If you are looking for a model to work with, it can be difficult to get started. After all, you have to prove you are a great photographer in order to get people to shoot with you – but you also have to get people to shoot with you in order to prove that you are a great photographer! It’s a classic catch-22, so let’s look at how to get around it. When you are looking for models for your portrait work, here’s how to begin.

Photo by Ian Schneider

Photo by Ian Schneider

Friends and Family

This one is perhaps the obvious answer, so if you have already thought about it, you are ahead of the game. But if you have not considered it properly, think again. There are a lot of challenges associated with photographing someone that you already know. They are likely to feel awkward in front of your lens, and this may put a special tension on the photoshoot. They may not want to listen to your directions or take it seriously. Learning how to deal with these challenges – and still get a good photo – is a good start for a new photographer.

Remember not to let your own personal emotions and viewpoint get in the way when you are editing the photographs and deciding whether to include them in your portfolio. Stop looking at the image as a portrait of your friend and family member, and try to analyse it as if you were looking at the portrait of a stranger. This will help you to act accordingly and only keep the very best images in your portfolio.

Model Networks

For a lot of new photographers, this can be a real goldmine. Head onto any modelling site (the big ones are examples like Model Mayhem and StarNow), and set up your profile. There you can showcase the small portfolio you already have as well as letting people know where you are and what you are looking for. Set up your first casting call to see if you get any interest.

If you do not hear from anyone, consider going right ahead and emailing people directly. This is not always possible as sites like this will limit your messaging capabilities, reserving that function for premium members. However, if you are able to get in touch directly, then you can invite local models to shoot with you.

It’s important to know your limits. When you are just starting out, it’s not likely that an agency represented and full-time lingerie model who has graced the pages of national publications is going to want to shoot with you – unless you are willing to shell out a lot of money. Stick to more realistic targets – models who are also looking to build their portfolios are a great fit, as they will want to make sure that they can get some images from you just as much as you want images from them.

If you do not get much attention on these sites, consider changing the way you are doing things. Does your portfolio need upgrading? Should you offer paid opportunities, or at least pay expenses? Can you word your casting calls a little better? Most of all, does your profile come off as trustworthy or intimidating?

Shoot Days

Studios often hold these shoot days as a way to raise money, and they can be very effective. The way it works is that you pay a set fee to get access to the studio on a certain day, which you will share with other photographers who have also paid the fee. There you will find a full studio set up with lighting and other equipment, and a professional model who is yours for the day. This can be a really great experience for those looking to hone their skills and build their portfolio.

The one word of caution here is to realize that you are not going to get anything unique, unless you work in a very strange way. All of the other photographers will get more or less the same shots as you – it’s all down to how much talent you have. Make sure that you brush up on your skills as much as possible before you attend so that you can make the most of the experience. You should look to replace these images in your portfolio as soon as you start to become more experienced, because they are not unique to you. You can also see these sessions as a chance to network, which could pay off for you very well.

Photo by Rhiannon D'Averc

Photo by Rhiannon D’Averc


When you are focused on portraiture, there’s a large market waiting for you to enter it: actors’ headshots. These are required for any actor to get ahead in castings, and you can easily find someone who needs them. How to go about it? You could put up flyers in a school or university that has a drama department, or get online and use social media groups and pages to advertise your services. You could even offer one or two free shoots if you do not have much of a portfolio to speak of yet. This will help you get images without so much pressure.

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You can also find actors more regularly when your portfolio is good, using the same avenues and also by going directly to talent agencies. They can refer actors on to you if they like your work or you are able to enter into a commission-based agreement.

Street Photography

If you are outgoing, quick to think on your feet, and able to shoot under pressure, consider trying street photography. You can either go the route of holding back from sight and trying to get candid photographs without being noticed – though be aware that this will raise issues of consent if you try to use the work in a commercial sense – or you can stop people on the street and ask to take their photograph.

Some will say no, but some will say yes. This kind of work will make a good series for a blog, and many street photographers manage to make a living from this style of work alone. It’s worth considering if you want to get more experience in a very short timeframe.

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