How Do I Get Paid Modeling?

How do I make money modeling?  First thing is first, it’s important to know what you are up against – what you are asking for and how.  A photographer has spent thousands of dollars in camera equipment and lenses; thousands of dollars in strobes, stands, modifiers and other lighting equipment; overhead cost for studios; backgrounds; hundreds and thousands of dollars for classes, seminars, workshops; hundreds and thousands of hours watching online videos and reading books to train yourself; years of practice to develop skill and artistic style; Thousands of dollars in computer equipment; Hundreds of dollars in retouching software like Lightroom and Photoshop; Thousands of hours reading and practicing retouching to perfect skills in retouching. 

These are just some of the costs in money and time associated with preparing to have the ability to shoot and edit images for a photo shoot.  That is just background - once the shoot is set - the photographer is responsible for finding a location or renting studio space (if they do not own the studio and pay regular overhead on that), the photographer spends his time doing the shoot and then up to an hour or more on each picture after the shoot editing.  My typical 2 hour photo shoot means 5-10 additional hours of editing after the shoot is complete.  If you are a full time photographer, time is money.  It is no longer a hobby - each hour spent on a shoot or editing is an hour not spent with a client, editing clients' work, marketing, billing or more.

For models there are also considerations; money spent on cosmetics; money spent with hair stylists; hours of time spent looking through magazines and practicing poses in the mirror; wardrobe and accessory costs; hours in make-up and hair to build portfolios; hundreds and thousands of hours in the gym to keep their body in top shape; cleansing products to keep skin clear; hundreds of hours spent with photographers for free as they develop their style and look.  Then when it’s time for the shoot a model will spend time preparing for the look the photographer wishes to create.  They then spend hours in hair and make-up and wardrobe to get ready for the actual shoot.  After this, the model puts themselves in front of the camera at the risk of humiliation and at the risk of the photographer not creating images that are flattering to the model.

So how does all that translate to money?  It has everything to do with your experience and expertise levels.  As a photographer or model, as you read this - ask yourself how much you personally have invested toward improving yourself?


With the invention of digital photography and the explosion of social media - we have seen an outpouring of new photographers and models on the scene.  We also live in a world of instant fame with reality TV making stars overnight and YouTube stars getting millions of views.  We have created a society where fame and wealth and experience is created overnight and people feel they have the same right to this without paying their dues, studying, gaining experience, and working toward improving themselves.

I am asked to do portfolio images for new models all the time.  Most of the time, my response is to send my rates and information on how to get started with making a portfolio.  Somehow, the "model" gets offended by this and wants to respond with - "It will help your portfolio" or some other response as to why they shouldn't pay for shots.  I do like to help models get started and sometimes I donate my time, expertise, studio, knowledge and more to do a shoot, but only if it is a shoot I am interested in doing or a model I specifically want to develop and if I think the model has potential for future projects.

You experience level – know what it is

There are three distinct levels of expertise and knowledge that has to be considered for both models and photographers - this rule applies to both and should be considered when determining who is responsible for paying:

Amateur/Beginner - Are you just getting started?  Do you have a fully developed portfolio of work or are you building your portfolio?  When someone wants to hire you - do they have a clear understanding of what they are going to get in return for hiring you?  If the answer is no - you are probably still an amateur.  This is totally an ambiguous judgment, but if you think you may be in amateur status - you most likely are.  This is OK - it is a time to improve and build on all the things mentioned above.


Intermediate - This is the photographer or model with lots of experience.  You have a definite portfolio and are NOT in the portfolio building mode.  New images for your portfolio are always good, but not necessary to getting work.  As a photographer, you have the right equipment, you have studied your craft, you know how to retouch, you are worthy of being hired by others for projects and do get paid work.  As a model, you are in demand.  You can place a $ amount on your time and people pay it.  You know how to pose yourself, you know how to make facial expressions to meet the photographer’s needs.  For both, if you were given the opportunity to make this a career - you are ready.  You have what it takes.

Professionals - for this debate, a professional is someone that does it for a living.  This is your full time job, not part time or on the weekends.  You have a highly developed talent and make your living as a photographer or model.

What to pay whom?  Once you have developed a baseline of experience level - it is important to know who to work with.... this establishes who should pay who.

Professionals - for the professional, you should never have to pay for a portfolio shoot. You have already paid in time and money and you are bringing it to the table.  This does not mean you don't pay if there is a specific person you really want to work with or someone who can provide exactly what you are looking for in a project.  If you work with amateurs or intermediate level - it is your choice whether you pay or not.  


Intermediates - if you work with an amateur - you should be getting paid.  You are providing them with expertise and experience to improve their portfolio with a huge risk that you will not get anything worth using in return.  This warrants getting paid.  If you choose to work with amateurs - that is OK.  If you work with professionals and you approach them for the shoot - it is your responsibility to pay.  This is the opportunity to improve your portfolio and learn your craft more.  In a lot of situations, you can set up a trade shoot with professionals, but don't expect them to shoot for free unless they agree.  

Amateurs - Amateurs should NEVER work with other amateurs.  This is a recipe for disaster.  If two amateurs work together, the chance of getting something useful to improve your portfolio is very limited.  In most cases, you will end up with images that actually HURT your chances for getting future jobs.  After all - the point is to build a portfolio that gets you to the point of advancing your career or getting paid work.  Can you reasonably expect someone to pay you in the future for your services when you never paid anyone for services yourself?  It is still OK to approach intermediate or professional levels for trade shoots, but be prepared to be told rates for the portfolio shoot.  Be respectful and let them know if you can or cannot afford the shoot.  If you cannot - let them know that when you can afford it, you will let them know and if they have a project that you could fit for in the future, to contact you.

If this is just a hobby and you are doing it for fun - shoot with anyone you like - if you shoot below your experience level, it really doesn't matter - you are in it for fun.  Just be clear what you are in it for and give your best to the person you are working with.

Some other things to keep in mind.  There are a few other rules when setting up a portfolio shoot.  Please remember these and live by them.


1) If you approach someone to do a portfolio shoot - it is never in good taste to then ask THEM to pay you.  If you are a professional and approaching an amateur or intermediate - go forward by asking them to shoot for trade or for you to pay them.  If you are an intermediate and approaching a professional or amateur - do not then ask them to pay you.

2) As an amateur - you should never expect to charge anyone.  You cannot guarantee results and it is not fair to have someone pay for you to practice.

3) If you approach someone, no matter what the level - be prepared to provide professional hair styling and makeup and wardrobe.  If you want to agree on no hair stylist or makeup or wardrobe, that is OK, but be expected to provide that if you are the one that makes the approach.  This is a VERY important step in getting good, professional portfolio images that can be used.

4) Be clear and concise up front what you would like from the shoot.  Whether you are the one that makes the approach or gets approached.  Be honest and open and clear what you will provide and what you expect.  Know how many images will be provided.  Know how they can be used.  Know how they can or cannot be manipulated.

5) Sign a Model Release.  It is always good to discuss this prior to the shoot, so you have all details worked out before shooting.

Trade shoots or (TF shoots) are good for everyone. Just be sure what you are working toward and be up front and honest.

6) Choose someone with experience to help you accomplish your goals.  Whether a model management company or a modeling agency, you should understand that they are two completely different entities.

                A Model Management company works for the model and advocates to get them jobs.

                A Modeling Agency works for the client and advocates to get them the best model available.

7) Share!  If you find someone that mistreated you – TELL OTHER MODELS.  If a photographer has a bad experience with a model, I can guarantee that they are telling other photographers about their bad experience.  This shared information keeps the information flow and keeps the industry transparent for safety.  



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