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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  1. ModelSuze November 21, 2013 at 2:09 pm #

    I thought i had it covered, but after reading this i see i still have a lot more work to do. At least now i know how to do it. Thank you for writing this.

    • Zikhona June 18, 2014 at 12:35 pm #

      I have many friends and colleagues in modeling. Sure, every working model has sexy photographs in their portfolio; if you’ve ever been to a runway show, you’ll see that the models are often almost naked. However, fashion models generally are built very differently from glamour models. You need to be 5-9 , and 34-25-34 (give or take an inch) to be a fashion model. And even the best portfolio won’t guarantee you to get started in fashion modeling; if you are the right size and shape, they will see it imemdiately. If you’re not, you’re not.

  2. Bruce J June 19, 2014 at 12:24 am #

    Thank you for your input, Zikhona. It’s not entirely accurate, but you are mostly right about the fashion business–they don’t make exceptions because they don’t have to. The clothes are designed for a certain size, and if you don’t fit, you don’t work. It is not true, however, that just being the right size will enable “(them to) see it imemdiately (sic)” Having a good plan for self-promotion, including a strong portfolio, and a professional understanding of and approach to the business will go a long way toward improving your odds.

    Also, it’s worth emphasizing–again–that fashion is only a very small subset of the modeling business.