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How to Find Models for Photography in Your Area Who Will Work for Free

It’s a problem that a lot of newer photographers find themselves facing: You want to shoot beautiful models. But, how you do go about finding models to work with? A lot of photographers will start by asking friends and family, and that’s great. But, where do you go from there? Once you’ve photographed the people you know, a lot of photographers draw a blank on how to go about contacting new talent to work with.

How to Find Models in Your Area Who Will Work For Free

Perhaps you’re in this predicament? Perhaps you’ve even heard about a local modeling agency in your area and have contacted them to inquire about hiring models from them? But, whoah! Expensive! And, the agency wants a bunch of paperwork, contracts, agreements and have a bunch of questions: What will the images be used for? What experience do you have? Will the model be provided “tear-sheets” (whatever those are?!?!) Do you have professional references, etc., etc., etc., Man! Sounds like a major hassle! It’s expensive and it sounds like a lot more trouble than it’s worth. All you want is a good-looking model to pose for you for an hour or two so you can try to get some beautiful photos using the off-camera flash technique you’ve recently read about in a blog posting somewhere, or some such thing.

Well, don’t despair. Finding beautiful models who will work with you, very often for free, is really not that difficult. On average, I have between two to four models contacting me, entirely unsolicited, right out of the blue, each month asking if they can pose for me — and they don’t want any money for doing it. And, those are just the ones who are finding me on their own and taking it upon themselves to go out of their way to contact me. If I wanted to put forth effort in contacting models myself, I could easily triple that number.

Why is this? Well, here’s the skinny on the modeling game: There’s two things you need to know in order to understand this phenomenon of models willing to work for free. #1 is that the vast majority of models don’t stay models for very long. So, most models who you’ll find modeling in your area are new, or fairly new, models. The reason for this is that modeling is one of those fantasy-filled dream jobs that, most often, doesn’t live up to expectations.

Certain types of people tend to fall in love with the idea of being a model. It seems glamorous and ego-boosting. They’re probably an attractive person and have been told often in their lives by friends and family “You should be a model!”. So, they think they’re cut out for it, and they fall in love with this idea that they’ll become a model. They try their hand at it, and they quickly discover that it’s pretty darned difficult to be a model. There’s a lot of rejection one has to endure (And, nobody likes being rejected. It sucks.) Until (and unless) you build a name for yourself, modeling really pays peanuts. And, in order to build a name for yourself it takes real commitment, dedication, hard work and not less than a fair bit of luck. You’ve got to get out there and pound the pavement, and compete in a fairly cut-throat environment, in order to land prestigious gigs to drop on your resume so you can get better gigs that will open doors to even better gigs, and so on.

Really, if you were just dreaming about glamor and parties, and people swooning over your beauty, and standing around looking pretty while a photographer clicks pictures of you, and having paid, professional stylists bother over your hair and makeup, and eating expensive hors d’oeuvers and petit fours from the craft services table while you’re waiting for a studio-tech to set up lights, and having friends and family heap adulation on you because you’re a professional model, and traveling, and hanging with celebrities, and having paparazzi hounding you relentlessly, and being sucked into a trendy drug-habit by your rock-star boyfriend that you’ll eventually overcome, be stronger for having gone through it and defeated it, and doing the talk-show circuit to promote the book you’ve written about your struggles… if that’s where you’re coming from (and that IS the dream, or close to it, of a fair number of young, just-starting-out models) it can actually, really, kind of suck — a lot. Because that’s NOT what you’re going to get.

Find models onlineSince a lot of models tend to be very young and naive when they start out, a lot of them get into modeling thinking this way: “I’m just going to step into it, and it’ll be all fun and exciting and glamorous, and everyone will love and admire me, and I’ll meet interesting, powerful people, and travel everywhere and see exotic places and get plugged in to luxurious lifestyles…” etc., etc., then, they find out that it’s actually work. And, kind of sucky work, for the most part.

I mean it’s not easy thinking that your beauty was expertly crafted by a team of angels in heaven just because all the guys at your college are constantly hitting on you, and your family members are constantly telling you how gorgeous you are… then sitting down in front of a photographer at a gosee who’s spent twenty years working with people better looking than you on an almost daily basis, and who has, long ago, lost the ability to be impressed by a pretty face and has developed a ‘cut-the-bullshit and drop the politeness to save time and money’ attitude, who looks at you across the table and lists off, to your face, all of your flaws and shortcomings and reasons why you’re not nearly good enough for the job he’s offering. For most people, that’s some cold, harsh weather to have to deal with. And, it takes a certain kind of person to roll with it for very long.

So, before very long, a lot of young models become horribly disillusioned with the whole deal and move on to something else. And, this means that, at any given time, the vast majority of models out there looking for shoots are fairly new to modeling. Which brings us to the second reason why there’s so many models willing to shoot for free: New models need pictures.

If you’re starting out in modeling, your portfolio is practically everything. That’s what gets you jobs — jobs that you can put in your portfolio which will, in turn, get you bigger jobs… which you can also put in your portfolio that will get you even bigger jobs, and so on and so forth. That’s how the modeling game works.

There’s kind of a catch-22 situation for new models. You can’t get jobs without a decent portfolio, but you need to have done jobs in order get photos to put in your portfolio. So, if you’re new, what do you do? Well, to start out, you have to get photos of yourself some other way that you can use in your portfolio. If they have money to invest in their career, some models will hire experienced photographers for a portfolio building session. Depending on the reputation of the photographer, the model can pay upwards of $10,000 for a full portfolio session with a photographer, over a few days, to build a top-tier starter portfolio.

The photographer will have an MUA and hairstylist on hand, along with a wide variety of wardrobe, props and set-dressings. And, over the course of a couple of days, they’ll get pro-shots of the model in a bunch of different looks. Even Joe-nobody photographers who offer such a service will charge $1,000 or more for it. A more basic,single day package for a small selection of portfolio photos from Joe-Nobody? Still likely at least $300-$500. A lot of new models just don’t have that sort of money to spend. And, even building those kinds of portfolios are really only consistently useful for landing the lowest of modeling gigs. For more higher profile gigs, the people doing the hiring want to know your work experience as well — WHO has picked you in the past to work with on a paying gig?

SWhere to find models for photographyo, add these two things together: #1) Most models are new. #2) Most new models are desperate to get photos on the cheap they can use in their portfolio in order to land paying gigs and get their modeling career rolling. And, in so doing, I’m sure you can see why there’s often a good number of models out there looking to work with photographers for no money. Thus enters some industry jargon: “TFP”

TFP used to mean “Time for prints” and it referred to a practice wherein a model would agree to book a shoot with a photographer (give his or her time) in exchange for receiving prints the photographer would make from the photos taken at the shoot. Of course, this is the digital age, and TFP no longer refers to time for prints in most cases. Now, it usually just means “Time for pictures.” But, it’s the same sort of thing. The model exchanges his or her time for nothing more than digital copies of the photos taken at the shoot. In some circles, you might hear the term “TFCD”, again it means the same thing. TFCD stand for: Time for a CD — as in, a CD full of photos taken at the shoot.

It’s a win-win for both the photographer and new model alike. The photographer needs a model, and the model needs pictures. Both get what they need. The model’s time is payment for the photographer, and the finished pictures is payment for the model.

But, if you’ve never done it before, how, exactly, do you discover how to find models willing to work on a TFP basis? The great news is that finding models for photography in your area who will work for free (TFP) is probably much easier than you think.

This first thing to know is that there are websites that you can use for free that are specifically designed to help models and photographers in the same area as each other connect. The most popular of these is a site called ModelMayhem.Com, and using it couldn’t be easier. You can go there and sign up for a completely free account. There are options to upgrade to paid accounts, but doing so isn’t necessary. Getting a paid account will just remove advertisements from the site and grant you some extra bells and whistles — like being able to add more photos to your profile page there, giving you preferred positioning (at or near the top) in search results, etc. It can be advantageous if you have a heavy and constant need for new models and/or are working professionally. But, it’s really not necessary. Likely the completely free level of membership will suit your purposes just fine.

Once you’re at ModelMayhem and you create a free account, you can set up a profile for yourself. You post some pictures that are examples of your work. You provide details, like what city/town/area you’re in, what types of photography you’re interested in doing, etc., and you write a little bit about yourself and what you’re looking for. Models will perform searches looking for photographers in their area, and your profile will come up in their search results. If they like your profile, they’ll contact you. Of course, you can also use the search functionality of the site to perform searches for models in your area and contact them with proposals and offers to set up TFP shoots.

Along with ModelMayhem there are number of other similar sites on the Internet which offer the same functionality. However, in my own experience (and I’ve used most of them) ModelMayhem is the best of these sites for finding models to work with. There are a couple of others that are ok, though. And, you should try them out as well to increase your pool of prospective models. Probably the second best site on the list is One Model Place. After those two, some of the better ones are:

How to find models for freeAlong with making use of these sites, I would also suggest having a website for your photography. On this site of yours, I would publish a page with the page title being “Models Wanted in (my city/town)” New models looking for photo-shoot opportunities will very often do a Google search using exactly that term. If they’re, say, living in Thurmond, West Virgina, most new models, at some time (and usually much more than just once) will hit Google, or another major search engine, and type in, exactly “Models wanted in Thurmond”, or something very, very close to that. If you’re also in Thurmond, the odds are very good that yours will be the only web page with a title that reads “Models wanted in Thurmond”, and with such a direct hit, your page will come up at the top of the search results — which means just about every model in your area looking for shoots will, at some point, click through to, and see your page.

On this page of yours, you should have a note about exactly what it is you’re looking for, a request for interested models to make contact with you, and you should have a contact form on that page that they can fill out and that will automatically send you an e-mail with the information they’ve supplied. If you don’t know too much about setting up such a web page, don’t worry. It’s really not that difficult to do. One of the most in-depth and thorough, yet easy to follow and understand set of step-by-step instructions I’ve found on the internet for setting up such a website is this article titled “Setting-up a Money Making Website for the Absolute Beginner – Step by Step” Just read and follow through the steps in the article and by the time you’re at the end of the article, you’ll have a functioning website that you can easily add your “Models Wanted…” page to — even if you don’t know anything about setting up web pages. Just ignore all of the “money making” monetization information, if you wish, and concentrate on the parts that explain getting the website set up. The money-making parts aren’t required for your purposes. But, hey! You might want to follow them as well and monetize your new website. Up to you.

Another extremely valuable tool for how to find models for photography in your area who will work for free is Facebook. If you live in, or near, a fairly large city or town, the chances are good that there is at least one, good, model-photographer networking group already set-up on Facebook. All you have to do is perform a search on Facebook and look for one. Again, if you live in, say, Thurmond, go to Facebook and type something like “Thurmond models”, or “Thurmond modeling”, “Thurmond model group”, “Thurmond model network” into the search box at the top of the page. If you live near a major city, it’s almost guaranteed there’ll be a few such Facebook groups or pages come up. If you don’t live near a major city, then the chances are still pretty good there’ll be at least one for your area. And, if there isn’t, start one! It’s free to do.

Some of these might require you to ‘join’ the page. Do so. Then, begin looking through the postings on that page. Very often you’ll see some from models announcing their desire to receive inquiries from photographers looking to work with them on a TFP shoot. If there aren’t any, then engage in the group — introduce yourself, comment on posts other people have posted. Make yourself known and get to know the other people on the group. Eventually you’ll begin talking to, and begin building social-media relationships with models who you can then ask if they’d be interested in working with you, or with other photographers who might know models they’ve worked with, and who might connect the two of you.

How Photographers Can Find Free Models There’s some tips you should be aware of as well for attracting models who want to work with someone and turning them into models who want to work with you. The first is to make sure you’re showing the right sort of portfolio. Models want pictures of themselves, and they want pictures they’ll look good in. It’s really that simple. If they think that you’ll give them the types of photos of themselves that they want, then they’ll come after you. If you show them you’re capable of producing such pictures they’ll want to pose for you. So, be discerning in your choice of shots. Pick ones where the model looks the most fantastic and forget everything else. Do you have a photo you love above all others because you really impressed yourself with the color grading you did in post-processing? But, the person in the photo doesn’t really look so good? Well, forget that one. Models don’t care about anything other than how good THEY’RE likely to look in your photos. So, the super-tip is to choose photos that look the slickest, most professional and that the people look the most spectacular in. In other words: to drastically increase your chances of finding models who are willing to pose for you for free, get really good at taking great looking photos of models — photos in which the models just look stunningly, almost inhumanly gorgeous.

But, what if you’re fairly new, don’t have a lot of experience shooting models, and all the photos you do have (if you have any) are all fairly lackluster in their appearance? Well, put up what you do have and hope for the best. And, practice, practice, practice, and get good. The better your photos of models, the more models will want to work with you.

If you happen to be rich, I would suggest hitting ModelMayhem and splurging to hire a model or two for a couple of shoots. Also, use ModelMayhem, or other means, to hire a talented MUA (Make-up Artist) and hair-stylist for the shoots. Shoot in RAW mode and send your RAW images off to a good post-processing service that knows how to process RAW images into drop-dropping WOW-photos with a sickeningly overdone super-trendy look. That’ll get you started with some good examples for your portfolio, which is all you’ll need to get the ball rolling. If you’re not rich, though, just post the best you have. You’ll likely still be able to find models (unless your images are just horrendous) the pickings might just be somewhat slim for the first little while.

Another tip valuable in how to find models for photography in your area who will work for free is to remember not to aim your sights too low. You might see models on places such as ModelMayhem who just have a look that you interpret as being way out of your league. Don’t believe it. They’re not out of your league. Unless you can stop 10 people on the street a random, simply say the model’s name, and at least one or two know who it is you’re talking about, they’re not out of your league. It doesn’t matter how good looking they are — models are looking to be photographed. As long as you’re polite, friendly, honest and not pushy, it does no harm to anyone to ask. Contact the model and, if this describes you, explain that you’re a fairly new photographer who’s looking to learn, gain experience and expand their portfolio, and, if they’d be interested, you’d be honored and flattered if they’d consider booking a TFP shoot with you. The worst that can happen is they’ll simply decline. So, you move on. No biggie.

Free models for photographyBut, here’s the thing: You know that feeling you got when you saw that model that just had the look of some kind of super-star, and you thought something along the lines of “Oh, man! They’re SO gorgeous and perfect! He/she’s probably used to working with top-pros and will never consider working with little ol’ me!”? Well, A LOT of people will think that — a lot of people will have that feeling when seeing that model — other photographers and models alike. And, if that super-gorgeous model does work with you, and you get photos of them to add to your portfolio, when other models see those photos they’ll think the same thing — they’ll think that if someone so uber-good-looking who probably has their pick of working with anyone they want picked him/her to work with, there must be a reason they did. So, if someone like that would agree to work with him/her, I want to work with him/her as well!

The better looking the models are in your portfolio, the easier time you’ll have getting other models to work with you. So, don’t be shy, or nervous, or afraid of politely asking those mind-numbingly gorgeous models to do a shoot.

For the most part, people are just people. Most, no matter what they look like, have insecurities they deal with and, for the most part, have a pretty humble view of themselves. Sure, you’re more likely to run into insufferable narcissists among very beautiful people, as opposed to people who aren’t particularly good looking. But, its still the exception rather than the rule. And, if you do encounter such a person who might reject you in a rude or condescending manner, so what? Big deal. That person’s an ignoramus, so just toss them aside and move on. It shouldn’t be any skin off your back.

In the close to twenty years I’ve been doing this, I’ve encountered the rare a**hole, sure. By far, though, even when dealing with people so profoundly attractive it would make your toes curl, people are, by and large, just people. Sometimes they decline politely. So what? Doesn’t bother me. On rare occasions I’ve run across a rude idiot. So what? Doesn’t bother me. So don’t be afraid of, or nervous about, contacting the best looking models you come across. Be polite. Be cordial. Be friendly. Don’t be pushy. Don’t be rude. Don’t come across as brash, or obnoxious, and one of two things will happen in almost every case: (1) They’ll say yes. (2) They’ll say no. (1) is a win. (2) is no big deal at all.

Another of the most valuable of all tips I can give when it comes to how to find models for photography in your area who will work for free is to make sure that you have GOOD communication with the model. Make sure both parties are super-clear on what each one needs from the shoot, and want each one is going to get. Discuss as many details as you can BEFORE you agree to doing the shoot and make sure you’re both entirely on the same page. Make sure the model knows what he or she will be doing, and exactly what they’ll be getting in exchange for doing it.

Make sure you and the model both agree, before agreeing to do the shoot, how they’ll be getting the TFP images. Will they be getting full resolution copies, or only low-resolution previews? (Most models will want at least a good few print-resolution copies) Do you have a problem with sending the model unprocessed RAW images from the shoot? Will you be providing copies of ALL shots taken at the shoot? Or, just a selection of completed photos you choose to release? If the latter, how many can the model expect as a minimum? And, what compensation might you be able to provide if, for some reason, it turns out you can’t meet that minimum? Will you be e-mailing the photos to the model? Or, uploading them to a server somewhere where they can go to download them? Or, will you be burning them to a CD and mailing them the CD? Or, will you two have to meet somewhere to hand-off the CD? How long will it take after the shoot before the model can expect to get the photos? Will the model need to sign a model-release for the photos? (You should pretty much always require the model to sign a model release) How long will the shoot be? Will you allow the model to bring a chaperon? Will you have an MUA, and/or stylist on set? If you won’t, can the model bring their own if they wish? Is there anything special the model needs to bring, or that you need to have on set? Will you be providing wardrobe, or will the model?

Make sure all of this is known, and all parties are clear on all of it so that there’s no miscommunication nor misunderstandings.


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