Having photographed people for modeling agencies since the 1990s, I’m frequently asked for advice on how to get into the biz and succeed at it. Today I am offering 10 tips for success in modeling.
10. Actually want to work instead of just fulfilling some fantasy lifestyle.
From my experience, many people don’t want to do the actual labor to earn money in modeling — they just want validation that they COULD be professional models. They are content to have photos they can show off to friends on Facebook or to some guy in a bar that demonstrate they’re attractive enough for someone to WANT to photograph them. And I am perfectly happy to create images they can use to manufacture that ego boost/illusion. Most people don’t want to get up at 4 am to do a sunrise photo shoot or shiver on a yacht in a bikini or sit in a chair for four hours while a stylist meticulously works on their hair. They just want the end result because it looks cool and impresses others.
Many beginning models can frustrate someone like me who attempts to help them because when you’re young and “hot”, your priorities can be a bit immature. The model who blows off her photo shoot to spend the day with some cute boy she meets instead of following through on what she committed to do is likely costing a photographer money by having a crew standing around waiting on her to show up and get a photo shoot done. That’s a great way to get nowhere fast.
Also, the more glamorous the modeling job, the less you’ll probably get paid because so many other people actually want to do it (i.e., catalog vs editorial). As with photography, the jobs that pay are usually the more tedious, low profile and less prestigious. Working extends beyond the time you’re actually on a runway or posing in a studio — your work includes hitting the gym, making good choices in the kitchen, moisturizing in the bathroom, etc.
9. Realize that modeling does require actual TALENT, not just good looks.
In fact, attractiveness isn’t even always a factor. Some people get work because they have an unusual face or can fulfill the need for an everyday person, just like a supporting actor on a TV show who plays the same character over and over. Don’t always try to be the supermodel doing the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. Be a chameleon who can transform into as many different looks (characters) and styles as possible, a wide range of ages (from the high schooler to the young mom, etc.). Modeling is insanely competitive because pretty girls and handsome guys are a dime a dozen, especially now with plastic surgery.
It’s not just about winning the genetic lottery; that’s just for starters. You won’t go far if you don’t know how to move, how to emote. I’ve photographed beginners who are like deer in the headlights when they get in front of a camera and are given direction. And that’s tough to realize you ain’t got it because it looks so easy from the outside looking in. “You mean I can’t just stand here looking pretty?…”
8. Develop a thick skin and be persistent.
Realize that modeling is a pretty crazy proposition, if you think about it. You’re chosen based on someone liking your look, which can be highly subjective. Then you’re illustrating illusions of desire in marketing images so someone sees you wearing an outfit and smiling (thus provoking a desire to have the life you seem to enjoy). You are compelling someone to spend their money on something in order to become that person you appeared to be. That’s tricky.
Prepare yourself for rejection and people being not-so-nice all the time. There’s not always time to spare feelings. Don’t take anything that is said to you as the gospel truth. It’s just the opinion of someone who doesn’t really even know you. We make gut judgments all the time. Left swipe anyone on Tinder lately? If you don’t let it get to you, you already have an advantage over the model who will take every criticism personally and crumble.
7. Modeling is like playing baseball. The more strikes against you, the more likely you’re out.
Sorry, but if you are starting in your late twenties, have a bad complexion, have to accommodate having kids, live two hours away from the nearest large city, etc., you’re facing an uphill struggle. Most models start in their early teens, are expected to be fit and ready to shoot (it costs money to Photoshop out your stretch marks), and ready to pounce because modeling work can drop on very short notice. If your heart is really set on it, don’t let my advice stop you. I’m just pointing out the challenges and being a realist.
One thing that’s changed since I started this is the relevance of social media marketing, especially Facebook and Twitter. These days the models that get booked may be the ones with the largest following. What publisher doesn’t want to hire someone who brings a built-in audience with her?
6. Develop a Critical Eye.
Only work with the best photographers you can find. Look at their work with a critical eye. The beginner may lack the sophistication to distinguish between crap and something that agencies or art directors actually want. Reach out to a photographer if you really want to shoot with them because they may see something about your look that can benefit their portfolio or you might be good for a project they have coming up. If not, HIRE a good photographer. I know, it seems ridiculous that you should actually pay someone when so many guys with cameras are giving it away for free.
Hiring a pro gives you an instant advantage over those models who go the cheap route and just shoot with any newbie with a camera who wants to spend time with pretty girls and can fake it by leaving the camera on automatic and telling her to stand on the railroad tracks (that’s not cliche, right?). Eventually, maybe years from now, they might have a portfolio that won’t get laughed at. It’s to your benefit to NOT shoot with bad photographers who will do cheesy stuff because agencies do not want to represent someone who will have bad stuff floating around on the Internet working against the model when the photographer is just showing off what he or she thinks was decent stuff.
Think of hiring a good photographer as an investment in your BUSINESS — the business of You Inc modeling. Maintaining your fitness, eating healthy, protecting your skin, hair, nails, etc., are also overhead costs of doing business.
Practice your moves in the mirror and shoot with as many good photographers as you can because every photo shoot you do has a lesson to offer and experience to gain. Eventually, you’ll know which side is your better look and which angles on your body are most flattering, then you’ll be able to automatically spring into action. You’ll also gain a sense of how to work with different personalities (some photographers offer a lot of energy and direction, others are very analytical and expect you to do most of the heavy lifting).
Browse the kind of images you want to do and think about what is behind the model’s eyes or the choices he or she made rather than just passively enjoying it. Think rather than merely feeling images you see all around you.
5. Think Long Term.
If you are 18, in the eyes of the law you are a grownup. Too many people these days act like being in their early 20s is permission to do reckless things and get a free pass. Think longer term. I say this because I’ve photographed people in swimwear only to have them come back later and tell me they don’t want their photos seen anywhere (despite signing a legally-binding model release).
It’s not as if a photographer can just take photos off the Internet. Once they are posted somewhere, some third-party may download them to another website that the photographer or the model have no control over. Content piracy is a part of the modern Internet paradigm. You can end up in Las Vegas on vacation and find that some unethical company has used your likeness on a display ad in a cab you hop in at the airport for a strip club or an escort service without your permission. What can happen is a model who is partying and entering wet t-shirt contests on spring break isn’t thinking about looking for a job when she leaves college. She’s in-the-moment and enjoying being wild. But guess what…?
Being young and drunk isn’t an excuse. You are a grown up. Act like one and realize that your choices have consequences. Don’t do anything you aren’t comfortable doing, but also don’t be afraid to take calculated risks because you do have a little bit of leeway to do so when you’re young. My personal philosophy in making choices is to not say or do anything I’d be humiliated to explain to my momma, a judge or my pastor.
Put as much thought into your choices as a model as you would a tattoo that you’re going to have to look at for the rest of your life when you look in the mirror. You’ll make enough stupid choices as a young adult without having them immortalized. What am I talking about? You kids today DO have everything documented on the Internet…
4. Whatever you do, own it.
Don’t be wishy-washy. If you decide to do something that’s risqué or an out-there concept with strange hair or whatever, accept that it is a CHOICE you’ve made. Realize that someone may see something you’ve done and give you crap about it, making presumptions about your morality or assuming that illusion equals reality (you are not always the person you might portray). A young woman may pose provocatively with some hunky guy for a jeans ad but be a shy virgin in real life.
I’m not even necessarily talking about showing skin. It may be the hippie chick who is given a hard time for looking all corporate or the guy who does a stock photo shoot that ends up on a billboard as an ad for HIV testing. It happens. Be proud of the work you do. You’ll torture yourself and have a horrible life if you live to make everyone else happy or pacify your haters. The world owes you nothing, so don’t convince yourself that you’re a victim. Be responsible. Surround yourself with people who are supportive. Nothing is more unprofessional than a model calling a photographer begging him to not use images he’s invested money and time to create and edit because she told her daddy or her boyfriend about it and he’s upset at her. Tough toodles, darling.
3. Protect yourself by using an alias.
I don’t say this suggesting you hide behind a stage name to do work that you aren’t proud of. Your safety is my main concern. The world is full of stalkers and mentally unstable people who may become fixated on attractive people. Just as a modeling image may illustrate desirability of a lifestyle (product) to someone with a normal frame of mind, you never know when an insane person might look into your Photoshopped illusion of perfection and convince themselves that you want to be with them.
As someone who was once confronted by a person with schizophrenia, I can attest that it pays to put a trench of anonymity around the real you. If I was starting all over, I’d certainly let go of my ego and be someone else online. It’s wise to do in the age of Google. Your alias may be your first and middle name, perhaps something you think up. Choose wisely (don’t pick a name that sounds like a porn star if you want to do couture fashion) because you’ll want to promote yourself from the outset as this personna, just like Norma Jean became Marilyn Monroe. Keep the two forever separate, like lovers you never want to meet because it is absolutely useless to adopt an alias if you just plaster it all over Instagram as a hashtag along with your actual name. Duh! One more thing about aliases: choose them wisely; you want your chosen title to be the first result that pops up on a Google search of it and that can’t happen if someone else is already using it in modeling.
2. Go into this with your eyes open, your heart shielded and be savvy.
Be aware that not everyone has your best interest in mind. Some people in the business are so pathetic with women that they need the illusion of being in a position to help you to get laid. Some people will promise you the moon when they can’t possibly deliver. Some people are clowns who don’t know what they hell they’re doing. You’re going to meet all of them at some point, more than likely. Expect to meet them and learn to recognize them.
If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Balance your excitement with skepticism and you’ll preserve your sanity. Some setbacks can be truly heartbreaking, but if you are like me, you do this because you love the work, the process, the collaboration with true talents to create something special. Everything else is just a distraction from that end. Don’t get sidetracked.
1. Be excellent in all you do for as long as you can sustain it.
As with any career, under promise and over deliver. Devote yourself to being the very best model you can be. Commit yourself to improvement and persist in spite of rejection. A modeling career is not something that will last forever, so make the most of opportunities while they exist.
Don’t let anything I’ve said here stop you if this is what you really want. And if you decide that you’re attracted to the illusion rather than the real thing, as I said, I’m available to do photos and reasonably priced. Good luck!