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Working with agencies: Advice for new fashion photographers

This article is written by a member of our expert community. It expresses that member’s views only. We welcome other perspectives. Here’s how to contribute to MM EDU.

Why work with agencies/agency models?


Photo: S de Varax, Model: Perrie @ Viviens

The semblance of professionalism

If you say you are a fashion photographer, you need to be working with fashion models. Models with the right looks, the right stats, the right attitude, and the right professionalism give you the credibility that you’re halfway to doing the right thing. Clients want agency girls, publications insist on it (ever see the clause – models MUST be agency represented- in submission requirements?) and you want to be draping that stylish garment on a 5’10 agency girl rather than Jane Doe off the street. Perception is a big part of the industry. To be taken seriously, you need to be working with the right people.

Note: Non-agency girls and boys can be as marvelous and beautiful and awesome as agency girls and boys, just as agency girls and boys can be not so great. Models are humans. However the fashion industry has rules – play by the rules then you can break them.

Half your work is done for you

Agencies are there to source models with the looks and stats the commercial and fashion world wants. They’ve gone out and done it and have a database ready. It’s much easier to ask an agency for possible models with the attributes you’re looking for and get comp-cards, than to scroll along hundreds of listings online and message all of them, hoping someone replies.

You can focus on what you do best

Agency models know how to do their work so you can do yours. You don’t need to worry if they’ll show up (they will), about replacements (call the booker), and they’re practicing all the time as they learn on the job and on tests. They show up prepared and ready to work because this is their job.

How to work with agencies/agency models


Photo: S de Varax, Model: Amberlie @ Chadwick

Which agencies to contact

There are good agencies and there are bad agencies, and there are smaller boutique agencies which can be good or bad. The first step is to make a list – research online and ask other photographers or creatives or models about which agencies to work with. Reputable agencies have a good standing in the industry, they’re usually well known and represent a good selection of models.

Call? Email? Show up?

So you’re ready to contact agencies and don’t know how. Should you call, or email or just show up with your book? Depends on the agency.

I favor calling – you can ask directly for the booker in charge of new faces therefore having a point of contact. They get to know that you’re a real life breathing person so they’ll remember you when you email. If they’re open to testing they’ll usually ask to see your work, in the form of a website or they may ask that you come in with your book.

If and when you email – re-introduce yourself, reiterate what you’re looking for, for example testing with new faces or paid testing, and attach your website or a pdf file of a selection of your work and your contact details.

If and when you show up – dress smart casual and be presentable. Have your book and cards on you.

3P’s- Be Professional, Polite and Positive

First impressions matter. The way you present yourself goes a long way to securing a good relationship with a booker, making it easier to book models. Double check all grammar and spelling, make sure your contact details are correct.

If you’re nervous about speaking or meeting a booker, write up what you’re going to say and practise saying it. The first time I was nervous and stuttering. The next couple of times I was too abrupt and forward. After the tenth time, I’m getting used to having a normal conversation. If you’re unsure about anything, don’t be afraid of asking questions. It is much better to have all the information on the table.

Smile and make eye contact.

Always remember to stay positive. Bookers might say no, but keep at it – contact them and keep showing your new work. Remember that it is a symbiotic relationship – photographers need models and you as a photographer have the skills bookers need. If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again, and again, and again.

Have your work ready

Study the sort of images the agency has on their boards and make sure you’re shooting similar stuff of equal (or higher) caliber. It’s alright if you’re a student or new, as long as you can show you have potential to shoot good images which highlight the best features of the models – which is what bookers are looking for. Peacock feathers and sparkly glitter eyes are less likely to impress than good solid clean images. Don’t be afraid to ask for critiques, especially from your peers. Be discerning and only put out your best work.

Have a website ready (your own) as opposed to Facebook, flickr, or MM. It’s easy and cheap to set up your own website – sites like WordPress, livebooks, qufoto and many more offer readymade templates to showcase your work, or you can make your own.

Have your portfolio or book ready – 11×14 is usual, but you can choose to be more unique in your presentation. No Plastic Sleeves is a nice site to see how other photographers are handling their marketing materials. An iPad might also be an option for showing your work.

There’s no beating that feeling when you hand your book over and see eyebrows go up and mouths curve into smiles as they flip through your work.


Photo: S de Varax, Model: Courtenay @ Giant

Live up to expectations and exceed them

Be prompt on your promises and always try to be better. Bookers don’t like to chase photographers for photos and they like it even less if you disappear. People talk and you really don’t want to be that person no one wants to work with.

Be a good photographer and be a good professional.

Other matters

Can or should you get a model release? Agencies rarely allow their models to sign releases, especially for tests. Ask the booker if you need a release.

Can you use test photos commercially? Not a great idea. You need to negotiate for commercial use.

What can you use test photos for? Read up on the laws regulating your country such as privacy and photo releases. Common use includes portfolio updates and magazine submissions.

What do you give agencies? You can give a proof sheet of photos for the booker to choose a selection to retouch, or give a selection of already retouched images, as long as they’re usable images. How many images are up to you – 1 to 3 per look would do well.

Above all, have fun!

S de Varax

S de Varax

Shamim de Varax is a young self-taught photographer currently based in Melbourne, Australia. She specializes in editorial fashion and beauty with personal long term projects focusing on emotive portraiture. http://sdevarax.com & http://sdevarax.wordpress.com

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