How to Find a Model for Portrait Photography?

how to find a model for portrait photography

Photography can often feel like a solitary pursuit.

Still, specific genres of photography, mainly those involving portraits, intrinsically involve photographers working with others subjects as photographers who shoot a lot of commercial images.

One of the questions often asked by photographers starting is how to go about finding new topics to work with. 

Photographing new subjects regularly is an integral and necessary part of developing and honing critical skills in being a good portrait photographer.

Additionally, it plays a crucial role in staying creative by exploring new concepts and experimentation with new techniques.

As it is with most things in life, the more extensive your experience, the better the quality of your portfolio, and the broader your connections are in the photography industry, the easier it will be for you to find new models to photograph.

Here are some suggestions you may find helpful.

If you are starting and developing your skills as a portrait shooter, finding models willing to work with you can be a bit of a challenge, especially if you don’t have a body of work to demonstrate your competence behind the camera.

How do you build a body of work as a portrait photographer if you can’t find people to photograph?

It sounds like a Catch 22, right? Hiring a model to work with you is an obvious solution, but this may not always be possible, depending on your budget. All hope is not lost, however.

Tap into your network; sweet-talk a significant other; reach out to your family members, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances, and ask them to jump in front of your lens.

Bribe them with pizza afterwards if you must, but the bottom line is that there is bound to be someone within your social circles that you can ask (or beg, if you have to) to be your subject. 

Photographing friends and family can be fun, but unless your focus is on photographing families, most of you will likely want to work with people outside of your social circles in hopes of expanding your portfolio and adding some variety to your work.

Thanks to the prevalence of social media, it’s never been easier to connect with models you would like to work with.

Platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and even websites like Model Mayhem are excellent places to find and network with models from your surrounding area.

Exploring relevant hashtags for your site is a great way to find nearby active models and looking to expand their portfolios.

When reaching out to prospective models, make sure you are professional, concise, and courteous.

Everyone has different schedules, so having a concept ready in mind and your availability will aid in scheduling a shoot with prospective models.

This method is also highly effective if you travel regularly and would like to collaborate with models local to the area you’ll be visiting: substitute your destination in place of your home city.

If your work is good enough, you may even find models reaching out to you in hopes of working with you as well.

Once you’ve honed your craft and gotten to the point where you’ve put together a strong enough portfolio, it’s time to step up your game and put your skills to the test in the big leagues.

Modelling agencies are where you will find the top modelling talents, and they are constantly on the lookout for emerging talents. Those “new faces” fortunate enough to be signed to an agency will need to build a professional portfolio before their agency can book them for paying gigs.

This is where you, as a seasoned portrait photographer, come in. Just as you had reached out to prospective models via social media in hopes of working with them, the process of testing with agency new faces is very similar.

A quick Google search will steer you towards the right direction of reputable modelling agencies in your area, but be realistic in your search and focus on boutique to mid-sized agencies.

When establishing contact with the agencies, it helps to have a polished portfolio and a concept in mind when you are available. If there are specific features, you’re looking for in a skin tone or hair colour model.

Test requests from photographers constantly bombard modelling agencies, so don’t feel dejected if you don’t hear back right away. Be persistent and follow up periodically, but always remember to be professional, concise, and courteous.

Never forget that time is just as valuable for you as it is for the models you work with and that you’ve agreed to work together in hopes of walking away with images that will increase the value of your respective portfolios, so make sure to provide them with the photos from your shoot together in a timely fashion—like most things we do in life, successfully finding new models to work with consistently is all about fostering mutually beneficial relationships.

As you begin to work with new models always, not only will it help improve your skills as a photographer, but it will also help build your reputation as a professional.

One of the most popular and sought-after photography genres is taking portraits of both male and female models. Getting started can be quite an uphill battle at times. So how do you get started?

What Is a Portrait Model?

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A portrait model is to a portrait photographer what a beautiful vista or mysterious urban alleyway is to a landscape and street photographer. Your portrait model is the subject in front of your camera. While there is a myriad of ways of capturing your subject’s mood, emotion, and personality, you can’t get far in portrait photography without any models.

Why Have a Model for Your Portrait Photography?

A portrait model is precisely why you’re in the game of portrait photography, to begin with. They are your canvas for which you paint a scene.

The best portrait photographers all have their subsequent styles, yet they all share one thing in common — their models are professionals who understand the nuance of a portrait session.

Without their willingness or expertise as models, the job of the photographer would be much more complicated. While a portrait taken at Sears may suffice for specific situations, a great photographer and a great model will create something magical.

While it’s true that to make it in the industry, you’ll need to photograph subjects that aren’t professional models, your work with models will inform your professional skills.

With a model, you have the freedom of experimentation, where you’ll develop photographic intuition, learn to improvise and gain an intimate understanding of your equipment.

Where to Find Models for Portrait Photography

Deviantart

DeviantART makes it easy to figure out how to find models for portrait photography. It has been a pivotal part of bringing art and community together for decades.

It’s also a great place to explore photography, namely portrait photography. Try establishing yourself on the website, posting and sharing within the photography community. When you’re ready, reach out to a few of the models.

Model Mayhem

Model Mayhem is the de facto community in the quest of how to find models for portrait photography. Think of the website as a social network for photographers and models to create connections.

You can create your profile and even select your style of photography and find a model with ease. It’s one of the best model and photographer networking sites in the industry.

The fact is Model Mayhem is a resource where photographers can meet and collaborate with models, makeup artists, and stylists.

There you can create a profile where you select what genres you’re looking to shoot, showcase your portfolio and interact with other creatives. It is worth a shot for you to at least try the website out.

Facebook

Thanks to Facebook’s robust, local search, you can easily find models in your area by searching for people and groups using specific contextual parameters like “[City Name] Portrait Models.”

It couldn’t be any easier to join a few local photography groups, introduce yourself and start making friends.

Facebook groups are a great way to exchange ideas and find people to collaborate with.

Find groups for collaboration between models and photographers in your area. Ask to join, and post some samples of your best work with a clear description of what you want to shoot.

Instagram

Instagram is highly popular among both photographers and models and a great place to find people to collaborate with. Search through hashtags related to modelling and see if there’s anyone you’d like to work with.

Your Friends

Most likely, you’ll start by asking your friends if they would be interested in shooting with you, or if you’re lucky, you’ll have a friend who models.

You could start by just shooting friends; you’ll likely be more comfortable shooting with them, and it will help you become more comfortable with a subject in front of you.

It’s excellent practice, so that way you won’t make as many rookie mistakes in front of a professional model. 

Don’t forget that you already have a potential resource to tap into when looking for models to photograph — your friends. Many of your close acquaintances would probably be flattered to learn that you’d like to photograph them.

Best of all, you could probably fudge a “quid pro quo” situation if you schedule a session with someone you know.

Build Your Reputation

Believe it or not, if you’ve already found a few models and have begun to publish your photography, then you’re more than likely cultivating a positive reputation in your area.

Soon enough, you may find yourself approached for gigs. Heck, you may even find yourself cornering a niche market and become “the photographer” for a specific demographic. Once you’re in, you’re in!

After trying at least one of these options, the chances are that you will land a photoshoot or two.

As you have successful shoots with friends or models that you’ve shot with, word of mouth will get around, and from that point, opportunities should arise for you.

Do not underestimate tagging on social media; it’s a powerful way to get more eyeballs on your photos and expose your name. As you can tell, networking is crucial, and the more people you meet, the more likely people will shoot with you. 

How to Approach Them

OK, that’s all great, but how do you approach models? How do you increase your odds of them shooting with you? Usually, when you ask to collaborate or “test” with a model, the first question they will ask you is, “Do you have a portfolio I can look at?” This is where you can find yourself stuck if you have no set portfolio when starting. Using these tips will help you land a photoshoot. 

Professionalism

You should be professional right from the get-go. Since I’ve been told horror stories from models, this deserves to be at least mentioned. Be professional during every aspect of your shoot, from prep to photo delivery. If you’re not experienced, you will not make it too far. 

Be Direct

Before you approach the potential model, it’s essential to be completely direct and honest.

Tell them what you expect and provide the links to your work to get familiar with it and see what they can expect.

Have a Plan

Simply saying “hey, let’s shoot” or some other passive-aggressive inquiry will not help your chances.

When reaching out to them, make sure to let them know who you are, where you’re from, compliment their work, what you’re looking to shoot, concept ideas, and so on. Treat it like you’re looking for a job, be prepared and have a plan in place. 

Mood Board

Building mood boards is where you’ll begin to stand out from the amateur photographer crowd. A board that includes the model, location, styling, and concept will make a great impression and help your chances.

Use Google Images or 500px to find my inspiration images. After culling photos together, go into Photoshop and create an 8.5-inch by 11-inch collage of images that inspire the shooting concept.

Sending this to a model shows that you gave the shoot thought, preparation and perhaps even selected that model for that specific concept.

It is also an excellent tool for practice and communication; everyone will be on the same page and capture exactly what the team has in mind. 

Tips for Finding Ideal Models for Your Portrait Photography

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Be Local

When looking for models, keep focused on your area. It’s easier to meet, and you or the model won’t have to pay travel expenses.

Be Prepared

I think this is something to do before everything else. Have a clear idea in mind about what you want to shoot. This way, you can clearly explain it to the model.

Provide some of your old work as a reference. If you have an idea you’d never shot before, show them someone else’s similar work if you can find it or make sketches.

Be Clear

When agreeing about the concept and details of the shoot, be clear about what the model will get. Be specific about how many photos they will get and in which form (whether only digital or prints as well).

And don’t give them the raw files. They could edit them badly and post on Instagram with your credits, which doesn’t do you a favour. Although, they could do it with the finished files too.

I’d add my piece of advice here – agree in advance about the conditions of posting the photos on their social media accounts.

Adult Models Only

To avoid problems with parents or authorities, never work with underage models. Feel free to ask for age and only work with those who are over 18.

Build Trust

If your work (or the current project) involves shooting nudes, don’t just ask, “Hey, would you shoot nudes?” immediately. This can scare girls off, and trust me; you’ll sound like a creep.

Of course, be honest about your work, but be professional and kind. This way, you will build trust and keep credibility.

Collab Means Free

Now, this isn’t something I’m too familiar with, but you shouldn’t pay the model for the shoot, according to Mathieu.

In this case, it’s a win-win situation for you both because they get the photos for the book, and you contact them for your portfolio. I’m sure some photographers and models resolve this differently, but I think I’d also go with this approach.

Get a Good Portfolio

Keep in mind that models get a lot of requests. So, you need to get their attention and make them want to work with you. Therefore, make sure your portfolio is good-looking, so you get them to browse through your work and want to work with you.

Of course, sometimes you’ll fail, meaning that you’ll get a “no” or won’t get the reply at all. But this doesn’t mean you should give up. Keep looking, be professional and friendly, and you’ll find ideal models to help you turn your ideas into photos.

Portrait Photography Can Take You Anywhere If You Let It

Many hobby portrait photographers may be happy with that one friend and their cat as their only two models.

However, if you intend to break into the portrait photography industry, you need to take your expertise to the next level by hiring a model. Not only does model photography show that you’re a go-getter, but it allows you to show your craft truly.

With the right approach, you’ll find that breaking into the model community can be pretty straightforward, as long as you’re honest, kind and courteous. Most of all, make sure you make them look their best and have something to show after all that hard work.

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