How to Check References in the Modeling Industry

Believe it or not, I once held a “real” job, and when interviewing for said jobs it was expected that I either provide references or have them listed on my resume. Reference checking in the corporate, or “real” job world, is totally normal, so why wouldn’t it be in the modeling and photography community? We’re all essentially working with strangers from the internet (*gasp*), so having an idea of what you’re going into is vital, and sometimes your safety depends on it. Checking references is, in fact, normal, accepted, and encouraged. Creatives who check references are demonstrating professionalism, safety, and business savvy.

Why should you check references? To be sure that everyone is on the same page; to be sure everyone will be treated respectfully; to be sure no one is going to show up with an army of angry, armed ferrets; to be sure the model doesn’t expect a DVD of RAW files at the end of the shoot. While checking reference as a model has obvious safety benefits, checking references as a photographer or other team member has benefits as well: will everyone show up? Will they show up being able to deliver the looks represented in their portfolio? Will they be on time and respectful?

Model: Brennan; Photographer: Escalante; Makeup Artist: Dana Spence; Wardrobe Stylist: Ruben Lopes

Why You Need to Check References

When checking references it is imperative to ask as many people as you can find. No matter the skill level or how well-known someone is, you should always do your homework. Never assume that just because you see a well-known model or photographer in someone’s portfolio that they are safe to work with. If a team gets together to shoot and all members use the resulting photos, that usage is only indicative of what they think of the photos and not approval of the experience. One might use pictures from a shoot that went terribly if the images are up to par (I myself am guilty of this). Using images from a shoot does not mean you had a positive experience with the team members or that you would work with them again, it simply means the images were usable. As such, if you’re looking through the portfolio of someone whose judgment you trust and see a photo created with your potential collaborator, don’t assume the experience went smoothly. Contact them to get a candid account.

Ask as many people as you can find. I prefer using Model Mayhem to locate references, but Facebook and Instagram can be useful tools as well. With the Model Mayhem’s Verified Credit system in place, I strongly recommend contacting those who have left Verified Credits for a more candid account, because interactions can change based on how many times you have worked with someone. There have been multiple occasions I have worked with someone the first time and left a positive reference only to have them act inappropriately on a subsequent shoot.

Furthermore, never go by a list of references simply provided to you. It is important to recognize what references are and how they function. If you are required to provide someone with a list of references for yourself, you’re not going to direct them to anyone who’d deliver anything but the most glowing of responses. You’re not going to direct them to the person you screwed over, with whom you argued, etc. So when you are tasked with checking a would-be collaborator’s references, know that if you are only dealing with the names that person offers you, it is effectively a chance to validate why you should work with that person, not a situation where you receive information telling you why you should not.

Model: Brennan; Photographer: T H Taylor

How to Check References

So how exactly do you go about checking references? Go through their portfolio; look for tags, for credits, for potential collaborators credited in their portfolio. Check both their Facebook and Instagram for further references.

I have found it useful to identify the cities in which a potential collaborator has worked and to ask fellow creatives there if they have any experience with the said individual. Tumblr, Facebook, and Instagram are great places for this because you can search names and tags to gather a greater sampling of past collaborators. Developing a trusted network is key. Inquiring with other local creatives and team members is largely beneficial because makeup artists and stylists have likely worked a local area for a long time and are familiar with locals. It can also be helpful to check with people who host traveling creatives. As a model, I have hosted models, photographers, MUAs, and stylists, which can provide valuable insight as to how someone behaves. I’m more likely to recommend a creative that I knew was on time and showed up to all of their shoots, and that treated me and my home professionally.

Just like any job interview, I always tread carefully and diplomatically when asking for references. As a general rule, I ask if they would work with them again, if the collaborator was on time, if they were professional and if the experience was enjoyable. When approaching fellow creatives about collaborators, I ask “Do you have any personal experience with ____ or do you know someone who has?” This helps to clarify that I’m not looking for grist for the rumor mill, but am seeking a firsthand experience.

Model: Brennan; Photographer: Romen Cole; Makeup Artist: Cheyenne Folkert; Hair Stylist: Babak Niroomand

Building References

While having no references certainly isn’t a red flag, it is cause for more investigation. There are good reasons for not having any references: being new to the industry, just starting a social media presence, maintaining a limited social media presence for safety or professional reasons, etc. In such scenarios I ask for a reference list and then ask those references for references, and so on.

Building references when you’re just starting out can seem daunting. How will anyone want to work with you if you haven’t worked with anyone! There are several different ways to build up a network as a new model or photographer, such as attending workshops/meetups, hiring a well-known creative in your area, attending a meet and greet, or simply offering a glance at your website, Facebook or Instagram to show you’re serious! Shooting out of a well-known studio also makes all parties feel at ease.

Ultimately, checking references may seem time-consuming, but once a trusted network is developed it becomes quite easy and helps avoid negative experiences and difference on set. I always encourage those interested in working with me to check my references, and I inform them I will be doing the same, as it benefits all parties to perform their due diligence.

Invaluable insight also provided by Kincaid Blackwood. 

Kincaid Blackwood is a professional photographer and aspiring filmmaker based in Los Angeles, CA.

website: Vimeo: /kincaidblackwood”


Brennan is a professional model based in Charlotte, NC.

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5 Responses to “How to Check References in the Modeling Industry”

  1. June 14, 2019 at 10:48 pm, Evangeline Marsh said:

    Thanks for the great advice. I look forward to working with some new people in my area so I don’t have to travel to the big city.


  2. September 25, 2017 at 1:08 pm, Kristin Bauer-Gross said:

    And it’s really important not to just see that the potential client or photographer has references and has worked with them but to ask questions. Questions like: when did you work with this client and how many times, how did you feel about the job once completed, did they do what they said they were going to do, were they easy to reach and was communication replies prompt, were you paid the agreed upon amount at the agreed upon time, did you feel uncomfortable at any point?


  3. September 21, 2017 at 5:13 pm, Vera May said:

    MM has made it more difficult for models to check references by removing the ability for members not paying to send messages.


    • January 17, 2018 at 1:59 pm, rodrigounda said:

      thats why you shuld pay 😉
      in mm oppinion.


  4. September 15, 2016 at 9:28 am, Veronique Plante said:

    Thanks for this informations! My name is Veronique Plante and i create a group on facebook for the models in Quebec. The name of the group is: securite modeles du Quebec.Continue taking references, it is important!!


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