How to work with unsigned models as a photographer

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Not all photographers need to hire agency models for their projects and luckily there are many freelance models to choose from, however, finding and hiring can be a daunting process for some.

Although professional agency models carry the reputation of the agency they represent when they are at work, which is generally expressed in high level professionalism, an ability to interpret the mission and punctuality , there is also another world of photographers, especially beginners. or those who need models for smaller projects, can explore, and this is the market for independent models.

When photographers are just starting out and want to explore the portrait and boudoir genre, it can be tempting to ask their friends or family to join in and create models, but it can create some uncomfortable moments for everyone. the people involved. If friends or family are keen to offer support, that doesn’t mean it’s always the best option, especially if, as a photographer, you want to push your limits by experimenting with different styles, which can help. requires someone in front of the camera who can adapt. and interpret your vision.

There are times when family members are a great fit for certain shots, but if you want to advance your creativity, improve your portfolio or some particular aspect of it, or if you are working on a low budget shoot, this is fine. doesn’t give a lot of stuff. Hire a model signed by an agency, you may want to consider working with a freelance model instead.

The differences: agency vs freelance

When an agency signs a model, they are convinced that the model matches what the agency represents as a brand in the industry. Traditionally, agencies have been geared towards fashion, business, or both, but nowadays there are many agencies that have a diverse roster of professionals, making it easy to find a suitable model for any type of project.

These models are hired through the agency, which means that the cost of hiring a professional will usually be higher as the agency fees need to be factored in, compared to freelance models who are theirs. own agents, essentially. Most agencies also have a public catalog of their models on their website, often categorized by age or other characteristics, such as acting or other special skills, making it easy to browse their talents. to find exactly what you need.

Undoubtedly, agencies make it easier to find talent, but it costs more, which can be a deciding factor for many people who don’t have the budget for it. In comparison, by working with a freelance model, the photographer is likely to find and hire a local person in their area and often on short notice, and also waive any additional agency fees that they would have to pay. other.

Freelance models always have a high level of professionalism and many have years of experience in the industry, they are often happy to travel to places, and also have a portfolio of past work to show photographers looking to hire. The risk, however, is that there is an absence of accountability by removing an attorney in the middle of the process. This means that if your model has a last minute plan change or more important work comes up, they may cancel you out, but that risk translates into lower model fees compared to agency talent.

Find a freelance model

Portfolio websites

You may have a hard time finding a freelance model just by searching online like you would an agency, but there are several ways to find talent in your area. Several portfolio-based websites, such as Model Mayhem or Madcow Models and Purpleport in the UK, allow photographers, models and other creatives like makeup artists to connect. These types of websites are only regulated to a certain extent by their own moderators, which means that while some things are not allowed, there is no underlying standard that no one can adhere to.

Talents will join in and most will be accepted, which can make it difficult to filter to find the type or standard of model you want to hire for your project. Any action taken, such as communication or conduct during filming, is the responsibility of each individual, as these websites do not act as a guarantor in any form and tend to monitor serious breaches of the code of conduct. driving only on the website. itself, for example, if someone is violent.

Risk aside, these websites can be an easy way to quickly find someone in a particular area and you can also set up a casting call, which allows models to contact you if they are available. your specific shoot. If this is a paid shoot, it’s understandable that you receive a higher volume of responses, as most of the models on these portfolio websites tend to do this part-time or full-time.

Before searching for a model, you must first create a profile. You will need to show at least a few sample images and set up your profile information so that all potential models can read and determine if they want to work with you. You don’t need a professional portfolio, but if you don’t upload any of your work, you’re unlikely to receive responses to your casting calls.

Social media

Many freelance models tend to have a separate social media profile for their modeling, with Instagram being my favorite app. For example, on Facebook, unless you know their name, you will have a hard time finding them in the search bar, whereas on Instagram, you can make the most of hashtags. For example, a hashtag that is a combination of your location and the word “model” will show you both the top posts as well as the most recent ones under that hashtag.

Likewise, if you are looking for local photographers or makeup artists, similarly, you can easily see on their feed which models they are working with on their projects. It’s a great way to find creations in your local community. You can start with just a few people who have tagged other people they’ve worked with and slowly grow your network.

Facebook groups

Community groups on Facebook will provide you with a pool of creations likely to respond to your casting call. Typically, you will find groups especially for photographers, to share and discuss their work, as well as to sell equipment, but there are larger groups that include models, makeup artists, stylists, etc. Similar to Instagram, just search for “photography group” and also add your location or the name of the larger area in the search. Even if you join a group of photographers only, you can ask for recommendations for any local models that others have worked with.

Group events

Nonprofit photography groups, as well as local member-only photography groups or communities, often hold events where photographers can participate to photograph multiple models. Since these are group events, don’t expect much one-on-one with a model, but it can be a good opportunity to meet a handful of models that you can later hire for your own. projects. Before participating, take a look at the models who will be hired for the event, as these will not only be local models, but also those who tour across the country, which may not match your preferences. needs.

Hire a freelance model

When it comes to hiring freelance models, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Because the agency between model and photographer is removed, models set their own fees and payment methods. Some models will require a reservation fee to secure the shoot, with the remaining balance paid in cash or by wire transfer or through an online app, while others may request the full fee in advance or at any time. filming, as at the start or beginning of filming. end, especially if the shoot exceeds the agreed time.

As with clients, it is advisable to write an agreement so that both parties feel comfortable knowing what is expected, especially regarding payment and cancellations. Also, if you are both okay with the model getting paid with partial payment and modified images or just pictures, it is important to set expectations in writing so that they know what they will receive. and when, including a signed version of the template. This is a business transaction with a professional and should be treated as such.

You should also be aware that each model will have different working guidelines, such as the modeling levels they are comfortable with, from clothed to nude, as well as the safety precautions they can take when working with them. new customers. It could be just checking in with their partner or someone they trust before and after filming, sending them the address of your filming location, bringing a chaperone, and more. If you are unsure, communicate this with your model before the shoot so that you are aware, especially if he intends to bring a chaperone. They don’t need to be present during the shoot if you’d rather not, but chances are they’ll be waiting around, so they can go to a cafe or somewhere else, or to an adjoining room. if you work. in a studio and the space allows it.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that these freelance models, like all other professionals, such as dancers, actors or stylists, do it as a job and should be respected, especially since the power relationship between photographer and model is not always balanced. Safety and professional courtesy should be clearly present in every shot photographers take, although personalities can sometimes clash, which is only part of human communication and navigation.

There are many experienced freelance models who can help improve photographers’ work and creative vision using their posing and acting skills, while others are photographers as well and can answer technical questions as well. Sometimes it can take a while to find the right model, but when you do, it opens up a lot of opportunities that can only be achieved with a natural and expressive person in front of the camera.


Image credits: All images are from Anete Lusina.



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