When looking to become a working fashion photographer in New York City, there are many different avenues that can be taken; almost to the point that it is overwhelming. A lot of photographers get their start by testing with local modeling agencies.
Seeing that the fashion world of New York is a close knit circle that is similar to that of a small town, it should come as no surprise that they only want to work with New York photographers. This can be disheartening for those of us who are not born and raised in the city. However, what no one tells you is that most of those that inhabit the city are not originally from there.
Here are a few tips when trying to break into the market as a test photographer.
1) Create a portfolio that looks like it belongs in New York City.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that everything has to have been photographed here. It does mean that you should study your ass off to research the modeling agencies to see what is being produced and used in a model’s portfolio. Study the lighting, the composition, the angles, the styling. Study everything you can get your hands on and figure out how this can be applied to your own work.
This also means to only include models that fit the mold as well. Photographing a killer shoot in the middle of DTLA in LA fashion will not make much of an impression on a New York modeling agency booker. It is a separate market for a reason. New York City has a very specific approach that looks minimal and effortless. They are also starting to want a lot of their test shoots to look like an editorial.
We have a schedule of upcoming portfolio building days in New York City that hire a team solely based in New York with working models from top agencies. This is a very worthwhile investment as all images you create can be used in your portfolio. Melissa also has a very intricate shoot coming up in May that you can read about here.
Also, make sure as you are developing your portfolio that you are developing your own style. Your point of view and voice should be noticeable by showcasing a cohesive perspective throughout your book.
2) Expect to be told “no” a lot. Listen and learn from the rejection.
When you are first approaching modeling agencies to do a test shoot, be prepared to be told “no”. As artists, our hearts and souls are often poured into our work and the rejection can be a hard pill to swallow. One of the best things that I have learned is to separate yourself from what you do. This makes receiving critiques a lot more tolerable. Often times a modeling agency will give solid feedback that if properly applied can be utilized in your future work to get one step closer to a “yes”. Remember that it only takes one yes to get started.
3) Be prepared to do a lot of work for free. Recognize what is and isn’t worthy of your time.
Receiving that first “yes” is exhilarating and often comes after what seems like an endless string of rejection. It is a worthy stamp of validation and a step in the right direction. Testing is often what opens the doors to be connected with other modeling agencies and how we build our network of makeup artists, hairstylists, and sometimes a fashion stylist.
Understand that the days of paid testing are coming to an end. For photographers, the money to be made is in models that haven’t been signed yet. There are only a coveted handful of photographers in New York City that are on the paid testing list. A lot of agencies view being able to work with their caliber of models as payment enough. Sometimes testing a brand new face will appear to be menial, however, if you do a great job you may be able to barter for a main board model for your future work. It is being able to recognize this and choosing where to negotiate and when that will pay off.
In the end, it is similar to a game, and a fun one at that. It is learning to play and realizing that at the end of the day, our little small world is all trying to accomplish the same thing. Choose your moves wisely and the perseverance will pay off tenfold. The evidence is in watching your book blossom before your very eyes.