How to Contact and Book a Model for a Photo Shoot
Whether you’ve been shooting for five minutes or five years, there will likely come a time when you’ll have to book a shoot with another person. Maybe it will be a friend or coworker and maybe it will be a full-time professional model.
Whoever you’re contacting though, they’ll need to know some fundamental facts about what’s involved in your shoot before they agree to be involved. In this article, I discuss some of the key things you should include when contacting and booking a model.
I’ll start by saying that I’m no self-proclaimed expert on contacting models, but I’d like to think that based on the huge number of shoots I’ve booked and planned over the years that I have a fairly solid understanding of what’s important information when it comes to organizing shoots and what’s not.
It’s also worth noting that there is no one perfect way of doing this, we all prefer to be contacted in different ways and we all consider certain shoot information to be more important over others. But I do believe that a properly constructed message that contains some of the following key information can go a long way to ensuring a shoot goes ahead as planned.
A professional sounding message can reassure models that you know what you’re doing. Considering that out of the models I’ve personally booked I have never had a ‘no-show’ and only three or four cancellations (all for seemingly legitimate reasons) over the years, I’d like to think I’m doing something right.
But don’t take my word for it, after all, I’m just a photographer. So to further cement my initial ideas on best practices for contacting models, I asked them.
A few weeks ago I put together a simple and straightforward questionnaire and asked all of the models I knew to take five minutes to give me their opinions on how best to get in touch with them when booking a photo shoot.
Over 40 models kindly gave their time and feedback in the questionnaire and the foundation of this article is built on their responses and what they want to see in the messages they receive from us.
First Contact: What NOT to Do
No matter what you’re planning to shoot, there will always be a first message. To me, this is the most important message and getting this right or wrong can determine a huge amount about how the shoot evolves into actually happening or not.
The photographic industry has never had so many people taking pictures as it does now and it has to be said that most of those photographers are not relying on taking pictures to feed their families. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this, some of the best photographers I know don’t shoot professionally and enjoy the act of taking pictures in their spare time simply to enjoy taking pictures.
The reason I mention this is to highlight the fact that whether or not you’re shooting commercially or for fun, the model you’re most likely contacting is trying to make a living from it. Nearly every model I’ve ever worked with is incredibly dedicated and hardworking and they take their job very seriously.
According to my questionnaire, 53% of the models I asked were booking between 5 to 20 shoots per month. They are busy people.
So if you are a photographer shooting for fun, remember that the person you’re contacting is at work when you get in touch with them. They’re looking at diaries and accounts, juggling traveling expenses and traveling times so please think twice about contacting a professional model in the same way you would organize a night out with the lads.
e.g. “Hi darling, I saw your photos on Instagram and you look gorgeous in them. Fancy shooting with me.”
First Contact: What You SHOULD Do
Okay, so we’ve established that modeling is a real job and that they’re professionals (or at the very least aspiring professionals). Consequently, we should contact them like we contact any other businessperson.
They need to know when the shoot is going to be, what’s involved, how much it’s going to cost etc. This may seem pretty obvious but trust me there’s plenty of examples of information being missed off in the initial contact where this first message should clearly and comprehensively explain what’s involved, who’s involved and when it’s going to take place. But let’s take a deeper look at what we should include when initiating contact with a model.
The whole purpose of the model questionnaire was for this article. The Internet is not known for its forgiving nature and although I thought I had all of the answers on how to contact a model, I felt I needed to back that knowledge up with evidence from the people in question.
Firstly, I was obviously very humbled by the overwhelming response from the models who took part and their eagerness to contribute to this piece, (I get the feeling this subject is something that a lot of models have strong opinions on and rightly so) but I also learned a few things from the results myself as well.
Let’s take a quick look at the demographic of the models that took part in the questionnaire. Remember that over 40 models took part in this so the following graphs show answers as percentages of that total.
I think it’s fair to say that most of the models who took part are not only very busy people but are also solely responsible for booking their own shoots. This is perfect for the article in question because it not only highlights the fact that you’re contacting busy professionals but also that the model you’re trying to book will be the actual person reading your message.
Before Contacting a Model…
Before we contact anybody about anything we need to know a little about them first. Every single model is different and they all have varying rates, preferred contact methods and ‘levels’ (this is the term that dictates what styles of photography a model is comfortable modeling up to, these include straight fashion, lingerie, implied nude and nude etc). So what information should we look out for before putting ‘fingers to keyboard’ and getting in touch for the first time?
In this next section of the questionnaire, I asked models what was important to know about them before getting in touch.
So based on the information that was provided to us by our gracious models, we can see that a few things are pretty important to understand about them before getting in touch.
Firstly, 90% of models agreed that reading their modeling profile was important before getting in touch. It seems obvious I know but so often you’ll ask a model a question that is clearly already outlined in their online profile.
Secondly, a staggering 95% of models said they agreed that photographers should understand their modeling levels before getting in touch with them. Again, this seems obvious but DO NOT contact a model and ask them to model nude if they only model up to lingerie levels.
Details In Your Initial Message
In the questionnaire, I also asked the models for some pointers on specific content that the first message should contain when we reach out to them initially.
Again, we have some more obvious results here. Things like date and time, location and whether the shoot will be paid or not should definitely be included in the first message. Your ideas and styling options for the shoot are usually preferred but not essential.
Writing the Message
Okay, so to those millennials with the attention span of a cornered badger who just skipped all the way down here, firstly welcome and thanks for joining us. Here’s the ‘magic bullet’ content you were after.
I’ll mention again that there is no one right answer for everybody but here is what I do and here is what I write. I personally choose to write one very comprehensive first message that it is clearly headed in bold at the start of each relevant topic. This way everything is there and if certain models aren’t too concerned about styling notes on a shoot that’s months away, they can skip it and come back to it later. Also, I’ve found that using clear headers like this for each section allows you to find pertinent information in the message later on like location and time without having to read the entire thing again.
The following letter is a good example of what I would typically send as an initial message to a model if I was planning a test shoot.
Dear ‘Model Name’,
I am in the process of organizing a test shoot and I am reaching out to you as a model because I came across your portfolio online and loved your work. If you don’t mind I’d just like to check your availability and if you’d consider working with me on this project.
Dates & Times
I was looking to arrange this shoot sometime towards the end of this month. Do you work during the week or only on the weekends as I’d prefer one day during the week if that’s possible. I know you’re based quite far from me so I’m pretty flexible on a start time. I normally recommend starting at around 12 noon and finishing up around 6 pm if that helps you with travel times but like I mentioned, I’m flexible on this if this doesn’t work for you. Please let me know what dates you have available.
I am currently based in ‘state your location’ and I am a five-minute walk from the nearest train station if that helps you plan your travel arrangements.
A lot of my test shoots tend to be shot here in my home studio. Space is limited but some of my best shoots and collaborations have been shot here including the shoot I did a couple of months ago with ‘insert model name’ so they can tell you all about it if you want to know more: ‘insert a link to the shoot with the aforementioned model’.
Like I mentioned, I’m super easy to get to via train as the station is a two-minute walk from my place and I can come and collect you off the train if you like. If you’re driving instead, just let me know and I’ll get you the address details and parking arrangements.
The Shoot Plan
I had some lighting ideas I wanted to put into practice but I can also get some shots more tailored to what you were after as well. ‘Insert your predicted shoot times here e.g. Normally a shoot is 4-5 hours long and we would get at least three or four very different sets done in that time’. At the moment I’m shooting a lot of colored lighting shots so that would probably be a key attribute in our shoot together too.
Regarding styling, I’m happy to hear your thoughts on what you’d like to shoot in, especially if you have something interesting or more unique in mind or available. You should be able to get a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t in my shoots from my site but as a general guide, there are a few items that are always winners. Take a look at these previous shoots and ideas to see what I mean: ‘insert links to previous shoots or mood boards here’
Any questions at all then please feel free to get in touch as I’d love to hear your thoughts on this too.
Also if you have some styling ideas, please feel free to either send me some shots or links of what you’re thinking of so I can better plan what would look good with them lighting wise.
From our test shoot, you would look to get a minimum of ‘Insert number of images you’re happy you can deliver here’ un-watermarked, hi-resolution, fully retouched files that I would choose. You would receive these over the period of around 4-6 weeks as I work on them around my commercial work.
…and finally (I promise)
Haha, I’m sorry if that’s an information overload but I thought it better to get as much info across from the start to avoid too many messages backward and forwards and so that you knew what you were getting into from the beginning.
I’d love to hear your thoughts though and by all means, I’m always open to suggestions.
Thanks again, enjoy the rest of your week and I very much look forward to working with you soon 🙂
So that’s the message I send out and I amend it to suit specific needs like if it’s a paid shoot instead of a test shoot for example. Also, let me explain a little further on some of the information I shared in this message.
The Opening Paragraph
The opening lines I’ve included here are pretty generic for the purpose of this article and I would advise you to tailor it more specifically to the model you wish to contact. The key points to include though are; state as early as possible if this is going to be a paid or test/free shoot. This is just courtesy, as sometimes a model is so busy she’s really only looking for paid jobs regardless of how amazing your portfolio might be. Secondly be excited about the prospect of working with them but don’t be overly creepy. Avoid things like highlighting specific body parts that you love about them and avoid referring to models with terms like ‘love’, ‘gorgeous’ and ‘darling’.
Dates & Times Details
You’ll notice that I was specific but not too specific on a date. We all know models are busy so don’t send your first message with only one option open to them. There’s nothing worse than messages bouncing back and forth trying to pin a day down so give them a few options. Also, check if they work during the week too, some models are excellent at what they do but might have another day job that prohibits them from working during the week. Find this out early on to establish their availability.
Also, remember that they’re the ones traveling to you, be sensible and please be realistic about your start time expectations. I think it’s fair to say that a lot of the modeling community is fairly young, they may not have ‘made it big’ like you just yet and unfortunately may not have their own vehicle so will have to use public transport. Public transport takes time, so provide them with information about the surrounding train or bus stations if you can.
Shoot Location Details
You’ll notice that I not only stated where geographically I would be shooting but I also specified it was my home. This is an important distinction to make as it can sometimes be a shock to the model if she was expecting to turn up at a studio but when she arrives, she’s actually entering your home. A lot of photographers shoot from their home and there’s nothing wrong with this but it’s about being completely transparent right from the start. I also used this as an opportunity to include a link to a previous shoot with another well-known model and I even went as far as to recommend they get in touch with them if they would like to know more about the location and experience. Again, I will reiterate that it can be a bit intimidating going to a stranger’s home for the first time so giving the model the option to check everything is okay with another model is a reassuring statement. Never underestimate how connected models are with other models as they won’t hesitate to contact one another if they have doubts about the shoot.
I have also tried to make it as easy as possible for them to say yes by including details about convenient public transport nearby. I also mentioned that I would happily meet them at the train station too. Again this is another sign that you’re well intentioned and a half decent human being for wanting to help them with all their bags etc. But most importantly, some models like to meet publicly first and you meeting them at the station is yet another reassurance that they can walk away if need be over simply turning up on your doorstep and hoping for the best.
Shoot Plan Details
In this first message, you don’t need to go into too much detail about the shoot but I still feel it’s a good idea to include just a couple of sentences about what you’re planning. Things like how many sets you’re planning on shooting, whether it will be all indoors or some outdoors etc. Again this info can be handy for the model to have a cursory glance at. Nothing screams ‘I don’t know what I’m doing’ more than ‘Hi I’d like to book you for two hours and shoot seven different sets both indoors and out’.
Again, styling details needn’t contain too much information and details in this first message but I still think it’s reassuring for the model to glance at before they book a shoot. The reason for this is because it’s a clear indicator of your shoot intentions prior to the shoot. Some models have different rates for different ‘levels’ so if you’re paying for fashion level modeling yet you’re asking for her to only bring lingerie this is a big alarm bell. Again I’ll reiterate, be totally transparent about your shoot intentions from the start. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to shoot lingerie, just make it clear from the start.
Final Images Details
This section is probably going to cause you the most problems starting out because there is no information anywhere on what you should or should not offer to models after a test shoot. In my questionnaire, I asked models what importance they gave to receiving information on the retouched files they would receive in exchange for their time at a ‘test’ shoot.
100% of models said that they would either definitely want to know or would prefer/would be nice to know what to expect in return for their time at a test shoot.
What you choose to offer in exchange for a test shoot will ultimately be up to you but I personally think that a model receiving 15 or more exceptional images 1-2 months after the shoot is the minimum requirement for an afternoons worth of their time.
I’ll also add here that I understand I’m in a privileged position and that I’ve been doing this a long time and as such, I am able to dictate more than I could do ten years ago. I only shoot a handful of test shoots a year now and as such, it takes me a lot longer to retouch their images around my commercial projects.
I also stipulate that I will be deciding which images get retouched. These are things that I couldn’t get away with ten years ago so if you’re starting out you might want to be realistic about what you’re offering. For example, a lot of models would want to choose a handful of shots themselves. You can offer to split it and say ‘you’ll get 10 shots, you can choose 5 images and I’ll retouch them for you and I’ll choose 5’. I would also say that most models expect to see some retouched images within 4 weeks of a shoot.
Whatever you decide make sure it’s clearly stated in your initial message so that both parties are officially happy and no bad feelings are felt after the shoot. Additionally, whatever you decide to offer, stick to it. Don’t say ‘okay you’ll get 20 shots within two weeks’ and then only provide 5 or worse, none. If that happens, you’re a bad photographer and you can’t blame it on bad ‘modeling’ so there weren’t many shots.
It’s our job to take great pictures regardless. If you don’t want that pressure of guaranteeing great shots then perhaps a test shoot isn’t for you, pay the model instead. Do your best on the day, pay the model for their time and treat it as a training exercise without the stress of having to perform. That way if the shots turn out crap, you learn something and the model isn’t hounding you for images and spreading bad words about you. If the shots turn out great then that’s a win no matter what. You can then also decide to share the shots with the model if you’d like them to share your awesomeness too.
Make the shoot happen.
This might seem like a lot to cover in a single message but all of our time is precious. If I book a shoot, I don’t want to give the model any reason whatsoever to cancel or postpone and all of these positives add up to them not worrying about what to expect on the day of the shoot. You are essentially taking away every single problem and providing them only with solutions and reassurances. If you do all of this, you’ll book way more shoots and reduce your cancellations dramatically.
I love a good graph as much as the next guy but I promise you these are the last of them. Okay, so you’ve finally got your message ready to send but wait… before you send it, what is the best channel to send this message on?
Based on these results, most models prefer to be contacted via email, Facebook messenger and directly via their website.
What Happens Now?
So you’ve sent your perfect message, the model has agreed to everything and you’re both happy with the date and time so what should you do between now and the shoot date? Some models will provide you with a lot of contact information including a phone number prior to your shoot. It’s worth bearing in mind that this phone number is often only provided to you for last minute updates and changes to the shoot. That phone number is not provided to you for a quick chat once a day several weeks prior to the shoot ‘to discuss the shoot’. If you would like to remind your model about your photo shoot, take a look at what models recommend as the best way to stay in touch and remind them of the date and time.
According to this, most models are more than happy to provide a number to contact them on. Like we established at the start of this article, models are busy professionals just like any other and as such only require one or two friendly reminders prior to shooting.
So although this article was more of a thesis, I felt that I was in an extremely privileged position thanks to that fantastic data I had collected via the model questionnaire. All of that data came from professional models on some of the pitfalls we as photographers might encounter whilst arranging a photo shoot with them and as such I wanted to share as many of my findings as possible.
I totally get that not everybody wants to read all of that data so here are the highlights from what I’ve learned regarding contacting a model for a photoshoot.
- Whether you’re shooting for fun or commercially, remember that the person you’re contacting is a professional person and not an object to photographed.
- Find the balance of professional and casual when initiating contact.
- Be positive and excited about the prospect of working with them but don’t be a creep.
- Always be entirely transparent about your photo shoots intentions from the start.
- Ensure that you’ve read the models profile to check if they’re appropriate for your shoot.
- Always check the modeling levels of the model you’re contacting. For example, don’t ask a lingerie model to pose nude.
- If you’re contacting a model about a test shoot, make sure they’re happy to consider working for free.
- In your initial message to a potential model be sure to include these key details: is the shoot paid or not, some potential dates, your location, some basic styling and shoot ideas and what they can expect in return if it’s a test shoot.
- If at all possible, try and find the models preferred method of contact but this is normally either via email or Facebook Messenger.
- In preparation for your shoot it’s probably a good idea to remind your model once or twice in the week leading up to the shoot.
P.S. A big thank you to all the models who took part in my questionnaire. You can find a list of some of their names and websites at the bottom of this same article on my website.
About the author: Jake Hicks is an editorial and fashion photographer based in Reading, UK. He specializes in keeping the skill in the camera and not just on the screen. Hicks has also just announced his first ever U.S. workshops in September 2017. If you’d like to learn more about his incredibly popular gelled lighting and post-pro techniques, visit this link for more info. You can find more of his work and writing on his website, Facebook, 500px, Instagram, Twitter, and Flickr. This article was also published here.