Questions & Answers

Model Photo Test Shoot

The Modeling web site is full information on modeling. But, after years of answering emails, there are some questions that keep coming up. The following are some of those questions.

How do I get started in Modeling? What are the height and size requirements for a high fashion model? Are there jobs for models who specialize in just parts of the body? How much do models make? Can a modeling agency tell just from a snap shot if I have what it takes to be a model? Are modeling conventions and searches a good place to start a modeling career or are they a total rip-off? Why is everyone giving different advice on modeling?

How do I get started in Modeling?

Getting Started

There is no single path to follow for getting started. Different models have found success through different routes. If you want to become a doctor, for example, there is a set course of schooling, experience, and testing to follow. But for a career in modeling, there is no clear path. Some of the ways that I know models have gotten started in the past are listed below. Although it is by no means an exhaustive list, it might help you launch your career in modeling.

Front Door - Go to the Source

The bulk of the work in modeling is booked through modeling agencies. So, literally, go to the front door of the modeling agency. This is the number one way for a wannabe model to start. You will have to do some research. First, find out where the modeling agency door is, whether locally or in some big city. Second, determine that it is not a scam agency. The Modeling Advice site has links to a list of modeling agencies and information on how to check out a modeling agency. You can also approach a modeling agency through their open call, by scheduling an interview, or by submitting a cover letter and photographs. Give them a call or email them and ask how they want new talent to contact them. There is no reason to try another

Know Someone

Some models get started because they have an in. You hear stories of someone who has a friend who models and goes to a photo shoot with them and is then "discovered" by the photographer. Or maybe someone has an aunt who modeled or runs an agency and helped him or her get started. Others might work in a related field and one day finds them working not beside the camera but in front of it. In smaller markets child models are most often used because they are an art director's, buyer's, or photographer's child. Knowing someone in the business can help you get started in a modeling career.

The Fates

Modeling agencies are constantly looking for new talent. This is especially true in fashion modeling. This segment of modeling is composed mostly of young models. By the time a model is 30, his or her career is over. There is always a need to find the next generation of models. Modeling agency personnel (owner, booker), photographers, art directors, and of course the "model scouts" are the ones who are out there looking. Some agencies are large enough to employ an individual whose sole job is to look for that next generation of new talent or to fill the new needs of a client. Unfortunately, rip-off organizations, web space salespeople, and scoundrels often use the term "model scout", so you should be suspicious of those calling themselves model scouts. But there are many stories of models being discovered at the mall, on the beach, or in some other public place. If you hope to start your career in modeling by waiting for the fates to smile on you, you must plan on spending a lot of time hanging in out in public places.

Hard work

Some models do work their way into modeling (I have also heard models say that modeling is hard work and all models work their way into the business). These models track down test shoots and put together their comp cards and portfolios. They study and practice being a model by working on their expressions, posing, runway walking, hair styling, makeup, working in front of a camera, and learning how the business works. These models may work freelance or have nonexclusive contracts with a number of modeling agencies. In smaller regional markets, where agencies do not have the resources to develop new talent, an agency might not work with a model until they have developed their skills and marketing materials. If you enjoy the process of modeling and doing good work, then all of the time and expense that go into this process can be its own reward. If you plan to earn a living at modeling, i.e. as a career, you should be sure you meet the basic physical and aptitude requirements for the type of model you want to become before you invest your time and money into the process. If you want to be a high fashion model but do not have the size or look requirements, no amount

Try to Buy Success

There is a whole industry built around this approach to getting started in modeling. Very few career models, however, actually succeed through this avenue. This area includes many of the modeling schools, modeling camps, model searches, internet listing services, modeling contests, modeling conventions, and pageants. This is not to say that these activities can't be interesting, educational, and fun. But most of these organizations will take on and take money from almost anyone who wants to be a model. This leads to a very low percentage of career models that actually come from these activities. Most of these organizations survive by playing on one's dreams, ignorance, and pocket book and not by finding and developing top modeling talent. But in spite of this, sometimes someone does make it and this is what these organizations feature in their sales pitches and videos.

What are the height and size requirements for a high fashion model?

This is the burning question. The general guidelines for women are height 5'9" to 6', around size 6, 34B-24-34, and 14-21 years of age (more details). For men the guidelines are height around 6' (a couple of inches over or under), size 40R. Are there exceptions to this? You bet. Is it fair? No. Are there petite sizes and plus sizes? Yes. Do commercial, glamour, acting, or smaller markets care anything about these sizes? Not much. Only if you want to work high fashion in the major markets like New York are these numbers important.

Are there jobs for models who specialize in just parts of the body?

Yes. It has been my experience that models that have photogenic faces and bodies do not necessarily have photogenic hands and feet. Hand models, for example, are difficult to find and frequently a photographer uses one model for the face while another model's hands may be reaching into the picture. Of course the photographer makes it look like one person, but in fact there are two. Jewelry photographers look for good hands, a nice neck, and photogenic ears. As with hands, good ears are hard to find, as they must have the right shape, with smooth skin, and pierced for only one earring, not five. Paying jobs for modeling jewelry, however, seldom come along. Body-parts models follow career paths similar to regular models. If you are interested in this type of modeling, be sure to read through the Modeling Advice section of this site.

How much do models make?

You hear about the fabulous big money that supermodels make, but only a handful of models in the world ever achieve this kind of income, which can be in the millions. Most models earn far less, assuming they get any work at all. Modeling fees for markets outside of New York, as a general rule will be in the same range as a photographer's fees. For example, in Portland, Oregon, when I last checked, modeling agencies fees were $150 an hour. As you move to larger markets fees for photographers and models go up (one agency in New York was asking $250 per hour).While you may not have the income of an elite supermodel, you can make a good living if you can find steady work. And that is a big "if".

Can a modeling agency tell just from a snap shot if I have what it takes to be a model?

First the YES part. Reviewing snapshots of potential models is a normal screening practice used by modeling agencies. You send them a couple of snapshots of yourself, usually a head-and-shoulder shot and a full-length body shot in a bathing suit or tight clothes. Some say they can tell from these snapshots whether you have what it takes for modeling.

You should send good, clear, properly exposed, properly composed photographs in which you are properly positioned. They can use these photos as a screening tool. This means that if there is an opening for someone with your look, the agency will be interested in meeting with you in person to see if, in fact, you look like your picture. This does not necessarily mean that you have or do not have what it takes to be a model. It just gets you an interview and maybe on to a test shoot.

Now the NO part. Most would-be models send bad pictures, or they may look great but they don't meet the agency's needs at that moment, or the agent guessed wrong. Modeling agencies say, "Don't spend money on getting photos taken; a Polaroid by your friend is just fine." But when they talk about sending in a simple snapshot, what they are really looking for is at least an advanced amateur level of photography or a would-be professional photographer level. Having taught photography for a number of years, I know that most beginners have problems with exposure, focus, and composition, let alone knowing how to position models for their best look. You may not want to trust your career to your best friend's ability as a photographer unless they meet the advanced amateur criteria.

You should try sending your photos to several modeling agencies to see if they are interested in you. One agency may be full of blue-eyed blondes while another may have none and be in need of one. It can be as simple as being in the right place at the right time. For example, one agency or photographer may tell a would-be model that he or she doesn't have what it takes; that wannabe model then goes to another agency and becomes a star model. I remember photographing a young 14-year-old whom I thought just didn't have the classic beauty look and told her I doubted if she would accomplish much in this field. Fortunately, she did not listen to me. She started working out, kept up her modeling and beauty work, switched over to the pageant side of things, and became Miss Oregon.

The initial snapshot, interview, and test shot are just screening processes to find those who would have an easier time in modeling. A special few may still find some measure of success in modeling by hard work and developing special talents. They may not become superstars but they can find enjoyment and financial rewards pursuing a modeling career.

Are modeling conventions and searches a good place to start a modeling career or are they a total rip-off?

I have never personally been to one of these events (nor are any of them asking me to come and check them out) and I have not seen any 60 Minutes type of journalistic investigation on them. I have looked over their web sites and I have seen endless chatrooms that call these events the biggest rip-offs out there. I don't know of any top models that have come out of conventions and searches, although I do know of one TV actress discovered at IMTA. What I do know is that for the money some of these organizations charge, you could fly to New York, stay for week, and do open calls at every top agency in the city. Personally, I don't feel that they are a very good investment. There are better ways to get discovered.

One young model hopeful, Cheryl, emailed me and told me of her experience with Model Search America (click here to read her letter).

Here is a string of postings from the Modeling Advice bulletin board (before its unfortunate demise) of a mother-and-daughter's experiences with model searches (click here to read).

Another model convention/search organization you may want to check out is ProScout. has posted some comments about ProScout for you to consider.

The International Modeling and Talent Association (IMTA) puts on a big convention/search twice a year in New York or Los Angeles. IMTA takes a different approach by working through modeling schools to recruit for its events. In reviewing their material and their members' sites, I see this more as a modeling pageant. With pageants being on the outs, IMTA is filling some of the void in the market. They are also one of the most expensive.

Mille Lewis International Model and Talent Search is another model search company. They operate in the South.

Many of the top New York modeling agencies handle their own searches and model contests. Check out their individual web sites for details.

Why is everyone giving different advice on modeling?

Remember the story of the three blind men describing an elephant? One man felt the trunk, another felt the tail, and the third felt the leg. Each had a different description of what the elephant was like. The modeling industry is the same way. The modeling industry is big and has many specialty areas. What I have experienced is quite different from what fashion photographer Richard Avedon has experienced. And what he has experienced is quite different from what glamour photographer Jeff Dumes has. And what we all have experienced is quite different from what the modeling agencies are going to tell you.

Another thing that leads to different views on the industry is that we are all small business people, each one running his/her own business in as many unique ways, and hopefully better than the competition. This leads to a lot of different ideas about how things work and how things should be done. It can also lead to confusion and presents opportunities for con artists. Since there is no set way to become a model, it leaves the door open for the "expert" to "guarantee" to make you a top model for only a small, non-refundable fee. Watch out and try to educate yourself on the many areas of the modeling industry.

I am thinking of starting a modeling agency, do you have any advice?

Over the years I have gotten emails from a number of people wanting to start a modeling agency. Most of these have had little or no background with the modeling industry and really have no idea what it is about. They all have a desire to start a legitimate business and want to do right by all parties involved. The two best piece of advice I can give are know what business you are in and know your market. The first is a matter of knowing if you are a modeling agency, a model management firm or a modeling school. A modeling agency finds works for models. This can range for any type of runway (mall shows, tea room shows, fashion runway, department shows), photo shoots (fashion and commercial print) commercial acting, and personal appearance (auto show, samplers). In some states and agency is considered to be an employment agency and must meet all of the state laws and regulation for this type of business. Many businesses try to avoid this by calling themselves modeling management firm and their role is to work with independent contractors or businesses (the model) to develop their career and business and to put them in contact with firms that need their services. The last business form is a school. With a school the purpose is to train and prepare an individual for a career in modeling and not to find them work. Where I think a lot of folks go wrong is thinking these are all the same and not writing a business plan base on one of these types of businesses.

The second point, which is the most important, is knowing your market. A legitimate modeling business does not exist because someone thinks ‘wouldn’t it be neat to own a modeling agency.’ There first must be a need for models in the area you are defining as your market. So the first thing one must do before finding models, coming up with a cool name or finding a store front is to find out if anyone actually hires models in your market and how much (how often and for what rate). Doing market research first is the number one item someone thinking of starting a modeling business must do if they wish to start a legitimate and hopefully successful modeling agency/management firm. If there is no demand for models or not enough demand for models then there is no need for a modeling agency/management firm and any attempt to start a business is sure a failure.