Fashion modeling seems like the ultimate fantasy job. Photo shoots in exotic locations, appearing in magazines, and getting to model the latest fashions.
But how do you get there – how do you become a model?
Modeling differs from almost every career path. In the industry, there are no guarantees. You don’t get a degree and then start your career.
Becoming a model takes years of perseverance, a unique look, talent and lots and lots of hard work. And if you’re prepared to give it your all, you can really get paid to model.
So, how do you get started? Even if you have no modeling experience, professional photos, snapshots, or the first clue about how to break into the industry, the process is fairly straightforward. This guide will give you everything you need to know to launch a successful modeling career.
How to Get into Modeling: First Steps
Without any experience or professional photos, how does one go about landing that first paying gig?
Most new models haven’t the first clue of where to get started. And most have a bunch of questions: Do you need professional photos? Should you get seen by agencies and scouts? The list of questions I hear from new models goes on.
Well, there are a few smart ways you can start laying the foundation for a successful modeling career. These are the first steps all models take when working toward that first paying job:
Get Some Snapshots – Breaking into the modeling industry is extremely competitive, especially if you want to get signed at the best agencies. You’ll be competing against hundreds of hopefuls for a limited number of spots. High-quality photos can help you instantly stand out and make an impression. You’ll need two types of photos: Snapshots and model portfolio photos. Snapshots, also known as “polaroids” or “digitals,” are simple, no-make headshots and full-length shots that give scouts and agencies an idea of your natural “look.” Every agency requests snapshots - so they’re important - but you’ll also want portfolio work to share, as well.
Book a Model Photo Shoot – Snapshots are just one part of the puzzle. Your portfolio photos - with hair, makeup, lighting, etc -- will take your submission to the next level, and give scouts an idea of what you’re capable of as a model. They’re just as important as snapshots. But what should you include and how do you go about getting portfolio photos? Book a shoot with an experienced model photographer. A seasoned pro will supply you with photos that sell who you are as a model -- and that’s super important for getting your foot in the door and differentiating yourself from the competition. (Have questions about starting your portfolio? Learn everything you need to know in our model portfolio how-to guide.)
Get Busy Instagramming – Instagram works wonders for new models. And you’ll find plenty of stories of new models who were “discovered” on the photo-sharing site. So start building up your social media presence and personality. Most agencies today ask for a link to your Instagram; not having one is no longer an option.
Get in Front of Scouts and Agencies: You’ve got high-quality, professionally composed photos to share. That’s the first and most important step in launching your career. Well-composed, stunning photos instantly help your submission stand out. But how do you get the right people to actually see your photos? Submit, submit, submit. Most agencies allow you to submit directly online -- like DAS Model Management in Miami, for example. And for some, email works too. ModelScouts.com is another great platform for getting exposure.
Network, Network, Network: There are hundreds of modeling agencies in the U.S., many specializing in a specific type of modeling. Don’t be afraid to submit and get your portfolio and snapshots in front of as many agencies as possible. Getting an agent can be a numbers game. Supermodel Gisele Bundchen was rejected 42 times! In other words, take advantage of every opportunity. Most agencies host open calls or “go-sees,” which as a new model you’ll want to attend. At a go-see, any aspiring model can go to the agency and meet with bookers, photographers, and clients. It’s your chance to be seen (and you’ll likely be asked for professional photos… so bring them with you!). And don’t be afraid to send your portfolio work and snapshots to as many agencies and scouts as possible!
What Do Agencies Look for In New Models?
Sending in your snapshots to agents is nerve-racking. You can never be sure if you have what an agency is looking for.
But as you submit, you might be wondering: What are the requirements to be a model? What do agencies want to see in your submission?
Usually, it depends on the agency. A modeling agency that works with petite models, for instance, wouldn’t have much need for a 5’11” model. And most commercial modeling agencies – which book advertising and promo model shoots – look for models of all heights, shapes and ages, so they have few requirements.
Yet, for mainstream agencies that specialize in high-fashion modeling, there are some fairly specific requirements to be a model (although the industry is changing):
Height: In general, agencies and model scouts look for girls (and guys) who are tall and slim. Tall means 5’9” and up for ladies, and 5’11” to 6’2” for male models. This is especially true for agencies that specialize in fashion editorial and runway modeling; commercial modeling agencies tend to accept a wider variety of models.
Natural Beauty: Agencies ask for your polaroids, or “digitals,” because these types of photos show your natural beauty. There’s no one right definition for what constitutes natural beauty, but in general, scouts look for girls and guys who have a striking, unique look. People who are beautiful… but who also create an impression.
Instagram: Instagram isn’t just a place to network. In fact, many agencies won’t consider you, if you’re not on IG. So, build out your profile. Add photos that showcase your look with professional captions full of personality. (Tons and tons of followers helps too!)
Age: Mainstream modeling agencies tend to select from a specific range of ages – about 15 to 22 years old. But the industry seems to be changing on this, as they’ve begun to accept a wider range of ages than in years past. If you’re not just out of high school, don’t fret. Commercial modeling agencies tend to accept a diverse range of ages.
Professionalism: Whether you meet with scouts at go-sees or open calls, or you’re sending emails out, professionalism matters. Modeling is a business. And even if you have the look, if you don’t treat it like a business, you’ll miss out on opportunities. Set up a professional email address (a website helps too!), use a professional voicemail message, and keep your social media profiles up to date and safe for work. Be on time (and even better if you’re early) to shoots, go-sees and meetings. Punctuality is very important in the business, so get used to being on time.
I’m 5’1”. Can I Still Be a Fashion Editorial Model?
The short answer is: Yes. It’s possible, but it will be more challenging to break into mainstream high fashion modeling. Most fashion editorial photos (think: Vogue or Elle) tend to feature taller models, typically 5’9” and up for ladies.
But keep in mind that the industry is changing. Today, a much more diverse range of models are breaking into the mainstream: Plus-size models, petite models, mature models. Project Runway, for example, is including a more diverse range of models, and many model agencies are taking a similar strategy.
Not to mention, there are many avenues into the modeling industry. Commercial modeling in advertising, for example, needs girls of all heights – so be sure you’re keeping all your options open.
Becoming a Model: FAQs
New models tend to have lots of questions about breaking into the industry. Here are some answers to the most common queries:
What If I’m Camera Shy? Can I Still Be A Model?
Yes, you can. Camera shyness is very common with new models, and inexperience or being naturally shy tend to be the root cause. The good news: You can overcome camera shyness.
Practice works wonders. Practicing poses, for example, can give you confidence when you’re on set. And taking test shots with a friend – experimenting with emotions, poses and looks – will help you get more comfortable (and confident) on camera.
Also, as you start your career, find photographers who have experience working with new models. A helpful photographer – who’s happy to offer advice and work with you – can be a great early mentor in your career to help you improve and get better.
Do I Need to Invest in a Model Portfolio?
Your portfolio, or “book,” can make or break your career. In fact, your portfolio photos are what get you bookings. So how do you go about building one?
When you sign with an agency, the agency’s first goal will be to help you build a portfolio. Agencies send “new faces” out on unpaid test shoots with photographers. (More on that later.) And freelance models can also work with photographers on tests, usually finding them through social networking sites like Model Mayhem.
Another option: Many new models choose to hire an experienced model photographer to help them build their portfolios.
How Do I Become a Male Model?
Getting into male modeling follows a similar path to what was described above. You’ll need snapshots, a strong portfolio of photos, and an established Instagram profile. Once you’ve got the basics, it’s all about exposure. Submit to agencies and scouts, attend open calls and go to go-sees.
Male models must also be tall – about 5’11” to 6’2”. And the key is to be fit: Muscular, but svelte (for fashion editorial work). Fitness models tend to be chiseled, and there are plenty of markets that cater primarily to men like bodybuilding.
How Do You Become a Parts Model?
Is there really a market for people with ridiculously good-looking hands or feet? Yes. It’s called parts modeling, and there’s a market for all the various body parts: Hands, feet, eyes, ears – you name it, there’s a market.
Footwear, watch and jewelry companies, for example, all have a need for parts models – so there’s always work to be done.
But how do you get started? It’s a similar process. You submit photos and agencies respond to let you know if you’ve made the cut. Some agencies – like Parts Models in NYC and Closeup Models in L.A. – specialize in parts modeling, while many major agencies also have divisions for parts models.
Do I Need a Coach?
You can launch a career without a coach, no doubt. But that’s a lot like trying to learn a new language without a teacher. Here are just a few questions new models struggle to answer:
What are the best angles for my body?
What do I do with my hands?
How do I convey emotion?
Or tell a story?
How do you accentuate products for advertising photography?
Working with a coach helps you master these skills, and gives you the confidence you need when you’re on set. A coach will help you answer all those questions and much more.
But how do you hire a coach? For starters, do your research. Many coaches claim expertise and industry connections, but few actually have the experience you need. Find reputable coaches, with plenty of reviews. Model Mayhem is a great place to start.
What Is Freelance Modeling? How Do I Start?
Models can sign contracts with agencies. And the agency then becomes the model’s go-to for work and experience. Your agent gets you paying opportunities (and collects a commission on your earnings).
But there’s another option: Freelancing.
Freelance models are essentially their own agents. They network and find opportunities themselves (through modeling forums, online casting calls, or by contacting clients directly). And many freelance models also sign non-exclusive contracts with agencies. This means they can work with any agency (as long as they sign a non-exclusive contract), as well as find their own side jobs.
Working with Photographers: Your First Portfolio Shots
As a new model, how do you get those first photos for your portfolio? At this step in your career, it’s important to work with the best photographers.
And that often means hiring a professional and investing in your book. Talented professionals understand modeling photography -- lighting, hair, makeup, location, artistic direction, etc. -- and the right photographer can help you launch your career.
Just think: A perfectly composed portfolio photo that sells who you are as a model can land you dozens of paying jobs. Specially, you’ll want to work with photographers to get the most important photos in your portfolio, including:
Headshot -- Sometimes called a beauty shot, this is a close-up of your face. Composition, lighting and a photographer with a good eye can make this shot a portfolio stand-out.
Full-length -- This gives a head-to-toe look of you and shows off your ability to pose.
Swimsuit -- If you’re interested in swimsuit modeling, you’ll need a swimwear shot.
Editorial fashion -- This is a photo that would fit on the pages of Vogue, with hair, makeup, a clear artistic vision, and wardrobe.
There are many different types of photos you can include, and as your career progresses, you’ll continue add a wider range of photos. But focus on building out strong shots in each of these categories (something a talented model photographer can help you do) early in your career.
And be sure you’re being safe. Research every photographer before you agree to work with them, and always go with someone to a shoot with people you’ve never worked with. If something seems too good to be true, chances are it is. Great photographers have established businesses -- if you aren’t finding reviews, a website, an online listing for the photographer -- steer clear.
(What types of photos are must-haves for your portfolio? Check out our model portfolio guide.)
Now You’re Ready to Launch Your Modeling Career
For new models from the U.S. or Puerto Rico, it does help to be located in a major modeling market. New York – is the granddaddy of them all. But other markets too – like Miami – have a strong industry presence and multiple modeling agencies to reach out to.
And now you know exactly what they’re looking for. So, get busy submitting!
Have questions about breaking into the modeling industry? Feel free to reach out. We’re happy to answer any photography related questions you might have.