When pursuing fashion and beauty photography, the caliber of models that one has access to has a serious impact on the quality of work being churned out. Needless to say, model agency represented models tend to bring more to the table than a random stranger on the street, but for many the idea is daunting, and does require a bit more work. Testing with agency represented models is, however, an attainable feat, especially if you take the time to do the necessary work prior to making contact.
Most states/major cities have a local model agency. The larger cities like LA/NYC/MIA have a growing list of agencies ranging from the smaller, more hands-on boutique agencies, on up to the mainstream modeling agencies such as Elite, Wilhelmina, and Women Management NYC that are home to household names and super models seen gracing any number of magazines or the most popular Instagram accounts. A simple Google search will shed light on the abundance of modeling agencies out there, and I suggest starting with the smaller agencies and working up the ladder.
Before reaching out, it is imperative to research the different modeling agencies. Click through the faces on their main board as these are the models that are in demand and garnering the most paid work. Study the images that are selected for their online portfolio and you will most likely begin to see similarities throughout. Take notice of the clients and magazines that are booking these models, as this is the type of work that the agency is ultimately seeking.
View the main board in its entirety and it will become obvious that many of the images are reminiscent of each other stylistically. Continue by clicking on the new faces and look at their cards as well as online portfolio. These are the models that are in need of updates. Therefore, these are often the models that bookers are willing to send out to test with select photographers.
Evaluate your own book and website to determine which agency would be most in line with your style. Cull your website to only showcase the type of work that you want to do, and the best of it. Also make sure that the people in the culled images look the part of a fashion model. This is essential because a booker wants to see proof that a photographer can produce quality work that they can use.
Once all of this is squared away, make contact with the agency. Typically a short introductory email that introduces who you are, that you are a fan of their agency, and that you would like to test with their new faces is all that is needed. Include a few sample images that clearly showcase your talents as well as a link to your website with contact information.
Be prepared to have a mood board just in case as some bookers are more involved with the type of work their models do than others. You may receive several rejections at first and that is ok. In fact, it’s very normal. Listen to the feedback if it is provided, apply it, and keep trying.
Eventually you will receive your first “yes” and that is where the fun begins. That “yes” will come with a packet of models in development.
I will often ask the booker if there is something specific that they need from the shoot as most modeling agencies are requesting test shoots that look as if they could have been part of a fashion story. They also typically request images that are timeless and appear effortless because they will have the most longevity in a model’s book. Take the time to curate a team and pick the model that will be the most effective.
Go the extra mile to execute a successful photoshoot. Have a clear vision from start to finish and make sure to communicate it with the entire team (if you are indeed using a team). Mood boards are great for this and tend to keep everyone on track.
When taking a chance on a new photographer, bookers will often call their models to ensure that they are having a positive experience and inquire about their opinion of the day in general. Keep the atmosphere upbeat and treat everyone with respect.
This will typically result in being offered a second face to test, a third, and so on. Nurture that relationship because it is an important one. As you build their trust and elevate your work, you can often barter to benefit your needs. I have agreed to photograph two new faces in exchange for a better model for my own personal work. Remember that a test shoot doesn’t have to be solely what the agency needs. You can accomplish both the request of the agency and your vision in one shoot, especially if planned properly.
While testing, you will most likely develop a good working relationship with the booker(s) as well as the model(s). While it is perfectly acceptable to communicate with the model, as a courtesy, make sure to do the scheduling with the booker whenever possible. This will keep the relationship blooming and will benefit you in the long run as it does nothing but improve your reputation.
Keep in mind that a lot of bookers will bounce around between agencies throughout their career, and a negative reputation can bring your days as a test photographer to a screeching halt. When they have a photographer that they like and trust, they will often recommend them to their new colleagues. This can open the doors to bigger and better things. Word of mouth is everything, so give them something good to say.