Becoming a model can be a fun, exciting and sometimes intimidating new adventure. There are a number of things to do to even get started as a model and it’s often confusing and difficult to know where to start.
So where do you start? That’s a great question!
Most people would tell you to start with a portfolio. That is sound advice, but that’s not where I recommend you start. I know that you have to have a portfolio to get a job, but your portfolio is a topic for another post.
To get started let’s focus on the product. We need to understand the product in order to understand the money. Or more appropriately where the money comes from. Many models make the mistake of thinking that they are the product and as such should always get paid if someone is taking a picture. This is a common mistake young models make and it often leads to frustration when trying to become a full time working model. That’s not to say that a model shouldn’t get paid, but if we understand the product then we will have a better understanding of when a model gets paid and when a model is expected to pay.
I’m going to say it: You are not the product. Never have been and most likely never will be. Models are hired to sell the product. Whether that product is a shirt, a pair of pants, a bathing suit, or their birthday suit; the model is hired to sell that product. So the question you should ask at the outset of any interaction is who’s benefiting from the images of the product? Once you know who’s benefitting you will also know who’s paying for your services.
So let’s break it down a little bit and see if we can identify where the money and opportunities to get paid come from. The first scenario comes from a corporate benefactor. I know that I don’t have to say this but the vast majority of modeling opportunities come from corporate products and services. When a corporation has a marketing campaign they may hire a photographer to execute their vision. That photographer may need your services in order to achieve the vision of the art director. So the photographer or the company in turn will hire you to be the model. You will get paid for your involvement in creating the image and lending your likeness to the campaign in order to sell their product or service. This is the ideal scenario for all parties.
Let’s talk about the second scenario. As a portrait photographer I will sometimes hire models to represent my brand. So the product, in this case (as is most often the case) the images (and the service they represent), belong to me and benefit me and my business. I, and photographers like me are on the hook to pay the model. This can be done in a number of ways: cash, prints, portfolio development or any other good and valuable consideration that can be agreed upon. Portfolio development is a great trade for new and emerging models and can sometimes trump cash if you are working with a photographer that will get you great photos for your portfolio.
The third scenario is a bit of a sticky topic. Because it’s the scenario where you, the model, doesn’t get paid. You are the one on the hook. Let’s break this one down for a second. If you approach a photographer for images with the intention of benefitting from adding them to your portfolio, then the photographer is now representing your brand and you will be expected to pay the photographer for their product and services. It has happened to me more times than I can count where a model approaches me about a shoot and then says “Here are my rates.” with the expectation of getting paid. The photographer is not benefitting in this scenario so they have no motivation to pay you as the model. Furthermore it is a good way to get on a list of potential people to avoid when a paying job comes up. Now, as in scenario two, there are a number of ways to compensate a photographer and they may be interested in a trade for portfolio development. But don’t be surprised or offended when the photographer turns down a trade offer and requires payment.
In this day and age there are more opportunities for models and photographers alike. Now that you have a better understanding of the product you will be able to capitalize on those opportunities and begin to build a thriving business and become an in demand model.