the nerve to charge you to find random, unfiltered casting calls like this for you?  Now you’re getting the idea.  It’s not hard.  It’s a racket.

Let’s be honest here.  Every agency, legitimate or not, has complaints.  I have yet to research a single local agency anywhere that didn’t have multiple complaints filed against it in the various complaint-listing forums (see the Links section).  Some are legitimate, some are phony complaints posted by competitors posing as former clients in order to harm the competition, and some are sincere but misguided protests from people who don’t understand what the modeling business actually requires and are operating on faulty beliefs taken from some mythical Pirate Code they heard about somewhere.  Usually those last complaints are based on two concerns: the belief that “legitimate agencies never charge anything except their commission,” and indignation over the agency’s insistence on using designated service providers, like a particular photographer.  As it turns out, both assumptions are just wrong.  Agencies do often charge for extras, even as an upfront cost, and there may be very good reasons for recommending particular service providers that have nothing to do with under-the-table kickback arrangements.

A good agency will spend considerable resources grooming and promoting their models.  These days they’re all going to maintain online galleries featuring their models’ portfolios, and many will still send out printed agency headsheet books or promotional flyers featuring model portfolios to their clients.  Understand, good agencies aren’t sitting around waiting for the phone to ring; they’re out actively putting your resumé in front of potential clients trying to drum up work for you.  That costs money, and it’s standard practice in the industry for them to recover that cost from the models on whose behalf they incurred it.  You can like it or not, but that’s how it is.  If no one told you before, then let me say it loud and clear:

This is your career and you need to be prepared to invest in it.  You’re going to have numerous expenses, which we’ll outline in the My Card, Sir article.  Agencies vary in how much they get involved in your preparation, but whether you arrange to do your comp cards on your own or the agency does it for you, paying for it is still your responsibility. Whether any particular agency’s fees are worth it for you or not depends on how well they answered your very first question—does the agency find work for its models (see how this keeps coming up?) and how well does it pay? The more active and aggressive the agency is in finding work, the higher their fees are likely to be.  An agency that doesn’t do much marketing isn’t going to have a lot of expenses to pass on to you; they’re also probably not going to be passing much work your way either.  See, it’s not really a Code… more like a guide.

As for the concerns about requiring you to use designated providers like a house photographer, there can be good reasons for that as well.  You are the walking representation of the agency’s brand, and they need your promotional materials to present them at a consistently high level.  If the pictures your personal portrait photographer took don’t meet modeling industry standards, they’re of no use to the agency (or you).  Portfolio photography is a very specific discipline with a very particular look.  The commercial headshot that every model needs is not a formal portrait, nor a beauty or glamour headshot.  A model photographer will know the difference and will be able to get you shots in the style that clients expect.  I would be suspicious of any agency that required me to work with one photographer only, but it’s common practice for an agency to have several photographers whose work they’ve already approved and can recommend to models. And the kickback?  Call it whatever you like; it’s common practice for us here at Sourcelight to provide a “finder’s fee” to anyone who refers work to us, usually in the form of a credit toward the finder’s own photography with us.  We also routinely negotiate discounted fees for commercial clients, based on the volume of work they send us.  None of this is unusual in any service industry.  You need professional photos (or comp cards or hair styles) delivered in the correct style.  If you don’t know what that is or how to find a professional to provide them, of course the agency’s going to step in with recommendations.  Wouldn’t you want them to?

When is it too much; when do required services and extras fees begin to creep over the line into scamming behavior?  Frankly, that’s just not always clear.  You’ll have to develop your own set of guidelines based, as we’ve said repeatedly, on your assessment of how well the agency performs its primary function—getting you paid jobs.  If all they’re interested in is selling you services and their job-creation activity is spotty, you’re probably being scammed.  If you are getting work and the agency can adequately demonstrate how those extra fees are contributing to your employment opportunities, you might just be in the hands of a very good agency.

And how do you get into those hands?  That’s the subject of the next article.

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