My first attempt at connecting with a modeling agency wasn’t very successful. I was actually turned down because I lacked the “look” that they like their models to have. If you’re reading this article, you may have also experienced this disappointment. Sometimes you won’t get an email or phone call back. Sometimes, the agency is kind enough to give you some feedback and say “no, maybe next time.” You shouldn’t walk away from this negative feedback in defeat. Instead, use what they’re telling you (or not telling you) and re-evaluate your portfolio to see if you need to work on a particular lighting skill or find cohesion in your portfolio. Remember, testing with agency models is a two-way street. The agency, as well as your creative team members, is going to want something in return for their models. As the photographer, you need to be able to deliver quality work that will have the agency answering your phone calls quickly and with enthusiasm.
When I started reaching out to agencies in the Seattle, WA area, I didn’t have very “model” like work in my portfolio. My thought was, well, if I want to work with models, might as well go ask the modeling agencies for some models. I was willing to pay as well for a model but quickly found out that the rates were a bit high and I wasn’t sure what I was going to end up producing, especially in the initial stages. This is where I experienced my first, “no, you don’t have the look we’re looking for our model’s portfolios.” I could’ve stopped there and just go back to what I was doing. I’m not that type of person and I’m sure you’re not either. You have to adapt and overcome if you want to progress and succeed at anything in life.
Here’s 5 ways to begin working with a modeling agency and build a collaborative relationship with modeling agents.
1. Do your research on the agency.
Simple market research is something I can’t stress enough. Go to the agency’s website and take a look around. It sounds simple, but the reality is, I don’t think a lot of photographers take the time to do “market research.” You need to evaluate the model boards to get a feel for what the agency is accepting into the model’s portfolios. How are they dressed? What are the poses? Are they more fashion or commercial?
Take note of the agency themselves and read their “about us” page. Another good page to read is their terms and conditions, which are really important when considering to “test” with an agency. Testing with model agencies is not the same as testing with freelance models or dealing with retail clients. Of note, agency models are not allowed to sign a model release so knowing this ahead of time can avoid misunderstanding and conflict later on.
2. Evaluate your own work and website.
You need to take a good, hard look at your own website and social media. If you’re shooting newborns and then want a model to shoot a fashion story, showing the agency a newborn photography website is not the way to go. While it seems obvious and some of you may laugh at the idea, having the two genres on the same website without clear delineation affects how the agency views your body of work as well as how your clients view your work. My personal example is that my website was geared towards retail photography (family, kids, boudoir, etc) and I approached an agency asking to get a model for a fashion test. I didn’t have ANYTHING fashion on my website. I was focused on maintaining my client base. That doesn’t work for an agency. They want to see that you have practiced and photographed work that they will be interested in showcasing on their model’s portfolios. Furthermore, my website was not of the most aesthetically pleasing design. It was a bit clunky and didn’t have a clean portfolio look and feel to it. I was politely told, “Your book doesn’t really have the look that we’re looking for our models.”
This response spurred me to action. I’m not the type of person to sit back and do nothing. How did I overcome this negative feedback? I invested in my education and my portfolio by attending a workshop. I shot images that were fashion inspired from a photographer I admire. I also found a new template for my website, installed it, and managed to separate the genres from each other properly so that the agency would not get confused about what it was that I was actually shooting. As I was trying to save money, I did keep my retail photography work on the website but it wasn’t the most prominent work. Other photographers will invest in two websites. The choice is yours.
This all did not happen overnight. In fact, it took me several months because of my job and shooting with freelance models to build my portfolio. When I felt I was ready, I re-engaged the agent. I emailed him my newly designed website and a few images in the email that showcased my new work. It was well received and I was given the opportunity to test with “new faces.” This has led me to where I’m at now in my journey.
For more ways to build your portfolio in a short time check out the Breed Portfolio Building Day events held in New York City and Los Angeles. This is another great way to get work into your portfolio quickly at a cost cheaper than hiring the entire creative team and model as well as studio and equipment.
Instagram has also become a very common way of showcasing one’s work. The nice feature about Instagram is that it is purely free and costs nothing to have multiple pages. The key to Instagram is to showcase the work you want people to see. Treat it like a portfolio. Curate the feed as much as you can. Try to avoid excessive personal posts and keep it professional. This has also become a lucrative way for me to connect with agency models. Remember, models follow other models and great work will create more contacts and opportunities. So treat your professional Instagram as a portfolio and keep the cat videos on your personal IG account. For more ways to leverage Instagram, check out these Instagram 101 for Fashion Photographers on Breed.
3. Mood Boards
Sometimes an agent will say, “let me see your mood board” (inspiration board, concept board, whatever you want to call it). They want to see your ideas before they commit a model. It is good practice to begin creating mood boards to help compile your creative thoughts and keep your creative team on target. Feel free to share your ideas with your contact at the agency. They may know of the perfect model to suit your project. Keep in mind the aesthetic of the agency. Shooting a gothic concept may not get your modeling agency interested, especially if it has no place in the model’s portfolio.
I recommend using Pinterest boards to build your mood boards. You can make the boards private even if you’re worried about prying eyes on your creative projects.
4. Creative Team Selection
Your creative team selection is another critical aspect of whether or not you’ll be a good fit with the modeling agencies. When you are first starting, you and your team will grow together. It’s a process that is ever evolving. Unless you’re fortunate to work with top artists right off the bat who are willing to test, you may find a creative team that is just starting out like you. That’s ok. Do your research on the artists and evaluate them for potential and “fit” with your creative direction. When I first started out, I looked for people that were willing to collaborate and test with me as I just couldn’t afford to pay more than a kit fee each and every time I wanted to shoot. I really searched for individuals who had heart and hustle; individuals that wanted to grow professionally and were going to be studious in their own professional pursuits. I was not in a position to fix everything in Photoshop, nor am I willing to do so now. While the agency does not look specifically at your team members, the results will speak for themselves. So choose your creative team members wisely and collaborate in the same direction and with the same intent. Do great work and the agency will gladly continue to let you test with their models.
5. Working with New Faces
You have to start somewhere. You’re not going to book Gisele off the bat just by doing the above on the first try. More than likely, you will be presented with the opportunity to test with “New Faces.” New Faces are the recently signed models who need time in front of the camera. They will generally have the “look” that you’re seeking but they will lack the experience that will ultimately make your life easier. That’s actually a great opportunity to test yourself as a photographer. Can you lead and provide guidance to a model to achieve the look and images you want in your portfolio? I get told numerous times by models I work with that I provide excellent guidance and direction, sometimes the most that they’ve ever received. It’s because I started with New Faces and I learned to get comfortable mimicking the same poses I envisioned in my images. Being able to direct/coach models into those positions that are aesthetically pleasing ensures you get the images you really want in your portfolio and makes the creative team very happy. My posing education actually comes from Sue Bryce and Julia Kuzmenko. If you follow both women, you’ll find how to guide your model into pleasing poses (Sue Bryce) and you’ll learn how to find aesthetically pleasing angles (Julia Kuzmenko). Take the opportunity to perfect your craft and build your reputation with the agency and modeling community. Your work is your reputation so create new work for the New Faces models and your agency contact will be pleased enough to continue a reciprocating relationship.
I hope these five tips help you feel confident to approach a modeling agency for a testing opportunity. Feel free to ask questions down below and I’ll be sure to answer!