Photography can often feel like a solitary pursuit, but certain genres of photography, particularly those that involve the making of portraits, intrinsically involve photographers working with others as our subjects. As a photographer who shoots a lot of commercial portraits, one of the questions I am often asked by photographers starting out is how I go about finding new subjects to work with. Obviously, a lot of the people I photograph are clients in need of new headshots or various types of portraiture work who seek me out or have been referred to me for my services. For my personal projects, I tend to be the one who reaches out to models. I’m a firm believer that photographing new subjects regularly is an integral and necessary part of developing and honing a critical skillset in being a good portrait photographer. Additionally, it plays a crucial part in staying creative by allowing the exploration of new concepts and experimentaation with new techniques. As it is with most things in life, the more extensive your experience, the better the quality of your portfolio, and the broader your connections are in the photography industry, the easier it will be for you to find new models to photograph. Here are some suggestions you may find useful.
If you are just starting out and developing your skills as a portrait shooter, finding models willing to work with you can be a bit of a challenge, especially if you don’t have a body of work to demonstrate your competency behind the camera. How do you build a body of work as a portrait photographer if you can’t find people to photograph? Sounds like a Catch 22, right? Hiring a model to work with you is an obvious solution, but depending on your budget, this may not always be possible. All hope is not lost, however. Tap into your personal network; sweet-talk a significant other; reach out to your family members, friends, coworkers, and/or acquaintances, and ask them to jump in front of your lens. Bribe them with pizza afterward if you must, but the bottom line is that there is bound to be someone within your social circles that you can ask (or beg, if you really have to) to be your subject. The first portraits I ever captured were of my friends, and while they were far from my best works, I learned a hell of a lot and got to spend time with friends and family doing it.
Photographing friends and family can be fun, but unless your focus is on photographing families, most of you will likely want to work with people outside of your social circles in hopes of expanding your portfolio and adding some variety to your work. Thanks to the prevalence of social media, it’s never been easier to connect with models you would like to work with. Platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and even websites like Model Mayhem are excellent places to find and network with models from your surrounding area. Exploring relevant hashtags for your area is a great way to find nearby models that are active and looking to expand their portfolios as well. For example, since I live in New York, #newyorkmodel, #nymodel, #newyorkcitymodeo, and #nycmodel are just a few of the hashtags I regularly explore. When reaching out to prospective models, make sure you are professional, succinct, and courteous. Everyone has different schedules, so having a concept ready in mind, along with your availability will aid in scheduling a shoot with prospective models. This method is also highly effective if you travel regularly and would like to collaborate with models local to the area you’ll be visiting: simply substitute your destination in place of your home city. If your work is good enough, you may even find models reaching out to you in hopes of working with you as well.
Once you’ve honed your craft and gotten to the point where you’ve put together a strong enough portfolio, it’s time to really step up your game and put your skills to the test in the big leagues. Modeling agencies are where you will find the top modeling talents, and they are constantly on the lookout for emerging talents. Those “new faces” fortunate enough to be signed to an agency will need to build a professional portfolio before their agency can book them for paying gigs. This is where you as a seasoned portrait photographer come in. Just as you had reached out to prospective models via social media in hopes of working with them, the process of testing with agency new faces is very similar. A quick Google search will steer you towards the right direction of reputable modeling agencies in your area, but be realistic in your search and focus on boutique to midsized agencies. When establishing contact with the agencies, it helps to have a polished portfolio, along with a concept in mind, when you’ll be available, and if there are specific features you’re looking for in a model such as skin tone or hair color. Modeling agencies are constantly bombarded by test requests from photographers, so don’t feel dejected if you don’t hear back right away. Be persistent and follow up periodically, but always remember to be professional, succinct, and courteous.
Never forget that time is just as valuable for you as it is for the models you work with, and that you’ve agreed to work together in hopes of walking away with images that will increase the value of your respective portfolios, so make sure to provide them the photos from your shoot together in a timely fashion.Like most things we do in life, being able to successfully find new models to work with on a consistent basis is all about fostering mutually beneficial relationships. As you begin to work with new models on a consistent basis, not only will it help improve your skills as a photographer, but it will help build your reputation as a professional as well.