I recently had a casting call for a print ad campaign and wanted to give some feedback to models who may have submitted or been called in, but could use some help on how to improve their next casting or opportunity to be selected for any project. This article is designed more for unrepresented aspiring models without professional agencies. Others looking to improve in the fashion world such as makeup artists, hair stylists and wardrobe stylists can also benefit from this post. If you're a legitimate agency represented model (not a small town scam agency represented model in which case you're screwed) then most of the info here will be handled by your booker. For those who are not represented, here's a first-hand experience look at how you can improve your success with photographers, companies and even real agencies. A lot of this is geared toward fashion modeling, so if you a are different type of model, then this info may not apply to you.
1. Be very timely in your response to those who contact you.
If someone whom you would like to work with reaches out to you, don't take days to return a communication with them. This sounds common sense enough, but you're be surprised at how many people have no sense of professionalism and readily prove it with flakiness. Nothing says "difficult to work with" more than someone who is slow to respond. People in the fashion world in particular are very busy, and by not responding quickly to them you are showing that you are careless and lazy. By the time you remember to return an email days later, the offer is no longer on the table. Don't use the "I don't always check my email or have time to reply" excuse, because it's not valid. I don't know anyone who doesn't check their email, private messages, voicemails, etc multiple times a day, and you always have time to return an email, it only takes a minute. Bottom line: You only get one first impression, use it wisely.
2. Have at least some sort of portfolio book to present your work.
Other than a new model meeting with an agency for the first time, in which a book is not needed, one of the first ways to identify yourself as a professional or at least pro-minded is by having a portfolio, otherwise known as your "book". A book is important because it shows that you are taking yourself seriously enough to place your best work in a book format where you can present it to someone in a professional context. A portfolio doesn't have to be expensive or large, it can be a regular artist portfolio bought at a local hobby or art store for a few bucks. The prints in them can even be printed with a home inkjet printer. In this digital age, a lot of people use their iPads, tablets, laptops or even smart phones to show our work (myself included). This is fine for impromptu situations where having your work on hand to show is convenient. However, I would never show up to an important scheduled meeting where I needed to impress a client or business contact without a portfolio book. If you go to a meeting and when asked to see your portfolio you proceed to set up your laptop and show your Facebook page, you've variably taken yourself out of contention as a professional. Bottom line: A book gives you and your work more validity.
3. Quality, never quantity.
I can't remember how many times I've been interested in working with a particular model or makeup artist and when I see their portfolio, it basically talks me out of working with them. A clue that it's a bad idea to work with someone is if they put every photo shoot or project they've ever done in their portfolio. A few good shots in your book can easily be overshadowed if the majority of your work is generic, boring or poorly done. It looks like you have a couple of lucky shots, but as a whole you are unusable. I've even heard people say "I don't really like these photos" to which I have to ask why they put them in their book. Your portfolio shouldn't be "the good, the bad and the ugly", it should only be the best examples of your work. Your book is your representation of what level you are on. Are you a beginner? Do you only work with the same amateur hobby photographers or are you shooting with really skilled and inventive artists? Your book communicates that. Don't advertise yourself as a skilled professional and then present a book that is full of badly produced, amateur work. It defines that you are as such. Bottom line: What's in your book directly communicates how professional you are.
4. Models, be for real.
There's nothing more obvious than someone who calls themselves a model but their photos show that they are more appropriately described as, "someone who needs photos to feel pretty". Real modeling is a business as well as an an art. Showing that you can have your picture taken doesn't do anything for showing that you are a legitimate model. Sure, it's important to do a lot of test shoots with (good) fashion photographers when you are starting out, but don't post up every amateur, boring shoot you do with the need for your friends to comment on how "stunning" you are. That's just showing desperation for acceptance. A real model doesn't need modeling to fill an empty void with compliments from endless amateur photos. If you want to be a model, show that you are for real in every way possible. Otherwise you will only be sought by other amateurs and you'll receive no interest from those who need good models for legitimate projects. Bottom line: Modeling is a skill, not a compliment.
5. Direction is not just doing what you are told.
If you are doing a photo or video shoot or other project, chances are there is going to be someone giving direction. From a photography standpoint (and being that photo shoots are about 80% of what you will be doing), the photographer will direct you. All photographers are different; some like to micro-manage you and some will let you do more of your own thing. Speaking for myself and the lion's share of photographers out there, it's very frustrating when someone calls themselves a model and then has no clue how to actually model. Unless it's your first time or you are very new, no one wants to work with someone who has to be told every single thing to do when shooting. Models are booked for their look, but more importantly for their ability to have great presence on camera. Direction is an idea, a mood, or an improvement to make the shot better. Direction is not telling you exactly what limb to move, how to stand, what to do with your head, what to do with your eyes, what to do next, etc. That's "puppeteering", and it's extremely frustrating. Modeling is not showing up empty-headed and having the photographer do everything for you to make you look good. I've done shoots where I had to use every trick in the book to make a so-called model look good, to which they gladly accepted the credit that came afterwards. I'd love to show everyone the first 100 frames and the unedited shots, then we'd see how she really was. Bottom line: Understand direction, but make it your own movements, expressions, etc. Be a model, not a mindless puppet.
Hope this is helpful and I'll check comments for questions or feedback. Until next time, always do your best!