Ballpark Estimate: $500 to $2,000 (photo shoot and prints)
So you want to be a model—or at least want to learn more about this fast-paced, glamorous career. While modeling can indeed be exciting, the truth is that making it in this field can be very challenging, too. It is important to understand that no matter how beautiful, or how handsome, you are, and no matter how hard you are willing to work, you are not guaranteed to become a big star. That being said, though, with a sincere commitment, a very strong portfolio and a little luck on your side, you just may in fact make a name for yourself and take your career very far.
All Modeling Agencies Are Not Created Equal
If you live in a big city, there will be a wealth of modeling agencies to consider. And even if you live in a smaller market, there will be some well-respected agency options for you to explore. Keep in mind that most modeling agencies are legitimate businesses that will represent your best interests. But there also are many scams as well. The key is to know what to look for when shopping for an agency, or even for multiple agencies, since if you don’t have an exclusive commitment, you may be able to sign with more than one to increase your odds of finding the best-paid modeling jobs.
Look for agencies that are well known and have been in business for a while. Be suspicious if an agency is new, or doesn’t have any track record behind it. Also ask for references and be sure to call a few of them and ask lots of questions. You should also be wary of agencies that charge you fees for their services, since this is usually a red flag that they are just looking to get their money from you directly, rather than a commission for the placements they get you.
Real agencies typically get a percentage (usually 40 percent) of the amount of money you will be paid for a job. Of this amount, 20 percent is their commission that comes off the top of your earnings, while the client usually pays an additional 20 percent for the agency’s role in bringing you together. This means that if you are paid $2,000, you will get $1,600 after the agency’s cut of $400. Then the agency will receive another $400 finder’s fee from the client, bringing their earnings to $800 for their efforts.
If the terms that an agency offers you deviate significantly from the above scenario, or seem just too good to be true or in any way suspicious, check with your local better business bureau and also do a search online to see if any complaints have been filed against this agency. Also, find out if your state requires modeling agencies to be licensed and bonded. This is an easy way to make sure that they meet the appropriate requirements.
When to Spend
While you should never pay an agency any actual fees to represent you, it is important to note that models today are usually required to cover their own actual start-up expenses. This includes test photograph sessions, makeup, hair styling, headshots, composite cards and modeling portfolios. In addition, it is standard for agencies to ask their models to help cover some—or all—of the costs incurred in representing them. This runs the gamut from placing their photos on the company website to sending out marketing materials.
That being said, here is an important warning: Some of the biggest scam agencies that exist today will offer to represent you and then will send you to their own makeup artists, photographers and printers, so they can get a cut of the money you pay for these services. This is not a legitimate way to do business. Legitimate agencies will be able to provide you with a list of suggested vendors but should not force you to go to one specific place or make money themselves off of these services. A real agency usually makes its money from its client bookings. Period.
Modeling Portfolio: Your Ticket to the Top
If nothing you’ve read so far has scared you off from your dream of being a model, then you may be ready to consider going to the next step, which is hiring a photographer to take professional photos of you. You will need these photos for several things, including creating your modeling portfolio. This portfolio is really a “look book” that spotlights you in your best light and ideally should represent you to prospective clients and sell them on why you would be the perfect choice for their jobs. You may decide to get a portfolio after getting an offer of representation from an agency, or you may use your portfolio to try to wow an agency and get their interest. Both cases are appropriate.
Your best bet in researching photographers it to look for one who specializes in working with models. This is important, since it means he or she will be able to give you guidance on how to get the best photos. If you are working with an agency, the agency can also guide you on what looks will best meet the needs of your market.
Understand that for your portfolio, you want to include a range of photos that show you in different clothing, poses and situations. This means you should bring several clothing changes to your photo shoot, and even consider changing your makeup and hairstyle accordingly for different angles. Just make sure, though, that any pictures you include in your portfolio genuinely do look like you, so the client who selected you from your book won’t be surprised when you show up in person for the job.
The Cost of Greatness
The price for a photographer to do this photo session varies widely, depending on how experienced the person is and how he or she operates. If you don’t have much money to invest in the process, you may be able to find a new photographer who needs some practice in working with models so he or she who will do a test shoot at little or no charge. In such a case, you will only have to pay for any styling services you desire to get ready for the shoot and also for the cost of ordering the actual prints. This can be an appealing option, but keep in mind that if the photos can’t compete with those of a more professional photographer, it’s no bargain, since you likely won’t get booked for the modeling jobs; in this case, the cost can be much higher in the form of lost work.
If you decide to hire a more experienced photographer, you can expect to pay for the professional results. Some photographers that use film (particularly for black and white images) charge per roll that is used. This can be about $100 to $125 for each roll, and you will need somewhere between three and five rolls for a shoot. If the photographer is using digital equipment, you may be charged for the time spent on the shoot instead and can expect the price to be somewhat comparable to the film price in the end.
You will also need to purchase anywhere from half a dozen to a dozen of the most absolutely gorgeous photos of yourself for your portfolio, at a cost of about $25 each or more. (It’s important to note here that the standard size of portfolio photos will vary, depending on your region of the country, so ask for some guidance from your photographer.) Some photographers offer a package deal. This will likely include the film, the prints and the time for you to do several clothing changes. In addition, touch-ups may be needed. While this isn’t always a bad idea to agree on a set price for everything, many package deals may offer much more than you will need. Packages can range from 20 prints up to 300 or more. Also ask up front about the rights to your images and request the photos on CD if possible, so you can use them in different ways.
The price for a photo shoot and prints for your modeling portfolio can run anywhere from $500 to $2,000.
Additional expenses you can expect to incur include a makeup artist or stylist, which can be about $100 to $250, photo retouching, which can run about $15 a photo, and a professional portfolio case, which starts at $25 for a very inexpensive one and goes up to $250 or more for a high-end leather version.
Models also need composite cards, which are double-sided cards that include five of their best photographs. These can run about $1 a card for good-quality cards, and you will generally want about 100 to 200 if you are just starting out.