A Beginner’s Guide
Thinking about a career in modeling? Here’s what you need to know to get on the track to supermodel status.
Do the glossy pages of Vogue make you weak in the knees? Do you stomp every sidewalk like it’s a Milan catwalk? Do you have “the look”? If you answered yes, then you just might want to be a model.
The world of modeling has something for everyone. There are so many niches and specializations that you can find at least one that fits your look and personality. Once you decide becoming a model is the right move, it’s time to choose which path you’ll take to get there. There’s a lot more to modeling than being really, really, ridiculously good looking.
Let’s Get Physical
The first thing every aspiring model needs to know is what their best features are and how to flaunt them. Inspect your face, free of makeup and with your hair pulled back. Gone are the days when the industry demanded strict symmetry and Eurocentric features. What is interesting about your face? Do you have full lips? Sleepy eyes? A gap in your teeth? Any of these can be advantageous when it comes to being remembered by casting agents.
Make faces in the mirror. Practice over-the-top emoting, laughing on cue, and bending your body into interesting positions while still looking natural and comfortable. Get comfortable in heels or other shoes you don’t normally wear. You may be asked to run, jump, and even skip in heels. Learn how to move fluidly, with small movements between shutter clicks instead of completely different poses from snap to snap. Think of each session as if you are trying to create a stop-motion flip book. Your photographer will thank you.
Build Your Modeling Portfolio
Once you know your angles and your poses, it’s time to hire a photographer. In order to get your face out there, you’ll need more that a few selfies and party pics snapped on your iPhone. You’ll need to build a modeling portfolio. Portfolio standards have evolved a lot over recent years and you want to make sure your portfolio is professional and polished.
There are two types of portfolios you’ll need to curate. The first is a traditional, hard copy portfolio. This is like your resume. You’ll bring this with you to all in-person casting calls. It’s should feature your best 8 to 12 images, and be presented in a portfolio case with a brief catalogue of your modeling experience.
The second is your online portfolio. This is where you can really show the breadth of your experience and versatility. Building a strong portfolio shows casting agents just what you bring to the table and what you can do for them. It should be ever-evolving as you gain more experience.
Make Love to the Camera
Get started on your modeling portfolio with a captivating headshot. Headshots can be just head and shoulders or from the waist up. Your headshot should show you in your “natural” state. Simple makeup, minimal jewelry, and minimally styled hair. If you have facial hair, it should be well groomed. In other words, leave the winged liner, statement jewelry, and teasing comb at home. Smiling or serious, your headshot should put your best face forward and the be the first image in your portfolio.
Next, you’ll need a full body shot. These are usually very simple, wardrobe-wise. You’ll need a fitted white shirt or tank top and a pair of dark wash skinny jeans or a tailored trouser. Long skirts or jackets or too many layers just cover up what the casting agents are looking for. Ladies, break out those heels and gents, a casual dress shoe will do the trick. Keep it simple and classic—you can get creative in other photos.
You might also want to include a swimwear shot. Many people protest at the idea of a swimsuit photo. Just try to remember that some jobs require a uniform and this is one of those jobs. Keep the photo fierce or playful, especially if you want to explore commercial modeling.
Now let’s have some fun! To show your versatility you’ll want to include some editorial work in your portfolio. Find a theme, create a look, and collaborate with a team if you don’t have anything striking enough.
Commercial modeling is arguably the hardest to get across in your portfolio. Take your photographer to a restaurant or cafeteria and really enjoy those coffee or food. Use your purse or backpack as a focal point in the shot. Pore over magazine ads, and try to recreate them. Commercial modeling is acting in print and can be incredibly hard to sell. But when you do it right, the photographs are incredibly compelling and sell both the product and your abilities as a model.
Lastly, you’ll want to include any tearsheets you have. A tearsheet is a page torn out of a publication where you’ve been featured. For your digital portfolio, linking to the publication will suffice. If you are going to include tearsheets in your physical portfolio, be sure that they have cleanly cut edges and are in protective plastic sheets. It will leave a bad impression if your pages look tattered.
These are your portfolio must-haves. This will leave you with a small collection of photographs. You can fill it out by adding other shots from these categories. Make sure there is at least one of you smiling, and end on a compelling headshot.
Go Out and Play
You have a portfolio, some experience, and an itch to do more. Depending on the kind of modeling work you are interested in, you have several options available to you:
- Bulk up your portfolio with more images. Photographers are expensive and worth every penny, but not everyone has that kind of financial freedom to pay every time you want to boost your portfolio. Find photographers who are just getting started and arrange some TFP (Trade for Print) sessions. The same goes for stylists, hair and makeup artists, and designers. Most—if not all—creatives need portfolios, and therefore often need models. This is also a great opportunity to try things out of your comfort zone and grow as a model, as well as a way to keep your portfolio fresh.
- Volunteer. Work with local retailers and designers to help facilitate fashion shows. Walk every runway like it’s Paris Fashion Week. Treat every booking like it’s for Vogue.
- If fitness modeling is your goal, work with a trainer. Be their spokesperson. Be their walking, talking before and after ad.
- Acting, yoga, posing for life drawing classes, and dance classes can connect you with different sides of yourself. As you learn different ways to emote and move your body, you’ll be able to incorporate that knowledge into your work.
If you want to be a model, like in any industry, you’ll want to have someone in your corner who can help guide your career. That’s where agents come in. They can help you refine your book, set up go-sees, and help direct your career.
Agencies are now casting a much wider net to find talent via social media. Inviting Instagram users to add a hashtag to their posts allows recruiters to view thousands of potential models without ever leaving their office.
You can also skip the middleman and approach agencies directly. Do your research and find agencies are in your area. Look for ones that align with your desired career path, then simply email them your website and a quick, attention-grabbing cover letter.
A word of warning: if an agency is demanding hundred thousands of shillings up front, keep looking. That’s not the agency for you.
What the Heck is a Go-See?
Casting calls, or go-sees, are interviews for models. They’re either open to the public or arranged by agencies. You’ll need to bring your call card (or comp card) with your clothing size, shoe size, measurements, and contact information listed and stand (or walk, if it’s a runway job) for the casting agents. Go-sees are usually hectic and they rarely run on time. Bring a book to pass the time and a pen and notepad for taking down important information. Be professional and polite—a bad attitude can get you blacklisted faster than a bad skin day.
Do the Hustle
While you work towards being the world’s next supermodel, this is a great time to advocate for yourself and make yourself your number one client. Use Instagram to your advantage. Create a professional account and keep it that way:
- No food pictures. Casting agents don’t care about your dinner.
- Unless you’re holding or posing with them, keep your pets on your personal account.
- Harass your friends to take your picture so your feed isn’t all selfies.
- Pay attention to trending hashtags and use them properly.
- Blog. A lot of influencers and models we all know and love started as vloggers, bloggers, and Instagram personalities. Blogging creates valuable content for your digital portfolio and allows you to work on smaller passion projects that may not be right for your portfolio.
Deciding What Kind of Model You Want to Become
An important step to take to become a model is deciding on what type of model you’d like to be. Different types of modeling will have different model requirements, such as height, style, and clothing size. There are almost as many types of modeling as ice cream flavors, so here’s a brief rundown on just a few of them:
Do you like to hit the gym? Do you lift? Does the idea of being covered in baby oil and flexing your hard-won muscles for an appreciative audience appeal to you? Sounds like you’ve got the what it takes to become a fitness model. A fitness model is dedicated to displaying a healthy, toned physique and focused on maintaining highly defined muscles. Fitness modeling has become a driving force in the industry. Beyond the dedicated competitions, there are several industry and commercial magazines ripe with opportunities for gym buffs.
Lights! Camera! Smoulder! Glamour modeling is surprisingly diverse. Unlike many other types of modeling, there are no industry standards or limitations to body size and shape. Glamour models embrace the sexier and sultrier side of modeling. Bikini, boudoir, and lingerie modeling all fall under this broad umbrella. Glamour models sell a high-end lifestyle—whether it’s in a music video, an art house print, or a bikini calendar.
Do you have an ever-expanding collection of tattoos and piercings? Is your everyday look other people’s idea of a fancy dress costume? Alt, or alternative, models don’t typically fit in with industry norms when it comes to beauty and style. With their tattoos, piercings, radical hair, and wardrobes brimming with spikes, corsets, and PVC, alternatives models are the wild children of the modeling world. Alt modeling is usually a cross between glamour modeling and art modeling.
With the majority of American women falling into the plus-sized category, this type of modeling has been growing at a rapid pace. Traditionally, plus models were sizes 6 to 8 US (4 to 6 UK), but with the plus fashion industry changing as rapidly as it has, the industry has seen a rise of models of all shapes and further size diversity. Plus models are gaining a lot of traction, especially on social media, and designers are continuously expanding their size ranges to embrace this growing market.
Divas to the runway please! Runway models are the crème de la crème of the fashion world. Adhering to strict regulations regarding height, weight, and measurements, these models travel the world and are often seen walking for the best of the best designers and fashion houses. Some runway models even go on to create their own fashion lines or agencies.
Editorial or Commercial
Finally, we have editorial models. While all of the above can also be editorial or commercial print models, editorial models know how to really interact with the camera and create interesting shapes with their bodies to show off a garment. Depending on the theme and mood of the photos, anyone can be cast for an editorial shoot. Print models tend to be the most varied and versatile of the group.
Work that Runway
Now that you’ve had a primer on how to get into modeling and how to choose the type of modeling that’s right for you, it’s time to go out there and werk! Find your light, your angles, and your stride. You’ve got this. The single biggest factor that will help you become a model? Confidence!