Creative Collaborations: Finding a Model

In this blog I would like to discuss creative collaborations and how to find a model for your photography. When I started my professional job as a studio portrait photographer in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 2008 I didn’t really know what I was doing. I had been trained for a few days in a studio style but I wasn’t exactly a seasoned portrait photographer; to tell the truth, I was scared to death on my first solo shoot – a person I didn’t know, using equipment that wasn’t mine, in a style that I found a little strange, working to a strict deadline and all the while having someone look over your shoulder to make sure you don’t slip up. It was after a few months that I found my place within the studio and I started to get a serious interest in photographing people – and the need to practice arose.

But how to find someone to sit for you when everyone you know doesn’t like to be photographed, or lives abroad, or are unavailable/ unsuitable for your shoot? Back in 2008 I didn’t have the funds to go out and buy props, let alone pay a (professional) model for her time. But there are several ways around this which are useful, especially if you are still learning.

Please do note that these are not tricks to get a professional model for free, but you may be lucky enough to get a great model to work with you on an amazing project on an equal exchange basis. If you are interested in learning quicker and you have willing to spend some cash on your personal development as a photographer, I highly recommend hiring a professional model instead.


1. Facebook

Not the easiest option, but useful if you have a large network. You may know someone via a friend that has the perfect looks and location for your project. You already have a friend in common, that might want to join you on the day of the shoot which can make things more fun and relaxed. Do NOT spam or harass strangers because you think they like you or your photography. Do not act like a perv. Do not act like a stalker. Ask polite and if the answer is no, thank them for taking the time to respond and then back away. So far I have only scouted 1 person via Facebook where I posted a casting call on the page of a local  photography group I belong to.

Rui, wet plate collodion on clear glass

Rui, wet plate collodion on clear glass

2. Gumtree / local ads

A tricky option, but useful if you are looking for non-professional sitters. You can either offer a few free shoots to attract some people if you are looking for portraits or lifestyle shots or ask for people on a specific project. I recently posted an ad on Gumtree asking for ‘normal people’ to sit for a wet-plate portrait and after the shoot, I sent them the scans of all the plates taken. The good side to this was having a few enthusiasts come over to see the wet plate collodion process up close – the downside being that you might have less commitment to the shoot (it’s just a bit of fun and not career-building) and they might not be able to fulfill the brief (stand STILLLLLLL!!!) The best part was having a couple of completely different faces in front of the camera, all with their own beauty.

Gumtree is more specific to the UK, I’m sure the same would apply for Craigslist in the US and alternative sites for other countries.

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3. Model / photographer sites

This is probably your best bet. There are a few sites, all with their own audience and flavour, where creative come together to show their work and look for possible collaborations. Some portfolios on these sites are simply stunning, as are the models. They cater for people all over the world and will be useful if you live in a crowded area (big cities) or if you are about the travel and have some spare time to shoot. Sometimes you’ll find the person you’d most like to photograph lives on the other side of the planet and you’ll have to ‘settle’ for someone closer to home. Not all models will work TF*, which you should respect.

Model Mayhem

I’ve personally been part of this site since 2009 and I still like it a lot. You can make your own free profile and portfolio after submitting a few sample images of your work, featuring people. Do not worry about this too much, I don’t think anyone is likely to get rejected on basis of their initially provided material. After being accepted, you can make use of all the features of the site, the best being the ‘casting calls’, short adverts made by members asking for collaborations on specific projects or dates. You will be able to post your own to look for models and with a bit of luck you’ll get the person(s) you need. The downside on Modelmayhem is the amount of flaky people that just stop responding to messages or don’t show up at the shoot.

Jack Cooke by Yvette Bessels

Jack Cooke by Yvette Bessels


I just created an account on this site today as most of my photography friends have been raving about it and focus seems to have shifted from Model Mayhem. You need to add your experience from the get-go and submit 4 images to have your account reviewed for acceptance. The basic account is free to create but there seem to be a few added features on the site that you won’t be able to use without paying for an account. Like Model Mayhem, they have a casting call section to find the people you need for your project. I immediately found 2 people I would like to work with and I am hopeful I will be able to scout others in the near future.


I joined this site a number of years ago and maybe used it for a few months. The members on this site seemed mostly interested in shooting topless/ nude/ adult images and most models did not seem very interested in building a serious portfolio. Needless to say I did not use it for long – but I also do not know if and how it may have changed over time. It may be worth a go if you are looking for nude models.


This site is new to me and I have not actually used it. Judging from the latest forum posts it’s nice to see there is a thread specific for paid work, but all of it seems geared towards getting models into the adult industry. It might be worth a go, you never know who is out there and you may find someone if you are looking for nude models.

There are numerous other sites out there, some more locally geared than others, so do a Google search for ‘photographer models site’ and you’ll be sure to come up with a few good addresses.

Making arrangements


So, you have found someone you’d like to photograph. What’s next?


First up, and this should be obvious: be polite when writing a message. If a potential model says no, it’s no. Don’t be rude or pushy. Use full sentences and DO NOT WRITE IN CAPS!

Second, know what you want to shoot. It’s fine to discuss ideas with the model (it’s very much recommended even) but don’t ask to photograph someone if you have no clue what you’ll be doing. Be able to offer some ideas. Once you are talking to a model, set a location, date and time. He or she may want to bring an escort for safety reasons – you can refuse or make objections if you feel it may interfere with the shoot (like a family tagging along with a small baby, or an overly talkative or jealous partner), but you can also allow it and involve the third party by having them assist you in guarding equipment or holding reflectors or lights. It will make the model feel more safe, but not always more relaxed.

Then, make sure to offer something to the model in exchange for their time – TF* meaning Time For – and he/ she will expect to receive at least a few of your best images via cd, e-mail or filesharing server or, a little less common these days, hard copy prints. Talk about this before the shoot. I share only jpeg files both large (for them to print) and small (to use on social media), never TIFF or RAW files. Not only do you need specialised software to see or edit the TIFF and RAW files, they normally serve as my proof of ownership and unless you are happy to share that, do not send those out. Set yourself an editing time limit and stick to it; let them know if you’ll be late with your images. It can be frustrating for models to do TF* shoots and not have anything to show for it in the end, this exercise is meant to be beneficial to both parties.

The last thing you will need to consider when photographing ANY person, not just a professional model, is a release form. There are numerous forms to be downloaded online for free, or you could make your own quite easily – I normally use a basic form like this model release typed

A model release is needed should you decide to use your image commercially in the future. This could mean selling the image to magazines or newspapers, but also if you want to use the image online for your portfolio, selling prints/ products or if you want to display it in physical or online galleries. Not having a model release means that the rights to image may be automatically yours as you are the creator of the image, but the person the image belongs to (the face, body or part thereof) can force you to withdraw it from the public eye. Also, you don’t want to be a dick and it’s better to sort these things out beforehand. 😉

Now, my pretties – with the very best of good luck wishes, go forth and find yourself a model!

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