Over the course of my career I have received a lot of opinions and advice from peers, mentors, and random community members who had something to say. Some of this advice was stellar, and some was better ignored.
There are many opposing opinions in the freelance modeling industry, and since some viewpoints are repeated often and loudly it’s not uncommon for new models to take bad advice as gospel.
In other instances, most of the industry agrees on a piece of advice that is outdated, or perhaps well intentioned but ill informed. In this article I’m going to tackle four common pieces of advice that new models run across, why I think they’re wrong, and what I recommend instead.
Please note that this was written from the viewpoint of a freelance model, and is mainly intended to help freelance models. I don’t know how applicable this article will be to models who have agency representation.
Bring An Escort vs Do Your Homework
This is one of the most hotly contested issues in the freelance industry, and it can make or break a new model. When I first started as a model I lost several gigs by insisting that I had to have an escort present, and I still cringe to think about how unprofessionally I behaved when contesting the practice with potential clients.
Requiring an escort to be present may seem logical on the surface: you’re going to be working one on one with photographers, typically men, and often in their home studios. But it’s frowned upon for a reason.
Photography requires trust, and in order to succeed as a model you have to be able to hold your own, be comfortable around photographers of either gender, and behave with the professionalism you would employ in any other job.
I’ve never found the “you wouldn’t bring an escort to your office job” analogy very persuasive since we're not shooting in office environments with lots of other people, but here’s an analogy that works better: consider modeling as similar to the employment of house keepers and many massage therapists. Both are jobs typically held by women, and both regularly go to the houses of strangers to work. If they can do that without escorts, so can you.
To keep yourself safe without an escort, it’s wise to screen photographers before every gig by contacting models they’ve worked with previously (click here to learn how).
Make sure to trust your intuition, maintain professional boundaries, and don’t work with anyone who sends up red flags. Having an escort along in a truly dangerous situation would put both of you in danger - it’s better to avoid the situation completely.
(If you are under 18 this point does not apply to you. You will typically need a parent or guardian with you in order to sign paperwork so that images can be used. If you’re under 18 and a photographer insists against you bringing someone along, that may be a red flag. Please consult an adult.)
Trade Constantly vs Trade Up (To Build A Portfolio)
When you start out it's wise to develop your skills and build a professional looking portfolio as quickly as possible. Because of this, it’s often recommended that new models accept every trade opportunity that comes their way and work with as many photographers as they can.
While you certainly want to work as much as possible, it’s important to receive images from your shoots that will benefit and improve your portfolio.
Do your research and find local photographers whose work you love. Find those who seem amenable to TFP arrangements (reading their bios often helps), and contact them with a polite and professional message inquiring as to whether they would like to collaborate with you.
Make sure to trade with photographers who shoot a variety of styles, and discuss before the shoot what you both want to add to your books. Also, make sure that you know ahead of time how many images you’ll be getting, and in what time frame.
Keep in mind that as you improve you’ll have to leave some photographers behind and seek out new ones to trade with - the skill level of the photographers you’re working with should be constantly improving. Similarly, you’ll want to be constantly renewing your portfolio as your skills improve. Don’t just add new images, but replace old ones as their quality falls behind the rest of your portfolio
The biggest tip I can give to a new model looking for photographers to trade with is this: rather than merely assessing the images in a portfolio, also look at the dates they were uploaded.
For trade it’s ideal to work with photographers who are either new and looking to learn and grow, or already established and still expanding their skillset. If a photographer has images in their portfolio that are five years old and depict the same skill level as those they uploaded this month, they're probably not a good choice unless they're extremely talented and well renowned.
Dump Your Boyfriend vs Assess Your Priorities
Many new models become invested in their new pursuit only to find that their partner is jealous or angry and wants them to stop. They often turn to the Model Mayhem forums asking for advice, and the advice given is usually along the lines of “He sounds like a controlling bastard, dump him.”
If your partner really is a controlling bastard, it probably is in your best interest to dump them. But if they are merely dealing with an unexpected reaction to your modeling and are trying to communicate it respectfully, it’s far better to have a conversation with them than with strangers online.
Perhaps there is a compromise that can be made, or you two may agree that what you do is your choice and your partner will accept that, though unhappy. If you do find that you have to choose between modeling and your relationship, the best advice I can give you is to weigh your priorities. Were you really going to pursue modeling seriously or will the glamour fade in a month or two? Are you completely in love with modeling and can’t imagine giving it up, or is it something you could live without? Is your relationship one you see as lasting or is it likely to be short term? Which would you most regret giving up?
No one can answer these questions for you. But taking the time to figure them out is going to serve you much better than dumping your partner the second they mention something is making them uncomfortable.
Shooting Nude? Bring a Robe vs Bring a Wraparound Dress
I’ve often been teased by how vehement I am about this, but advising a nude model to bring a bathrobe to a an outdoor shoot in case she has to cover up quickly is ridiculous. How many park rangers or policemen would actually be fooled by that?
Alternatively, investing in a few wraparound dresses provides the same quick protection with a much more plausible appearance. While you certainly won’t look like an experienced hiker, you will have an easier time selling yourself as a tourist out picnicking. I recommend having at least two - one short sleeved, and one long sleeved for morning shoots and cooler days.
I’ve been using wraparound dresses since I first started shooting nudes, and they allow a much higher level of convenience and security. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to have to explain to a ranger why I’m hiking barefoot in a fuzzy pink bathrobe.
My hope is that this post will help new models skip some of the hurdles that held me back when I started out. Please feel free to share it with anyone you think might benefit from it.
In the meantime, I’m curious. Have you been the recipient of some bad advice? Did I miss something that is commonly recommended to new models and really shouldn’t be? What’s the biggest piece of advice you could offer to a model who’s just starting out? Let me know in the comments!
This article was originally published on my modeling blog, and a few edits have been made to this version. The original post can be found here.