Working with models from modeling agencies (for Fashion photographers)

Today's Model Agency test shoot with : Nastya @ Idole Model Management Paris.

Here's my hero shot which I spent a few minutes on retouching.


© Jus Vun, Photographer in Paris, Tokyo, Sydney |


So you have been an avid photographer for a while now and you've taken a few photos of your family and friends, moved on to shooting some beautiful people on and have even gotten paid for a few gigs. However, you would like to take your photography to the next level and consistently shoot top-level models. So how do you go about approaching a modeling agency and why? (I would like to note that I still enjoy shooting non-models and portraits of random people on the streets)

First of all, to be taken seriously in the fashion industry you must work with agency models. They have the right looks, the right stats and professionalism (more often than not). They have been recruited and mentored by their respective agencies and most of them have a better attitude than the typical model-wannabe from Model Mayhem. To be published, most good magazines will require an agency-represented model and the clothes that your stylists provide will likely fit many of models from agencies. Importantly, if for any reason your model isn't able to attend the shoot, it is likely they contact their own agency so that arrangements can be made to give you a replacement model. This has happened on occasion to me and in most cases I was able to get a replacement model which saved my day. (imagine the weeks of preparation for your project destroyed when your model doesn't show up and you are panicking to get a replacement model while the rest of your crew wait helplessly) 

It was not long ago that I was on the outside looking in, scouring the internet for any interesting people & subjects to shoot. For the odd portrait shoot, it was not hard to locate interesting subjects, but when it came time to find an experienced and above-average looking model for a fashion project it was not easy. Like everyone else, I started shooting friends, moved to random strangers and then onto websites such as model-mayhem and even Facebook to find models.

Sure, it is quite easy to find models to do TFP (time for print), giving your photos in exchange for their modeling time but to get an experienced or top model  may not be so easy as they most likely have already completed their books and many will charge a fee of anywhere between $50-150 or more per hour.

(Disclaimer: I do think models should be paid by photographers if the photographers have something to gain and vice versa. No one should have to do work for free unless it is agreed that both sides have something to gain. Models should definitely be paid for their work, especially for commercial work and runways of famous designers but the sad truth is that a lot of famous designers will pay them in clothes. This sad fact of the fashion industry is also true for photographers where famous magazines or designers will ask you to do work for them yet give you little to nothing in return in exchange for "credits" or the privilege of being able to promote yourself through working with them. For collaborations & editorials, where each member of the team benefits from working together, it is our choice to work for free because all our skills are pooled together to produce something creative for our personal portfolio. Yet, all too often photographers are expected to work for free by potential "clients". One day in future, I will write a blog about this so that every time someone asks if I would like to work for free or to give them photos for free, I can just direct them to my blog but I digress...)

Back to the topic of getting models...So, I used to think that getting a model from a modeling agency is near impossible or that I would have to pay thousands of dollars for one. Fear not eager little space cadets, for it is possible to have models at your fingertips whenever you wish. Yes the models are not getting paid but remember in order for you to be working with models from modeling agencies, must mean that your photography is on a level high enough. Modeling agencies are willing to provide you with a free model because the model gets high-end photography from you for their book rather than them having to pay top dollar to complete their book. A model would have to fork out anywhere from $300-700AUD and up for a set of photos to complete their model composites so actually, it is a fair exchange of sorts.

So fresh faces come and go in modeling agencies. New models get recruited or are sent from sister agencies from other cities and countries and there's always a need for new or fresh photos for their books. Professional models and professional photographers are much the same - they need to continue producing work in order to practice, improve, get eyes on their work so that people notice. So for both, staying stagnant in such a competitive industry is not advisable. Not only that, a model or photographer who is constantly outputting shows passion and dedication to polishing their craft.
Here are some things to consider:

  • Go on to model agency websites and look through each model's book and portfolios. I must have gone through every modeling agency in Paris to look through different model's books to see what each agencies tend to put in their book. Having said that, do not try to change your photography too much to satisfy them. Stay true to yourself but tweak slightly so that your work has a better chance of being noticed by the agency when you contact them.

  • If your photos doesn't have the high-fashion look then you probably will be turned back.  Try to work with make-up artists and stylists. However, it is not necessary. I do a lot of test shoots without stylists (the above photo I just told the agency booker to tell the model to bring a few items of clothing and to put on her own makeup before the shoot) 

  • Have a professional-looking website in the direction of a fashion photographer. Agencies will often look at your website to see the kind of work you produce and if it is too broad or varied,  they will not even bother to reply. In the past, I have had bookers who were nice enough to give me some advice and tell me that I needed to work on my photos to be more fashion-oriented and to call them again a few months down the track. I worked on my test shooting style and eventually they gave me models! It is also best to have a personal domain name e.g. rather than a tumblr account so you will look more legit! It's all about impressions :) In fact, I met a guy who took some architecture photos for fun and then made a professional looking architecture website and eventually got some high paid gigs from corporate clients simply because they thought the website gave off the impression that he was an experienced architectural photographer.  

  • Send them a short email or give them a call.  So when you think you are ready to approach a modeling agency, make a list of a few in your area. Try to start with the smaller boutique modeling agencies rather than the top-tier ones. (Be careful of lesser known agencies and work with the reputable ones) You can gauge their professionalism by their website and the models they have. Some agency websites will have a contacts section and you will have to locate either the "test" booker , the person responsible for "fresh faces" or "development." For the larger agencies, they will often have several persons responsible for each of the "WOMEN" or "MEN" models. So it is your job to find out who it is and contact them :) Keep the email short and sweet with an introduction of who you are and then ask them nicely if they have any fresh faces for you to do some test shoots so you can provide them with photos. (Try not to email over the weekend as they will likely be bombarded by emails on Monday and likely skip your request for a "test shoot") Do not be picky with the models they give you the first few times. Once you have built a good relationship with one of the bookers then you can ask for the models you want.

After the shoot, I will give the agency around 10-15 photos to choose from or 1-3 photos per look.  Nowadays, for test shoots, I keep my editing short and simple (apart from the hero shots) and spend less than a minute on some basic color and tone adjustments. 

Here are the rest of the photos from today's shoot with Natsya from Idole Model Management. It was my first test shoot for them and I wanted to work with them because they have a good reputation - one of my favourite fashion photographers based in Paris, Peter Lindbergh have often worked with this modeling agency.

Good luck :)