Getting the models you want

Oh my, you don’t want to know how often this is asked, so when it was asked on the blog a while ago I planned on doing a blog post about it, and this is the one.

Hatfield house workshops (modelmayhem)

Getting the models to your studio
Let’s start simple, getting a model to your studio.
We all want to shoot beautiful images, cool poses and get rave reviews from the critiques online.
However to get there, there are some key ingredients that have to work together, let’s say you have mastered your photography and you have a great makeup artist, so the only thing missing is a model. Well one could think that there are enough models available but I’m afraid I have to disappoint you.

Friends and family or just from the street
The easiest way to experiment with models is if you have a great model in your circle of friends, and trust me most of you will have someone that could model for you. One thing you first have to realize that a GOOD model is not always a model that looks stunning, with most models I love it’s about a certain “factor” that’s hard to explain, of course some of the models I use are the “standard” stunning girls but some of my favorite models are not the ones you would recognize as a model when she walks past you on the street. You will have to learn to recognize this in a girl/man and decided if she/he could work as model fitting your style/idea.
When I scout a model on the street I realize that most will just throw away the calling card I give them without ever visiting the site. So when you scout on the street make sure you don’t push the person, just give a card with a phone number and website (not scribbled on a piece of sticky notes), I would not use a card with a nude or lingerie image (my business card doesn’t include any images), but just a nice design with a clear description of your activities and website adress should be enough. Don’t be discouraged when people don’t respond…. when I scout on the street I get maybe 1 response in every 25-30 cards I give away.
Anyway the most important thing to “catch” the models or persons you want to model for you is to impress them with your portfolio and to build that you need….yeah models, so if you don’t have anyone close to you and the models from the street don’t respond back there are more options….

Workshop Bristol UK (modelmayhem)


There are many websites online where you can find models.
Think about facebook, hyves (for the Dutch readers), but also Twitter can be a very good source for finding models, however the main problem of these sites is that there are a lot of people online and some might think that they can model in reality most “models” will not give you what you are looking for or it’s too much work to find the right one.

It’s often better to find the right model via a network website aimed at our market. Great examples are modelmayhem, one model place, dutch heaven (for our Dutch readers), the main advantage from these sites is that you can search for the model that fits your criteria, you can look for length, fashion/beauty/glamour etc, location, TFP/Paid etc. most models will also have a short description on their profile and a portfolio. One could think that now everything can be arranged and all is happy days…. well not exactly.

UK photoshoot (modelmayhem)

Professional models or not
Even on these specialized model websites you must be very careful with the model you book. Being a model is populair and this means that everyone thinks they can be a model, and this is not a problem of course it makes it much easier to find what you want, but it also makes it a lot more difficult to get what you want, yeah I know that sounds weird so lets explain this a bit more.

The models that are on the sites are varying in degrees of experience, and some will even give you the wrong information. It’s also often difficult to judge a model on a portfolio that’s online, I’ve done sessions with models with a great online portfolio and gave them great images I also love, but to get there was terrible. Some models will pose very naturally and the good images flow out of your camera, but some models have stunning looks but have to be coached to the limit to give you one good image, especially for starting photographers this can be a real problem. It would be a good idea to plan a testsession before a photoshoot where you invest money in, I’ve heard so many stories about photographer renting great locations, MUAs etc. and a stunning looking model only to find out that on the day of the shoot the model was posing so stiff that in essence she destroyed the complete day…..

I do have to add that this is of course a worst case scenario, in most cases you can get a pretty good idea about the model and they will perform they way you expect, and maybe even more than expected, well that is if they show up ……….

Workshops LA (modelmayhem)


No show
One of the worst things you can experience during a photoshoot is that the model is not showing up, and trust me this happens a lot. I’ve heard stories from some of my students that approximately 40% of their shoots are cancelled because the model is not showing up or cancelling the shoot a day in advance. I have to say I’m probably very lucky because I hardly have any problems with models cancelling although recently when I was planning a shoot in Orlando I was sitting in a hotel room with an assistant, MUA and Stylist and the model called she could not come about 30 minutes after the time she should have been there, so yes it happens to everyone. So how do you solve this problem ?

When I shoot in our own studio I will just cancel the shoot, send everyone home and be disappointed.
But when I arrange a location or I teach a workshop on location I will always try to get 3 models and take into account that I will probably end up with 2 one week before the workshop and at least 1 at the day of the workshop and believe it or not but this is often the case, up until now I’ve never had 3 models during the workshops and luckily I also never had no model but I’m very careful with my selection and I always ask the models to meet up with us the day before the workshop, if they don’t show up there I will always have at least one backup model.

I’ve done workshops in many countries and it’s not a trend that’s only for the Netherlands, Belgium or the US, the trend seems to be worldwide, and it is something you really should beware off and calculate the costs of three models into your calculations for the assignment you do (without saying there will be three of course), so when all models do show up you will have a nice surprise for your clients (and be surprised yourself :D)

Workshops Dublin (Modelmayhem)


Certain shows
Well actually there are no guarantees that a model will always show up but a good idea would be to approach a model agency. They will often charge you a lot more for your models but you do have the guarantee you will have a good model that shows up, although it sometimes is not the model you wanted there will be a good replacement. I’ve had some great experiences with models via agencies where I described a model and got exactly what I wanted the next day which to be honest was kind of freaky because both the male and female model were exactly what I described and wanted.

Florida USA agency models via Kelbytraining


Other options
When I started out I had to “hunt” down my models, when I got a nice and solid portfolio I started getting mails from models offering to work for me. The nice thing about this is that you can often work with those models on TFP base (later more on this). The other advantage of this is that the models are often very motivated to work with you and are willing to invest in the session by searching for good locations, styling and clothing. And as you know working in a team is always better that arranging everything your self. As mentioned before you do have to realize that a real model should have something special, I’m very big on this issue because I almost missed one of my best models because I thought she did not have what it take to be a model, however she kept mailing me and we could almost call it stalking 😀 and begging me for a test shoot, so finally I decided to just let her come and give her a chance. Her first images were not that good and she realized this, she took a few minutes and came back to the set and BLEW me away, I decided to invite her over for a few more sessions and from there she grew and grew and now a few years later she is without a doubt one of my favorite models with some great ideas and because she really wanted to learn she was always willing to come over for shorter sessions, sometimes less than an hour, just to get more experience. Well she not only grew to be one of my favorite models but she has gotten some very nice publications, worked with some great photographers and has a killer portfolio…. so beware for the hidden gems you might discover the next “top model”.


TFP or paid
This is something you should always be careful with.
If I would invite every model that mails me for a TFP session I would never see my family again, never got time to work and would not even be able to work on the images. You will have to make a selection, remember that you are judged by the quality YOU put out there, and your model is part of that quality. You can make a stunning technical shot with perfect light, great location etc. but if the model is not performing people will still judge you on the model and an image that does not work. Also realize that if you have a high quality of models in your portfolio you will also attract these kind of models that are willing to work with you.

So how do you get there ?
Everyone will have to start with TFP work I believe.
Start learning the skills you need to light a model properly, don’t yet use the images for your online portfolio (unless you have some killer shots of course), when you think you can shoot a pretty good image pay a model… yeah you read it correctly pay a model. In a world where photography is often regarded as being free and where I always fight for the fact that photographers should be paid for building a models portfolio I’m now saying pay the model ? Well do remember that this is a tip for people starting out.

When you are willing to pay a model you will often get a better quality model than you will get when you are staying with the TFP models, so there are no good TFP models ? well no of course not…… there are a lot of really good models out there working on TFP, however the better the model the better the results should be for him/her to model on TFP. By shooting a few models that are helping you to improve the quality of your output you will lift yourself to the next level and you will find out that more models are willing to work with you on TFP base. This way you can grew even more etc.

At a certain point it will be time to invest in locations, styling etc. We as photographers should always try to improve ourselves, build our portfolio to be better and better, and the outcome will be that you will get more and more mails from models that want to work with you. Now you will have to be careful… don’t invite everyone over, be selective, you don’t have to shoot 3-4 TFPs a week. Also see a business option, you could offer some photoshoots to the models you think are interesting but you don’t want to work with for free, you could start out by charging just a little bit of money and also here it will build up to something more etc. You will just have to go with the flow.

Workshops Corks (Ireland) Modelmayhem

A good model will make a photoshoot into a succes.
A model that will not show up will cost you a lot of money and can harm your reputation if it happens to often.
Make sure that you are careful when selecting a model, also don’t be afraid to sometimes pay for a model for your own portfolio, they really can lift you to the next level and in the end make it possible for you to start earning money from your photography. But don’t pay every model, when we agree on TFP it’s a TFP session, I’m not paying for travel expenses, clothing etc. (although you will have to decide this for yourself of course, in some situations it makes a lot of sense to do this). Also remember that building a good a solid relation with several models will make your business stronger, there is nothing against working with the same group of models, but do make sure you always do something new and exciting and don’t repeat the same thing. The main advantage of this approach is that you can be very creative because you know each other and can work better that way.

24 replies
  1. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Hi Frank,nnThanx for this interesting post.nnI’m not a professional photographer, but I sometimes post photos on Facebook and Hyves. People in my friend list (or friends from friends) respond, and tell me wanna do a shoot with me, because they are model 2B. But a lot of them don’t have what you’re looking for. Most of the times I just decline them, without going into discussion. It’s too much work to find a right model this way. And if I would receive a Euro for every mail I receive like this, I would be in Hawaii right now ;)nnFor going into the streets and ask people to be your model, you need to have the guts to do this. But it’s probably a very good way to do it.nnDo you have an explanation for the fact that IF someone doesn’t show up for a shoot, it’s most of the time the model?nnKind regards,nDennisn

    • Frank Doorhof
      Frank Doorhof says:

      Actually I do. nThe models are often the youngest ones in the team. nI recently agreed on a tfp with a starting model and she complained that she had to rent clothing costing a grand total of 15.00 euros, she asked if I wanted to share the costs. When I calculated what a tfp was costing me she did not ask again ;)nnOften it’s not bad purposes but they just don’t have a clue what’s going on so canceling is just like not going out, there will always be be next week, no harm done. What they often don’t realize is the team and costs that are made. Older models often are more reliable. nnBut again this is my personal idea. I’ve worked with very young models that were incredible punctual and I’ve worked with models that really were sick but didn’t want to cancel. And I’ve had last minute cancellations because the model did nit have time to study for a test. So it varies ;)nn

    • Dennis Ebben
      Dennis Ebben says:

      Thanks for sharing your personal ideas about this. Sounds like a good explanation. I’ll remember the question you ask the model, when he/she wants to share costs. Good one! 😉

  2. Andrea Livieri
    Andrea Livieri says:

    This is one question that I posted on your twitter channel in your last live streaming… This post answers to some of my doubts 😉 THX FRANK VERY USEFUL!!!! … You Rocks m/

  3. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Frank, Great post. Thanks for answering these questions that I have been wondering about for a long time. Definitely some food for thought. I know what you mean by if you walk past someone on the street, you wouldn’t recognize her. Some models look totally different with a great MUA. nThanks for all the advice. I will put it to good use.

  4. Martijn Touwslager
    Martijn Touwslager says:

    Great post! nnYou are so right about finding the gems as well.nnI was once contacted by a young couple that wanted to do a TFP session. As I wanted to build my portfolio I said yes. Although they said that the girl had experience and the guy did not, the guy ended up being a natural when posing alone. He got what I tried to achieve. She on the other hand, was very stiff and I had to direct a lot more than I would have liked/hoped to. And together with her boyfriend, I just could not get them to loosen up. Wardrobe wise it was also a little nightmare, as they did not pick something that matched (even though they were given pointers before the shoot). I was a bit frustrated after the shoot. Even more so when it became clear that the images would not be used for their portfolio at all. I could only use 1 image… of the guy… He turned out to be an unexpected gem.nnA few weeks later I was contacted by a friend of the couple who had seen the pictures on Hyves. She also wanted to do a TFP session with her boyfriend. As I was afraid that they would probably use the TFP session as a way to get cheap pictures I told them I was not interested in a TFP session at that time, but that they could go for a paid session. I thought that it would probably scare them off, but much to my surprise they accepted. They turned out to be very relaxed, creative and loose. We bounced ideas off of each other and came up with poses, props, outfits… it was just a very fun shoot. The both of them turned out to be gems that I will probably use for a TFP session in the future.nnA lot of lessons were learned in a very short period of time. The main one being that what sometimes seems like a waist of time/money/effort can actually proof to be the opposite as the TFP shoot lead to a paid shoot, which in turn lead to 2 other paid shoots.nnSorry for the long story… 🙂

    • Frank Doorhof
      Frank Doorhof says:

      Very good example of throwing out a small fish to catch a bigger one, this is how the business works, make yourself known and people will start to approach you, that’s when you have to decide to do it for free (to benefit your portfolio) or let them pay (and benefit your wallet).

  5. Jonathanthompsonphotography
    Jonathanthompsonphotography says:

    Great advice Frank, really appreciate you sharing with us. I’m looking for TFP models right now, I’ve found 3 in my town and I’ll do a casual location shoot, keeps the cost down and see how we all get along. I’m using Star Now, hopefully it’ll all go well and we’ll all get some great shots. Should you use a model release all the time, stating it’s TFP only?nOh, by the way, I’ve just noticed I’ve read your post with a Dutch accent, weird!nnCheers, Jonathan

    • Frank Doorhof
      Frank Doorhof says:

      :DnYeah I have a funny accent I guess.nnAlways use a contract, you never know when you need it, and when you need it, it’s best to have it.

  6. Maria Demartino
    Maria Demartino says:

    Frank..I own a Talent casting company just for lingerie and swimwear models..but am also a photographer.When I first started shooting I used family and friends just for practice and although the images came out ok…They are not professional models(which is what I am use to working with) and so once I was done shooting every friend and family memeber I could made a WORLD of diffrence to start shooting the models that work for me. FACIAL expression is one of the big diffrences.Family members or friends that are even just really good looking dont know how to give you the facial expressions you need to convey the feeling of the image you are trying to create.I suggest you work out your kinks you need to before you shoot professional models if you are just starting out.

    • Frank Doorhof
      Frank Doorhof says:

      Very good advise, the shoots were it counts one should only be able to focus on getting the best shots and not on anything that isn’t directly related to that.

  7. Julie Bearce ray
    Julie Bearce ray says:

    Frank,nI forgot to ask something. So do all your models come with their own clothing? Or do you have a wardrobe of such for the shoots you have in mind? Probably a dumb question, but none the less, I have no idea.nThanks!n@jewelzdezine

    • Frank Doorhof
      Frank Doorhof says:

      We do have some nice things I pick up sometimes, but overall 99.999999% the models bring their own clothing. You will get a lot of repetition when you don’t :-)n

  8. Doug Snyder
    Doug Snyder says:

    Great post Frank…nnMost recently transitioning from sports photography to boudoir photography. The last six months have been very interesting and (mostly) fun too. I Use MM and your advice is spot on…nn your free time you may want to setup a “Pay for Critique” feature for photographers… MM is all hugs and kisses even for cell phone images…nnDid I mention “Your the Man”?nnThanks,nnDougnnP.S. Stellar sports shot from your guest blog (with a 5d Mark II no less!) nnTiming is everythingnn

    • Frank Doorhof
      Frank Doorhof says:

      Cool shots :DnPay for critique, I’ve played with that for some time but I really don’t have a clue if that would be a succes or if people would be willing to pay or how much for that. I get a lot of mails with images and would love to go a bit more in depth with the critiques but now I simply can’t because it would be a day job 😀

    • Frank Doorhof
      Frank Doorhof says:

      Well I would love to do it and get paid of course, don’t get me wrong 😀 but I think it would also take away some of the “charm” of just being able to mail me with questions, and some people will take it the wrong way.

  9. Hans
    Hans says:

    When shooting tfpu00b4s for your own portfolio, do you usually pay your stylist/makeup-artist?

    • Frank Doorhof
      Frank Doorhof says:

      In 99.9% of the cases it’s a team effort for all our portfolios, so we all work together without payment. nnSometimes when the concept is “ok” and the model “interesting” the model pays or arranges the MUA. nnIt’s very important to keep building your portfolio for everyone. So when you get a good chance you’re willing to do it 😉

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