How to Find and Work with Signed Models

When I was first starting out as a portrait photographer, I had no idea how to connect with models. I didn't know if you needed to work for an agency, if you needed to be repp'd by an agency, or if you just needed to be friends with the model to shoot with them.. basically I was at a loss.

If you're anything like I was, keep reading. I hope this blog will help new and established photographers alike find and work with more models in their area. 

One thing you should know before reaching out to models:

A lot of the time, you will need to go through the model's agency to set up a shoot. Some models won't respond to photographers (or any creatives for that matter) online, or they will simply respond with their agent's email. Don't let this discourage you – they aren't trying to be rude and it doesn't (necessarily) mean they don't like your work. Many agencies have their models sign a contract saying they aren't allowed to discuss shoots with anyone who hasn't first spoken with their agent. This is for the model's safety!! I promise they aren't just being rude to you. 

If the model has their agent's email address in their bio, just email the agent directly. Tell them you would like to work with "model's full name here" and link to your portfolio. It's as simple as that. Here are a couple examples below from model's who I follow. 

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Safe to say you can DM Lily since her bio specifically says "Dm's Always Open". It doesn't necessarily mean you won't also need to contact her agent, but it could be a good way to get the ball rolling or just introduce yourself. 

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For Katarina, I would jump right into emailing her agent. Her bio specifically says "Bookings:" with her agent's email address. Of course you can follow her or let her know you've inquired about setting up a shoot, but I wouldn't DM her directly. In this case, she would most likely just refer you to her agent – so save yourself both the time and go straight to the email she provided. 

Now that that is out of the way, here's a couple more tips for working with agency signed models. 

Email every agency in your city and surrounding cities.
I'm serious. Every, single, one. 

When I first wanted to shoot with signed models, I emailed every agency I could find in hopes that just one would respond. Because here's the thing – Agents are constantly receiving inquiries from photographers. They're inboxes are full of client emails, modeling inquiries, new model submissions, photographer inquiries, etc. and they don't have time to respond to everything. You have to be willing to be persistent and capable of handling rejection. Don't send one email and then never try again.

I emailed Dragonfly (who I now shoot for on a regular basis) a handful of times before ever hearing back. AND THAT'S TOTALLY OKAY. It didn't mean my portfolio sucked or that they hated me – it just meant they got busy and had more important things to do that day. As a creative, you HAVE to be able to brush yourself off and get back on the horse.

Campbell Agency told me no when I first inquired about working with their models. They told me I needed more tear sheets (aka published work), and to email them again when my portfolio was more established. Guess what? I emailed them again a year later and was approved to shoot with their models. Be persistent! 

Once you've connected with an agency (and you've proved yourself valuable to them) they will begin setting you up with their models. During your slow months, you can email the agent with you're available dates and ask them to do a "push" for you. This means they would send out your open dates to their local models and see if anyone is interested in booking with you. This doesn't always guarantee work, but it's a good way to remind the agency you want to work with them and to keep your name in the model's minds. 

Now.. if you don’t care if the model is signed and you just want to shoot, here are a few ways to find unsigned faces! 

  1. Do a “model call” across your social media platforms and ask people to shoot with you. This is a really simple and easy way to attract aspiring models. If you post your model call on Facebook, ask your friends to share it to help broaden your bubble and reach as many people as possible. I’ve found some amazing talent through model calls and still do them today.
  2. Consistently share high quality work on Instagram. Post only your absolute best images, and the models will find you! Here’s the thing: If you’re always posting quality content, people will start to remember you for that. They will see an image you took, like the style, and want to shoot with you. Depending on what I post, I can see an immediate return – just from posting one photo on Instagram! Work on growing your following, following people who inspire you, engaging with other creatives in your area, and mastering your style. Most people will browse your Instagram before ever viewing your website portfolio, so you really have to wow them. Make them WANT to click your bio link to see more. 
  3. Use Instagram hashtags and location tags to find people in your area! Whether you’re looking for curve models, unique faces, girl-next-door vibes, or something totally different.. scouring hashtags is the way to go. I like to search local hashtags like “#dentoning, #exploredenton, #wddi, #dentontx” over hashtags like “#signedmodel, #dallasmodel, #model, #instamodel”. Searching generic hashtags is going to show you every person all over the world who has used that hashtag. You don’t need the stress in your life of having to look through 3 million #cutegirl photos. Once you’ve found some good hashtags, look through them and try to pick out a few people to DM. Don’t be creepy when you message them. Don’t say things like, “you’re hot, we should shoot”. People aren’t going to feel comfortable responding to that, and it makes the photog community look bad. Don’t make us look bad. 

    When you’re ready to DM people, say something along the lines of, “Hey! My name is Kelly and I'm a photographer in Denton. I am currently building my portfolio and would love to take portraits of you – your style is so cool! Let me know if this is something you’d be down for and we can set it up. Thanks so much!”

Ta-Da! That's it. Keep it short. Keep it sweet. Wait to see if they respond.

Some people may be very photogenic, but hate having their photo taken. So no big deal if they aren’t interested. Remember, you’re just a person, talking to another person. Be yourself and be confident in your work. The pieces will fall into place if you’re consistent and persistent.