Working with Models: How, Where and How Much

If you have never worked with a model before, hiring one might seem like a daunting task. You might feel reluctant to approach people with your request and keep on postponing, making excuses like “I am not ready, I don’t have the right equipment, or I wouldn’t know what to do”. In reality, there is nothing complicated about hiring a model for a photoshoot, it’s a major part of the industry and the sooner you get involved, the faster you’ll improve your skills. Today I would like to discuss all the aspects involving finding a model, locations, compensations and other concerns.

Finding a Model

When I started photography I was lucky enough to have plenty of photogenic friends and family who didn’t mind modeling for me, in fact they often still do and it is fun to see their faces on billboards, magazines, books, TV and more. In addition, I did a lot of self-photography and was able to grow my portfolio without ever paying a professional model. I understand this might not be a possibility for everybody and realistically majority of photographers go through a very different route.

working with model pathIf you have never worked with a model before, it would be better to hire an experienced model first. A model that has enough knowledge in the field typically knows what to do and when to do it without your guidance. This will ease your burden, thinking about model’s posture and expression and let you focus on lighting position and camera settings.

You can find an experienced model via various outlets. The best way for a beginning photographer is to do this online. There are numerous sites that serve as a portal for photographers, models, make-up artists and photo editors to collaborate, such as or These sites offer an advanced search function, which lets you select all the specific parameters you are looking for to find the right person for the job. Many sites also offer casting call function, which allows you to place an open call describing your shoot and all interested models will reply. These sites usually offer basic functions and services for free, which is great for a starting photographer. You can also try your local newspaper or Craigslist, but in my experience they rarely lead to good results. In addition, many professional photographers book models through modeling agencies, but this is typically an expensive approach and is not recommended for a beginning photographer.

What to Look For

When choosing a model, there are several important things you should look for. The most obvious is to look at model’s portfolio images. Essentially you are choosing your model’s for their looks and how they present themselves on photos. Some of these online databases have a large amount of people who are model wannabes. They think they can model because their friends or family told them they should. Many of them can’t and/or shouldn’t, or a just don’t take it seriously. You can usually spot this this by looking at model’s portfolio. Additionally, you can often tell how flexible or fit a model is via their portfolio images, or what type of work they have done before. Keep in mind that portfolio shots are often heavily edited in post processing and may not truly reflect model’s appearance.

working with model travelThe next important aspect to look for is the model’s location. Typically a paid model expects his/her traveling costs to be covered by the photographer. The further the model is located from your shoot location, the higher the traveling costs might get. It’s also important to keep in mind that many professional models do a lot of traveling. If you shoot in a large metropolitan area there is a big chance that many traveling models will visit it frequently. Most models typically list their upcoming destinations on their page.

If you are looking for specific features you can refer to model’s detail section. Usually a model will list all of the important features, such as height, weight, hair and eye color. Often these sections will also include model’s preferred shooting styles. These can range from casual/fashion to lingerie, nude and beyond to some specific fetishes. It is very important to book a model that is comfortable with your shoot style. If a model is only comfortable shooting lingerie, do not force her to shoot nude. There are plenty of other models who will be comfortable with more revealing styles. Additionally some models will list their tattoos and/or scars in details section which is something you have to consider when shooting a specific theme.

Don’t forget to check out the model’s comments area as well. Many people will leave comments when they work together. This can give you a better idea about the model and provide contacts for references if you are considering hiring a specific model.

Booking models

When you have narrowed your search down to several potential candidates send all of them a message. Do not limit yourself to one model even if you are only looking for one. Always have several people to choose from. In your message introduce yourself and briefly describe your shoot ideas. Be honest and mention that you are just starting working with models. Once you have sent all the messages, see how long it takes each person to respond. This can be a good indication of how serious a model is about her/his work. Some people might not even respond. There are a number of models who choose not to shoot with a starting photographer in fear that this might lead to unflattering images of them floating in the internet. This is one of the reason why sending messages to several models is important.

working with model bookingOnce you receive your replies, carefully go over everyone’s credentials again to see if you might have missed anything. As I have mentioned previously, it is better to book a more experienced model if you are just staring out. Professional model will know what he/she is doing at the shoot and can often give you great advice due to their experience with other good photographers. Always listen to model’s recommendations. Some models are also photographers themselves and can even teach you a thing or two.

If you have a lineup of several candidates, do not book more than one for your first model shoot. You will make yourself vulnerable to a no-show situation where a model might not show up or cancel, but at least you will not be in a situation where you have to work with more than one model. Working with several models requires an advanced knowledge of light placement as well as acute sense of concentration on everyone’s facial expressions and poses, which comes with a lot of practice. Not to mention the additional fees incurred booking more people.

When you finish your selection process, choose one model and agree on a shoot location and compensation. Optimally you can also meet with your model before your shoot to introduce yourself and discuss details. One day before the shoot get in touch with your model to confirm the time again. Additionally, on the day of the shoot contact your model again to make sure everything is still in order.


It is very important to maintain frequent communication with your model. If you have a question, new ideas or just want to confirm something don’t be shy and send a message. Good communication reduces potential for misunderstanding and enhances working relationship.

Prior to the shoot always discuss compensation and make sure you both know exactly what is being covered. Besides hourly rate or photo trade models will often require for you to reimburse their traveling expenses or even use of makeup. Always discuss hair and makeup. During your initial model shoots you will most likely not want to use additional makeup and hair artists so make sure your model is OK with doing her own hair and makeup.


Wardrobe is additional factor you need to discuss. Initially you will rely on model providing his/her own clothing for photo shoots. Make sure both of you are on the same page with wardrobe. Consider discussing different clothing styles and colors. Personally I will always try to describe what kind of clothing I am looking for a model to bring and then add that in addition I want him/her to take anything that might turn out to be useful. In general I always say I want to see a large suitcase of clothing and shoes. Even if I am planning for a nude session I always want to have an option to add clothing element if I come up with a cool idea on the spot.

And finally always discuss shoot date and location and make sure your model is well aware of it. I have had cases where a model mixed up dates or got lost and arrived late for a shoot.


working-with-model-portraitrThere are several types of compensations. Most of the time good old cash works best but sometimes shoots can be compensated by something called TFP/TFCD (Time For Prints or Time For image on CD). There are also tons of varioation on these terms but they all essentially mean the same thing. If you are just starting model photography I suggest choosing an affordable experienced model and paying cash. There are several reasons why. First of all you will have a larger pool of models to choose from since everybody likes cash. Secondly an experienced model will know exactly what to do. And finally you will not be pressured to provide suitable images after the shoot since paid models do not expect to receive final photos unless you choose to do so. Of coarse they don’t mind receiving nice images but you wouldn’t be required to do so. And lastly you will have images with a pretty model in your portfolio. Which can potentially lead to improved success rate on your future bookings.

Cash compensation largely depends on type of model, amount of time and style of the shoot. Generally speaking the less a model will be wearing the higher the price will be. If you are booking for several hours try to barter some sort of volume discount. Additionally if you start using models repeatedly and they enjoy working with you and like the results they can agree on a big discount or even for TF compensation.

When your portfolio starts to grow and produce outstanding work many people will agree to do TFP/TFCD compensation. In this case model will do a shoot with you to grow or update their own portfolio so they can get booked and receive cash from someone else. It is very important that your model understands that these images are for promotional work only and cannot be sold anywhere without your consent. Otherwise you will have to be compensated for the work you do.

Typically models who are new to the industry will agree to do TF* compensation because they are trying to get experience and improve their portfolio. While this sounds like a “free” opportunity it usually requires you to constantly direct and position your model and later provide satisfactory results in a timely manner. Usually experienced model will only do TF* compensation if your name is well known in the industry and if you constantly provide superb imagery.


If you are just starting out photographing models and just want to focus on improving model/photographer collaboration skills I suggest shooting outdoors. Outdoor environment should keep a model at ease and eliminate a hassle of booking a studio and setting up lights and props. However because most outdoor location are public places take in consideration that you might have some unwanted spectators and you might not be able to do more revealing shots.

When choosing a location always visit it prior to the actual shoot date. Try to get there on the time of day when the shoot will take place to see light angles and reflections. Take notes and consider how you might need to position your model to achieve the best results. This will help you be more confident and prepared on the day of the shoot.

working with model beach

Additionally you can also book a studio space which also provides lighting equipment (if you don’t own your own). Or you can rent lighting equipment from a third party. But this can be overwhelming and pricey if you are just starting out. Dealing with a model, working in unfamiliar space with new lighting can add many levels of complications and potential for something going wrong.

Furthermore you can try to shoot at home. Although, while you may feel comfortable at your own space some models might be skeptical on working at someone’s house. This may lead to tension and degrade the quality of your work. Make sure your model is fine with the idea of shooting at your house. Additionally make sure your roommates, friends and relatives can’t just freely come and go through a shooting space. This can break the magic of your shoot, be annoying, distracting and make your model feel uncomfortable.


Don’t expect everything to go flawlessly. Booking people you’ve never met is always a challenge. And I guarantee some models will never show up even though they sound super enthusiastic on the phone/email. I have over 12 years experience working with models and I still occasionally get “no-shows” with new models. At this point I have a pool of dependable people I can choose from for my important client shoots. But I also occasionally do casting calls for my own shoots and I usually like to choose new models so I can increase my pool of people I can work with. This process often filters out the gems from wannabes. I’ve developed my own personal policy – if a model cancels within 3 days of the shoot twice, I will never book her/him again. And if a model cancels once within 24 hours of the shoot, I will also never work with them again. I’ve had to stick with this policy on several occasions but fortunately because of it I have a solid team of professional and dependable people I can choose for any kind of a shoot.

If you are fascinated by photographing people but have never tried working with a model you should definitely go for it. Models are people just like you and me. You can have a model shoot with any budget. If you follow all of these guidelines you will have no problem achieving great results. Always remember practice makes perfect. And most importantly have fun. If you want to learn mode about working with models you can check out my Working with Models – Etiquette article.

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This entry was posted by Alex Gumerov.

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