How to book and work with models in the UK
It’s a question of Models.
Written at 10,936ft over Greenland headed to the Northern Canadian Border – 612mph I am told.
his article is not to explain what a model is but to look into the ways that models can be sourced.
We photographers tend to be sensitive souls at times. Our art is personally linked to us and we see it in a unique way. We build up hopes and aspirations with our shoots, we name them and place them in places in our lives. We spend hard earned money chasing mega pixels and finally cut glass. We spend hours in our homes and work places editing photos stored on hard drives and more countless hours sharing them with the world. Why do some people give the least attention to the models that we choose to shoot with. This is something that has been cropping up again and again when giving portfolio critique. When asked why a certain model was selected, a very common answer is, “she just replied to my online casting”. If you are looking to really push your photography, this is just not good enough.
Before I start, I should make it very clear that this article is in no way meant to tarnish the reputation of anyone or any company. Any website offering a means of networking to models or photographers to find work, are no way responsible for the actions of the people using it. It is clear these sites and networks have a place and a role in the modern photographic community.
Back in 2009, I was a newbie photographer, working with other photographers shooting weddings I had just finished working for a family portrait studio. Wanting to push forward but I still very unaware of the ways and means to get what I wanted, I had non-existent portfolio and just an idea of what I wanted to shoot. Model Mayhem was my first port of call. Account made, photos uploaded and casting placed, I waited and planned my shoots. A couple of days later, I had a couple of replies, ‘e-mail – ping pong’ started. The date of the shoot had come round, make up artist and I arrived at the pre-booked studio, we made some coffee and waited. To cut a long story short, the model never turned up despite lots of prior contact and confirmation e-mails. A day booked off work, lots of money wasted. A couple of days later I rang the model, she explained she had car trouble and that she tried to call, but I never picked up. We re-arranged the shoot, to which she never came to either. Another model booked off model mayhem turned up with her Mum and Dad, and brother and boyfriend, nightmare.
I blamed my self. I thought, If I was a better photographer, I would have amazing models to work with and every thing I shot would be amazing. I was trying to work out the balance, how much of a portrait is the photographer and how much is the model. I began to wonder, if I had of booked Kate Moss or some super top model how different would the shoot be ? How much would a professional model be? Yes, she might have been late, but I doubt she would of brought her mum along. Yes, I would have had some amazing photos, but, at what price, at what cost. It got me thinking. How much do proper models cost? What do you get for your money? What is the difference between professional models and amateur models? Where is my hard earned money best spent? Well, it turns out, it’s pretty simple really. Work with a good model and get a good photo, work with a better one and get a better photo.
What is a good model then? Well, this is is either simple or tough to answer. I like to say, a good model is someone who will enable your shoot to go the way you planned. There does need to be good clear communication, before and during the shoot, a level of expected trust and professional manner. I like to have a girl who is willing to work with me rather than against me on my shoot and someone collaborate on ideas during the shoot. I want someone to bring a certain aspect of theatre to the camera. Being clean and polite is always going to be good. Things like being late, drunk, dirty or moaning will end a with a model being sent away. This does happen. You get what you pay for in life, booking models is no exception to this golden rule.
Before we come to online methods of booking models, I spoke to John Hodgett about life before internet modelling sites.
“There were a lot fewer photographers out there back then, so the community of models, hairdressers, make up artists, set builders, scenic artists, etc., was pretty tiny, so you tended to know who was out there, and what they were doing. Comp Cards ruled the day, and the agencies would send the cards of the guys that might meet the spec of the job, plus any promising new models they had signed. If I knew the agency personally I would be happy to take their advice, so often there was no need for a casting. Some of my clients already had models they regularly worked with, so again I didn’t get involved in the selection process….we were shooting on Ektachrome, there was little or no opportunity for retouching as the client got the film and not a print, and retouchers cost a fortune. An excellent make up artist meant you could save a fortune on models, but I seem to remember that folk like Celia Hunter that we used to use were charging about £300 a day in the seventies.”
Little or no re-touching !! Shocking !! That alone is should provoke some thoughts for photographers today. To sum up Johns point, the quality of model was and is critical. He used professional agency’s to find and supply models. Out sourcing this to a dedicated team of bookers and agents to ensure the shoot was success. The right model for the right shoot. Before the introduction of the internet, agencies had it all their own way, however, even today its the best way to get great hard working models. In a complete change to John, Thorsten Jankowski explains his methods when booking for Art Nude shoots in Germany.
‘I am sourcing my models 100% over the internet from platforms like Facebook or Model Mayhem. It takes more time for me, but on the other hand its cheaper and more flexible for me to cast a model myself. and I can see a models qualities on only a few images. Nude photography needs the direct contact to the model, I have to talk to the model and find out if she or he understands my concept’
I can understand his need and methods. Most good modelling agencies are vague or unsure at best about sending girls out for Art Nude shoots, for reasons discussed later. But for now, to say that for high end nude photography, a good personal understanding between photographer and model is extremely important. Brett Harkness hits the nail on the head here for me, you get what you pay for. Brett also raises two more valid points:
“Most of our test models come from online sites such as , Net Portfolio or Model Mayhem. You can get some great girls and we usually always try and pay something for time and travel. The down side of using girls from such places can be that sometimes you will get a no show or a girl that doesn’t want to work on the day. This has happened a couple of times. If you are doing a shoot where the client us paying then often we will sit down and look for the appropriate face through an agency listing. You will pay more, of course and the agency fees will have to be taken care of but normally this cost should be passed off to the client. I don’t see anything wrong with going with girls and guys from online model sites if you are testing I would always try and offer some money if you can, that way you will get a better calibre of model. If the shoot is pro then go for the agency girls, you are guaranteed they will show up, act professionally at all times and work with you because that is their main profession. Expect to pay, but ultimately you get what you pay for!’ –
He mentions Testing and Clients. It’s good to make a clear judgement about the purpose of the shoot and understand how important the role of the model is going to be. Fashion Photographer Bruce Christopher Smith sums this up quite well.
“… I get the main agencies to provide models for courses for my clients 99.9% of the time… working on the cheap for a client is too risky… model mayhem type portals serve a purpose to experiment and for this they are great i.e.: Purestorm etc. can be fantastic. If your serious about shooting fashion, testing with agency models from top agencies is a must, its part of the networking process to get your work exposed to commissioners of fashion photography.”
To expand on from Bruce’s point, If you are really into your photography, the models you cast should reflect this. If you can not grasp this more simple element, how is anyone really going to take you seriously in one of the most competitive genres of photography. Think of it like a ladder. Work with great models and take a step up above the rest of the people, each shoot, try and take another step up, but never step down. In the UK, Purestorm and Model Mayhem are the two major sites that are used for online castings. There are a few others such as net.model, Germany has Model Kartei for example. Neither Woland or Jay McLaughlin explain why agencies are the way to go every time
‘I only work through agencies, as this is the only way to guarantee my work and my clients. they select the best models, sometimes train them and they are a support and a legal subject if any accident or delay occurs’ – Woland
‘I always prefer an agency, because not only do you generally get a higher standard of model, but you also get more professionalism if you book through an agency and the model can’t make it for some reason (illness etc.), then it’s the agency’s responsibility to find a replacement. I don’t need that sort of stress right before a shoot, so knowing it’s not going to be my problem is always a winner., Also, agency models go to way more castings and show your images to far more of your potential clients… which can only be a good thing’ – Jay McLaughlin
Wedding supremo turned Teacher, Damien Lovegrove explains his approach.
‘Gingersnap model agency, Model Mayhem and recommendation from other models or photographers. Blaise my PA deals with all the correspondence and the fees. We rarely ‘test’ so virtually every shoot is a paid shoot for the model. I do get asked to ‘test’ by models and if their look is fab I’ll occasionally do a ‘free’ shoot. Our studio is always staffed by at least 2 women as well as a couple of us guys and I always shoot in office hours. If I’m on location it is always a well known hotel etc. Every shoot has a mood-board showing the type and scope of the images to be taken and any nudity, implied or otherwise is agreed on before the shoot.’
Why spend lots of money on top end models for simple beginner days or workshops which focus on camera work or technical aspects of photography. On the other hand, some of Damien s courses are pretty advanced and demand a model to match. Having the right model for the right shoot is key.
There is a wide selection of agencies catering for a wide and diverse market. All the way from top fashion agencies IMG and Next Model Management, Elite and Storm to more commercial agencies like MOT, BMA and Sandra Reynolds. All agencies have lovely staff and wonderful bookers that will ensure the highest of standards. I spoke to GingerSnap about the rise of internet castings.
I believe that there is a role for sites like model mayhem. They create a forum for people who are keen to get involved in the industry to meet and gain experience. However, I believe that model agencies will always have an important place in the industry. They nurture talent, giving models crucial feedback and advice, keeping them on the right track. They also save crucial time for clients who can’t always go through the hundreds of options on Model Mayhem or similar sites. Moreover, there are models of a range of ages in the industry, all working regularly and sites like Model Mayhem don’t appeal to all of them. Bookings for models can vary from a high street fashion store to trade clothing companies, fittings departments, film production companies, promotional events, photographic workshops and of course, photographers By working with an agency, you are certain of a skilled model who has a professional attitude and strong work ethic, after all, this is their day job and they need to represent themselves and their agency to the highest standard. The right model will raise the standard of the photograph in the same way as a top of the range SLR or a carefully scouted location! – Gingersnap Modelling Agency
Fashion photographers tend to go the agency route. Portrait Photographers tend to do a mixture, Art Nude photographers tend to book models themselves and hobbyists tend to shoot anyone they can get there hands on. I do think that agency’s can do more work to remove elitist stigma that attached and do more work for a wider selection of models. These companies maybe should a wider sense that there is a growing market for the amateur photographer. This in-turn would support the photographic community and thus the models that try and make a living out of it. Just to make things super clear here. I am not calling modelling agency’s elitist, I am saying that a lot of people who are slightly unaware of industry see them that way.
Karl also has a very impressive portfolio of clients and personal work. We had a good phone call about the whole “booking model” issue.
“I’m OK booking independently and had accounts with most of the networks until pretty recently.
That said, if projects and or /budgets allow, I’d rather deal with a booker, especially for a client gig. If I’m testing, I’m far more open to booking independently, unless I need something really specific.
The advantage of booking independents is the close communication and the fact it’s just between you and the team as regards what happens and what’s needed. If a booker is involved, necessarily you are working with a third party in mind. The obvious advantage of agencies is the single contact point with someone who knows what you do and need, the package of suitable talent in minutes rather than days and none of the bullshit. you’ve also got the fall back of someone bailing last minute will be replaced. If my work was all agency friendly, I’d never do it any other way, but by the same token, I won’t compromise a project for the sake of a booker or a specific model. To me, the talent is an easier compromise than the creative. Most agencies have far more flexible approaches than they did in the 90s.. I guess that’s the doing of the Internet . From a model perspective, it’s opened things a lot, the same for amateur photographers. Overall, in all aspects of the business, independents, much like the microstock industry has diluted quality and reduced expectations, but if you’re working to exacting standards and briefs, then the old way is still the best way. Having said all that, I’ve worked with some great freelancers on commercial projects, but those people (if they read this, they’ll know who they are) are the exception, not the rule.” – Karl Baxter
If you are investing time effort and money in portrait photography of any kind, don’t allow that time and money go to waste on someone who is not giving you the desired outcome . It wont help your progress in any way. It will only serve as a negative feeling after you don’t obtain the photographs you are trying to create. The right model can make or break a shoot. Keeping motived is a tough challenge, find the models that inspire you and find a way to work with them.
Research time. We contacted a selection of agencies to see how hard it was to book a great model and what sort of costings we are looking at. With quotes as low as £200 for a model to £600 for a main board top model, many of the agencies had a very predictable response,. One thing all the agencies did say, was they they wanted to see ideas and concepts for shoots and previous work. Many wanted to see a portfolio before talking money or taking questions. I guess this is good in the sense that they are vetting the people working with the models, but there was the over riding feeling that the price was going to only go up in response to a lack of experience of a photographer who is making the booking. This is both wrong and right. I can see both sides to this to this practice.
As a professional photographer, it can be very possible to find an agency models to work with for free. This does come with a certain agreement that photos can be used for all round use. Agency and photographer should be in a place to benefit from the shoot. Its very rare to get super experienced models for free unless the shoot is for publication or big publicity. (refer to my blog about testing and TFP shoots).
The only problems start to come in when you want to shoot nudes and more exotic genres of photography. I would love to support the idea, that if the market demanded more variety from the agencies , they would soon play-ball and supply the demand that is clearly there. Amazing photographers like Karl Baxter should be able to work though agencies to source his models for all his shoot.
To sum up, you get what you pay for, and the lower-ends of the modelling world should be supported and protected. To ensure safety issues are addressed by keeping things professional at every level. Agencies can support the amateur market, and you can build that amazing portfolio you deserve by working with well trained and professional models. Don’t waste your hard earned money.