I get this question all the time. It shows up frequently in my inbox; friends and acquaintances ask me this at parties.
It’s a hard question to answer—you can’t tell someone the intricacies of an entire career in one email or party conversation. Modeling, like any other skill set, is rather complex. I also don’t know how much the person in question has researched modeling, or what ideas (and misconceptions) they might have. I want to help them as much as I can, so I do my best to outline the basics and warn them away from common pitfalls. Unfortunately, there are just too many topics to cover them all.
I recently had a lovely young woman contact me on Facebook with this same question. She was 18, just finishing high school, and wanted to know if I had any advice for someone interested in pursuing art modeling as a career once she graduated. I found myself trying to concoct a list of everything I had learned in the past five years about modeling, positive and negative, and distill it down into one email response.
I warned her that modeling is hard work, and not to be drawn to it just for the pretty pictures. I told her that very few freelance models can make a living doing only non-nude work, because nudity is a marketable commodity. That most hours you work as a freelancer is unpaid, and that there is an expiration date on a modeling career. That many freelance models have to travel for work regularly, and that although it’s very fun, it can also be unexpectedly stressful.
After typing up several pages of bullet points, links, and lists, I ended the email by encouraging her to ask me if she had any further questions, and to let me know if she ended up trying modeling or not.
I never heard back from her.
Once I figured out that I wasn’t going to get a response, I realized something else: I hadn’t answered her question correctly. I knew it was an inefficient use of my time to write up several hours’ worth of information for one person, but I ignored that because I enjoy helping new models so much. What I didn’t understand was that my answer was also an inefficient use of her time, because I never figured out what she actually needed to know to succeed as a model. I just vomited a bunch of general information at her, and hoped that she would find what she needed by sifting through the resulting muck.
* * *
I’ve mentored several new models through their first art shoot. Some of them are accomplished models in other fields but have never shot nude before, while for others it’s their first time in front of the camera. Working with new models is quite honestly one of the most fulfilling parts of my job; I adore seeing people learning, growing, and getting excited about the process.
However, I approach these mentoring sessions in a completely different way than I answered people asking for advice. I don’t try to tell a new model everything about modeling before they start posing. I know that too much information would be intimidating and overwhelming.
Instead, I start out as a cheerleader. I encourage them to get in front of the camera, try it out and have fun. Only once a new model is comfortable and actually modeling do I start to give advice. And not just any advice: I don’t try to give a lecture on all of the general modeling knowledge that I’ve collected over the years. I only give specific, targeted, actionable advice. I don’t tell them the philosophy and art history behind different posing styles; I show them a better way to hold their hands so that they look natural in pictures.
Now when I have a potential new model ask for generic modeling advice, I follow the same system that I know works for helping new models in person. Instead of trying to list every pitfall that I can think of to avoid, I encourage them to just got out and try it. And when I do give advice, I make sure that it is directed at a specific problem. If I’m not approached about a specific situation, I ask for clarification rather than giving general information.
That said, I can give one general piece of advice to help avoid this problem: no matter what you’re interested in (be it writing, modeling, or computer programming), do your research, and definitely ask people in the field for information. Just try to ask specific questions.
“How do I become a professional model?” is too vague of a question to give you a useful answer. Just like the young woman who asked me for general advice, all you will get is generalities. Even “How can I pose well?” is too broad of a topic. But if you ask me, “How can I improve my hand positions when I pose?” or “What system do you use to keep track of bookings?” I can give you a direct, concrete answer.
I want to help you succeed, and I’m pretty sure most experts want to help other people too. Having a specific question with a concrete answer will make that easier. You’ll get better results, and other people will be able to help you improve.