As a photographer new to the model photography industry, contacting models and organising photo shoots for the first time can feel daunting. We've created this guide just for you, which contains tips and advice to help smooth the way and get you started.

Before you begin working with models, ensure your photography skills are up to scratch and start working with people you know, such as family and friends.

After your photography skills are up to a good standard and you've gained some experience photographing people you know, you are ready to start working with models.

What is model photography?

These photoshoots involve at least one model and one photographer at a shoot location. Whilst they may also include other creatives (such as a studio, a stylist, make-up artist, designer, assistant photographer, etc.), a photographer and model are essential elements for model photography.

Remember that a photo shoot is a professional setting. Both the photographer and the model should treat each other like any other professional, with respect and dignity.

Begin by hiring a professional model for your first photoshoot

The best way to start your model photography portfolio is to invest in someone else's experience and hire a professional model. A professional model is someone whose career is working (usually full-time) as a model, and it's their job. 

Professional models have a wealth of experience and can help you gain valuable experience you can use to build your portfolio.

A professional model's portfolio gains them paid work, and since professional models have to make a living, they will only work trade/collaboration/TFP (see What does collaboration (TFP) mean? below) if you will improve their portfolio.

As a photographer new to working with models, it's very unlikely you will improve their portfolio at this point, so you will need to pay the professional model you work with. As you continue to build your portfolio, you'll find more opportunities to work TFP with models (these shoots can be a great way to gain more experience and keep building your portfolio).

Modelling rates can vary greatly, depending on the model's look, experience, location and the shoot styles they work in (each of these will affect the hourly rates they charge). For a rough guide to hourly rates (for the UK), check out How to Become a Successful Freelance Model - Top Tips & Advice.

One of the benefits of paying a professional model is you don't need to deliver any images. This massively reduces the pressure associated with a shoot and, of course, frees you up to both experiment with photography and focus on it much more.

Another benefit of working with professional models is that you will almost completely eliminate the likelihood of the model not showing up. That's not to say hobbyist models who don't charge you won't show up, but when someone does it for a living, they tend to want to work with you. It's common sense.

Don't hesitate to contact fabulous professional models and ask for a shoot. This is their job, and they will be happy to discuss it. Don't be afraid to explain that this is your first shoot with a model or that you're new to working with models.

What does collaboration (TFP) mean?

Instead of paying a model money, you can provide them with images from the shoot as payment for their time. These photo shoots are called 'collaborations' or 'time for print' (TFP). To work this way, both parties must gain something. It might be just the experience, but mostly it's for portfolio-worthy images to help both parties promote themselves.

Working TFP with professional models is something to aim for when you've gained experience as a model photographer. Until you have a portfolio of stunning images, you will need to pay professional models for their time. Hire the best you can. After all, you have paid hundreds if not thousands for your camera equipment, so why skimp on one of the most important aspects (the subject!) of your images?

When you find someone to collaborate with before the shoot, always make sure you both agree on the number of images you'll provide, the quality (web, full resolution, and whether they will be watermarked) of those images, and a delivery time scale for them. 

For a more in-depth look at trade shoots, including practical advice and tips to help you get the most out of these shoots, check out How to Arrange A Successful and Stress-Free Trade (TFP) Shoot.

Be prepared and plan your photoshoot in advance

Having a photographer with a clear vision of what to shoot is crucial and allows the model to prepare themselves for the shoot (such as source props or outfits, work out travel options when working on location, etc.). It will also help you achieve good shots and improve shoot after shoot.

Get a clear idea of what you want to shoot and are hoping to achieve. Write it down in a shoot plan if you can, and create a mood board of inspiring images to convey your ideas. Hire a professional make-up artist if you can. Otherwise, mention this to the model and ask if they can do their own hair and make-up competently. 

Your shoot plan should include any props or outfits you'd like the model to bring and the potential or actual shoot location. The PurplePort Guide to Shoot Plans goes into more detail about this, including why you should use shoot plans for your projects and a list of things to include.

You can share your shoot plan and mood board with the model to explain your ideas during shoot discussions.

A clear shoot plan helps ensure everyone is on the same page before anyone commits to a shoot. It also allows the model to decline the photo shoot beforehand (if it's not something they want to shoot). Attending a photo shoot only to find that the photographer's ideas aren't something the model wants to shoot is a waste of everyone's valuable time.

How to find professional models to work with

Attending studio days/events is an excellent opportunity to work with fabulous models as well as meet other photographers in a comfortable environment. Usually, the studio owner is on hand to help set up lights and help with ideas.

Attending a single studio day can significantly boost your confidence and knowledge and is excellent for networking. Look out for the studio days where you get a one-to-one opportunity to work with the model (or models).

Likewise, group shoots (usually outdoors) are another great way to work with professional models and meet other photographers. 

There are different platforms and websites that you can use to search for professional models to hire and find studio days or group shoots to attend. You can quickly find the perfect model for your upcoming project using our powerful search features and tailored castings system on PurplePort.com and use our events feature to search for studio days and group shoots. 

Accept rejection and move on

The model and photography industry is competitive, and naturally, you will experience rejection. There's no need to be offended, these things happen all of the time and are entirely natural and normal.

If someone declines your request to work with them, thank them and move on. If your request was TFP and you really want to work with them, you could offer to pay them, but you should never pressure someone to work with you or try to persuade them that they are wrong for rejecting your offer.

If you don't get a reply to your message (or your shoot proposal), consider it to be a "no thanks" and move on.

Best practice for all shoot communications 

Always be courteous, professional and clear from the moment you approach someone for a shoot to the end of a shoot and post-shoot discussions. A polite, well-written message goes much further than an abrupt and poorly written one. 

When approaching a model, find and use their preferred name (this may be their modelling alias instead of their real name). Avoid 'text speak' and don't call someone "hun" or "babe", or sign off communications with "xxx" (if you do this, it will give the wrong impression to the model, and you may lose out on bookings).

Where possible, keep written shoot communications, such as messaging systems on networking platforms and websites, email, and social media messages. Our efficient communication tools on PurplePort.com enable you to keep all your shoot discussions in one place. 

When you've booked the shoot and agreed on terms, you may decide to swap telephone numbers with the model, but this is usually only for emergencies. A model's telephone number is not to call them to chat about the weather or ask how they are. Once the shoot is done, generally, you'll not need to keep this information.

TIP: Use a spell checker, and break up text with paragraphs. Read your message at least twice to ensure it makes sense. There is nothing worse than an incoherent message.

Key things to consider when booking a model photoshoot 

Always confirm shoot details before the shoot is due to take place. You may discuss a shoot over the phone or in person, but try to use written communications to reiterate these details. Keeping a record of your shoot communications (e.g. text messages, emails, etc.) means you can use this to remind yourself about crucial information for upcoming shoots (and as evidence if you ever need a shoot dispute resolved). 

It's essential to stay organised, and one way to do so is to keep all your bookings in one place. Using our full-featured comprehensive calendar on PurplePort.com, you can easily keep track of your shoot diary, including your bookings, your availability to shoot, and setting away/travel notices (amongst other things).

Below is a checklist of some things you want to make sure are confirmed when arranging a shoot. Some shoots may require more, but generally speaking, the points below will cover most aspects of a photo shoot. 

Use this checklist when arranging and booking your shoot:

  1. Time, date, location (or at least where you will meet the model) and duration of the shoot
  2. What the shoot involves (e.g. shoot styles)
  3. Who else is attending (e.g. a hair stylist, a make-up artist, etc.)
  4. Things the model should bring. This could be clothing (including props, etc.), how to wear their make-up/hair and clothes they need to wear to the shoot.

Also, make sure to confirm payment details:

  • Is the shoot TFP? (how many images and when will you provide them, will these images be edited, etc.)
  • Do you need to pay the modelling fee? (how much and when to pay the model their fee, is it cash or bank transfer, etc.)
  • Will you need to pay the model for their travel to the shoot?

If your circumstances change or something else changes that may affect the shoot, communicate this to the model (and others involved in the shoot) as soon as possible.   

You may need to book a studio or allow a chaperone 

If you are new and have no references, models may suggest booking a studio for your photoshoot. Booking a studio should be straightforward. Either you search for one or your chosen model will know of some you can use.

Models may also suggest that you allow a chaperone at your photo shoot. A chaperone accompanies the model to a photoshoot and may be present during the whole shoot or drop the model off to ensure the model arrives safely and picks them up again afterwards. Some models feel that a chaperone can help them, especially models who are new to working with photographers. If you are not happy with a chaperone, always make this clear when you first start discussing a shoot to make sure that everyone is on the same page before anyone commits to a photo shoot.

Besides shooting under 18's (when a parent/guardian must be present as a chaperone), bringing a chaperone is a personal choice. While some people prefer to use a chaperone for their shoots, others do not work with chaperones.

Essential factors during a model photoshoot

Here are some key things to remember when working with models to get the most from your shoot together. 

Give the model feedback during the shoot

Models want to get the most out of a shoot and make the photos fabulous, just like you do. Whilst you can (and should) keep looking a the back of your camera at the shots you're taking during the shoot, the odds are that the model won't be able to see this.

Give the model feedback about how they are posing, and direct them.

Better still, give them plenty of opportunities to see shots from the back of your camera, so they can see that they are doing a great job. It will help you and the model feel motivated and want to do the best for your photoshoot together.

Respect the model's personal space

Always ask the model for permission before you touch them (such as if you need to move a hair or rearrange clothing). You wouldn't physically touch your plumber, dentist or estate agent without their permission, and the model you've booked for your photo shoot is no different.

Launching in and grabbing hands, feet, tucking in labels or touching without warning will likely earn you an instant bad reputation. Moving a label or brushing some hair out of the way might be acceptable, but you must always ask first.

It should go without saying, but if the model needs to change, give them space and privacy. Alone. 

Stick to the model's shoot styles (levels)

Shoot levels need to be clearly defined before the shoot. If you have agreed to shoot lingerie, that's what you're shooting. Asking if the model minds getting nude for a shot or two, especially if the model doesn't advertise they shoot nude, is level-pushing (and will earn you an instant bad reputation). 

But, if the model suggests it during the shoot, it's up to you. 

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

Models need to be comfortable 

If the model is uncomfortable, neither of you will be getting the best shots possible out of the shoot. A model that is too hot or too cold will not only be noticeable in your photos, but it's not good for their health (e.g. sunburn, sunstroke, hypothermia, etc.). You may be working in a raincoat whilst your model is getting drenched in a dress. 

Be considerate and thoughtful, and if the weather or situation demands it, make sure you give the model plenty of breaks.

Models will prepare themselves for shoots as much as possible, but you may know more about a location than the model. If there's a 3-mile hike up a mountain, make sure the model knows to bring appropriate clothing and footwear for that part of the journey. 

Always act professionally

A photoshoot is a professional setting, and both you and the model should treat each other like any other professional, with respect and dignity.

When talking to anyone you are working with (model, stylist, studio owner, another photographer, etc.), always speak to them in the same way as you might a boss or a customer (even if you're a hobbyist).

It means keeping discussions professional at all times:

  • Do not discuss your personal life or enquire about the model's personal life
  • Do not make sexual comments about the model (e.g. "amazing breasts")
  • Do not use sleazy or lewd comments

Remember, in the model-photography industry, gossip and news spread fast. 

When to end the shoot early

If you or the model feel uncomfortable at any point, end the shoot. 

What to expect after your photoshoot

You found a model, organised a photo shoot, took some fantastic images and now the shoot is finished. But before the process is complete, there are some final things to consider. 

Ensure you have paid the model the fee you agreed on before the shoot. If the shoot was TFP, provide the model with their version of the images (within the time frame and to the standard agreed).

If you had a successful shoot together, give the model a reference/feedback to let them and others know you had a great shoot. You can ask the model for a reference in return, but don't be disheartened if you don't receive one back.

Our guide to the referencing system we use on PurplePort, References System & Rules Explained, will give you an idea about the type of reference you could use (and potentially receive). We recommend only leaving a reference when all aspects of the photoshoot are complete (including images, payment, etc.). 

Your model photography journey is ready to begin!

There is no time like the present. You're armed with the right knowledge, and it's time to grab your camera, find some models to work and start creating beautiful images together. 

Remember to conduct yourself clearly, professionally, and respectfully during your communications and photo shoots.  

We're always here to help should you have any questions or queries. You can contact us by creating a support ticket from our Help & Support page. 

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