How to find a model

by Michele Seghieri

What are the best ways for a photographer to find a model?

Finding a model for your photoshoots can be easier than you think.

From asking a friend to hiring a professional, you can choose which method fits you the most!

How to find a model the ultimate guide
An ordinary photographer complete guide to find a model

Let’s start with the basics

A photographer who wants to take portraits has always had a big problem: finding a model. How difficult is it? Let’s discover together the most efficient methods to find models.

Finding Models: The Vocabulary

There are some specific terms to deal with this topic—a short vocabulary.

Model Release

It is a written agreement between the photographer and the model (or other professional figures), which defines what both of you can do with the photo you took.

It lists all of the possible uses. If you pay for a model, usually, you can ask for commercial use. In this way, it’s unnecessary to mention the model when you publish the images. You can earn from these images by licensing and selling them.

If you opt for collaboration with no money exchange, each part can typically use the images for self-promotion. It is necessary to mention the other participants in the photo description. Regarding what kind of release you have, it is best always to mention each person who took part in the photoshoot when you share a photo.

TF Shoot

TF stands for Time For (or trade for), tfp stands for time for prints, and tfcd for time for a cd.

It’s an arrangement between the photographer and the model (or other figures who take part in the photoshoot) without money exchange.

It’s an exchange of personal competencies.

A TF shoot aims to create a photographic project defined by the photographer and build or expand your respective portfolio.

The photographer delivers high-resolution photos to the model, and both parts can only use those images for self-promotion. It’s always preferable to sign a model release with a list of what you can do. An ordinary photographer has the habit of covering the model’s travel expenses (but it depends on the arrangement type).

Test shoot (free test)

It’s very similar to the TF, and the goal is to highlight the model’s personality.

A test shoot aims to take beautiful photos of the model. That’s why it’s the best way to ask a model to an agency.

Sometimes, it lets the photographer know how a model works before an important photoshoot.

A test shoot lets you build your portfolio, but you can’t fully release your creativity. The advantage is that you can access more skilled models and run into agencies.

Why take portraits?

Camilla is a friend of a friend. She is a makeup artist too @bohemefleur.
Camilla is a friend of a friend. She is a makeup artist too @bohemefleur.

Photographing people is often complicated. Especially if you are a beginner. It is one of the most crucial moments for growth as a photographer. It doesn’t matter if you want to dedicate to portraits for the rest of your life or if it’s just a phase. There is a fundamental distinction between it, still life, and landscape photography. Dealing with a person will lead you to face situations that will also be useful in other types of photography.

In some ways, the portrait is a kind of staged photograph. The subject is not static, but it interacts with you. It has its dimension, an autonomy that you will never control fully.

This is the portrait’s distinctive trait.

There’s another additional reason, which, in the honest opinion of an ordinary photographer like me, portrait photography allows you to care more about the final result: the model’s judgment.

If you take a street, landscape, or still life photo, you don’t have to show the images to anyone. However, you must tell your subject if you have made a mess because you left the cap on the lens or accidentally removed the autofocus.

NB: both things happened to me. The first one happens with a film camera with a Galilean viewfinder, which I thought was cool to use. The second one occurred one of the first times I used a digital camera: my Nikon D80. I didn’t yet know that you can set the autofocus by both the camera and the lens (now I know!).

The hard time is when you must show the photos to the subject. Having posed for nothing doesn’t make anyone happy, especially those who had already planned to use these images.

But the main loser is the photographer. It’s terrible when you must admit that you sucked. But, at least in general, I don’t have any qualms!

The result must be brought home

The fact is that the portrait makes you enter the condition of don’t miss the chance. The result must be achieved.

If we fail, we’ll be wounded in pride.

You must put yourself in the right way with the subject. You should talk to the model, telling what to do and how to pose. Whether to smile or not, where to look. It’s a totally different approach compared to a reportage or landscape photo.

It’s like being a director. Therefore, if something is wrong, it’s your fault.

What happens when the photo you took looks terrific?

They applaud the model or ask you what camera you used! Damn!!!

Start with a strong idea and follow it

How to find a model check her nails
An ordinary photographer don’t forget to check the model nail color (like I did)

The concept and planning aspect is fundamental. I’m not saying that you have to create a big project, perfect down to the most unessential detail.

Understanding the mood you want to give to the photos, what should wear the model, and considering some poses, is the foundation of the success of a photo shoot.

Having a mood board and a definite idea of what you want to do is essential.

This isn’t crucial merely for you. It is also essential for models. In this way, they can evaluate the project and actively cooperate with you.

Moodboard is like the script for an actor

Always keep this in mind: when photographing a person, you need to know what you want to do.

If you don’t prepare, the risk is to have a tough time. You’ll take photos and check them on the screen camera. The result won’t be what you want, and you’ll become nervous. It won’t be pleasant, and you will see your feelings in the photos.

Of course, with experience, good results are easier to get, but it is always safer to be prepared for anything.

How can you explain to the model what to do if you’re both unprepared?

An ordinary photographer should always show confidence, even if they don’t have it.

Never lose control of the situation. Act like a leader, even if you have no idea what you are doing. Fake it until you make it. Say something without any sense.

In the end, the model doesn’t know what you’re photographing, and you can take a moment to clear your mind.

Are things not going the way you hoped? Then, take a step back and start again!

A little break is always good. Clean your mind!

It can happen to your collaborators. If someone is not doing their best, they usually try to complete what they’re doing by hurrying up. This only makes things worse. If you find yourself in this situation, take your collaborator aside, reassure them, telling start all over again. Will it delay everyone? It is what it is. These things happen.

We are ordinary photographers, and we must keep up our name!

As ordinary photographers, we’re proud of our photos, and we don’t want to make a wrong impression.

We photograph with passion. Seeing our value recognized fills us with joy.

So let’s go prepared!

Nostalgia takes me away

Achieving good levels is not difficult. But you have to be organized.

I’m not sure it’s the same for each photographer.

It’s a mix of enthusiasm and discouragement. But how beautiful is it?! Is it the same for you? It would be interesting to share these experiences.

Too romantic? Yes, I’m a freakin’ poet.

Who to photograph: Professionals or ordinary people?

How to find a model funny expression
Not all models fit your needs.

Anyone can meet your requirements. I asked all sorts of people in any situation if they wanted to be part of one of my photoshoots. At the gym, seaside, or even on the street. It’s a bit creepy; who cares? In the end, no harm in asking!

It’s not necessary to use professionals. It depends on the project you want to carry out. For example, sometimes it is required to take photos of everyday people. Ordinary people by ordinary photographers. That sounds nice!

The truth is that half the work has already been done with a good model.

The advantages of professional models are many:
  • They know their body and obtain the most from their poses.
  • They regularly have skincare, haircare, and a healthy lifestyle (essential, for example, for beauty photography)
  • Their modeling expertise, resourcefulness, natural talent let you express your creativity at its most.
  • You don’t need to explain what to do lots of times.
  • Their poses routines let you save time and ensure good results.

However, a professional model could ask for compensation, especially if you propose a photographic project that does not help the models expand their portfolio.

But collaborating or hiring a professional model it’s not the only way.

Many boys and girls want to pursue a model career.

They need to gain experience, get new photos, and expand their contacts. It’s easy to find not full-time models who love to pose or are just starting.

I recommend contacting friends and relatives for your first few photoshoots with a real human being. Especially if you still need to undertake camera settings. 

If you know how to use your camera well, consider using an inexperienced person as a model has some disadvantages.

An ordinary person who has never posed generally has these limits:
  • Shyness, even if you are thick as thieves
  • Somewhat limited capacity in poses
  • Hands and legs will always be a problem
  • Don’t know their body strongpoints

If you your friends are dancers or actors, you’d better know they’re the best ordinary models!

Shooting a friend (with a camera!) is an excellent opportunity to learn and try new stuff. Ordinary photographers like us are not always 100% sure of the result. Sometimes it’s necessary to test something! It doesn’t care how expert you have.

Shooting a friend (again, with a camera!) is an opportunity to grow without expectations.

Have you done a disaster? Did the best photo you took is the one taken when you accidentally pressed the shutter button? Who cares! Your friend is just happy to spend time with you (or change the friend!). Telling a friend that the number of good photos you’ve taken is negative zero is more manageable than telling someone who expects to use them as a portfolio or that you paid. We are ordinary photographers, and we are ashamed of our failures! But we shouldn’t. I will write an article about all the bad photos I took. Mocking myself. That’s stupid!

Where to find models?

I have explained the difference between a professional model and an ordinary person used as a model (with poor results!).

Now we can talk about where you can find them.

You already have some clues, but I can add some advice that I wish I had too long ago!

The circle of trust (your acquaintances)

Greg is a rompipalle. Don’t be like Greg.
  • You can experiment and learn without any pressure
  • They work for free
  • You can waste time on your photography, but you have fun for sure
  • Shooting friends sounds funny
  • Do not have experience
  • Lack confidence in front of the camera
  • Probably not passionate about posing
  • It’s barely impossible to grow a portfolio just by shooting friends

The first answer is the simplest, even if I don’t find it intriguing: search through your friendships.

This solution doesn’t drive me crazy. I honestly prefer other methods. But it is an option to consider, especially if you still must learn how to photograph.

This solution lacks zest. There isn’t the tension of meeting someone’s expectations. I do not like it, but it’s free! I suggest contacting models with some sort of experience for those who are already familiar with camera settings.

Social media

How to find models on Instagram
Finding models in your area on Instagram is very easy.
  • It is straightforward and effective
  • don’t require a complete portfolio
  • You can ask for a TF collaboration instead of paying
  • You can arrange to get the commercial release instead of the basic TF
  • It allows you to expand your network, even if they don’t accept you can keep in touch
  • Perfect for test shoots
  • Professionalism is not always assured
  • They can hole up at the last
  • Sometimes models are not skillful as they say
  • Cannot be used for commissioned work

When an ordinary photographer talks about social media, he means Instagram.

Of course, some local Facebook groups can also be helpful, but with Instagram, it’s much more manageable.

On Instagram, there are myriads of photographers and models of all levels. It’s also plenty of bloggers, influencers, actors, dancers, and other figures who may be interested in working with you.

Looking for models on Instagram it’s the easiest method I know.

Firstly, you must look for some photographers or photography enthusiasts that orbit your area.

Their profiles are indeed plenty of beautiful images with outstanding models. Each photo should have a model tag on it or in its caption.

Secondly, check the model profile. If you like their photos, contact them in DM.

Models’ photos have tags of other photographers, models, makeup artists, etc. You can repeat this process on their profile how many times you want.

If you start finding the same people, start over from a photographer of another area close to you.

In my opinion, this is the easiest way to find models of all levels. I do it often, and they do it often with me.

Communication becomes essential: you can send a series of reference images as poses in advance and ask them what you need in detail.

Don’t forget to consider the profiles of makeup artists, hairstylists, stylists, and other professionals. You can collaborate with them too, share models or just expand your network.

Make the most of social media.

A 4 steps guide to finding models on Instagram:

  1. Create an account and post at least 9 photos and a profile picture
  2. Use your real name
  3. Add a short bio describing who you are and what you do. Choose sincerity; it is useless to be pompous
  4. Add a contact email and your website link. If you don’t have it, I recommend Adobe Portfolio, which is connectable to your Behance and is very easy to build and update


Add new photos, videos, and reels regularly. You don’t need to post daily or use too many hashtags. It helps if you only publish pictures of the photographic genre you want to find models.

Use your name as your username or as your displayed name. Put your face, or at least the name!

With a short bio, describe who you are and what you do. For example, are you a landscape photographer who wants to try portraits? Write it down; sincerity always pays!

Be sure they can contact you by email, by button, or add it to your bio.

Insert the link to your portfolio or a “link in bio.”

If you don’t have a website, I recommend Adobe Portfolio for FREE, linked to a Behance account.

It is straightforward and intuitive. Plus, at 99%, you already have it.

Do you know you can have a free website thanks to Adobe?

It’s included in Adobe’s Creative Cloud Plan and Photography Plan.

You can easily connect your domain to it (1 to 20 USD per year on Just Host).

Is there an ordinary photographer without the Adobe Photography Plan?

I hope not! So you are already paying for Adobe Portfolio. Why don’t you use it?

There is more: you can connect your Adobe Behance account to your website to import new galleries easily.

Meanwhile, take you can visit the website I made with Adobe Portfolio:

How to contact the model

Firstly, you should have a defined idea. After that, you should contact only models suitable for your project. Even more than one at a time, but without exaggerating.

It is not pleasant to contact someone who accepts and then hear that it is no longer required.

Here is a DM template for Instagram or email to efficiently contact a model:

Hi [model name],

My name is [name] [surname] and I am a [type of photo] photographer, from [city].

You can see my portfolio on my [site / Instagram account + link].

I want to offer you a TF collaboration on a project about [project description]. Here is the link to the Pinterest mood board [link].

To this project, will also take part [the makeup artist [@makeup artist account], the hairstylist [@hairstylist account], etc.

The photos will be taken on [date] at [location] and there is [a budget of $$$ for your performance] / [a TF collaboration with expenses covered].

All parts will sign a release for non-commercial uses, and you can bring a trusted person.

Let me know if you have questions. You can contact me by phone at XXX XXXX XXX if you prefer.

Hope to hear from you soon,

[first name]

Does thist method worth?

There are a lot of weirdos outside. We, ordinary photographers, are part of them. That’s why you always tell the models they can bring a trusted person!

The effective risk is to waste a few hours with an inept model. However, try to be positive. No one benefits from a bad attitude. Let the things go and do your best.

In my experience, it is fun and a great way to expand your network.

We work together, and we know each other better. It is the best business card you can have.

Certaninly, It opens new opportunities for both of you. I usually offer models I already know to my clients. Sometimes the models contact me for some photographic or retouching job.

Models know other models, agencies, makeup artists, and potential clients.

With an agency model, things should be smoother. But, in my small way, most models are very motivated to give their best.

In my experience, 9 out of 10 times, I found beautiful people and good models. Did I get bad people? Yes, but some clients are worse. Just keep up your professionalism!

Models / photographers network sites

  • Basic portfolio
  • Free membership option
  • Find models to search for on Instagram
  • Advanced search by city and model features
  • A good way to expand for networking
  • Paid membership to take advantage of all the features
  • Uncertainty of the answer (profiles may be inactive)
  • They are not all professional models
  • There is no guarantee of quality and professionalism

The best known of all is Model Mayhem, but do not underestimate Model Management.

Model Mayhem has been for years the best website to look for photographers, models, and many other professionals related to the world of photography and fashion.

It’s an international website utilized by almost everyone interested in portrait photography. You can use it for free, searching for models and creating casting calls and travel notices. In addition, you’re able to send direct messages only to friends that have accepted your friend requests.

A subscription is required to send messages to everyone and other valuable features.

Model Management is a few years younger, but the overall quality is higher.

Model Management allows you to create castings and invite people we would like to participate in. People who respond to castings can be sent messages, all for free.

To send messages and see the social media accounts of the models, a subscription is also required here.

Personally, I prefer Model Management to Model Mayhem. The quality of the models is higher, and the response rate is better. On Model Mayhem, most of the profiles are now unused.

However, I look at both of them from time to time.

They can be used for free. When you find a model that suits you, you can search for them on the web by name, name + model, name + city, or using Google Image Search.

Compared to looking directly on social media, you can skim the models by location, gender, ethnicity, genres, compensation, age, experience, and many more.

I recommend these methods for those who have not yet acquired a certain number of contacts. At some point, it is no longer necessary to use this method.

Please look at both free versions before subscribing to one of these websites. Undoubtedly, which one is the best for you depends a lot on where you live.


  • Guaranteed reliability
  • Guaranteed professionalism and result
  • Model replacement in case of problems
  • Is not necessary an extensive network of acquaintances
  • Essential in commissioned projects, especially when the client wants to choose the models
  • They don’t always accept TF
  • You need a complete portfolio
  • Sometimes, local agencies are not the best in transparency
  • They can ask to limit your creativity
  • It’s one more figure to relate in the organization

Agencies are open for test shoots of their models. Usually, they have in their rosters new faces you can work with.

New faces are new to the model career. They need to gain experience and expand their portfolios.

They are professional models, however, not affirmed.

When you contact a model agency, it’s essential to describe the photographic project. I prefer to call them on the phone after a brief email exchange.

To clarify, model agencies consider only well-explained photoshoots. Don’t waste their time: contact them only if you have a defined idea.

Having a professional makeup artist or hairstylist is a big plus for them.

Personally, I use model agencies just for paid work when I cannot find a model that suits the client’s requirements in my network.

Certainly there are excellent agencies run by professional people that love their job.

But models start young with big dreams. Their inexperience makes them easily believe all false promises of exploiter agencies. Usually, their owners are well-known in their area; nevertheless, they are still on business. They typically ask for money to represent a model with an exclusivity contract and more money to do a very low-quality professional shoot. But the model doesn’t receive any job. In the meantime, they take a percentage from all works the model finds by themself because of their contract.

Be aware of these agencies. Inform about their activities and work only with professionals.

How to start building my portfolio?

Unfortunately, showing an attractive portfolio to models and agencies is imperative.

You are what you shoot.

Improving your portfolio means having access to more professional models.

But how do you get good photos when you are just starting? It is not easy, you are right.

Let’s analyze how to build or improve your portfolio.

Keep in mind your portfolio is a commitment that never ends.

If you are starting now, ask yourself what kind of photo you want to take.

Specializing in a specific photographic genre is essential. We are not good at everything, and different genres need a particular sensibility.

Focus on the genre you think is your favorite. Set up some photoshoots and then decide if it’s the right one for you.

As I do, you can cross over similar genres: fashion, portrait, beauty, and lifestyle. I have no experience in landscape or nature photography. The equipment I use would also need some changes.

With firsthand experience, you will learn most of the things. You can study the basic technique with photography classes, read blogs and books, or watch videos.

But you will obtain tons of information by yourself while taking photos and retouching. Since I started, sometimes happens to incur in something that let me comprehend photography a little more.

Find models: Newbie photographer, no experience, no budget.

Today a photographer needs two things: a camera and a computer.

If you have access to them, congratulation! You are ready to start to build your portfolio!

So, if you don’t have a budget to hire models or rent locations, you can save your money.

Look for inexperienced models on Instagram, dedicated sites, or among friends. Don’t be afraid to drop them a line. They can reply or not, but you can always find another model. Engaging with a photoshoot is extremely important, even if you are not entirely confident about your photography.

In the worst scenario, you will learn something new; in the best scenario you will take amazing photos to add to build your portfolio at best!

You can’t imagine how many bad photos I took. For work too!

Henri Cartier-Bresson was right:

“Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.”

Henri Cartier-Bresson

Keep in mind he used 36 film rolls.

I take an average of 500 photos a day to make 25 good ones (95%, not bad, I would say!). In some circumstances, my goal is to take 3 to 5 good photos at the end of the day.

Adjusted to me, it would be: “Your first 250,000 photographs are the worst. The 95% of the rest will always suck.”

The important thing is never to quit.

Find models: Newbie photographers, no experience with budget.

You don’t necessarily have to give your images to a paid model.

Paying a model makes sense if it helps you build your portfolio and gain experience. So, don’t get fooled by the pack of neophyte models who want to make some money just because they feel cute.

Unfortunately, even the models are not all honest, and a beginner photographer may think he is at fault when instead it is also the fault of the model’s inexperience if things don’t work out. Your models should be proportionally experienced to the price they ask.

Don’t be afraid about the price of a professional model. Ask for the rate; it could be more convenient than you think. A model’s rate depends on the photoshoot duration and the genre. For lingerie and artistic nude, rates are higher than fashion, lifestyle, beauty. Sometimes a professional model accepts a lower rate because they like the project.

Find models: Experienced photographers.

Are you already familiar with the camera and want to expand your portfolio? What is best for you depends on how much time you have.

If you already have some interesting photos, you can contact some agencies to ask about test shoots.

If you look for models in TF, there are no guarantees. With professionals, it’s much easier to get the result you want.

Professional models let you build your portfolio faster and better. They can give a boost to your photos. But it doesn’t mean you can’t reach the same results with a TF model.

My advice is to grow gradually with TF models at the same experience level.

When you have the opportunity, look for a professional to compare and boost your portfolio and experience.

I have never paid models except for commissioned work.

But I have been lucky enough to work with very experienced models to do test shoots. Have I been lucky? I do not believe it.

You can easily have the same results by following this simple guide. I’m sure about that!


What are you waiting for? Go to find your next model!

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