1) You work with an individual or organization that finds you
2) You put together your own marketing plan and go out and find the work yourself.
With the first approach, you work with a modeling agent or agency. There is more information about Modeling Agencies under the Modeling Agency section. With the second approach you work as an independent or 'freelance' model. As a freelance model you track down your own jobs and may sign non-exclusive contracts with several agencies. In both cases you must put together your marketing tools - a composite card, a portfolio, and a web presence (more info on this follows). All of these marketing tools require photographs and you get these photos by tracking down test shoots.
After you have some photographs in hand you can begin to put together your marketing tools. The first of these tools is a composite. This is a single sheet of paper that has a head shot printed on one side and more photos and your vital statistics on the back. Many years ago the basic marketing tool was an 8x10 inch Black & White glossy photo of your head and shoulders and stats typed up and pasted on the back. This later evolved into a printed front and back '8X11' B&W sheet, then to 5X7 printed or photocopied card, to today where, with computers and on-demand printing, you can produce your own sales brochure. At any rate, this is your basic marketing tool. You give it to photographers, art directors, casting agents and others. This gives them something they can put in their files and refer to when looking for talent. It is your sales brochure and business card all in one and it is hard to get far without it. It cost some to put together but that's the cost of being in business for yourself.
Your second marketing tool is the portfolio. After someone shows interest in you, they are going to want to see more photos of you. This is where your portfolio or book comes in. Your portfolio contains an assortment of photos and tear sheets showing what you have done and your "look". They all, of course, must be of excellent quality. When you're starting out you won't have any tear sheets as you haven't done any jobs yet. As you do get work, you will add tear sheets to show you have done actual jobs.
How many photos and tear sheets do you need? Enough to show what you are about, but not so many as to overwhelm and bore someone. It is a tricky balance and takes a lot of scrutiny and evaluation to get a balanced book. What size and format? I think that is open. You need to be able to leave it behind, messenger it over, mail it out, and carry it in. It doesn't hurt to be distinctive, but it needs to be easy to look through rugged but fashionable - sounds like a Professional Model. [More information on portfolio cases]
So what types of photos should be in your book? First, you need a good clean head shot. This goes for your composite card as well. This head shot needs to show you - both your physical appearance and personalty. This gives a photographer clear idea of your "look". In addition have a couple of full length shots that show your body shape. The head shot and body shots might be more technical kind of shots. The rest of the portfolio should be filled with WOW! shots. Just as in any kind of advertising (which is what a portfolio is), you need to sell the client. That is what the bulk of the photos in your portfolio should do.
Photos for a portfolio should usually not be done by just one photographer this is because many photographers develop their own style. If your portfolio were to be shot by just one photographer, it would only show that one style, that one way of looking at you. Although one photographer can shoot your initial composite, a portfolio needs variety. It needs to show how several different photographers see you and how they capture your look. Remember, for print models the portfolio is your major marketing tool and can often close the deal. Also, having said all that, there are exceptions and exceptional photographers who can produce enough variety images to fill your portfolio, but it's rare to find one.
This is a rapidly changing topic. The following material I wrote several years ago and it may be out of date. I still believe in much of this material so I will leave it for you read. The two trends I am seeing that bring this material into question is modeling agencies' web sites and if anyone will ever find you on the web. I am currently seeing, to my dismay, modeling agencies dropping their web sites. It appears the idea of an agency putting all of their talent on line for clients to see has not worked out for agencies. Two things agencies have going for them is personal contact with clients and filtering which models a client sees. Both of these are loss on the web. So far no one has come up with a dominant model web listing site. Instead I am finding hundreds of listing sites all of which are hard to navigate or with password protection that make them a bother to deal with. It maybe the case that you either put up a professional web site and promote it or don't bother with the web. All of this is still changing as the web changes so we will see where it goes.
Since you are reading this you already know how important the Internet has become. Like other small businesses it has become important for a model to have a web presence. Almost all photographers and art directors have computers now and most are either on line. This gives you a large potential web audience. For photographers and art directors searching for talent, on line offers speed, greater selection, 24 hour a day search possibilities, and ultimately cost savings. This certainly is not perfected yet.
Most modeling agencies have web sites and most are password protected. Since they deal with a select local clientele, they do not need every nosy web surfer checking out their models and eating up their download bandwidth. This password protection, like other activities a modeling agency does, helps to screen out problem clients. If you sign with an agency, they will have some means to get your portfolio on line at the agency's web site. Though this system has some good points, it does block the photographer who may just occasionally need a model - especially if it is a last minute idea.
If you are with an agency you still may want to have a web presence that is accessible to everyone. This gives you a place to which you can direct friends, reach clients who don't work with modeling agencies, and for that one-in-a-million chance that a major modeling agency scout or that big-time Hollywood casting director might just come surfing by and spot you. For a freelance model, setting up an independent web presence is the only option and essential.
Currently I see three possible options for setting up a web
1) A free model listing site,
2) Your own web site, and
3) An online virtual modeling agency or model listing site. Be aware that with any independent web posting you have to exercise caution. You are putting material out there for everyone to see, both the good and the bad.
There are a few free model-listing sites that allow you to post either information about yourself and a link to your web site or a few photos and some information. There is no cost except for some time and getting images ready for the web. Generally you do need to know a little about posting things on the web but most of these sites have instructions on how to do this. Since it is free you may want to take advantage of this service and see what happens.
A Web Site of Your Own
There are a few free web-hosting sites left. With these hosts you can put up your own complete web site (covered with ads). This does take some level of web skills, either by you or a friend, to accomplish so this may not be an option for everyone. Also, it is unlikely anyone will find your site unless you promote it. You do have full control of what you put up and how you represent yourself to potential clients. There are also a lot of low price ($10 per month or less) web hosting service. The free part of the internet is almost gone.
A Paid Virtual Modeling Agency or Paid Model Listing Site
There are now hundreds of these sites. They vary on just what they offer and how many photos you can post. Their costs vary from initially free to several hundred dollars a year. They also vary on how many other services they offer (their own traveling photographer, virtual modeling classes, and signing fee - starting to sound familiar?) They all do seem to make the same wild claim, that every modeling scout, modeling executive, casting director, art director, and photographer on the planet will possibly see you; all of them, of course, have nothing better to do than search through millions of web sites so they can happen on this one and see your picture - and you might also win the lottery tomorrow. As you can guess from my tone I think most of these sites are rip-offs. However, I also believe at some point a couple of these sites will, after a major shake out, be key and useful sites.
This is an evolving area of model promotion. We have already seen major players like Iam.com go under and the rise of the on line "modeling scouts." So far, as a photographer, I have yet to find a modeling listing site that is useful. So I am still uncertain how useful any of these services are.
If you are looking for a paid model listing site and you actual want to have some hope of getting work from it, consider these factors before signing up:
1) The site should be easy for someone who wants to find a model to use starting with the home page with clear directions for the model seeker(photographer, art director, and such) to follow. Most sites clutter their opening page with model mania news, how a model should sign up, and stories of not so famous models. If a potential client can't find how to search the site and feel welcome, they are not going to stay.
2) Does the site have a good search system? Many of the model listing sites let you search by size, gender, hair color, ethnic background, and planets in the solar system, but most fail to let you search by city. Since 90% of the work for models outside of New York does not include travel money, only local models will be used. If I, as a photographer, can't find what talent this site is listing for my area, the site is useless. Again, most of these sites want you to think top casting directors from around the world are going to find you so they don't include city search and in reality these sites are useless.
3) Does the site use thumbnail (small pictures) of the models and do they load quickly? I am amazed at how many of these listing sites think an art director or photographer is going to sit there while 5 or 6 high K files down load, and do this time and again trying to get an idea of the talent the site is offering. Or worse yet, where their thumbnails are 80K files rather than a quick-load 3k. Believe me as a photographer you go through a couple of these and you are out of there. You quickly don't care what talent is there - you have a life to live.
4) Does the model get to include other information? Many of these sites let you post just a couple of photos and vital statistics. After a photographer, or other potential client, has narrowed the choices down, extra info, like resume or interview questions can help show a model's personality and experience. Not only do you like a model to have that "look", but you also want to know she or he is someone you can work with. This extra information can help with that.
5) How easy does the site make it to contact and book the model? This part does not seem to be a problem with most sites. Many sites just let potential clients email you. Other sites try to be more like an agency and screen clients and set up bookings. The key point is that if someone does respond to the web listing, you must have a plan on how to proceed. Remember most of these sites are open to the whole world, so you do not know for sure who or what might contact you. You need to work out a system to qualify clients and make sure they are legitimate.
6) What does the site do to attract potential clients? The bulk of these sites just try to get listed on search engines and hope someone finds them. A few actually have a plan for attracting clients and a very few of those actually have budgets with which to do so. If potential clients can't find the site or are not driven to it, it does not matter what else the site does right, it will eventual fail, and along with the site's failure goes any hope of the models finding work.
The final marketing tool is the personal appearance. In its different forms it can be the "go see", the "cattle call", or "doing the rounds". If a photographer or art director has worked his or her way from your composite to your portfolio, then they will probably want to take a look at you. They may meet with you individually or they may look and interview several models at one time (the cattle call). This is the moment when a photographer has a chance to see you and evaluate you in person. You will be evaluated on your physical features, your professional appearance, and your working relationship. From here you get the job - or not!
Doing the rounds is at the beginning rather than the end of the marketing cycle. After identifying businesses that might employ models you get to do cold calls; that is, you drop in and see if the business uses models and you drop off your composite. This cold call can be done by phone, also. What is most effective will vary among photographers, art directors, and casting agents. This is why you sign with an agency as this is what they are supposed to do - market you.
So, how do you find who is using models and who to cold call or to whom to send your composite? The first place to start is with the professionals who traditionally work with models. This would include photographers, advertising agencies, graphic design firms, some public relation firms, and casting companies. Most of these can be found in the yellow pages for your city or a local business directory (available in some libraries). Then you must call, mail, e-mail or walk in the front door to see if they use models. Be prepared for a lot of rejection!
You should evaluate your city or region to see if there are businesses that are major users of models. A business directory can help locate these businesses. In Portland we have two major department store chains with their own studios, as well as manufacturers such as Jantzen, Pendelton, Columbia Sports Ware, Nike, and several catalog mail order companies. All are heavy users of models and at times have hired freelance models to fill their needs. You will have to research your own community to see what your local opportunities are. I knew of a small town in Tennessee that had a photo studio that specialized in photographing furniture and kept models busy just sitting on sofas to add a human touch. You may have to turn over some stones to see if there are any hidden opportunities in your town.