The Importance of Tear Sheets

I’m working with a new face who is getting started here in Miami, and she’s visited a number of agencies looking for representation. However, she questioned me on why I was introducing her to some of the commercial agencies instead of the upper-end editorial agencies. Certainly, she has a good look, and at 5’11”, she’s tall enough for editorial fashion. But, the issue was simple: age. At 22, she’s too old to be a new face, and while the editorial agencies expressed interest (I finally did take her into see a couple of them), they explained to her that most established models her age had “developed” books.

“What does that mean? Aren’t my pictures good enough? What exactly is a ‘developed’ book?” she asked.

Magazine Cover and Editorial

Magazine Cover and Editorial

Photographer: John Fisher

Well, the short answer comes down to this: tear sheets. For those of you who are unaware, tear sheets are photographs of a model taken directly from a publication that said model is featured in. Models with Elite, Front, MC2 or Next (who are over twenty) have photo books with tears—good editorial tears, and if the client is strong, even commercial tears.

“Still, they are just pictures,” she said. “If mine are good, what difference does it make if they are just pictures or if they are legitimate tear sheets? And why do I have to have tears, but the younger girls don’t need them to get accepted?”

Experience matters

All good questions and the answers are neither short nor simple. The deal is this: everyone knows that new faces are inexperienced. Most of the time, we cut them some slack when they’re getting started; not a lot, but we do. The development curve is steep, but if they are sent on an assignment, the photographer shooting the model should expect to provide them with more input than they would with an older model. But a model over twenty is competing with other experienced models, and if the agency sends a model on a go-see and she’s booked for the assignment, it’s expected that she can produce quality work on demand. That’s what tears tell the client and the agency—not that the model is beautiful (or has nice pictures) but that she has produced good images in a defined limited time frame with people she may not have worked with before. The models over twenty with Front, MC2, Next, Elite, Wilhelmina, etc. have those tears and the experience that comes from producing them.

Catalog - As We Change, Miles Kimball Company

Catalog – As We Change, Miles Kimball Company

Photographer: John Fisher

How does this relate to the 22-year-old model who is trying to get started? If she wants to work, she has to start with smaller agencies who will give her the chance to get those tears. The jobs will be smaller, the pay more conservative, but with luck and a little push, she might put together a book of work which will make her more attractive to the larger agencies. A couple of good editorials, even in smaller magazines, a string of strong commercial assignments (fashion related), and all of a sudden the model has the credentials to open the door at Wilhelmina or Ford.

Magazine Cover - focus on shoes

Magazine Cover – focus on shoes

Photographer: John Fisher; Model: Inga Buketova; Styling: Nicole Florio, Chicago

So, why would a smaller agency take on a model that Elite has shown no interest in signing? Well, the smaller shops don’t get first crack at the hot 16 year old models, and they aren’t really in the development business anyway. The best talents they can book have the look, but are over twenty. If they are sent on a go-see, book the job and bomb, well, the agency reputation wasn’t really on the line. But, catch a break and do a good job, and things can really open up. Anyway, we will see how things work out for her this season. It’s a tough business at best, and only the toughest survive.

John Fisher

John Fisher

John Fisher is a fashion photographer who does magazine editorial, advertising, catalog and swimsuit photography. He's a member of Canon Professional Services and was recently named as a sponsored photographer for Paul C. Buff Companies. His website is

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