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How to find photo models: A field report

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If you start with the more serious photography as a hobby, you will probably first feel your way through the many different genres of photography, try out a lot and get your bearings.

At some point there comes a moment when you notice that you are more interested in certain topics and less in others and that you want to go into some topics in greater depth. In some cases it is easier to find subjects, in others it is more difficult.

This article is for those who enjoy taking photos of people and want to find out how to find models.

It doesn't matter whether you prefer to photograph portraits or “fashion / glamor”, because you need people for your preferred motifs who are ready to be photographed, who are willing to give your instructions on all aspects of the photo within a certain framework and who are above all willing to allow you to publish them (if you want to show the photos online in fotocommunity, for example).

Find models, but how?

So much in advance: There is no ONE way to find models.

In this respect, many questions in this regard cannot be answered across the board in the photo forums. I'll tell you here how I found and found my models (I've come to the point that I basically don't have to search anymore, but can choose from the offers. That was a long way ...). From this experience report you will be able to draw enough suggestions for yourself to make your model search more successful.

The first model

First the good news: there are far more people interested in getting good photos of themselves than you might think. And just as you have made photography your hobby, there are many people whose hobby is to be photographed. Now it is important to bring the potential photographers and the potential models into contact with one another. At this point the problem begins, which cannot be solved in passing.

You can of course start looking for "victims" and taking photos in your personal environment. Sometimes that can also work wonderfully. From my own experience, however, it makes a very big difference whether you photograph people with whom you are emotionally connected or just people themselves.

Before you even think about photographing "strange" models, you should ask yourself a few questions:

  1. Am I able to use my tools with sufficient confidence to take attractive photos?
  2. Do I even have an idea how and what I want to photograph?
  3. Do I feel able to communicate appropriately with a more or less unknown person?
  4. What can I offer a model to convince them to give me their time? You should take the time to answer these questions very carefully beforehand. The more carefully you think about these four questions and the better the answers (from the model's point of view), the higher the chance that you will be successful in the model search.

I often read two answers to questions about the search for photo models:

  1. Take money in hand and look for an experienced pay model.
  2. Go to a workshop and use the results as a reference.

As such, these hints are not wrong, but in principle I think little of it and would also like to explain why:

Experienced models

Basically, the idea of ​​booking an experienced model is not a bad one at first. But you are a beginner and can rarely adequately assess the qualifications of such a model. It's an open secret that some models have specialized in beginners and turned it into a lucrative business. If you are unlucky, you end up with only moderate photos, have lost a lot of money and don't even have publishing rights. In the worst case, you have lost a lot of money and don't even have photos.

Use workshops?

It is similar with workshops. It is very difficult, especially for beginners, to judge whether a workshop is worth the money. A good workshop gives you good references, but costs money. In the case of inexpensive workshops, this quickly turns into a pack shoot and in the end you have photos that are almost identical to the photos of the other participants, which is of little use as a reference. Even model sharing with more experienced photographers often only means that you bear a large part of the model costs, but in the end you hardly get to take photos yourself, but are only allowed to hold the reflector to the "professional".

Use reference images

But enough of the preface, at some point you would like to know how to find models. In this regard, I would like to break a lance for many models with whom I have been able to work over the past 15 years. Many of these models are very well able to judge your photographic qualities without you already having a large portfolio of people photos. If you have previously photographed landscapes, macros, plants, animals or whatever and you have succeeded in taking beautiful photos of these motifs, this will be sufficient for many potential models as a reference. You can see from this whether you are sufficiently creative and master your tools. So don't be afraid to use such photos as a reference.

My first model

I actually found my first model through fotocommunity. We both had long contact as "buddies" and later got to know each other at one or the other user meeting in Cologne. It is about Nati O. Nati is a semi-professional model, which means that she has a job, but also models in the professional field. We started talking and also came up with the topic of models and beginners. And at that time Nati said a very important sentence that is still important to me today:

If you want to take a photo of me, just ask. I won't say more than no.

So I asked and she didn't say “no” but “yes”. The basis for the yes was my photos, which she knew. But they weren't photos of people, but landscapes, macros, etc. A very important point was that I didn't insist on being able to publish the photos of the first shoot. I will go into this point in more detail later, because it is very important at the beginning. The shoot itself was actually quite successful, Nati had some experience, knew good places and knew how to move in front of the camera:

Even if the photos I took back then no longer meet my current requirements, they were sufficient for a few things:

  1. I had my first references from “people photography”.
  2. I was allowed to publish some photos.
  3. Nati also added some of the photos to her portfolio, so that other models also noticed me.

And one very important sentence that Nati said, I have remembered it to this day:

Talk to me.

What's behind it?

Talk to the model

The model doesn't see you, basically only the head behind a camera, the hands are on the camera. So there is no “feedback” in the form of gestures or facial expressions. However, this feedback is important for a good cooperation. By feedback I don't mean what I once experienced during a demonstration shoot at photokina: The photographer kept saying to the two models, who “happened” also playmates, “cute”, “great” and “sexy”. Something like that is just plain silly and unnecessary.

I do it differently, which admittedly was a process of getting used to.

I've got used to telling the model what I'm doing and why I'm doing it. It may be that I say: “Please hold still, I'll take two or three test shots for the settings”, then the model knows that she can relax and does not need a pose. But I also say, for example: "Put your right arm down a bit and turn your face a little to the right, otherwise you will have a shadow on your face that doesn't look pretty." But you shouldn't be afraid to say frankly if one The pose looks unfavorable or creates unsightly wrinkles. As long as this happens in a friendly and polite way and from the necessary distance, every model will be able to live with it.

Since I could write a lot more on this, there is an extra article on the subject of communication with the model.

Other models

The first step was done and a second shoot actually developed out of it (together with a second model and with a second photographer, coincidentally the second photographer was Norbert, another author from the photo school.) The shoot and the idea for it came up again at a user meeting of the fotocommunity as part of the photokina 2008. We had discovered an industrial ruin near the exhibition center and were able to convince Nati and Jette to come to the shoot, also because we had very specific ideas and ideas. Jette then also brought a friend who turned out to be a very talented Visa:

By the way, I am aware that you can do things differently and better with photos. Still, I am not afraid to show these old photos today as they also illustrate the story behind them.

What you can get from it for yourself: Your personal commitment and your willingness to maintain contacts is a very important component if you want to find models and is very important especially at the beginning of your "career" as a people photographer. With this type of contact, you are more likely to find models faster (and better ones) than if you only move around in virtual space. Good photos in this genre also have a lot to do with sympathy and that can be identified much faster in a personal encounter (e.g. at user meetings).

A very important point: learn to live with a rejection. A no only means that the model asked does not want to take photos with you. It is not a defeat or devaluation, but really just a no.

More ways to find models

In the end it is like this: As soon as you have the first good references, it becomes even easier with each further reference and if you work on yourself and take good photos, there comes a moment when the first model you ask says to you: " With pleasure! It's nice that you ask, I've always wanted to take photos with you. But I didn't dare to ask… ”.

Admittedly, to get that far, you have to invest a lot of work and energy, always have new ideas and stay active. It is also a good idea to combine two things: Take a lot of photos and not automatically insist on publication.

How does that fit together?

I started to take pictures at all kinds of events and "events" that were more of a private nature. Lots to photograph. Of course, this was always done in consultation with the organizer and the purpose of getting photos as a souvenir of his event.

This is how the above photo was taken at a vernissage of an artist friend. The young woman was a little "annoyed" by taking pictures at the beginning and made all kinds of grimaces. At some point she came and asked if I would publish the pictures, that wouldn't be okay with her. I truthfully denied this, but we got into a conversation and I was then able to show her other photos (my few references). In the meantime, of course, I have permission to publish this one photo above. And as inadequate as it may be, this contact resulted in a photo shoot some time later in the photographic implementation, during which, for example, this picture was taken:

I think one can be quite satisfied with such results as a result of more spontaneous contact.


Finding good models is not easy, but it is often easier than you might think. The paths I have described are not the last word in wisdom. I am certainly not writing the ultimate tricks here to find the best models, but simply trying to pass on experience that should help you to find the right way for you.

The main message of this article is: Be flexible, sociable and actively seek suitable encounters.

If you are interested, I will also write a second part in which I report on the other ways I have found quite exciting models (including nude photography). If you are interested, just leave a comment about it.

In my next article I will go into more detail on communication with the models.

Read more: How do you find a model? - You should pay attention to this in communication


Reading tip: Online photo course "Photo shoot with models"

In the photo shoot with models, everything revolves around models. In addition to suggestions on how to find models as a photographer and how to get your first photographic model shooting references, we give you tips on how to deal with models and TfP contracts and also take a look at the legal situation of photo shoots.

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