So you want to be a MODEL

model KC NelsonDISCLAIMER: Although you might find something useful in this article, keep in mind that I’m not a model, and I have never worked or contracted with an agency. I know some models, and have photographed models on occasion. This advice is worth what you’re paying for it.

There’s a reason I write some of these blogs.  By chance or destiny, I’ve had two beautiful friends recently ask for advice getting started as a model. I thought instead of sending a series of text messages or emails, I’d consider this topic in my blog, and maybe someone else will consider the topic.

Although I make a pretty decent living as a wedding photographer, I do have some experience with professional and amateur models. After all, when I was a teenager I had dreams of one day working for Playboy magazine. That may have been one of my motivations for purchasing my first SLR camera.

Qualifications to be a Model

It takes more than just being pretty.  There are lots of pretty girls…. millions of them. In years past, there were other qualifications too, but those seem to be less important. Some agencies still want their models to be tall.  Tall is considered to be 5’8″ or taller, without shoes. There are petite models though who are working steady, and aren’t much more than 5′ 0″. I could go on a rant about weight, but I’ll save that for another day.  There was a time when any model who weighed more than 115 lbs would not be considered for most jobs.  I’m happy to report that it is not a rule any more, but sadly the majority of modeling jobs still go to the thin girls.

One qualification that will always be true is that you’ll need to be tough about people scrutinizing your body about imperfections. I hear this all the time. Agents and jobs will turn down a model because her nose isn’t perfect, or her boobs aren’t the right size, or she’s not muscular enough, or a small gap in her teeth, or her hair isn’t long enough. It doesn’t seem to matter how much a model weighs, there will always be someone in the business telling her she needs to lose a few more pounds, or tone up her abs, or get a freckle removed…. the scrutiny is often harsh.  You’ll need a lot of confidence and some thick skin to not let it bother you.


To start out, you’ll need a portfolio.  This is usually a leather bound book that has plastic sleeves built in so that you can slide in photo prints.  In order to get those photographs, you’re going to need a photographer. Here’s where a lot of models get it wrong. Don’t call up a friend who has a decent camera and ask them to do some pictures for your portfolio.  There’s just no getting around this part: you’re going to need to pay some money to find a TALENTED photographer who works primarily with models. If there is a popular modeling agency in your city, call them and ask them what photographer they recommend. Cell phone selfies will not work.  Let me say that again (because it’s important) NO CELL PHONE PICTURES in your portfolio. If you can’t pay a photographer’s session fee, you don’t want to be a model bad enough. You can sometimes find a photographer on websites like who is willing to photograph you for free. Remember the saying that you always get what you pay for. Resist the urge to go cheap on this. Consider also to hire a talented makeup and hair person. They know how to do makeup that will look good in photographs, and can be as dramatic as you want. Once you have your images on a disc or flash drive, you’ll need to make prints to go into the portfolio.  Get large prints to fit the portfolio, the usual size is 11″ x 14″.

You should have multiple “looks” in your portfolio. One session should be in a city, or urban background. Have another session in the country with a cowgirl hat and jeans. Have another session at night in an evening gown. Shoot another in a bathing suit.  Agencies want to see how you look in different clothes. Your photographer will help you figure out the different looks, and the wardrobe.
model in El Paso
Here are some links of videos with helpful information to get you started with your portfolio:

After the Portfolio

This is the tough part. You have to sell yourself to an agent or an agency. Get ready for some rejection. You may not have the look they are wanting. The bigger the city, the better your chances of finding agency representation.  There may be one agency in Amarillo Texas. There are probably hundreds of agencies in Dallas and Houston. If you really want to go big, the top agencies are in New York and Los Angeles.  Once you sign with an agency, they may send you to even more photographers. Oh, and one more bit of advice, there is a difference between a modeling agency and a modeling school.  A modeling school is a money pit. An agency wants you to work for them, not pay them.

junior model in El Paso


Unless you are in a large urban area, many of the modeling jobs may require you to travel.  The clients that your agency finds may want you in Miami Florida one week, and San Francisco the next weekend. Sounds like fun, right? Does that leave room for you to spend time with family or boyfriend, or dogs, or your friends? This is another topic that I’ve heard models talk about.  Some love the travel. Others hate the constant travel, the sketchy motels, and lack of security when traveling out of the country. They work the models hard. They start at sunrise, and usually don’t finish a day’s shooting until after the sun goes down. They don’t pay the model by the hour, they pay for the job, and they tell you when the job is finished.

Washed Up at 40

I saved the best for last. When you’re hot, you’re hot. If you have the look that everyone wants, the job offers come rolling in. But what if you lose the look? What if you gain a few pounds? What if you get pregnant, and develop some stretch marks? And the worst part is AGE. There are a few, but how many models do you know of who are still busy working after age 40? Not many. That is a small window of working years, especially if you don’t start your modeling career at 16 like most of the top models. The modeling world is full of predators. There is rampant drug use in the desperate attempt to stay thin. If you really want to get a horrifying look at the exciting world of modeling, see if you can find a movie called “Gia” which is a true story of a model who rose quickly to the top, and her spiral downward.  So, you want to be a model, eh?