Make Money Modelling - Portfolios, Agencies and How to Navigate the Bay of Sharks Trying to Take Advantage of You
The following is based on years of experience as a professional photographer in London.
Modelling - where to start
Fashion modelling is a highly competitive industry. The reality is, much like with actors, a tiny percentage of models hit the big time and make tons of money, while everyone else struggles to make anything at all.
To get anywhere in the fashion world, you need to get signed by a model agency. (Some women manage to make a living full time modelling freelance but the majority of the work is art nude and glamour.)
Getting signed by a legitimate model agency is extremely difficult, because so many people want to become a model, and there's always someone younger and skinnier and taller and more beautiful coming along.
Could you make money modelling?
If you're not an eerily tall and skinny teenage girl, it's extremely unlikely. There is a lot of desire to become a model from people who are ignorant as to what the fashion industry actually wants - I would say at least 98% of people who ask me about modelling have no chance because they're just the wrong dimensions or age.
As a result, a lot of dubious companies have sprung up to take advantage of them - scam 'model platform' companies whose entire business model depends on misleading people as to their actual chances of making any money modelling and by implying that they are going to in some way help your chances. They're not.
They make enticing yet ridiculous claims ("Models urgently wanted, all ages and sizes!"), ("80% success rate"!) They are very good at telling you exactly what you want to hear and will make you feel specially chosen ("you've passed our selection process"; "you've been shortlisted") but they say yes to everyone because that's how they make their money - from misleading people.
For example, they will claim that it's possible for you to make money on the side doing catalogue modelling even though you're not tall enough or young enough or skinny enough to fit the normal modelling requirements. They use made-up terms like "profolio" and "webfolio" to justify charging you for them.
The reality is that commercial modelling (including petite, plus size and mature modelling) is just as competitive as mainstream fashion modelling, probably more so, and only a few make money from it. And there's no need for a middle man whatsoever; it's much better just to approach agencies directly, which won't cost you a penny. I met someone who had spent £4,000 on one of those modelling platform companies, and it made no difference whatsoever in terms of getting modelling work or interest from agencies.
Extras work in movies might be worth looking into, as the requirements for that aren't as strict and it is possible to make a little money on the side doing that.
How to approach model agencies - the golden rule
The only legitimate modelling related companies are actual agencies, and then only some of them. Steer well clear of any company calling itself a modelling platform or anything else that isn't an actual agency who can get you work. The many scam ones choose deliberately vague names so it's harder to Google the bad reviews.
Treat any company as highly suspicious until they've proven themselves to be legitimate (and if they're not an agency or they want money from you then they're definitely not legit). Legitimate agencies make money by taking a commission from jobs they get you; you never need to pay them anything. Do your research. If you Google "[the company name] scam", then you'll see if other people have had bad experiences with them.
The golden rule (even with agencies) is, if they ask for payment for anything, in any form, such as a ‘fully refundable deposit’, or they offer pay-for services such as portfolios, walk away, it's a con. No legitimate agency offers photoshoots as a service you have to pay for. Definitely don't sign anything with places like that, as it will probably contractually oblige to you pay them yet more money.
The same thing goes if they seem to be pushing you towards doing a photoshoot with a particular "established photographic studio"; they make all their money via a kick-back from those studios. They will say things like "As you have been shortlisted, we will cover the cost of the photoshoot for you", not mentioning that you'll be paying £60+ per photo. No legitimate agency has anything to do with those places.
You don't need a portfolio!
Even though I'm a professional photographer and I lose a lot of business by trying to enlighten everyone about this, you don't need a portfolio of photos to approach agencies at all.
A good agency will see your potential from amateur phone shots (if you're one of the rare few who are the right dimensions for it). After signing you they'll send you on lots of test (free) shoots with different photographers to build up your portfolio. It's unrealistic to think you can get a whole portfolio and all the experience you need from a single photoshoot, and agencies don't expect you to.
You shouldn't have to pay for anything, ever. And if you're not one of the rare few with the right dimensions, getting professional photos done won't trick an agent into thinking you are. Great photos might be nice to have for their own sake but they won't make any difference at all in terms of getting an agent's interest; that's all down to your height and age.
"I just want to make a bit of money doing catalogues and adverts"
People often say to me, "I know I'm not the right dimensions to be a catwalk model but I just want to make a bit of money on the side doing catalogues and adverts."
There's no such thing. That's the lie that those scam companies propagate to lure people in and fleece you. It's a bit like saying, "I know I'm not a neurosurgeon but I just want to make a bit of money on the side doing brain surgery". The few models who succeed at commercial modelling work really hard for it, are seriously good at their craft, put up with a ton of rejection and don't take no for an answer.
How to approach a model agency
If you think you have the right dimensions to catch an agent's eye, you'll need to do some internet research to find legitimate agencies and see which are suitable for you. Each will have their own way they prefer to be approached.
After carefully establishing they're an actual agency and not a 'model platform' company, look at their website for their requirements and follow them – don’t just send a cut-and-paste email to all of them. That's lazy and they’ll just ignore it.
At all stages in applying to them be suspicious, and remember that anything that seems to good to be true, it probably is. If you get any hint of 'pushy salesperson', run.
IMM Models and BAME are good commercial agencies, I've been told, and Casting Collective is a good agency for extras work. The top UK editorial fashion agencies in my opinion (and ridiculously difficult to get with) are Storm, Premier, Elite, Select, Wilhelmina, IMG, Models 1 and FM.
The reality of the legitimate agencies is they are brutally selective because so many people want to be models. Those ones won't even look at girls who aren't aged 13-19, over 5'8" (173cm) and dress size 8. Men need to be over 6" and ridiculously good looking, like 'all conversation stops when you walk in a room' good looking. Other agencies might be slightly more flexible, but it's still extremely competitive.
Even with the lucky few who break through and make it, the average career length of a successful model is only 3-4 years and it’s serious hard work with multiple castings a day, early starts, endless rejections, relentless pressure to lose weight, and so on.
More and more, agencies are interested in social media influencers rather than traditional model types, which is good news because it's something you can work on yourself. So you might not be the physical dimensions needed for modelling yet still be of interest to a top agency once you've built up enough of a following. Influencers also make a lot more money than models.
I hope the above information was enlightening. Please share this page with anyone you know in a similar position - you might save them thousands of pounds too. Good luck and stay safe!