Freelance modelling can offer endless and exciting opportunities, such as being your own boss, travelling around the world, visiting beautiful locations, and meeting new people.

The modelling world may appear glamourous, but don't be fooled into thinking it's an easy ride. On the contrary, behind every successful model is someone hardworking, determined and professional. Modelling is a business and can easily be your full-time income if you are committed.

But how do you become a model? This guide is packed full of tips and advice that you can use to begin, and boost, your modelling career.

Create your portfolio

Your portfolio includes images of you and information about you. You will use it to showcase your best work and get yourself booked on photoshoots.  

If you don't have a portfolio yet, your first task is to create one. Your portfolio can be printed out and physically carried around with you, but creating an online portfolio can give you more flexibility and a much broader reach.

There are different platforms and websites, such as PurplePort.com, that you can use to create an online portfolio. Whilst each of these will differ in the features they offer, they will all require the same kind of information to be included. 

Your physical measurements and characteristics 

An essential item in your portfolio is a list of your physical measurements and characteristics such as age, height, weight, shoe size, hair colour, eye colour, hair length, etc.

Most measurements you will know (or can easily find out), but some can be tricky to get right:

  • Bust - Measure around the widest part of your chest (generally across the nipples) whilst wearing a bra. Breathe normally. Do not suck in a big breath to expand your chest.
  • Waist - Measure from around two inches above your belly button or the smallest part of your waist. Do not hold your stomach.
  • Hips - Measure at the widest part of your bum (or roughly eight inches below your waist) and as close to the skin as possible. Do not pull the tape measure in.

There is a place in the modelling industry for practically everyone, so there is no point in using incorrect information in your portfolio. Instead, measure yourself properly and stick to the facts. 

If you get booked for a shoot based on false information, you won’t get a repeat booking, especially if the team who booked you purchased items based on your false information. You may even lose out on work with other people. 

Your modelling name

There's no reason to use your real name on your portfolio. You could use an alias for your modelling name. In fact, it might be better to avoid using your real name, depending on what career path you choose later and the types of images you decide to shoot.

Try to keep your modelling name simple; it doesn't need to be fancy or complicated. In fact if you can make it easy to pronounce then all the better.

TIP: Stay away from names like 'xxxSexyMum1975xxx'. These names will attract the wrong kind of attention, send out the wrong message, and may even result in people unfairly pre-judging you.

Your portfolio notes

This is an opportunity to introduce yourself. Focus on what you can bring to a shoot and anything that makes you different from others (ideally related to the kind of shoots you want to do).

For example, you could mention skills you have (e.g. gymnastics, surfing, etc.), anything unique that you can physically bring along to shoots (e.g. vintage clothing, special props, etc.), or whether you have access to (or know of) special locations to shoot in (e.g.a villa, modern apartment, waterfall, etc.).

Try to be as concise as possible and avoid repeating anything mentioned in your portfolio already (e.g. your age or measurements).

TIP: If you are using a portfolio hosting website or platform such as PurplePort.com to create an online portfolio, avoid adding your personal contact details to your portfolio notes, such as your email address or phone number. Photographers and others can use the website or platform's messaging system to contact you directly.

Your shoot styles (levels/genres)

Shoot styles (known as genres or levels) describe the different types of photoshoots you can work in (e.g. commercial, beauty, fashion, lingerie, nude, etc.). 

Choose shoot styles that you are capable of and comfortable with. If you don't know what a shoot-style involves, don't do it. There is no point in saying you can do something that you cannot deliver, or that could put you in a difficult situation.

Images placed online may never be completely removed. Are you happy with lingerie or nude images of you being seen by friends and family? If not, it's best to avoid these shoot styles. You cannot rely on the promise that images are “for personal use” unless you sign a contract stating so, and you've had your lawyer look over it too.

TIP: PurplePort's Shoot Styles - Work Preferences list different shoot styles and what they mean. This will give you an idea of the types of photoshoots that are available across the industry.

Your portfolio images

Anyone viewing your portfolio wants to see what you look like, so it's crucial to include images that show precisely this (ideally, this should be a minimum of five images). Photographers will look at these images and decide whether you are suitable for their projects.

It doesn't matter whether these particular images are taken by a professional photographer or your mum/sister/boyfriend using a camera phone/point-and-shoot camera. What matters most is that these images include:

  • A clear, bright headshot with minimal or no make-up (preferably unedited)
  • A clear, bright, full-length shot, preferably wearing tight-fitting clothes (or a bikini or similar) to show your physique
  • Variety of images showing different looks and poses that you are capable of (maximum of one image per set)

Simple, natural, and unaltered images are best. Avoid blurry images and images that use low light or are edited using app/mobile phone/tablet filters. And you don't want to repeat images that are essentially the same either. Remember, your portfolio is all about you; steer clear of images of you with other people in the same shot. 

You can also use your portfolio images to show things that you are capable of and anything special or unique that you can incorporate into your shoots. For example, perhaps you are a horse rider or fire-breather (or both!). Or maybe you have access to latex, cosplay or unusual clothing.

For these additional types of images, the level of editing done to them is not that important. Photographers will look at these images as a benchmark of what you can do and what they can expect to achieve when working with you.

Build and expand your portfolio

Once you've created your portfolio, your goal should be to work with talented photographers and build a portfolio of beautiful images showing off your full potential. 

Searching for photographers to work with can be a minefield. Narrow down your search by finding photographers who work in the same shoot styles as you. When you find a photographer you're interested in working with, view their portfolio to see whether they can deliver the images you want. Be rigorous and diligent; study their portfolio images, read through their portfolio notes, check their references, and so on.

How you work with photographers to build your portfolio will fall into two categories:

  • Finding photographers to collaborate with you
  • Paying photographers to shoot with you

If you are careful, it doesn’t really matter which option you choose because you will fundamentally end up with the same thing; fabulous images that will earn bookings for you.

If you are willing to pay a photographer for their services to shoot with you, contact them directly and discuss your ideas with them. If you want to find a photographer to collaborate with rather than pay a photographer, the next thing to tackle is convincing them to collaborate with you. How you do that is entirely up to you.

Whilst some photographers will jump at the chance to collaborate with you, others will be too busy with paying customers. Don’t be offended if a photographer declines your request to collaborate. Thank them, and move on. These things happen all of the time, and it’s natural and completely normal. If you really want to work with them, you could always offer to pay them. 

Start arranging shoots

Casting calls will probably be your primary method of finding work. A casting call is a notice placed by someone advertising a vacancy for a shoot. They can be very detailed and advertise a particular person for a specific role, or be more flexible and state someone's availability to shoot and who they want to work with. You can either create a casting call (advertising your own shoot idea/availability to shoot) or apply to an existing casting call advertising a shoot.

When applying to a casting call, make sure you read through what is being advertised, and when applying provide relevant information. This may include your availability, payment preference or rates, and anything else useful or relevant to the shoot advertised. And make sure that you are suitable for what you are applying to. For example, if a casting call is looking for a 5ft9 model with a dress size 6-8, there is no point in applying if you are a 5ft3 model with a dress size 10 - you will just be wasting everyone's time if you apply. 

When you create a casting call, try to be clear and concise, and stick to the key information whilst also selling your idea. Gibberish, txtspk, or text that is all on one paragraph make casting calls hard to read. Instead, use formatting to break up the text, such as bold, italic, bullet points, etc. You could also include images of your previous work or a mood board of the kind of work you want to create.

Casting calls aren't the only way to arrange shoots. You can find photographers and contact them to ask if they want to work with you. The worst they will do is decline your offer. Remember, it’s not personal. Maybe you don’t have the type of look they are shooting right now, or maybe they are too busy. However, most photographers are flattered when asked for a shoot.

Use a checklist when arranging shoots

Always confirm with the photographer, and anyone else involved in your shoots, about what is involved in a shoot beforehand during your shoot discussions. Below is a checklist of some of the things that you will want to make sure are confirmed when arranging a shoot: 

  1. Time, date and location of the shoot (or at least where you will meet the photographer)
  2. Duration of the shoot
  3. What the shoot involves (e.g. shoot styles)
  4. Items you will bring with you (e.g. such as clothing, props, etc.)
  5. Anything else you need to attend the shoot (e.g. how to wear your make-up/hair and clothes you need to wear to the shoot)
  6. Whether the shoot is TFP/collaboration (how many images will you receive and when, are they edited, etc.) or paid (who is being paid, how much, when, and is it cash, bank transfer, etc.)
  7. Whether payment for travel is included

Use this checklist when arranging and booking your shoots. Some shoots may need extra information confirmed, but generally speaking, the points above will cover most aspects of a shoot. 

Maintain good communication

Always be courteous, professional and clear when discussing and arranging shoots with others. Don't use 'text speak', call someone “hun” or “babe”, or sign off communications with “xxx”.

Use communications to confirm shoot details such as time, date, location, payment type, etc. as well as what's involved in the shoot, and anything else. If your circumstances change or something changes that may affect the shoot, communicate this to the others involved in the shoot as soon as possible.

TIP: Keep a record of your communications (e.g. text messages, emails, etc.). You can use this as a means of reminding yourself about important information for upcoming shoots. 

Getting paid for shoots

A paid shoot means you receive money for your time. However, you may not receive images from photographers who book you for paid shoots, so make sure you discuss this beforehand to ensure everyone knows what is expected.

Modelling rates can vary greatly, depending on your look, experience, location and the shoot styles you work in (each of these will affect the hourly rates you charge). Setting your rates too high won't get you any work, but there is also a danger of setting your rates too low.

Below is a rough guide to hourly rates (for the UK):

  • Fashion: £20-25
  • Lingerie: £25-30
  • Topless: £25-30
  • Art Nude: £25-35
  • Glamour Nude: £30-40
  • Adult: £40-60

Whilst other countries worldwide may differ in price, the increments in the price for each shoot style above will be fairly similar.

Most models will not take bookings for less than 2 hours, and the majority of models offer discounts for longer bookings such as for a half-day (4 hours) and full-day (8 hours). It's entirely up to you whether you choose to do this. You can do whatever works best for you. 

As a new model, it’s unlikely you will be able to find paid work (in terms of money) initially. Whilst it's not impossible - depending on your portfolio images and what you have to offer - it is unlikely. The scales are not tipped in your favour; many models with more experience than you are chasing the same modelling jobs. But this doesn't mean you will be empty-handed when attending photoshoots.

Instead of money, you could receive images from the shoot as payment for your time. These kinds of shoots are called 'collaborations' or 'time for print' (TFP). These shoots are a great way to build your portfolio when you first start out as a model. You will probably get countless collaboration offers from photographers, but you don't need to agree to every shoot offered to you. Instead, scrutinize each photographer's work and decide if they can improve your portfolio. If you don't think they can, politely decline their work offer and move on.

When you find someone to collaborate with before the shoot always make sure you both agree on the number of images you'll receive, the quality (web, full resolution, and whether they will be watermarked) of those images, and a delivery time scale for them. At some point, you may need to print portfolio images, and web-sized images will be useless when sized to print because the images you print will be small or very blurry. For example, if you want to print an 8x10 or A4 portfolio, you will need full-resolution images from the photographer. 

Use of images and model release forms 

A model release form is a standard legal document that some photographers may require you to sign. It's a legal agreement between a model and photographer regarding how images (taken during the photoshoot) may be used.

There's useful information about model release forms (including examples of when they are and are not required) in 500px's blog post Everything you need to know about model releases

A model release form may sometimes be used as more of a proof-of-age form than anything else (such as in the UK). Read and sign it before the shoot begins - not after the shoot. For models under 18 years, a parent or legal guardian will be required to sign it on the model's behalf.

In countries like the UK, there is no requirement for a model release form for a photographer to publish your images wherever they like. The photographer owns the copyright on all images unless a contract has been signed to say otherwise. If a photographer says the images are “not for publication”, you should insist on a contract which states clearly that the images will not be used for publication. Without a contract, the photographer can do as they please with the images.

Safety tips and general advice

Whatever style of images you wish to create, modelling is as safe as any other profession. And like any other professional, there are some things you can do to make sure you are well-prepared and avoid potentially difficult situations. 

Check references

Whether you are collaborating or being paid for a shoot (or even paying for a shoot), always check that person's references when considering working with them. Then, contact a selection of models they have worked with and ask those models what their shoot experience was like. It takes a few minutes to send a quick “What was it like to shoot with...” message. Practically every professional model does this, and it’s something you should do too.

Let someone else know where you are

Share important information about your shoot (contact details, address, estimated arrival and departure times, etc.) with a friend or relative, so they know where you'll be and what time you expect to be home.

TIP: Text someone when you arrive and when you leave the photoshoot. It only takes a minute to two to say “arrived” and “leaving”, but it can make you and everyone else feel happier.

Be assertive 

If you don't like an idea when working on a photoshoot, say "no" (try to be diplomatic, of course!). If a shoot isn’t going well and you feel uncomfortable, you can stop shooting and leave. It's as simple as that. Don't ever be pushed or coerced into doing something you don't want to do. 

Chaperones

A chaperone is someone who accompanies you to a photoshoot. They may be present during the whole shoot or drop you off to make sure you arrive safely and pick you up again afterwards. You may feel that a chaperone can help you, especially when you first start working with photographers.

Chaperones are a personal choice, and whilst some people prefer to use a chaperone for their shoots, others do not work with chaperones. If you require a chaperone, always make this clear when you first start discussing a shoot. You can make sure that everyone is on the same page before anyone commits to a shoot.

TIP: You must choose the right person as your chaperone. A bad choice of chaperone on a shoot (such as a glaring boyfriend or overpowering family member) can be a harrowing experience for everyone. Bring someone along who is happy to sit on the sidelines during the shoot (perhaps reading a book). 

It's time to get yourself out there! 

There is no time like the present! Get yourself out there and start arranging shoots, creating beautiful images and working with amazing creatives that the industry has to offer!  

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