How To Start Working With Model Agencies

In today's blog we'll be going over how to start working with modeling agencies in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago or any other major fashion capital. Working with model agencies is a bit of chicken and egg scenario. If you don't have a portfolio a lot of agencies won't send you models. If you don't have models how can you build a portfolio? Hopefully this blog will help clear up some of that explanation.

1. Do Photo Shoots With Friends

This is one easy way to develop a portfolio, is to start to shoot your friends. Shooting friends is an easy way to help gain practice with portraits in a no stress, creative environment. It also allows you to create and craft a style that is uniquely your own.

2. Assist A Photographer Who Will Let You Shoot

Although this is a rare circumstance, I was lucky enough to have a photographer that would from time to time allow me to shoot with models that he'd book for tests. Not only was this a great opportunity for me to learn more about photography but it gave me insight into the fashion world and what really goes into putting together test shoots and more elaborate production heavy photo shoots.

3. Go On Instagram To Find Models

Models can also be found on Instagram. If you've developed a small portfolio but are still nervous about approaching a model agency, go on Instagram and look for aspiring models. This is great way to establish connections and find people who might add to your portfolio. Facebook groups can also work as another resource where models are usually on the look out for photographers to add to their portfolio.

All of these ways can be useful for a photographer who want to find subjects to help you create a portfolio for agencies. Of course, who you know, where you're located, how much money you're willing to invest, and what kind of models you'd like to shoot will also effect these variables.

So You Have A Book, Now What?

Once you've developed a book it's time to call up your local model agency. You're going to want to look for the booker or agent in charge of new faces (sometimes called development). Give them a ring (yes on the phone) and ask for the email of who you'd like to speak too. Let them know you're a new photographer who is interested in booking some tests and would like to shoot a new face or two. If all goes well, you'll have the appropriate agent's email address.

From there, send them an introductory email. Tell the agent who you are and a link to your portfolio. Keep it short. Keep it sweet. If they think you're work fits what they're looking for or if they want to give you a shot to test, they'll send you a package of girls or guys who you can choose from for a shoot. There are a few important things to keep in mind about this.

1. Hair and Makeup Takes Priority

If you have hair and makeup on your side, model agencies are more likely to send their talent your way.The same goes for stylists, studio time, and anything else that can make your shoot shine on the production side. While not all photographers necessarily utilize teams for test shoots, it's without a doubt something that comes with the territory so don't be surprised when you're asked about if you have a team.

2. These Shoots Are Free

If you thought model agencies were going to pay you for your time when you first start out, guess again. Agencies love good tests but won't necessarily pay out of pocket until you've become more established as a photographer and have a specific style that they can trust on a consistent basis. Don't take it personally and just know that getting a good model when you first start out will bring you better clients in the long-run, even if you have to do a few (or a lot) of test shoots for free.

3. Model Agencies Aren't Your Clients

Remember this isn't a do or die situation. Test shoots are called tests because they're some aspects of them that might not work out the way you planned. Model agencies know this and will usually cut you some slack if not every shot is up to standard. That said, it's often a good rule of thumb to give them 15 - 20 images they can choose from for their model's books. A few agencies might ask you for all the images. Personally, I would never do this as it sets a precedent for agencies to pick their favorites. If you trust yourself and your eye, send them the images you think they'd like the best and maybe a few creative picks that you're personally fond of.

4. The Purpose Of Test Shoots

These shoots are intended to add to their new models portfolios and give them a fresh update in a collaborative environment. If an agency likes you, they'll continue to send over models your way and you'll be able to mutually benefit one anther. You might find you start out with smaller agencies and then work your way up. Finally, remember to have fun. Test shoots are done by new and experienced photographers to spice up their portfolio or get away from client work for a bit.

Want To Learn More About Photography?

If you’re interested in learning more about a specific modeling subject or idea, shoot me a message on Instagram or contact me via email I’m always happy to answer additional questions or comments.

Morey Spellman is a Los Angeles based fashion photographer. 
His work combines a love for beautiful light, authentic beauty, and natural scenery.