Many new models seem to start modeling believing they will soon be paid to model and that they will make a decent sum of money from it. When you are looking to be paid to model the bottom line is this: you need to offer something that the photographer cannot get for trade. This might be a unique, desirable look, it might be posing in a style (such as nude) that is harder to find models to pose for TF, it might be that you have an amazing wardrobe (for example a lot of latex or vintage clothing), or it might because you are amazing at posing. Keep in mind that all of those things will be subjective and different photographers may value things more than others. Using myself as an example, I’m most often hired because I have a natural, unmodified look, a good figure for nudes, and I know how to pose myself well.
You also need to keep your market (or your area) in mind. Some markets support models being paid for shoots more than others. Generally, the more competition there is, the harder it is to get paid even if you do have a lot to offer, but markets that are very, very tiny may simply not have enough photographers to support paying models in a specific genre. Markets can also be seasonal and you may start out doing quite well when you are newer, but then as you shoot with more and more of the photographers in your area you may find that your income from modeling drops, sometimes quite a lot. Many photographers will only hire a model one or two times, though that is not always the case if you are good at what you do.
There are some very successful freelance models who do make a living modeling, but most of them still aren’t making much more than they need to just cover expenses. Most of these models are traveling nude, erotic, and/or fetish models. Most other freelance models are modeling as just one form of income and most of them still have another part time or even full time job. Many freelance models find that they may be paid for a shoot here and there, but not often enough to really consider it as much in terms of income to be counted on. I am not trying to discourage you, of course, but I do think that honesty is important here.
The most common scenario for the highest paid freelance models are models who shoot nude, fetish, and sometimes glamour. This is mainly because fewer models overall shoot these things and this style of photos is pretty much the only sort that is profitable for the average photographer outside of commercial or editorial work for publication or advertisement. You could also find that commercial or fashion work pays, but these two styles often require you to fit within a fairly narrow range of physical stats. Even if you do have great fashion stats, many fashion models still do not get paid very well. Many runway shows are a trade/exposure sort of thing.
I’ll go ahead and cover a few myths here as well:
1) If you pose nude, you’ll get paid.
No. Photographers still have to see what you are offering as worth paying for. Posing nude is one genre that is more often paid than others, for reasons I outlined above, but generally you still need to know your look and how to pose.
2) Never pose nude unless you are getting paid.
No. Most successful nude models still trade with skilled photographers in order to update their portfolios since paying photographers are not required to send images. You can choose to only take paying shoots for your nude work, but it will be hard to book those without some nude images in your portfolio (and if a photographer pays you, they are generally not obligated to give you photos).
3) You should be making at least $X per shoot/per hour.
You negotiate and decide on your own rates and you have to decide what you minimum is. Keep in mind that just because you see a model charging a high rate does not mean she is actually making that or making that for every shoot. Most of the models I know are at least somewhat negotiable in their rates.
My basic, honest advice is not to get into modeling expecting it to become a source of income. Modeling should be something you do because you enjoy it and financial compensation may or may not come along later depending on many factors.
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