For six years I was an active model-for-hire for the Barbizon Agency of New Haven. Sadly there are no more Barbizon schools in Connecticut. I was also an instructor, teaching their Major Modeling curriculum. As you can tell, teaching has always been in my blood. But that's not what I want to address in this post. This article is directed to those who are looking to model. If you are a photographer looking to work with models you might want to read this too, but primarily I am targeting models here.
There are many young people (mostly young girls) who still fantasize about becoming a model. Maybe one of those is you. While I don't want to discourage you from that dream I would like to address some very important and serious points about pursuing a modeling career. So, in no particular order, here are some thoughts to keep in mind;
You are the product - When someone hires you to model it is never for your intelligence or manual skills. That does not mean those things are not important, they very much are. When you get hired it is primarily for your looks, everything else is added bonus that leads to future work and builds reputation and makes you more marketable. When a photographer works with a model they want to see some intelligence behind those eyes. There is nothing more frustrating than working with a model who is clueless. That stereotype of the dumb blond model is far from the truth.
It's not personal - Because you are the product you have to have thick skin. You need to separate your emotions from your image. Realize that if you are passed up for a job it is definitely nothing personal. It could be as simple as your hair color is wrong, or the facial shape is wrong, or the skin type/color is wrong. Think of it this way, if I have a bathroom with a blue sink and tub and I want to buy new towels, what color should I buy? Blue or white, right? I wouldn't get brown, orange or green as they would clash. It's the same way with modeling. Sometimes you clash with what they need and has nothing to do with your abilities.
Learn to maximize your marketability - While you can't be all things to all people, knowing what look you can or (more importantly) can't pull of will give you an edge. This comes into play if you can find out in advance what a client is looking for. If they are looking for type 'A' look, don't show up looking like a type 'B'. Take the initiative to make yourself match as best as possible the type 'A' they want. "I would never wear this," should never be an excuse not to dress the part. This does not mean you need to lower your personal standards though, but do keep an open mind. Rely on close friends that are willing to give you real honest and constructive criticism about your looks, fashion, makeup, etc. Keep yourself fit, clean and well groomed. Again, remember that you are the product. Also, remember that the camera catches everything. Hands should be manicured, make up should be flawless, hair should be well kept, clothing should be clean and neat. Your looks are your product, pamper it.
Beware the seedy side - Horror stories abound about all kinds of reprehensible behavior by people in the modeling industry. Rape, drug abuse, money scams are all too real. Don't go it alone. What I mean by this is you should always have someone you can trust by your side, always. Their job will be to protect you from predators and also to protect you from yourself. Too often a new model will jump into an agreement or a situation without thinking of the consequences. Having someone watching your back that can stop you from making wrong choices will save you in the long run. Having a buddy system also affords a level of security. Hand in hand with this; know who you are dealing with. If you are working with a new photographer check out their work online. Find out who they are, what kind of reputation they have and what kind of personality they are (if you can). Most serious photographers tend to be very transparent in their work. This means they post lots of information about themselves. Someone who has something to hide won't do that. Talk to past models the photographer has worked with, if possible.
Your reputation is everything - It doesn't matter how beautiful your face is, how toned your body is, how photogenic you are or the perfectness of your skin. If you acquire a reputation of being unreliable you might as well hang it up. Reliability comes in several layers. On the surface it's about showing up on time when you say you will. Nothing hurts you more than saying you'll be at a shoot and you don't show up. There is a lot of pre-shoot setup and expense that happens before a model arrives. If all that time and money go to waste because of a no show you can forget about working with that photographer/agency again. Reputation travels from one photographer to another so beware. Reliability also means being able to work with a photographer. Learn to take direction. Just because a pose doesn't feel right to you doesn't mean it won't look right. Whinny Prima Donnas who constantly complain will never get a call back.
Be part of the creative process - This will come with experience but often when you are working with a photographer they will give you some guidance to what they are trying to achieve. Let your creativity shine. Make suggestions on what you can do to help the photographer achieve their goal. After they have gotten their shots offer something else if you can. Learn to gauge how responsive they are, though. Photographers are artists and egos can be big. Yes, they too can be impossible to work with but after a short while you will be able to tell if they are approachable just by the way in which they interact with you.
Never stop advancing - Looks alone can only get you so far. Other skills come into play as a model. There is a certain amount of acting skill required too. Then there are the physical skills. Can you ride a bike, a horse, a mechanical bull? Can you play sports (or at least fake it well)? Specializing in certain areas can be a big plus. Here's a real world example; There have been several commercials where a model has been photographed climbing a rock/mountain/indoor climbing wall. The models chosen need to have the physical ability to both climb and play to the camera for these ads. What are your skills? Know them, hone them and add to them.
These are just a few points and I'm sure if there were to be a long discussion on this other items could be added. Feel free to share some of your experiences, either as a model or as a photographer working with a model. What are your pet peeves? What's your suggestion for aspiring models? Share them in the comments section below.