As a well known senior portrait photographer, I get asked very often about how to break into modeling.
What girl hasn’t dreamed at some point about strutting the runway in a NY Fashion show or being on the cover of Sports Illustrated? While that seems like a long shot, look at it this way, someone is going to walk that runway, and be on that cover… right?
There are lots of great articles on the web about how to break into modeling and how to get started, like this one from the Scouting Director for the Ford Agency.
Many top agencies now use social media to scout for new talent, so in some ways it’s easier than ever to get discovered. Here is a great article that describes how to get scouted by various agencies that may notice you.
But, being a photographer, the most common question I get asked is what kinds of photos to submit to break into modeling. So, I thought I’d write a blog post to answer those questions directly.
First, you really don’t need to spend money on professional photos when just starting out. In fact, most agencies will prefer that you NOT send professional photos. What ever you do, do NOT send your senior pictures, portraits taken at the mall, or mirror selfies, no matter how much you like them. Modeling images have a different look and style and submitting “portraits” will not get you taken seriously!
Initially, all you will need is what the industry refers to as “polaroids”. Real polaroids are a throwback to film days when they would actually use an instant film camera… nowadays everyone uses digital (and some agencies will call them that) . What they refer to is simple shots taken with a plain, light background that clearly show your face and body without any retouching, styling, or special effects. Do NOT use any filters or retouching software.
You can certainly take these yourself, or have a professional create them for you, but a couple of things are important. No, or very little makeup, no props, jewelry, or hats, scarves etc. Don’t wear a padded or push up bra or anything that is going to alter your actual figure. Find a spot with soft, even lighting so you can get a sharp, clear image without shadows, and pick a background that is plain and uncluttered. A plain white wall next to a window is a good choice.
Wear an outfit that shows your figure… a swimsuit or workout clothes is a good choice. Don’t wear anything baggy. The exception is heels. Wear heels! Take a few full length pictures front, side and back with a plain, relaxed expression. Then move in and take some closeup shots showing your face, both smiling and not. Stand straight, but not stiff. Relax your shoulders, take a deep breath in and let it out.. Shoot lots of pictures so you have a variety to pick from. You want to look comfortable and relaxed. If you don’t feel comfortable in front of a camera wearing a swimsuit or workout clothes, perhaps now would be a good time to rethink your desire to model!
If you’re not good at photography, don’t have anyone to shoot them for you, or want to make sure your pictures are a good enough quality, you can hire a professional photographer to take them for you. Since these don’t require a lot of time, creative energy, or retouching, they should be relatively inexpensive. At Dennis Kelly, we offer a modeling “Polaroid” shoot for under $75 that will give you everything you will need to start.
Many top agencies have online applications on their websites where you can fill out a form and upload your pictures, so you won’t really need to go to NY and knock on doors. Read through the instructions carefully and FOLLOW THEM. Don’t send 8 pictures if they ask for 3. Don’t send a professional headshot if they ask for polaroids. Don’t apply to their fashion division if they say minimum height is 5’8″ and you are 5’6″. You won’t impress them, except with the fact that you can’t follow instructions. Make a list of agencies in your market area and check their websites for specific information on what they require before you take your pictures. This way you can make sure you will have everything you need before you start to apply. Many agencies now have petite and fitness divisions that are not as restrictive as far as height and weight as fashion divisions typically are. Some agencies may require a short video showing you talking. You can shoot this with your phone, just keep it short and to the point, and record it in a quiet room without noise in the background.
If you don’t hear back right away, don’t get discouraged. Wait a few weeks and try again, Sometimes you just need to get to the right person, or wait for a time when they may be looking specifically for someone with your look.
Once you start to get some exposure, you may be asked to send a headshot. This is where you will need some professional images. Your headshot is very important, and it is a place where you will definitely want to hire a pro. A good quality headshot will show your face and some of your shoulders. It is not unusual to crop into the top of your head. This brings attention to your eyes and keeps them in the upper 1/3rd of the picture, where they belong.
This is called a “Hollywood Crop” and it is not a mistake. More common today is something called a “Cinematic” headshot, which is composed in a landscape format… like a movie would be. The subject is usually placed a little off center in the composition. This adds the the dynamic look of the composition and is often used in ads where they need to leave “negative space” for ad copy and things. Again, not a mistake! Remember, modeling and commercial shots have a very different look than traditional portraits. It is important you find a photographer who is versed in current styles. Most important is that your eyes sparkle and your facial features are plainly visible.
The next type of shot you may want to hire a professional for is a classic glamour or beauty headshot. These typically have a more dramatic lighting style, and are often done with bare shoulders to really bring attention to your face, eyes and hair. These are often done in black and white, but that’s not a necessity.
It’s always a good idea to talk with some agencies who might be interested in you to get their input on what kinds of photos they think you need to have in order to market yourself.
If they are very interested and think you are marketable, they may even offer to pay for your photographs. Don’t expect this unless you are signing an exclusive contract with them though. They aren’t going to invest money in you unless they think they will have a chance to earn it back!
Only after you have been scouted, should you think about building your “book”. Your portfolio should ideally be more a collection of actual work you have done, rather than photos you have commissioned yourself. It is always a work in progress.
An agency may suggest you have some different shots done to show some variety in your look, and may suggest you have some “comp cards” created. These are kind of like your business card that you will leave behind whenever you audition for a job. Typically, they will feature your headshot, and 3-4 other images that show your body type, as well as the range of looks you can portray. It will have your basic stats and contact info on it.
Like your headshots, your comp cards will need to be constantly updated to show your current look.
I’d be neglectful not to mention that there are unscrupulous, and potentially dangerous people who may attempt to take advantage of you if you are not careful. Especially when promoting yourself online, be wary of predators who will try and scam you for money, or worse. Use your head. Never agree to meet someone you do not know for a photoshoot, or to be scouted without checking their credentials first. Never go to a photoshoot or audition alone. Unless you are trying to get scouted by Playboy, no reputable agency will ever ask you to send nude photos. No reputable agency will ask you to pay money up front for them to represent you. Conversely, be wary of photographers who offer to shoot you “for free”. Ask yourself what motivation they would have to work for free?
There are a number of online modeling sites and these may be a good place to network, especially if you want to book jobs yourself and bypass an agency all together. Just be careful that there are also trolls who use these sites to find people to prey on. Use your head and if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Of course, if you need photos to get you started, or just want to see how you’d look being photographed by a real professional photographer who knows how to bring out your best… give us a call! 856-228-4399 We are always here to help!