How to Hire a Model for a Photo Shoot

February 6, 2015

How to hire a model for a photoshoot.

Have you exhausted the patience of friends and family members to act as subjects for your photo shoots?

Or maybe you’re looking to improve your portrait photography skills, experiment with new looks for your portfolio, or break into the fashion business.

If so, it might be time to hire a model.

Finding and hiring a model for the first time can be daunting. Do you go straight to a modeling agency, or reach out over social media? What can you expect to pay?

As with so many things in photography, the answer depends on scale, scope and budget.

First, envision and plan the photo shoot with as much detail as you can. That not only helps clarify your own intentions, it helps you explain to a model or agency what you’re looking for. Spontaneity during a shoot is one thing, but approaching the project with nothing more than “let’s take pictures for two hours on Saturday” is a harder sell.

That scope also informs where to start looking for a model. If the shoot is fairly informal or low budget, consider beginning the search using your social contacts.

Photographer Ron Martinsen, who writes about photography and camera gear at ronmartblog.com, said he occasionally finds friends of friends on Facebook, emphasizing the need to be polite and aboveboard about their shared connections and why he’s reaching out to them.

Mostly, however, he hires models through the site Model Mayhem, a public board for connecting models, stylists, photographers, and other creative amateurs and (occasionally) professionals. The site currently lists nearly 13,000 “castings,” which are all over the map in terms of age, experience, appearance, and compensation.

An advanced search page lets you specify the attributes that fit your idea of the photos you want to make. Once you find a potential model, Martinsen recommends asking for a current selfie, ideally with minimal or no makeup, as hair styles and other appearances may be different than what’s shown in a model’s profile photos. Also, be specific about tattoos, piercings, and other details that might not fit into your vision of the shoot (or which will give you an idea of how much retouching may be required later).

Many models are willing to work for free, or in exchange for images, but Martinsen warns that you can expect occasional no-shows at that tier. Some models’ profiles specify hourly rates, but often the finances are negotiable. Martinsen notes that rates are usually in the range of $30 to $50 per hour; he also offers a bonus after the shoot to models that he’d like to work with again in the future.

Martinsen’s last piece of advice is to get a signed model release for every shoot. “Just because a model agrees to one shoot doesn’t mean she agrees to another, so you can’t just get one and think you’re good forever,” he said.

(For more on photographers’ contracts and licenses, watch the free video Understanding licensing and contract agreements, part of the Photography and the Law: Understanding Copyright course with Ben Long and Carolyn E. Wright.)

Going the agency route can be quite a bit different. I spoke with Mcklyn Valenciano, New Faces Director at SMG (Seattle Models Guild), an agency that focuses on the fashion industry. He approaches the interaction between a photographer and the agency as a potential long-term relationship, not just a one-off assignment.

Before working with a photographer, Valenciano wants to see a body of work. Even if they haven’t done much fashion photography, “I can really see inherent talent in certain photographers, and it takes some time to harness that talent,” he said.

In nearly all cases, Valenciano advises doing a model test shoot, which involves three to four different outfit changes to demonstrate a photographer’s range and versatility. It also demonstrates that a photographer can work with models, hair, makeup, and wardrobe.

SMG and other agencies provide shots and information about the models they represent on the web, so you can browse the listings and find a model that fits your vision. However, Valenciano also notes that just as often SMG works with photographers to find models that complement the shoot.

Pricing ranges between $150 and $175 per hour with a two-hour minimum, though it’s possible to do a photo shoot for free with the expectation that the photos will benefit the photographer’s and the model’s books. There are also options for reduced rates for editorial work if the model will end up with magazine tear sheets.

“We’re looking for photographers who will provide good lasting photos in the model’s book,” he said.

Valenciano sees many photographers who are new to the field. “A lot of the self-taught photographers are the ones that come in fresh,” he said. “Hopefully as everyone’s books begin to build, it opens more doors for them.”

For tips on working with models, watch the LinkedIn Learning course Narrative Portraiture: On Location in New York with Rodney Smith. Also, check out Derrick Story’s course Photographing High School Senior Portraits.