You’ve made the jump into photography — you bought your gear and found the best lens for your camera, you’ve read some of the industry’s most popular books and you’re following the best photography accounts on social media.
However, if you’ve decided to focus on portrait photography, you may be scratching your head when it comes to understanding how to find models.
While you’ve invested the time and money to cultivate some knowledge and have the best tools and resources for your budget, you may be wondering how you’re supposed to actually break into the world of portrait photography.
After all, you need a portrait model. In fact, you should have a variety of models willing to work with you to develop a diverse and interesting portfolio. With that said, how do you start?
What is a portrait model?
A portrait model is to a portrait photographer what a beautiful vista or mysterious urban alleyway is to a landscape and street photographer.
Your portrait model is the subject in front of your camera. While there is a myriad of ways of capturing the mood, emotion and personality of your subject, you can’t get far in portrait photography without any models.
Why have a model for your portrait photography?
A portrait model is exactly why you’re in the game of portrait photography to begin with. They are your canvas for which you paint a scene. The best portrait photographers all have their subsequent styles, yet they all share one thing in common — their models are professionals who understand the nuance of a portrait session.
Without their willingness or expertise as models, the job of the photographer would be much harder. While a portrait taken at Sears may suffice for certain situations, a great photographer and a great model will create something magical.
While it’s true that to make it in the industry, you’ll need to photograph subjects that aren’t professional models, your work with models will inform your professional skills. With a model, you have the freedom of experimentation, where you’ll develop photographic intuition, learn to improvise and gain an intimate understanding of your equipment.
Where to find models for portrait photography
DeviantART makes it easy to figure out how to find models for portrait photography. It’s has been a pivotal part of bringing art and community together for decades.
It’s also a great place to explore photography, namely portrait photography. Try establishing yourself on the website, posting and sharing within the photography community. When you’re ready, reach out to a few of the models.
2. Model Mayhem
Model Mayhem is the de facto community in the quest of how to find models for portrait photography. Think of the website as a social network for photographers and models to create connections.
You can create your own profile and even select your style of photography and find a model with ease. It’s one of the best model and photographer networking sites in the industry.
Thanks to Facebook’s robust, local search you can easily find models in your area by searching for people and groups using certain contextual parameters like “[City Name] Portrait Models.” It couldn’t be any easier to join a few local photography groups, introduce yourself and start making friends.
4. Your friends
Don’t forget that you already have a potential resource to tap into when looking for models to photograph — your own friends. Many of your close acquaintances would probably be flattered to learn that you’d like to photograph them. Best of all, you could probably finagle a “quid pro quo” situation if you schedule a session with someone you know.
5. Build your reputation
Believe it or not, if you’ve already found a few models and have begun to publish your photography, then you’re more than likely cultivating a positive reputation in your area. Soon enough, you may find yourself actually approached for gigs. Heck, you may even find yourself cornering a niche market and become “the photographer” for a certain demographic. Once you’re in, you’re in!
How to approach a portrait model
1. Be intentional
No matter how low the stakes are, nothing comes off more unprofessional than not having a plan, or intent, when approaching a shoot. If a model has extended the kindness to schedule a shoot with you, then you should arrive early, have a clear strategy for what you both want to achieve, and follow through on your execution.
Poor word-of-mouth will dry up your resources faster than you realize.
2. Act professional
Professionalism is such an important component of portrait photography that it bears repeating. While you want to go into a session with a plan, you also need to understand how a professional shoot operates. Portrait photography can often time be intimate, emotional and spontaneous.
It’s up to you to give your subject the ability to pull down those barriers without overstepping any personal boundaries. Establishing limits and being aware of social queues and body language is extremely important in your line of work.
3. Expect to pay up if he/she is very experienced
While some models work for free, many more do not. In fact, unless you’re constantly finding subjects from your own group of friends, you’re eventually going to have to reach out to a model you’ve never met before. More than likely they’ll have a rate — they are trying to make a living, after all.
Portrait photography can take you anywhere if you let it
Many hobby portrait photographers may be happy with that one friend and their own cat as their only two models. However, if your intention is to break into the portrait photography industry, then you need to take your expertise to the next level by hiring a model.
Not only does model photography show that you’re a go-getter, but it allows you to truly show your craft.
With the right approach, you’ll find that breaking into the model community can be quite simple, as long as you’re honest, kind and courteous. Most of all, make sure you make them look their best, and have something to show after all that hard work.