How I Planned the Shot: 5 Tips for Finding & Booking Models with Alissa Zimmerman
Models are the number-one finicky variable when planning shoots. Planning around one person (or multiple people) and having faith they will show up on time, professional and ready to go, is enough to keep you up at night.
Models can either make or break your shoot—expression is everything in getting the right shot. We have had our fair share of shoots fall apart because of a model who didn’t understand her angles, face, body, etc.
Here’s a list of my top sources for finding models, plus how we word our pitches for booking them. Hopefully this helps your shoot-planning success.
- Ask a friend, family member, employee or even a complete stranger.
We all have an attractive friend or family member. For shoots that are meant to build your portfolio, you may not have the budget to hire a top agency model. Who is going to say no to being asked to model, especially a young female? Come on, we live in the narcissistic era, this part should be easy.
Tapping into your staff (if you have one) is a good source for models as well. Often when we are traveling, I will throw on a dress and “model” for Sal to get a shot when we find unique locations. These impromptu shoots can be done in a way that hair and makeup don’t need to be professionally done, and your subject can pose in a way that doesn’t show her entire face.
There is also the option of approaching a complete stranger in public and asking that person to model for you. Language is extremely important here because you don’t want to send creeper vibes (especially if you’re a male photographer approaching a younger female). It’s as simple as this:
Hey, sorry to bother you, but I am a professional photographer and am planning a photo shoot for my portfolio. You have a great look and I would love to have you model for me. Is this something you’d be interested in?
From here, give the person the details of the shoot (date, time, location) and start painting a picture of the concept to get them excited. Tell them what’s in it for them as well. When we do trade photo shoots (known commonly as TFP, or “trade for photos”), we specify that we will give them any images Sal edits. This way, if Sal ends up loving and editing only one image from the entire shoot, we are not on the hook to send them every image we took.
- Reach out to previous clients you enjoyed working with.
We enjoy working with past clients for couples shoots (weddings and engagements) because they are a real-life couple, and we have already witnessed their on-camera chemistry. Expression is everything. Chemistry on camera is the secret ingredient that can turn an ordinary photograph into a magically romantic work of art.
Working with previous high school senior clients is almost a guaranteed way to get more business. Their generation is all about social media, showing the virtual world how great they look. Take advantage of this, don’t mock it. Word of mouth is everything in our industry, so provide these people with the best experience possible so they share your images with all their friends.
Select clients who photograph well—people who enhance your portfolio, not just someone you had a good time with. Remember, these shoots are for you. It’s okay to be critical of the person or people you’re hiring (even if you’re not paying). You are investing your time, effort and, more than likely, a good amount of money into wardrobe and other details. Make sure the models are exactly what you want to execute your vision.
Keep the language simple when asking your clients to model for you. Give them an incentive for helping you out. We tell them something along these lines:
Hey guys! Hope you’ve been well! We are putting together a stylized shoot for our portfolio next week, and would love to have you model for us if you’re available and interested. We got some amazing images from your [engagement session/senior session/wedding], really enjoyed working with you and think you would be a perfect fit for the shoot we are planning. Let me know if this is something you’re interested in, and I’ll send over all the details!
We offer client models a free 16×24 canvas. Another added bonus: By having your clients model for a second session, you are creating more revenue if you bring them in for a second sales session.
- Look to social media platforms for models with a little more experience.
Everything’s done via social media these days. Finding models on Facebook and Instagram is much easier than you might expect (especially if you have a decent following).
Instagram models are everywhere—you know, the insta-famous girls who have over a million followers for simply being pretty. They love working with photographers to get more images to post online for their followers. All you have to do is reach out and ask if they would be interested. What’s the worst that could happen? You don’t get a response? Okay, move on.
You should offer to pay girls who have outrageous numbers of followers. This gets their attention, as I’m sure photographers contact these girls daily about collaborating for free. Also, send some of your images or a link to your portfolio so they can see what they can expect from shooting with you. Tell them something like:
Hi, I am a professional wedding and portrait photographer based in the St. Louis, MO, area. We will be in Los Angeles next month, and are putting together a photo shoot for our portfolio. I found you on Instagram and think you would be a perfect fit for the look we’re going for. I have attached some of our recent work for you to get an idea of what we do. Let me know if you’re interested in working together, and I’ll send over all the details for the shoot. Please also let me know what your daily rate is, as this will be a paid shoot. Looking forward to hearing from you!
There are also Facebook groups dedicated to the modeling and photography communities in most major cities around the world. This is a great way to connect with models: Simply request to be a member, and post a casting call on the wall.
Another way to find models on Facebook is to simply post a casting call to your own page. This works really well if you have a decent following because your followers will start tagging people they know and sharing your post, which greatly expands your reach. I post something like:
MODEL CALL: Looking for a real-life couple to model for an upcoming bridal shoot. Wedding dress and hair/makeup provided, groom will need to provide a suit. Hair and makeup will start at 1:00 p.m., will need you both until about 7:00 p.m. For anyone interested and available, please email photos of you and your significant other to email@example.com, and I will respond with exact details for the shoot. Please feel free to share this post! Thank you!
- Maximize resources with Model Mayhem—the correct way.
Model Mayhem is a website database of models, makeup artists and hair stylists. The site is notorious for being the home of the world’s most unreliable group of “creative professionals,” as they like to call themselves. Used correctly, Model Mayhem can be a great resource for finding quality models at a reasonable price point.
We use Model Mayhem primarily when doing international shoots, as a large portion of the international model base is agency-represented. These models are on the site to do shoots for themselves outside of agency regulations. Jackpot! These are the type of models you should be looking for—the ones who want to work with other talented people in the industry to build their portfolio while also helping build yours.
You can either post a casting call for models and hair/makeup artists to contact you, or you can browse the database and reach out to each person directly. We prefer reaching out directly so we have control of the look of the model and don’t waste time weeding through any unqualified people who respond. Here’s a sample pitch:
Hi, we will be in Tokyo, Japan, next week and are planning a few photo shoots for our portfolio in and around Tokyo. I am looking to book a Japanese female model on July 19, 21 and 22. This is a paid shoot. We will need the model available from 1 p.m. – 7 p.m. Please let me know if you would like to work together and your availability ASAP so I can plan accordingly. Thank you!
A strong piece of advice, and a rule we live by when booking models through Model Mayhem: Always book a second model as your Plan B, assuming that your Plan A will be a no call/no show. It’s sad and unfortunate, but a reality. Get the model’s contact information and confirm with them the night before and the morning of the shoot.
- Hire your models through an agency.
The first time we took the leap from Model Mayhem to an agency-booked model, we were hesitant because of the common misconception that agencies charge an arm and a leg for a subpar model. We were relieved after Sal took his first frame and we all looked at the image straight out of camera. Worth every penny.
There is something to be said about a model who understands how to pose not only her body, but her face as well. I can’t stress this enough: If you want to take your images to the next level, hiring a true professional model will elevate the quality of your imagery tenfold, guaranteed.
Going through an agency can be expensive, sure, but it doesn’t have to be. When reaching out initially, tell them your budget and ask if they have any “new faces” available. These are the newly represented girls in the lineup who may not have much of a portfolio and are looking to get out in the industry and get some work under their belts. It doesn’t mean these girls are inexperienced; it just means they are new to the agency and don’t have the level of experience as some of the five- to 10-year veterans (who are booking jobs at an astronomical rate).
Agency-represented models are reliable and professional, and have always been extremely fun for us to work with. They are just as excited to be modeling as you are to be shooting. Remember, this is their job. They need these jobs to make money, and they want these images for their portfolio just as much as you want them for yours.
When reaching out to an agency, language is key. State your purpose and who you are quickly and efficiently. Agents don’t have time to read your novel of a life story, nor do they care. Get to your point, state the facts, speak in bullets and be specific about what you’re looking for so they can help you find the right model:
Hi, my name is Alissa Zimmerman. I represent Salvatore Cincotta, wedding/portrait photographer, educator, author and editor-in-chief of the photography education magazine Shutter. We have our three-year anniversary issue coming up in July, and will be in L.A. on June 18 looking to do a shoot for our cover—our covers normally revolve around a stunning headshot, and we would love to work with one of your girls.
Can you please let me know what the process is to book a model for this shoot? Below is more information about it:
-Date: June 18, 2015
-Duration: 8 hours
-Location: Hair and makeup at our apartment in Manhattan Beach, shoot location TBD
-Hair/Makeup Start Time: 1:00 p.m.
-Pay: Negotiable—need to know model’s rates and agency fees. Final image will be delivered hi-res to agency, as well as printed versions of the magazine (however many you want!).
I have attached images of our most recent covers for you to get an idea of what we do. Looking forward to hearing back from you. Thank you!
Always be upfront if you have a strict budget—depending on the city and the caliber of model you want, you can expect to pay anywhere from $200 to $1,000 for an eight-hour day, plus the normal 20 percent agency fee on top of that.