This FAQ has been written to provide guidance for those looking to break into cosplay modeling or creativity-driven, collaborative photo shoots. This guide is not a primer for launching a career in commercial or fashion modeling, although there may be some overlap in the early stages. If you’re looking to make a career out of modeling consulting an agency in your area would be the most effective means of gathering information and expediting the process.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Last Updated: December 23, 2011
- How did you break into modeling?
- Am I model material?
- I only have family portraits and “MySpace” photos. How do I get started without a professional portfolio?
- What is TFP/TFCD?
- I’ve set up a session with a photographer via an online portfolio service. What do I need to know before the photo shoot?
- I’m ready for the shoot. Any last-minute tips?
- I’m at the shoot! Now what?
Q: How did you break into modeling?
As both a creative outlet and a way to mitigate some of my massive college tuition, I toyed with the idea of commercial modeling my freshmen year at the University of Minnesota. I had no prior knowledge of the industry, other than what I learned from America’s Next Top Model (for better or for worse) and tips and tricks I scavenged on the Internet. I got my foot in the door using my high school graduation photos in an online portfolio, and trading time with budding photographers and makeup artists in training. Over the years I’ve done some small commercial gigs, hair shows, expo work, runway events, and even a few stints as a mascot escort (guiding and protecting a giant Care Bear, strangely enough).
I eventually gravitated toward more personal projects with no monetary ambitions, as it became obvious that gaming was my passion and a modeling career held little interest to me. After seven plus years of networking and growing as a model, I now choose to collaborate with talented individuals on thematic and increasingly ambitious shoots – usually centered on cosplay. On a personal level this sort of mutually beneficial work is much more rewarding and acts as my primary creative outlet. I’ll still do fashion oriented work now and again, or model product with the promise of nabbing a new handbag, but my modeling pursuits aren’t focused on earning a paycheck.
Q: Am I model material?
If you’re passionate and dedicated, chances are there is someone who would love to work with you. Don’t let the fact that you may not have supermodel stats deter you. When I began modeling I was nearly 30 pounds heavier than I am now, and had little problem finding work despite my place in limbo between “normal” and “plus-size” markets. Instead of focusing on your insecurities, focus on what makes you special and learn to play up your best assets. There is an audience for nearly every body type, hair color, and unique look, so give it a go!
Q: I only have family portraits and “MySpace” photos. How do I get started without a professional portfolio?
Everyone has to begin somewhere. When I first started modeling my “portfolio” consisted of graduation photos and a handful of flattering snapshots with friends. As I didn’t have any money to invest in a starter portfolio, I put the images on One Model Place (OMP) and Model Mayhem to see if I could garner interest from any photographers. Both sites are great tools that feature free and premium portfolios options and cater to budding and established talent. I furnished my online profile with a basic gallery and a small summary of my aspirations as a model. After finishing the bio I went to bed, and was surprised to find several offers to shoot the next morning. Some of the photographers were willing to shoot for free, and others offered package deals to help me build my portfolio. Both are viable options, but I’ve found that if time isn’t a concern and you’re flexible, you rarely have to pay for collaboration with a photographer or makeup artist you meet via the aforementioned profile sites. To this day, I’ve never paid for a session.
Q: What is TFP/TFCD?
How do you go about securing photos for free? The exchange is often referred to as TFP/TFCD – “Time for Print” or “Time for CD.” The concept is as simple as it sounds. Photographers, makeup artists, hair stylists, and models are often willing to trade their time and skills for practice or portfolio pieces. There are several reasons individuals are willing to engage in TFP/TFCD trades:
1) To develop a portfolio. Student photographers, makeup artists, hair stylists, or beginner models have little experience, and as such a barren portfolio. They will be more willing to work for free because the shoot is an opportunity for everyone involved to hone their skills. True, these shoots won’t yield results ready for print in Vogue or Glamour, but they are a great first step to build up your portfolio and learn the basics of modeling. Often these shoots will take place at a school or outdoors, as the photographer likely doesn’t have a studio yet. Additionally, shoots may also take place at the photographer’s home or garage. This is not uncommon, but something to be careful about. More on how to safely plan a photo shoot later.
2) Concept execution: I’ve often worked with photographers and makeup artists who don’t usually engage in TFP/TFCD, but are willing to make an exception for an exceptional idea. Many photographers or makeup artists make their bread and butter shooting family photos, weddings, or product. Work that pays the bills doesn’t necessarily inspire them on a creative level, however. If a photographer/makeup artist mentions on their portfolio that they do select TFP/TFCD, feel free to contact them with an idea you think might be up their ally. Wild ideas often inspire and excite, resulting in a collaboration everyone is equally committed to. Keep an eye out for casting calls via OPM or Model Mayhem posted by your dream photographers/makeup artists. Your look might nab you a chance to shoot with them free of charge. This is the exciting bit about cosplay modeling – the thematic nature of costuming often grabs the attention of talent looking to add something unique to their portfolio.
3) Test shoots: I’ve worked with a handful of very, very established photographers that may not have otherwise given me the time of day if not for test shooting. Very early in my modeling run, I agreed to test shoots with several fashion photographers that traveled the world for their gigs. Test shooting means many things to many individuals, but I’ve most often found it to be testing of new equipment – for example when a photographer needs to test out a new rig and is looking for someone to stand around in front of the lens. For me this has meant no makeup artist, no styling, and no intent of publishing said photos. I’ve left a test shoot with little more than a few Polaroid photos. Instead I made a connection, impressed a photographer, and eventually collaborated with someone who was out of my league without the proper introduction.
4) Because they love it: There is a special breed of talent that simply loves what they do. I like to think I fall in this category. While I take my photoshoots quite seriously and they often require months of planning, I never charge anyone an hourly rate that other models with experience might. I bring my costumes to the table, which often cost hundreds of dollars. The photographers contribute their time and energy during the shoot as well as in post-production. The makeup artist or hair stylist must prepare their kit and ensure they have everything needed for the theme. Everyone contributes, no one is out looking for money, and in an ideal situation the whole team is pleased with the end result. If you find talent like this, foster the relationship and everyone will be happy.
If you do have a bit of money to invest and are interested in the agency route, a portfolio package isn’t a horrible idea. Paying for a shoot early on guarantees time and attention from an established photographer. Often, the shoot will be in a professional studio and include hair, makeup, and styling tips. Make sure to get a solid full body image and a headshot, and ensure the look isn’t overly glamorous. Most agencies can see through the smoke and mirrors of makeup, and instead want to see your physique, bone structure, complexion, and smile to evaluate your marketability. The photos may seem a bit plain-Jane when compared to the work of established models, but it will be the foundation you build your portfolio upon.
1) Safety first: You are absolutely, without question, allowed to bring another individual with you to a photo shoot. If a photographer tells you that you must come alone, politely decline the offer. I only attend shoots alone with photographers I work with regularly. While it’s your right to bring someone with you to a shoot, whom you bring is up for discussion. Your first choice may be a boyfriend or significant other, but I’ve found this is usually frowned upon and I honestly understand the photographer’s perspective. If you have a particularly protective or jealous significant other, it has the potential to make the shoot uncomfortable. I’ve never met a photographer (male or female) who doesn’t lose themselves in the excitement of the shoot and throw around phrases varying from “beautiful” to “stunning” or even “so hot!” or “super sexy!”
We’re not talking Austin Powers magnitude enthusiasm, but I personally find the feedback nice as it’s obvious the photographer is happy with what they see through their lens. For this reason some photographers will ask you to bring a chaperone of your own gender. Parents are a decent option, too, as long as they are not imposing and share their thoughts or potential concerns in a respectful way. Also, I made a point early on to always provide someone with contact information and details about where I would be and when I expected to return. It may seem a bit over the top, but I’d even mention to the photographer that I had plans after the shoot to ensure they knew someone was expecting me – but this was mostly for instances when a girlfriend and I would be shooting in a home studio, one of which was ten miles from the nearest town. Chances are you’ll be absolutely fine, but I practice being safe rather than sorry.
2) Do your research: There are creeps out there that take advantage of online modeling services (I’ve come across one photographer who insisted he shoot photos with his pants off) but they are usually easy to spot from a mile away. Do a bit of preliminary research before agreeing to a photo shoot. Read comments on the photographer’s profile and see if individuals have been happy working with them. If they use a handful of models repeatedly, try contacting them and asking about their experience. Even a quick Google search will give you an idea about any potential grievances models have. Again, I’ve only had one or two bad experiences in nearly seven years, but knowledge is power in this regard.
3) Don’t just show up: Ask questions! Don’t just show up to a photo shoot at an allotted place and time. The more you prepare the more successful the collaboration will be. First, nail down the basics:
A) When and where will you shoot? How much time should you block off? Make sure to arrive on time, if not a tad early. Always account for parking and lugging around your wardrobe when shooting in a city. The last thing you want is talent waiting around an empty studio for you. Also, make sure to trade contact information should you get lost or there is a last-minute change of plans.
B) What are the terms of the trade? Will you be receiving a CD of images/digital transfer or print photos? How many photos should you expect to receive? Will they be processed or raw? Are you allowed to edit any of the photos yourself? Who chooses the final photos from the shoot? Can you use the images for self-promotion? To what degree? Will there be a model release? As your portfolio improves you’ll get to dictate or negotiate many of the above stipulations yourself. For example, I ask a minimum of 10 photos be provided from any collaborative shoot, and prefer that the photographer, other talent, and I all mutually decide on the photos to be made public. This is an important to me as photographers, makeup artists, and models all look for unique aspects in a final photo. I’ve had several instances of photographers choosing a shot with fantastic lighting, composition, and color, but featuring a very unflattering angle that does me no favors.
Also inquire about if a model release will need to be signed. If none is provided, you have freedom in how to use the photos once they are received. If one is provided, carefully read it to ensure you can use photos for self-promotion and that you’re happy with the potential usage of said photos on the photographer’s end. Additionally if you’ve have aversions to overly-photoshopped images (as I do) make sure to make that clear prior to the shoot. I’m fine with a touch-up here or there to remedy a blemish or stray hair, but don’t allow photographers to make me thinner or drastically alter my physique. Decide what is right for you and make it known. Lastly, it’s in your interest to politely ask how long the turnaround for the trade is. I’ve had CD’s in my mailbox within days, and had to wait months for other shoots to yield result. It’s better to ask upfront than to strain a relationship because of misplaced expectations.
C) Will hair, makeup, and wardrobe be provided? If not, what is the theme or concept? If other talent will be on hand, how would the makeup artist or hair stylist prefer you arrive? If you’re shooting a costume, this is an easy question to answer. If you’re looking for commercial or fashion shots, discuss everything from cut to colors with the photographer and ensure everyone is on the same page. I always over-prepare and bring more outfits than needed, carefully paired with jewelry, shoes, and accessories. I then line them up prior to the shoot so everyone can decide on the final garments. If makeup, hair, and wardrobe will be provided, make sure to ask how the talent would like you to arrive. No makeup is a must. Some artists prefer non-lotioned faces while others approve of a bit of moisturizer. Similarly, some hair stylist like clean and washed hair, while others like a day’s oil to help hold the style. Even if they seem small details, it doesn’t hurt to ask and presents you as engaged and professional.
1) Do your nails. It may seem silly, but many new models forget to do their nails before a photo shoot. It’s especially important with beauty shots, but you don’t want chipped nails showing up in a shoot regardless.
2) Don’t wear tight clothing on your way to the shoot. I always arrive in yoga pants and a loose tank top – or better yet, a button up shirt. Socks are especially dangerous as they often leave marks on your ankles or calves that take at least an hour to disappear. The result is unnecessary time spent fixing the lines in post-production. The button-up shirt comes in handy so that you can remove without endangering your newly styled hair or and makeup.
3) Ask your makeup artist if he or she will provide lashes. Most do, but it’s a nice gesture to ask them. I always have a pair on hand as they are one-time-use items in an artist’s kit.
4) Don’t wax your eyebrows hours before a shoot. Redness isn’t an issue so much as the oil used to remove the wax is. It often makes it difficult to blend eye shadow properly, even if you’ve washed thoroughly.
5) Take that hair binder off your wrist! Trust me, it’s easy to forget. I have at least two years of photos with one making a cameo in every shot.
6) Don’t be too nervous Most photographers provide quite a bit of direction and know how to properly pose you. Chances are you’ll feel awkward or the pose will be uncomfortable, but those usually result in the most dynamic and engaging shots. Take some time prior to the shoot to study your best angles in the mirror so you feel more comfortable in front of the camera.
7) Have a dry run. If shooting a costume, make sure you know of any potential construction concerns – such as fabric riding up in an unflattering way, or a hair ornament that tends to tip in the wrong direction. Nothing is more frustrating than reviewing photos only to find part of your costume not as intended. It’s better to discover these concerns early and share them with the photographer before starting to snap photos so keen eyes are always ensuring everything is in place.
8 ) Eat something. Even if it’s a light snack, make sure you have a bit of food and water in you. Many people don’t realize how demanding modeling is. Often you’ll stand in poses that strain your core, legs, and butt nonstop for an hour or so. It’s a workout, and the last thing you need is to start feeling woozy from the exertion and the hot lights.
1) Preparation always takes infinitely longer than execution. If you’ve got a hair and makeup team, it isn’t uncommon to spend ninety minutes being styled, and then shoot the look for a total of 30. Chances are the photographer will be testing light as you are being prepped, and will be trigger-happy by the time you’re ready. It’s amazing how many shots can be taken in a short period of time, so don’t default to worrying that you haven’t captured quality material.
2) Some photographers provide a ton of direction, while others provide little. You can outright ask about the photographer’s personal style if you like. Otherwise, try and feel it out. If they are very hands-on, feel free to speak up about any ideas you have when there is a break – it’s a collaboration after all. If they don’t provide much guidance, do your best to continue moving and make each shot slightly different. Take risks and push yourself. If the photo is awkward or bad, the photographer won’t use it. You’ll never end up with anything daring by playing it safe.
3) Feel free to ask the photographer to review a handful of photos. I like to review photos via the photographer’s camera display several times during a shoot, to ensure I’m doing my job properly. This is also very useful while in costume to ensure everything is in place. Most photographers will oblige you.
Hopefully the above information helps! If you have an additional question, please feel free to comment and I’ll amend the FAQ above with the best answer I can provide. Best of luck!