Hi Lucas, What does a photographer need to do to get paid fashion work? What kind of images do you need to have in your book? I have been doing model testing for a long time, but it has not gotten me a lot of paid work... Thanks in advance!
Hiya! Great question, and one that I alone don’t have quote/unquote ‘the’ answer to, as there are a bunch of ways, both short&long, and nothing I can say will guarantee fast/easy/be immediately profitable. And it should be re-emphasized, it’s not like I’m some super successful ‘fashion’ photographer out here; I have a modest client list, and a modest rate, so it’s not like I’m living some kind of rich/awesome/model-filled lifestyle shooting huge brands and top designers. Most of my photog friends here in LA are far, far more successful (I mention them throughout this blog quite a bit, so you can guess who they all are) But, I’m just happy to work and am having a great time.
That being said, here are ‘my’ answers that are derived from my own experiences, since starting from zero in 2010.
1) Have a book that features relevant and contemporary fashion&styles for the market you’re trying to break-into. For instance, if you want to work in commercial fashion (stuff like Gap, Hurley, Abercombie, Levis, Free People, Anthropologie, etc), then the styles in your book should show an attempt at this. A good measure of reference is to look at any of the aforementioned brands’ seasonal catalogs (probably all free in the store, or you can sign-up to receive on website), and shape your photos and portfolio in a similar vain. Basically, if this is ultimately the photography you want to do, but right now, your book is filled with only fine-art portraits or glamour nudes or family/wedding photography…. then you need to plan a series of spec-shoots to start emulating the genre you actually want to make money from, but always (and this is important) with your personal voice showing through…. which leads me to…
2) Develop and/or hone your ‘voice’. Cameras, pro-photography software, and even good (enough) models are very accessible nowadays; my point is, with a little bit of practice and understanding, a lot of people can take pretty pictures of pretty people with relative ease. So, what makes YOUR images different from the sea of your contemporaries? This is exactly why a photographer will win out a competitive bid over another photographer; companies, brands… they’re in the same boat; they want the vision of their company and marketing to stand out from their competitors. So, they’ll always aim to hire a photographer who can bring their unique vision to their brand. But, circling back to my point, you as a photog need to distinguish your work from others, and that all comes through your voice as an artist. I can’t really ‘tell’ you how to do that, nor can anyone else… it’s just something you need to discover through lots and lots and lots of shooting. The only other bit of advice I can give— and will continue to give again and again: study the masters. Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Peter Lindbergh, Bruce Weber, Herb Ritts, Helmut Netwon, Diane Arbus, Annie Leibovitz, Patrick Demarchelier, Mario Testino, & Nick Knight.
3) Shoot a lot & network. Really, this is the brass-tax of it all. Shooting a lot innately widens your circles— you’ll just be meeting and interacting with a lot of different people as well as with agencies on a regular basis. Basically, you’re ‘around’ a lot— and if you’re around/present, people think of you more quickly, which for me, has really worked out. Rarely have I got a cold-call from someone who isn’t connected, at some degree, to my network (which includes social media); 99% of my paying jobs come from a direct referral from an agent, a model, a stylist, a studio-owner, or a MUA…. or it comes from a Nth-degree of separation on Instagram or Facebook; (i.e., a company/brand that follows a model will see a test-shoot picture the model posts, with my name tagged, and the company will then contact me.)
4)This one is probably the most important: don’t take my word for it. Really, I can’t claim I know what I’m talking about (with anything); I’m not a seasoned veteran with decades worth of experience and success under my belt; I’m just an ant— both uneffecting and insignificant. Everything I just said above is completely disposable. Ultimately, you need to do what feels right and is natural for you, and as long as you’re producing quality images, with a little bit of effort, you will find real work.
Hi Lucas! First of all, I have been following you for a "long" time now and i want to tell you that I admire both your work and your personality: the way you always answer fully and deeply to question strangers ask you. By the way, here I come to ask you mine. I want to start test shooting for model agencies as well, and I was wondering how can i show my work best? I guess the best is to do my photobook, but I have no idea how to do it? How exactly should be the form and the content? HUGE THANKS
Heya! Thanks so much for the kind words! I will always love to share what little I understand :-)
If you want to shoot for agencies, then you’ll need girls in your book (u don’t need men, necessarily); for tests, agencies like basic, clean, clear pics of the model. The work you’re bringing to them needs to reflect that you can do this, so do not include any experimental make-up ‘editorial’ shoots you may have tried, nor any bridal/wedding stuff. Again, basic portraits that show your style, should suffice.
Curate your book down to 15 of your best images. Do NOT include any nude pictures— that is a red-flag with agencies and are not appreciated from inquiring photogs. Implied is fine. Also try to steer clear of conventional ‘glamour’ pics that are generally over-lit and the model over-made-up. Again, basic, natural portraits are your keys to the kingdom.
You can present your book on your iPad, if you go in to meet with agents…no need for a print portfolio in this instance. If you’re inquiring over email, include the top 5 pics, resized for email (agents hate when they get full-sized attachments), as well as a link to your website. Your website is your “store-front”, so also make sure that reflects the kind of photographer agencies are looking to work with (i.e, your landscapes and concert photography should not be the first images they see when landing on your page).
If you’re given a trial opportunity, don’t freak-out and over-compensate. Simplicity is clutch. You deliver solid, usable, natural photos of a model, the agency will continue using you. When you get comfortable and a rapport is established between you and the agent(s), you should start branching out, and using your access to models to execute your own personal projects/editorials, in order to grow your body of work. However, always make sure you still capture some basic portraits of the model you’re using, so the agency has something from the shoot, should they not respond to your own idea— happens ALL the time to me, so don’t take it personally if they don’t go for whatever you were doing, as long as they get something they can use, they’ll be happy.
Just know that all agency testing gets you is access; it’s unlikely you’ll be ‘discovered’ as a test-photog, and suddenly be offered fashion campaigns and magazine covers; my point is, don’t get comfortable ONLY test-shooting. All agency testing is, is an opportunity to grow your portfolio, but more importantly, your network. Use the caliber of models you are given to build upon yourself as an aspiring fashion photog, and don’t expect to live off of agency testing alone, as if/when it pays, it’s beer-money at the most (i drink a lot of beer).