A photographers take on professional models and wannabes

So it has been a while since I have had time to update the blog. The reason is simply that I have been very busy, in a good way. I have done a few campaign shoots, and directed and produced a video commercial in Dubai, to be shown in cinemas, TV, and on social media. I flew models and my camera man over to Dubai, where the partnering production house was waiting. I also rented a V8 Camaro (sports-car) for the shoot, and racked up almost 2000 USD in speeding tickets, which my gracious client luckily offered to pay for me. So I made some money as well. I will make a separate post on my Dubai adventure after the video has been launched, and I will post it here. As for this post, last time I said I would write about either A: professional fashion models versus amateurs and wannabes, or B: How a client can sabotage their own shoot. Let me write about fashion models this time.

Before I came in contact with professional fashion models, I actually never understood that it’s a profession to be respected. If you don’t respect the fashion modeling profession, you simply haven’t worked with real models yet.

It is necessary to make a distinction, I feel, because there are a lot of wannabes that make the distinction less than clear. Being a “model” is sort of sign of status and validation. Proof that you “look good” and should be invited to the party. Perhaps this text of mine can make the situation a bit clearer, and even help some people who think they could or should work as models, and perhaps dissuade those who would otherwise waste their time.

First of all, don’t tell people you are a model unless your actually work as one. It just sounds silly. In stead, have a look at this video to have an idea what it is about.

Being able to become a professional fashion model is partly about how you naturally look, and your your ability to pose in front of the camera. There are many ways of posing, big, small, natural, lifestyle acting, et cetera. Your looks will give you a realistic shot at modeling, meaning, you need to have the right proportions and a cut face/physique, and preferably also something unusual about your look, that makes you less “pretty” and more “interesting” looking. If you have these characteristics, then go ahead, start building your portfolio, and practice your posing. If you don’t these necessary characteristics, and you still insist on working within fashion, focus on getting paid doing something else.

The truth is that if you have the natural look for it, and you really want to try to become a fashion model, people are very eager to help and teach you, quite simply because fashion models are in demand all over the world. There are many agencies that does not demand much to try to break in a model, other than having the necessary characteristics I mentioned above. Quite simply, because it costs them very little to do so. What this means for a wannabe model is that it will take months, not years, before you will work commercially at an entry level. I am not talking the new Chanel campaign here, but rather, a client (not photographer) paying you to sell a product (not your skin) with your modeling. The first good sign of you having a chance, is an agency willing to invest time in you, by sending you to a photographer to do “test shots”, that later will be part of your “comp card” (composition card) that shows a selection of your photos, and your measurements.

(Here are a couple of comp cards)

When I am looking for models for a shoot, more often than holding a casting right away, I would send out a message to the bookers I use from different agencies, and ask them to send me comp cards of models who are in town. From these I will do a pre-selection of who I invite to do a casting. It can be one, or twenty models. 

Time is money, and models run around on castings all the time, several a day, many times, and most of the time, they don’t get the job. I try to keep my castings very short, no longer than an hour, and since I live downtown Bangkok, I often hold the castings at the rooftop swimming pool of my building. Easy for me, easy for the models. I sit there, in my shorts, taking notes, accepting printed comp cards, and check out their posing ability, personality, and physique. It’s not very glamorous at all. 

One by one they step up, and I ask them to do a series of poses. If it is anything less than like hitting a switch, and the model immediately strikes several useable poses effortlessly, it’s a pass. I can’t use him or her on a commercial shoot if the model can’t pose properly. A fashion shoot is not like a private portrait session, where the photographer is trying to “capture the moment”. A fashion shoot is a high pressure situation where money has been invested, and everybody has to be able to do their job. There is no time for a model to miss poses. Rather, it is a question of selecting the model with the image the client wants for their brand, and then everybody working together. I will guide and structure a model during a shoot to get the images we are tying to achieve, but there is zero tolerance for not hitting the poses. A professional fashion model knows this, and they know what they are doing. Thank God for professional models.

(Here I am shooting the models on the previous comp cards. Professionals in action, nothing more, nothing less)

The flip side of this is of course knowing that pulling off a successful commercial shoot is a team effort. You will not get there unless you have a professional model, hair and makeup artist, stylist, et cetera. As a photographer and a creative director on a shoot, a lot of what I do is making sure no one fucks up, including me. That is how it often feels.

In Bangkok, and the region where I mostly work, a lot of models come from Asia, Russia and Brazil. Modeling is seen as a legitimate way of making a decent living, compared to other options available to them. They take their modeling seriously. Most professional fashion models will not make a lot of money by western standards, even if they are quite good at it.

In Norway, where I am from, it is a bit different. Unless you are able to make it to the top within fashion modeling, you will probably make more money, and have more job security, just pursuing a normal career, or having a normal job. Modeling is therefore something often done on the side. Being a professional model means living off modeling. For a person to choose this as a career is vastly affected by other available opportunities, and thus, where you are from. You pay ten times more for a “professional” fashion model in Norway, than what you pay a 19 year old Russian girl who just came to Bangkok to model, from a former life as a farmer in Siberia. She will have gone through extensive training after surviving selection from her local mother agency in Russia, before being sent around in Asia, mostly staying alone in shabby rooms. She will work very hard, in a competitive business, and will not make much money. 

This is the life of most fashion models. When she steps up on the roof of my building for a casting, she comes prepared, hoping to get a booking. She is often used to working 12 hours straight. I want to make the selection I need to do as fast as I can, wasting as little time as possible. For the models sake, and for mine.

There are models with a great attitude, and models with a lousy attitude, but most of the time, I am impressed with their work ethic and professionalism. It will likely be something they do for a while, to see the world, or to save up some money if they can. They need to find something else to do eventually, and the longer they wait, the harder the transition is. For the girls, marriage seems like the preferred way out, but I have also talked to a few that quits modeling in their mid twenties to go back to school.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to drop me a line. Also, if you think you have what it takes to be a model, you can also write me a message. I have bookers who would like to get to know you. But probably you won’t make the cut. 

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