Getting signed is a lot easier then you might imagine. But getting work is an entirely different story.   Just like any business, modeling agencies tend to specialize.  I see so many girls, so worried about “getting signed” they don’t do their homework and sign with the wrong agency.  I also hear every day, “I only wanna do fashion.”  Ha, give me a busy commercial agency any day! Unless your in the right market, New York, and have the right body type; 5’10″ you can make 10 times the money in commercial advertising than you can in fashion. (well, in San Francisco anyway…) The majority of print work in my area, the S.F. Bay Area, comes from the Hi-Tech firms of the Silicon Valley.  Know your market ladies!!  Commercial modeling agencies do not always have the same height requirements  fashion oriented agencies usually have, so this can be a huge plus for girls under 5’10″.

Read the Contract! If you must ask to take it with you to have your attorney look it over (actually have an attorney look it over!)  This is true Especially when dealing with Talent Agencies.  Talent Agencies do not have stringent, state monitored requirements that licensed Modeling Agencies are required to follow.

Know the difference between a Modeling Agency and a Model Management/Talent Agency. The differences are HUGE!  Listen carefully and ask questions.  Do Your Homework!  I have heard some sleazy horror stories about Talent Agencies.  {LINK}   A modeling agency in the USA can refer you to a photographer or MUA to shoot with, but they can not charge you for anything.  A Talent Agency can require you to take a modeling class, and charge you.  They can require you to have Comp Cards printed and charge you.  They can insist you re-shoot and have new Comp Cards printed and charge again…   This is so important; Read the Contract, know and understand the terms!!

Before you schedule an appointment it’s so important to be 110% prepared!  You only have one chance to make a favorable first impression.  Every agency has a website these days.  Go there and study it. Look at all of the model profiles very closely.  Make sure your portfolio is Exceptional! and within the area of the agencies specialty.  If you need to wait 4 months while you reshoot portions of your port, you are way ahead of the game! It’s better to be over prepared than 80% prepared.  Often times you will notice a high percentage of blonde’s on the website.  You might double your chances of being asked to sign by going as a brunette – or vice versa….

The Meeting:

Unless you are under 18, go alone.  If your friends are carrying on in the waiting room, they may rush you out just to get rid of them.  I’ve seen this time and time again.  Don’t show fear, Don’t apologize and Don’t argue with the agent conducting the interview.

Follow Through ASAP:

I have seen so many great starts fail because the model procrastinated.  Remember personnel can change.  A hot new look may come into demand or go out of style real fast.  When they ask you to do something, do it as fast as possible while the interest is still high.  Always send a Thank You note.

Your Portfolio:

You need to have an exceptional portfolio showing diversity, unique creativity, beauty and grace.  Your portfolio needs to be professional and of the highest quality.  Snapshots never open doors in fact you’ll ruin your chances forever.  Just like writing a job resume, you need to tailor your portfolio towards the type of work a modeling agency specializes in.  Remember anything less then your best makes you look bad, so when in doubt, leave it out.

Your portfolio should be 9″x12″, usually with the same hair color.  The images should NOT be branded with the photographers/MUAs/stylist name or logo.  Be prepared to re-shoot several shots with an agency referred photographer and/or MUA. Don’t argue about paying so-&-so because you can TFP with your Photog friend and/or you like his look better.  The agency will decide which areas to market you in, you will NOT decide for the agency!  Of course, you may accept or decline any assignment you wish.

I know of 3 girls who told the director, “I am not going to pay Dave to shoot when “so-&-so” will shoot me on a TFP basis for free.”   Well guess what?  one of the three were signed, but she is just sitting there.  Not in the agencies book.  Not on the agency website.  She never had a call and probably never will.  There are several thoughts here, more than one Director has told me (after a drop dead gorgeous, goddess, walked out of his office)  I am not going to invest one minute of my time, if she is not willing to invest in herself.  Then there is the whole TFP thing…   Models are going to have a very hard time finding photographers willing to TF* without a brand on the image.  That is usually the purpose of TF* to get your name out there, so no brand equals dollars.

Sometimes the agency wants to add a look to your book they feel is missing or needs improvement.  When I get called in it’s usually for something a artist and more along the lines of Beauty.  One agency I work with a lot has an awesome Fashion photographer.  His work is so beautiful I spend hours going through the agencies book studying and admiring it.  My point is, there are those that specialize in areas highly desirable to the look a particular agency wants to achieve or represent.  The three girls I referenced above shot with a Glamour photographer.  His work is also gorgeous “within his genera” but not something the agency wishes to project as their image.  You need to let the professionals who are going to market you do their job.

Tats and Piercings:
Well, the trends are changing, but I always hear, “Don’t get any more” to the girls that only have a one or two little hidden tats and I can’t honestly say I have seen any commercial ads with any facial jewelry, have you?

I Have Heard it Argued:
A couple of models have mentioned to me that “Your look has more to do with  you getting signed, then your book”.  To a certain degree I would have to agree with that statement, but your book defiantly helps show dynamic range and diversity.  Everyone has the internet and you can always point to an on-line portfolio as a resource should you not have a printed book with you. I would not advise sending a modeling agency to a MySpace or Facebook site, but that is just me. You are taken a lot more seriously when you come with a book in the S.F. Bay Area anyway…

Be sure and checkout my article of the psychology of Portfolio design.

Additional NOTES:

Be especially leery of anyone using the term “Agency Approved” Agency approved Photographers, Makeup Artist and Stylist will be listed on the agencies web site and/or on a sheet of paper handed to you in person. There are tons of scammers in the world these days only after you’re money.
While I “hear” the major bux Print Ad gigs are down, I do know several Bay Area models who are very busy with promotional gigs. My Goddaughter is working her ass off through a San Jose modeling agency we’ll just call H…..
An excellent website for models is Read it twice!!
I am not a model.  While I do work with SF Bay Area, Sacramento and LA Modeling agencies, they all specialize in commercial modeling. Your experiences may differ greatly with respect to the market, the area of specialty and even geographical area.

Best of Luck

Posted in Category: For Models Only

About the Author

Posted by: Dave in: For Models Only on: January 12, 2010
I'm a Northern California Professional Photographer, based just outside San Francisco. I specialize in commercial product advertizing and architectural. I have been working with Bay Area modeling agencies for more then 10 years, shooting portfolio development for models and high-end makeup artists. I am highly creative and always unique. I shoot cutting edge projects, both in the studio and on location.

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242 Responses so far.

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  13. debbie says:

    what if there are no agencies in your area?

    • Dave says:

      Hi Debbie,
      Well i know models who travel to major agencies in bigger cities/markets all the time. It makes a difference sometimes. It also related to my point, Know your market and the agency specialties or areas of focus. You also need to realistically evaluate yourself. A 5’2″ girl with a perfect bikini body may look great on the cover of SI Swimsuit addition, but will not make it on a New York runway.. Just because you “want” something doesn’t mean its ever going to happen. Still it never hurts to try :)

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  16. Deena says:

    I opine you receive the best advice from, however i do agree with several points the author has made here. Do your homework! Know which specialties the agency books! Read there web site first! Do not take your firends with you! Have a nice book! Never show a FB/MS site on your initial interview! GREAT POINT BY AUTHOR: “you are only as good as your weakest image”

  17. Ingrid says:

    great advice, but what if you only what to do fashion?

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