Fashion photography remains at the top of the wish list for many portrait photographers. My favorite thing about the genre is that breaking the rules is embraced, and self-expression is encouraged. Fashion is one of the best areas to experiment, play, and have fun. It is also one of the most demanding genres of photography, thus a great way to hone your skills. As with anything, we start at the beginning, which entails testing with models.
Model tests are both exhilarating and challenging at the same time. It is normal to have a love-hate relationship with the caveats of testing. Before you start, there are a few things to know. For starters, you will be hard-pressed to find an agency that wants to pay you when you start. It will be challenging enough to find an agency to let you photograph their models. Below are a few tips to help make the journey more manageable.
What Agencies Want To See
One of the best ways to see what agencies are looking for is to visit their website. It is a great way to see their current roster and overall style. For example, some agencies are strictly for fitness. Others only focus on runway and print models. Some boutique agencies acquire emerging talent and work directly with major agencies to develop them. In turn, they receive mother agency rights with some financial benefits. The roster will also give you insight into how closely they follow trends.
Use this knowledge to create a mood board and find a model or friend to begin creating your portfolio. Agencies want to see that you are versed with current trends and can deliver results both in and out of the studio. They also want to see consistency. The ultimate goal is to have magazine-quality imagery throughout your portfolio. As mentioned above, you can build different portfolios to send to specific agencies. Send them your best work. Modeling agents are scrupulous and want to see that they will get results with a photographer.
A good rule of thumb is to send the booker an email with a subject line indicating you would like to work with them. In the email, let them know how you would be a good fit for the agency. Let them know, if they have a very diverse roster, you appreciate it as it aligns with your interests. Keep your communication short and sweet as time is money. Attach two or three of your best images and invite them to visit your website to view more work. Leave your contact information and pat yourself on the back for leaping.
Pro Tip: Start with smaller boutique agencies. Do not get discouraged; rejection is frequent in the beginning.
What To Expect
One of the most brutal truths of model testing is the high expectations on a slim budget. Agencies do not pay new photographers. Many agencies think the payment is being able to use their signed model for your portfolio. However, they still expect high-caliber images that appear to have production value. This often requires dipping into your pocket to make that happen. I have no shame in admitting I was the queen of returns so long as items are in the same condition I bought them.
One of the best ways to add production value is to have a team of hairstylists and makeup artists. Fashion stylists are the creme de la creme if you can find one willing to work with you. Until you have these relationships, you can expect to have all these job duties for a model session. You can also invest in a team if your wallet allows for it.
I recommend networking and finding a group of emerging talent in the same stage as you. Work together to improve and get to the next step, which hopefully means everyone gets paid. It is the photographer’s responsibility to acquire a place to shoot. Bonus points are given if you bring snacks.
How To Establish A Working Relationship
In the beginning, you will most likely be working with new faces. Take time to establish a rapport with the model and make them feel like a million bucks. A good booker will contact the model after the photo session and ask about their experience. It is as important as delivering high-caliber imagery. Keep on top of fashion trends and produce images you expect to see in a magazine.
Pro Tip: Aim for timelessness and sensuality over sexuality. Timeless images stay in portfolios longer and have a longer shelf life in your portfolio.
A successful session often opens the doors to a larger variety of models. The more you deliver results, the more better models become available. New faces turn into working models that are better versed in the industry. This is when your portfolio will improve by leaps and bounds.
Keep delivering consistent quality, which can eventually lead to negotiating rates for future model testing. Make sure to either include the rates of your team or set expectations that they cost extra.