Model casting

It goes without saying that a hugely important part of a successful photoshoot is finding the right model. You can start by browsing model agencies’ websites where you can see a gallery of all the models on their books, but don’t use this as a menu to choose from. The models featured may well be supermodels massively out of your budget or those permanently based in another country and with their international agency. The best thing to do is call up the agency and ask them who is available on your shoot date and for your budget. If you have further information about the type of appearance you would like (athletic, very tall, redhead etc) then let them know so they can tailor the selection they make for you, but try not to be too limiting particularly if you have a smaller budget – you may think you only want a brunette but then be wowed by a blonde who turns up and is the perfect fit.

The agency will want to know how you intend to use the images (on your website, in social media, in print publications etc), in which countries you intend to use them and for how long – this is what’s called the ‘image usage’. Try and detail every possible scenario of usage, it often doesn’t make much difference to the overall cost but you know that you are covered if you get the opportunity to use the image in an affiliate’s email newsletter and you won’t get an unexpected additional usage invoice sent through (which would usually be for a lot more than if you’d included that usage at the quoting stage). Make sure you state your budget from the start, if you know you can’t afford to pay a penny more than £500 make sure that they know that – agencies will generally add 20% fee on to the model rate for their own fees so make sure they are upfront about this too and give you an ‘all in’ cost. The agency will then send you a ‘package’ (selection) of models that match your requirements, with links to look at all of their online portfolio. Have a good look through all of the shots and see which models might suit your shoot. Try to have a bit of an open mind too, don’t be swayed by the styling or makeup, remember you’re looking at the model. If none of the models are right, tell the agency – it could be that they had send you a selection of models that they would prefer to take the job so always ask if there is anyone else who might work.

When looking through the models, keep your shoot mood board and target customer in mind. The worst thing to do is just pick the most attractive/prettiest models – a very pretty model can often look too chocolate-box and actually put off customers. Take a closer look at the images on your moodboard, what is it about the models that works and resonates with you – their hair, their expression, their coolness, the fact that they look a bit Parisian or a bit girl-next-door? Make sure you look for the same thing in the models.

When you have chosen some models you like (and you should have contacted several agencies so have a decent selection by now), ask if they can come in for a casting. A casting is where the model will turn up to see you in person, with their portfolio. You will not have to pay for this and you are under no obligation to book a model because they have been to a casting so get as many models along as you want. I would generally suggest you choose a time slot of 1-3 hours on one day and ask the agencies to send models in at some point during that time. Find a spot in your office or home with a blank wall if you can so that you can take a photo of them and set up camp and wait for them to arrive. Unless you really don’t know what you want or have lots of time to kill I wouldn’t suggest holding an open casting – this is where you ask the agency to send anyone along during your time slot. I’ve done this before and ended up with queues of models round the block and 4 hours of hand-shaking, page turning and smiling and no memory of who I’d seen and whether I liked them.

When the model arrives, have a look through their portfolio but don’t focus too much on this as the images will generally be on the agency’s website. Instead, have a quick chat with them – ask them where they’re from, how long they’ve been modelling and what jobs they’ve been working on recently – so that you can get a sense of their personality. Some things to consider:

Do they speak the same language as you and understand what you’re saying? If you have trouble communicating with them at the casting it will likely be very hard on the day of the shoot to ask them to project a certain feeling or even move a foot slightly in one direction.

Do they seem to be warm, friendly and confident? You’re going to spend a day with this model asking them to strike poses, change clothes and be on their feet all day – it’s not much fun working with a difficult model and if this is your first photoshoot you really want someone who is going to make it easier for you.

Take some photos of them. Images in a model’s portfolio can often be a bit misleading or even very old, so take your own shots too for your reference. Use your own camera or phone and take a full length shot from the front, side and back, as well as a headshot. If relevant, make sure that the model has her hair up as well as down in the shots so you can see her face as well as her hair, and that she is wearing something relatively form fitting so you can see her body – if you are shooting swimwear or any other specific garment, make sure you have some there for the model to change into for the shot (it’s usually a good idea to let the agency know this in advance if you are shooting swimwear or lingerie so they can ensure that model’s are prepared for the situation). Make sure you can clearly see the most relevant part of the model for your shoot – if you are shooting shoes, take a picture of the model’s feet and toes; if you are shooting accessories, make sure the model’s hands are attractive and well groomed.

It’s ideal if you can get the photographer (or art director if you’re using one) to come along to the casting as they will be able to advise you as to which models move the best, have the best posture or the nicest bone structure to pick up the lights. If they don’t come to the casting, make sure you send them your favourites before the actual shoot (either ask the models to visit the photographer or send them your shots) and gather their feedback.

Take a card
The model should always have a card in their portfolio that they can leave behind with a potential client, make sure you take one from each model you see. It’s a good idea to get one of the shots you take to be the model holding their card too so you can clearly identify who they are when you’re flicking through the images later on. If the model doesn’t have a card, write their name and their agency on a piece of paper and get them to hold that in a shot. When the model has left you can put their card in a pile – yes, no or maybe to help your decision-making after the casting.

Once you have a shortlist of models, you can contact the agency and let them know. You will be able to put an ‘Option’ on a model for the date of your shoot which is essentially reserving them – a First Option means that the model has no other potential bookings and you are first in the queue to book them whereas a Second Option means that someone else got there before you and you have to wait to see if they cancel before you an have a first option. Don’t be disheartened if you only have a second option on your favourite model, clients will often put options on several models at a time while they make up their mind, just keep chasing the agency to see if your option has moved up the ladder. It’s a good idea to put an option on more than one model if you’re unsure so that you have your bases covered, the agency will let you know when you have to confirm by. However if you are confident you have found the right model for your shoot, go ahead and confirm.

For more advice on organising a photography shoot, read our post here.



About Ruth Cozens:
Co-founder of Sitorial, Ruth has worked in fashion eCommerce for over ten years. She started her fashion career at Net-a-Porter and has since gone on to work for a host of big retail names including ASOS, Marks & Spencer, Arcadia and where she ran the creative side of the business and held a place on the exec team.