Getting started in portrait photography, whether as a professional or amateur photographer, requires people to photograph. But how do you find models for photoshoots when you have no portfolio to show potential models?
I know that it can be frustrating, but remember that everyone starts somewhere.
Here are the steps that most portrait and fashion photographers take to build up their portfolio so that they can one day hire professional models for photoshoots.
(PS- This post contains affiliate links. Buying something through one of these affiliate links won’t cost you anything extra, but I may get a small commission.)
Step 1 – photograph friends and family
A model is anyone in front of your camera, so you don’t have to start photographing with a “real model”. So the first place to find models to photograph is friends, friends of friends and a willing family member.
Photographing people who aren’t models is far more valuable than you realise, especially if you want to be a professional portrait photographer. You need to learn how to pose people and starting with people you know is easier than with a stranger. You can work through ideas together and if you mess up it won’t matter.
Learning how to pose and effectively direct models is a skill that develops over time. You can’t just fall into it.
Not only do you have to know poses for different types of people and how to direct them into poses, but also how to make them feel relaxed in front of the camera.
When you first meet a stranger, are you completely comfortable? Of course not, so how can anyone be relaxed in front of your camera straight away, even an experienced model? The sooner subjects relax, the quicker a photoshoot will start to flow.
Admittedly, it is hard work at first, because you have so much to think about. However, with practice it becomes second nature to scan your model and the entire scene constantly, while directing, encouraging and keeping the shoot moving with high energy.
You’re the photographer. For a successful photo shoot the buck stops with you.
Create a photography portfolio online
Build up your confidence and your portfolio. Once you have a few photographs you’re proud of from a variety of photoshoots, create an Instagram account as a portfolio to show to potential amateur models.
Potential models can see then if they like your style enough to work with you. Plus, it helps to establish trust that you’re an actual person with a real interest in photography.
Now you’re ready to start photographing inexperienced models. But first, you need to think about safety – your model’s safety and yours.
A model I’ve enjoyed photographing several times. This was her first shoot and, while she was great at connecting with the camera, she knew nothing about posing, but took direction really well. I met her through her sister who is a client.
Step 2 – photograph inexperienced models
Why start with inexperienced models for photoshoots?
Working with inexperienced models forces you to get used to directing poses.
If you’ve learned about posing and have practiced with models who don’t know how to pose, you can spot an inexperienced model very easily. So you’ll avoid booking a model who says they’re experienced, but aren’t.
Also, just because a model is experienced, doesn’t mean that they’re good.
They could have picked up bad posing ideas, or might not be experienced enough to know how to work with the light, in which case it can be hard work to direct them to pose differently.
You could just pay for an experienced model, who should know a range of sitting poses as well as several standing poses for shoots. However, it’s better to develop your posing and directing skills by working with inexperienced models.
How to find inexperienced models
Finding models for photoshoots is so much easier than it used to be, thanks to social media! I’ve regularly booked models through:
- Facebook groups
- Modelling websites
Just remember that not every connection you make will lead to a photoshoot, so if you don’t get a response, or they decline, don’t worry about it. Move on to the next one.
How to find amateur models on Instagram
To find potential models on Instagram simply search using these hashtags:
The first one is self explanatory. The second two involve a little more work.
If a photographer posts images of a model on social media, very often they tag them, especially if it’s a collaboration shoot (i.e. both the model and the photographer work for free to create images that they use on social media etc).
These shoots are called TFP shoots. TFP stands for time for print and dates back to when models were given prints from the shoot to add to their portfolio. Now we share the digital images.
I always ask models if they want to be tagged in posts and I ask that they tag me when they post images I’ve taken.
As you look through a photographer’s Instagram feed, if you see an image of a model you like, you might also be able to click through to their account. After that it’s just a matter of sending them a friendly, professional DM to get the ball rolling.
If you don’t know how to word it, keep reading for my first contact template, which shows you how to ask a model for a photoshoot.
3 ways to find models on Facebook
Facebook groups are great places to find new faces and is even easier than Instagram! Just search for model and photographer groups to join on Facebook.
I belong to several photography related Facebook groups and, like all things in life, some are better than others. I live in a small town, so I’ve joined groups for the whole area and for nearby cities.
Here, models and photographers arrange shoots together on a TF basis. TF stands for Time For, which is another way of saying TFP (Time For Print). Or TFCD (Time For CD), which of course is also outdated now.
Sometimes they’re referred to as test shoots, which is an industry standard term for an agency signed model. New models are sent for test shoots to build their portfolio and get experience. Photographers will test shoot an agency model to see if they’re what they or the client is looking for.
1. Create a post saying you need models for a photoshoot
To find models in a Facebook group create a friendly, informative post about what you’re looking for, where you’re shooting and when. Ask any interested models to DM you. Then, as models respond to your post you can start communicating via DM.
Remember, you don’t have to choose everyone that responds!
Not every model will have the look you want for that particular shoot. You should, however, reply politely to everyone.
2. Respond to a model’s post looking for a photoshoot
Alternatively, if a model posts looking for photographers, respond in the comments or by direct message if they ask for it.
3. Message a model to ask for a photoshoot
Another way to find models in Facebook groups is to scroll through the posts of photographers looking for models. When I see a model that’ll suit the shoot I have in mind and who responded professionally to other photographers’ posts I’ll DM them.
How to find models on modelling websites
Another way to find models is through sites like Model Mayhem or Purpleport, to name just two. This works well for some photographers, but not so great for others, with many reports of unreliable models. I’ve met a couple of great models through both Model Mayhem and Purpleport, but it’s not my preferred method.
With these types of sites you can set up a free account with limited functionality or pay for a fuller service.
To be accepted you’ll need to submit a selection of photos for your account. So this is another reason why you first need to get a few shoots under your belt before looking for more experienced models for photoshoots.
How to avoid unreliable models
A word of warning when looking for both inexperienced and experienced models….
If a model is flaky in their communication, think twice about arranging a photoshoot with them.
It’s not unusual for flaky models to be late or not to show up for a photoshoot. Since it takes a lot of time and effort to arrange a shoot, at the first sign of flakiness I tactfully let them know that I no longer wish to proceed.
The same goes for stylists and makeup artists, and they say the same about photographers. So it’s not just model thing, it’s a people thing.
When is a model considered flaky?
- If a model doesn’t respond to your DM until several days later, it’s the first red flag
- If they chop and change their mind, or won’t commit to a date, it’s a screaming red flag
- Also, if they keep asking the same questions that I’ve already answered, like when and where, or whatever, it’s a no from me
I responded to a dancer’s post in a Facebook group looking for a photographer. At the time I was looking for dancers to photograph, so it was a perfect match.
How do you approach a model to ask for a photoshoot?
When I message a model for a photoshoot I include:
- My name, websites and social media profiles
- A couple of sentences about me and my experience
- A link to a Pinterest board that reflects the type of shoot I want to set up
Fill in this form and I’ll send you a template to use…
I encourage models to view my portfolio and my websites to prove my trustworthiness. If they’re happy to proceed with a photoshoot after that, I set up a quick phone chat to work through the details.
If model is reluctant to talk on the phone I don’t take it any further. I know many people don’t like talking on the phone, but it’s the quickest way to get a shoot planned and to start getting to know someone.
This is a screenshot of the Pinterest board I set up for the dance shoot above
Safety when looking for models for photoshoots
When approaching a model to photograph, put yourself in their shoes and imagine how you’d feel. What would make you feel safe and comfortable with a stranger photographing you?
As a female photographer, I can’t deny that it’s easier for me to approach amateur models in Facebook groups. However, there’s no reason for them to trust me just because I’m female.
Just as there’s no reason for me to trust a model I don’t know. I too have to take steps to ensure my safety.
That’s why second shoots with the same model are so much fun! You’ve got all the cautious stuff out of the way, you’re familiar with how each other works and you know what to expect. By the second shoot you have a connection so you can just be excited about the amazing photos you’re going to create together.
What’s a reasonable request from a model?
- A model asking if they can bring somebody to a photoshoot is perfectly reasonable. In fact, for younger models (under 18) I insist on it, even if I’ve photographed them before. I also tell them that I’ll have my assistant with me. Just because the intention of getting together is to take photos, it doesn’t alter the fact that you’re strangers who met online. Safety comes first for everybody.
- A model asking if they can use a particular item of clothing in the shoot is reasonable. If the photoshoot is a collaboration, it’s as much about what they want out of it as you. Besides, their suggestion might work really well for your portfolio too.
How to book inexperienced models for photoshoots
The most important thing when approaching a model for a photoshoot is to be honest. Don’t pretend to be a hotshot photographer if you’re still figuring it all out.
Organization is the key to a successful shoot
Being organized is more professional and will make people trust you as a photographer, even if your portfolio is limited.
Plan your photoshoot as if you’re earning from it. Just because no money changes hands in a collaboration shoot doesn’t mean you should be unprofessional.
Set up a Pinterest board
The best way to tell somebody what you want to create is to show them with a mood board. So, if you don’t have examples of your own work for the type of shoot you want, use Pinterest.
Yes, you could gather images from the internet and put them together in a Photoshop mood board. However, they’re not your photos, so unless you’re very clear that they’re not your photos, you’re misrepresenting your skills. Plus using another photographer’s photos without permission is a breach of copyright.
Setting up a Pinterest board for shoot inspiration ensures that you don’t mislead anyone or breach copyright.
My board will include images that show the style I’d like for the shoot, including the type of:
- hair and makeup styling
So my potential model can see at a glance what I’m thinking and will feel confident that they know what to expect. If I don’t have a makeup artist booked for the photoshoot, I’ll also include closeup up images of the style of makeup I would like. That said, you’ll also find makeup artists in Facebook groups to collaborate on a shoot for images for their portfolios and socials.
Trust is the key ingredient in booking a model for a photoshoot, so for a successful shoot, you should always work towards establishing trust.
Make sure you’re in agreement before the shoot
Setting up a model shoot is not the time to be shy about asserting yourself. Agree the terms of a model photoshoot ahead of time in writing.
If you’re looking for free models for photography, it’s very important to let them know what they’ll get out of it so that there’s no confusion that could lead to conflict. Establish:
- How many photos the model will receive
- If the photos will be edited or unedited
- How they’ll receive the photos
- How long after the shoot you’ll deliver the photos
Then stick to it!
Setting expectations and delivering as promised is part of being professional. No matter how experienced or inexperienced you might be at photographing models, you should always be professional.
Signed model release form
Send models a model release form to sign before the shoot. This gives them time to look at it and make sure that they’re comfortable with it before signing. Handing it to them on the day and expecting them to sign on the spot isn’t fair.
Even if you don’t plan on using the images from the photoshoot commercially, it’s best to have a signed model release form to cover you for the future should you decide to use the photos. Make sure you file it away safely as you’ll need to keep it forever in case you use the photos.
An inexperienced model I met in a Facebook group before my trip to South Africa. She’d grown up on a farm so was very comfortable posing near cattle – in fact, it was her idea. The entire shoot was planned before my trip, including stylist and makeup artist. The only unknown to me was the location, so we met up to do a location scout the day before the shoot.
Collaboration is key to free photoshoots
Ask your model if they have any suggestions or input for your collaboration shoot. Neither of you is getting paid, so this needs to be a collaboration. Plus, they might have a great idea you didn’t think of.
Step 3 – book experienced models for photoshoots
The great advantage of photographing experienced models is that photoshoots flow quickly. You spend less time directing and more time getting the shots, so you get more variety from a photoshoot.
Do experienced models work for free?
Many experienced models will work on a TF or test basis, so you don’t necessarily have to pay. If you can show a good portfolio and have an interesting idea for a photoshoot that’ll provide them with photos to boost their portfolio, an experienced model might happily work with you for free.
It all depends on what you both want from the shoot.
When paying a professional model, like with any business transaction, agree rates upfront in writing and pay the model on the day.
How to work with experienced models
Working with experienced models is no different from when you book inexperienced, free models. To ensure a successful photoshoot you need:
By the time models have built up some experience, they’ve all had to deal with their fair share of MWACs, and they can spot them a mile off. Or they should be able to. So if you don’t present yourself in a professional and trustworthy manner, there’s no way experienced models will agree to a photoshoot with you.
MWAC stands for Man With A Camera and while this term is derogatory, and not at all representative of the vast majority of photographers, it’s a lot nicer than the intention of some supposed “photographers” who are simply predators using a camera to get a model (male or female) on their own.
It’s unfortunate, but remember that any photographer, male or female, approaching a model is a potential MWAC to them.
Booking different types of models
I’m stating the obvious here, but for clarity, not all models are the same and do the same type of shoots. Model photography covers many different types of photography and there are different models for each type of photography, for example:
- Beauty photography
- Nude photography
- Glamor photography
- Fashion photography
- Fine art photography
Etc etc. So you need to first make sure when approaching a model or booking a model for a shoot that they’re suitable models.
Another way to build a photography portfolio
Portfolio building days with other photographers are another option for building a photography portfolio. You can do this a number of ways:
- Pay a professional photographer who is offering portfolio building days
- Join a camera club that hosts model shoot days
- Get together with a small group of photographers and hire models for a photoshoot
Be a considerate photographer
Remember when dealing with inexperienced models for photoshoots that they’re also learning the ropes. They might not have the confidence to tell you that they’re uncomfortable.
A more experienced model should have the confidence to speak up, but even then I think you should be a considerate photographer.
If I’m photographing an inexperienced model in cold weather, I won’t wear my thick winter coat, unless they’re also dressed warmly. It helps to be aware of the cold so that you can call a break to warm up if necessary.
I check in with my model regularly during the shoot to make sure that they’re feeling okay, especially if it’s cold or hot or they’re holding strenuous poses.
Somewhere to change
If you’ve planned a model photoshoot with outfit changes, make sure you have a safe place for models to change. I have a fantastic little pop up tent like this one that’s perfect for models to change in. I’d never ask a model to change in a car or behind a bush! But I hear about it a lot. Telling a model that you have this facility for them to change comfortably goes a long way to establishing trust.
It adds to your load when shooting on location, so get yourself a little all terrain wagon. You might not look like the coolest person in the world, but you’re there to create amazing photos, not look cool.
Incidentally, wagons like this one that I use are a great way to ensure that you don’t spread your stuff around – that’s how you lose gear. When photographing models at the beach, it’s essential to have your gear and the model’s clothes and accessories in your trolley, rather than on the sand.
Leave a comment
If you have any questions about photographing models, let us know in the comments.
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