Modeling – how to become a model?

Today’s post is about modeling, complemented by my photos – find more on my Instagram. When I write about this industry, I don’t mean girls from ModelsMayhem, arranging TFP shoots or clothing sessions in local clothing stores. I’m talking about real professional models who participate in hundreds of castings, do fashion shows in Paris, or photo shoots in Shanghai.

Knowledge about modeling is limited, and the show “Top Model” doesn’t help the situation. It’s a typical show that doesn’t reflect the work of a model at all. Earlier, there was “Supermodels” show, which showed much more of the real life of future models, but for people not involved in the industry, such a program was completely uninteresting. There’s also “The Model Agency”. It showed what happens in a real model agency (cameras and microphones were installed, and later a documentary series was made), but the focus was on the people who deal with models – the scouts and bookers, and their adventures with the models.

Natalia Hajduk / Apple Model Management – Bangkok / Thailand

Most people assume that a model flies abroad for scheduled shoots or fashion shows, participates in them, and treats the rest of the time as a vacation. I was born in Poland and indeed, almost everything happens outside of Poland. In my country, mainly store shoots or various calendars are carried out – for such things, instead of real models, girls from local version of ModelMayhem are employed, who are not backed by any commission-collecting agency arranging their orders. Sometimes a good show comes up (there are really few of them) or sessions for magazines. So, if you want to take modeling seriously, it’s impossible to limit yourself to one place and it works like that in many countries.

Supermodels, i.e., the most sought-after ones known in the industry by everyone, mainly fly to pre-arranged jobs. They work on different terms, so this article does not apply to them. The rest of the girls have no guaranteed orders. They fly blindly to Milan or Beijing to spend several or even a dozen hours a day at castings. That’s what everything revolves around – there, you can get an order for a photo shoot or a fashion show, an appearance in a TV commercial, or become a hostess. It’s important how the girl presents herself live and what’s in her book (simply an album with printed photos – an analog portfolio). The book is created while still in homeland and is later only supplemented.

Many girls have already had some shoots, but not all – in that case, the agency can organize them. Such photos are made for money or created on TFP basis, so the photographer agrees to do them for free, and nobody pays anyone or could cost money. Which of these options will be applicable to you largely depends on the country – in some, paid tests are the norm, while in others they are extremely rare.


Photos taken for a model’s book are mainly so-called “tests”, which are images showcasing the girl in a natural way, without exaggerated styling, heavy makeup, and strong retouching.

Tests with Jenny from Kazakhstan / Sumon Models – Bangkok / Thailand

If the photo shoot is conducted for a fee, the agency will add the given amount to the model’s debt (often higher than its actual cost). The photographer hardly makes any money on paid tests – it’s usually max a few hundred USD for the whole thing (and it would be appropriate to give something to the makeup artist and other participants, but that’s a matter of agreement). Calculating the amount of time (planning the session, its execution, and retouching), doing tests in my homeland seems utterly unprofitable – during the same time, one can earn more on retouching alone than on such a session, so I never considered tests in commercial terms. If you come across new faces who later have a successful career, the photographer also gains popularity. Therefore, it is not always reasonable to consider tests solely from a financial perspective.

Tests with Weronika Sobańska / Claris Model Management – Poland

Regarding tests, both agencies and photographers can reach out to each other. All you need to do is send an email with an offer and your portfolio. However, keep in mind that if an agency contacts you, it’s often to send a complete beginner (“new face”) who is just planning to become a model. I often arranged meetings directly with the model rather than her agency, but it’s not always possible.

Modeling agencies sometimes use websites working like local ModelMayhem (in my country it is Maxmodels) to find photographers for tests – you can search for portfolios by location and find someone in the same place as the future model.

Tests with Lera from Ukraine / Apple Models – Bangkok / Thailand


Everything costs – airline tickets to New York, renting an apartment in London, or taking additional photos in Warsaw. The agency covers these expenses, but it doesn’t give the money away for free. In the end, the model will pay for everything – a commission for the agency managing her abroad (usually 50%) and the amount needed to repay the debt will be deducted from her earnings. If the girl doesn’t make any money, the agency loses. Therefore, it is in their interest to ensure that the models have many bookings. However, the debt is higher than the agency’s actual expenses for the model. For example, the cost of renting an apartment is inflated, but I will return to this later.

The agency will never ask the girl for cash to take photos or for anything else. If they do, you should run away as quickly as possible because it is definitely not a company dealing with modeling. A genuine modeling agency will use its own funds and deduct the expenses later from the model’s salary (meaning the costs will be included in the mentioned debt). Pocket money is also included in the debt.

Pocket Money

This is a small amount given to the model every week, meant to cover current expenses (including transportation to castings and assignments, food, etc.). The amount of pocket money depends on the country and agency, in Thailand it’s about $50/week.

If the model doesn’t do well and doesn’t even earn enough to repay the debt, the agency loses – the girl doesn’t return the money from her own pocket. If the girl returns to the agency that experienced a loss due to her, the debt may still apply. However, it is not transferred to the mother agency (meaning the agency from homeland, with which she signed a contract and which arranges international trips.

Magda Alice / Zoom-Evrika Model Management – Bangkok / Thailand


A mother agency searches for the best place where a model can perform well at the moment. It takes care of all formalities, and then the girl goes to the airport on her own. Upon arrival in Berlin or Tokyo, she is taken over by the agency cooperating with the mother agency. She goes from the airport to their headquarters. This foreign agency will guide the model to castings and rent her an apartment – almost always shared with other girls (and don’t expect it to be a luxurious place). Nothing here is done for the models at cost. One of the ways agencies make money is by renting an apartment for 1000 Euros, moving 10 models in, and charging each of them, for example, 600 Euros.

Some adult models decide to work on their own – without a mother agency. In that case, they search for an agency in the country they are interested in. If the girl is to their liking and terms are agreed upon, a contract is signed (if it’s exclusive, this agency becomes the “mother agency”). This makes them more independent, and only one intermediary charges a commission instead of two. However, this is usually a solution for experienced models and is more difficult to achieve. Many agencies will not even consider such cooperation with a girl they don’t know.

Liza Kaylee – Bangkok / Thailand

As I mentioned earlier, to save some money, sometimes models can rent an apartment on their own instead of taking the agency’s apartment. It is often more profitable but involves additional formalities on the part of the model, and of course, finding a suitable place. The same applies to airplane flights. Unfortunately, it’s often not possible, especially if the model hasn’t worked for them before.

What brings in the money?

Certainly not magazines, especially prestigious ones. Both photographers and models don’t do them for money, but for prestige. A photographer who creates campaigns for tens of thousands may do Vogue for very small amount per page, and the model for even less. Of course, it doesn’t mean that the budget for a photoshoot is so low – it’s huge. However, that’s a completely separate matter and has no bearing on earnings (the budget is allocated to accommodation, flights, scenography, equipment, and everything necessary to carry out the project). There are photoshoots for magazines that offer good compensation, but generally, it’s not the case. The real big money for models is in commercials, which include TV ads. That’s why a good model should also have acting skills (they will play out the advertised scene during the casting, so such castings are very long). Models can also make money on fashion shows, being hostesses at various events, and of course, in advertising campaigns. The type of assignments a girl will do largely depends on her beauty type; different models are chosen for ads and others for high fashion shoots.

Not just work

A model’s life is not just about work. There is often more free time on weekends, and there are also quiet periods (e.g., holidays). After castings and assignments, there is also time for entertainment. However, sometimes a casting plus assignment can last about 15 hours, and you may not feel like doing anything afterward. If you still have the energy, you can explore, catch up on schoolwork, or party. It’s hard to get bored in the world’s fashion capitals. There are also closed parties exclusively for industry people, and it may be in the agency’s interest for their girls to appear there.

One of the advantages of being a white model in China/Asia is that you can sit in a bar/restaurant and drink (mediocre) cocktails for free or even get paid for it. After all, such girls raise the prestige of the venue and attract customers.

When to start?

At the age of 16, things start to happen. Before that, not all assignments can be done (e.g., you cannot participate in fashion shows in Paris, although the compliance with this rule varies). This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t apply to an agency earlier – it takes time to build a portfolio, and trips can be made at a much younger age.

It can also happen that someone is spotted by a scout, a person responsible for finding new faces. The scout tries to find interesting girls and direct them to the agency they work with. They may be employed full-time at the agency or earn extra money this way – if the model referred by them turns out to be a good choice, they will receive their commission. When I started in photography, I was offered a choice between cash and participating in international sessions to observe “what and how” for finding a model.

Tests with Maria from Russia / Apple Models – Bangkok / Thailand

If a girl shows great potential, an agency may sign her at the age of 13 (or even earlier), even though it’s uncertain if she will reach the required height or if her appearance will develop in the right direction. If everything works out well, it’s better to have such a girl in the agency than to let the competition have her. Even at such a young age, many assignments can be done; the best example is 8-year-old Kristina Pimenova (many people, when hearing about this, start discussions about “lack of childhood” – in their opinion, childhood means playing in the mud and with toys).

Every mother agency will want to sign an exclusive contract (for several years – usually 3, although they may propose a much longer contract). The longer the contract, the more it pays off for them to invest in such a girl – at least in theory. You can leave the agency by bearing the consequences stipulated in the agreement or by mutual agreement of both parties. If the model decides to leave before the contract ends, the agency cannot recover the debt if there is any; therefore, they may want the model to pay it back or have it covered by the agency she moves to. However, these are matters that are always dealt with individually.

Which modeling agency to choose?

It is impossible to determine which modeling agency is the best – you can find excellent opinions about each one, as well as very critical ones. Sometimes they are justified, sometimes not. An unsatisfied girl may have stopped being sent to trips or castings, but when writing about it on a forum, she may have forgotten to mention that she was hungover from last night’s party and had dark circles and bloodshot eyes. One model may not be liked at castings at all, while another from the same agency may get every assignment… and in another country (or even a year later in the same place) the situation may be reversed…

Alex Love / Area Management – Bangkok / Thailand

Many agencies publish information about where they are sending their girls at the moment, so you can get an idea of whether there is any activity in them. However, there may be so much happening that there was simply no time left for Instagram updates…

The vast majority of girls will not be taken by any modeling agency. The fact that parents and friends say, “you could be a model” means only that the girl hears the same thing as half of her friends. Just like a child playing with a toy fire truck “will be a firefighter,” and the one riding a go-kart “will definitely become a race car driver.” In the same way, almost every girl “could be a model.”

Application to an agency and casting

Once the agencies worth applying to have been selected (there is no reason why there can’t be more than one), an email should be sent to them with your measurements, weight, age, place of residence, phone number (there may also be additional communicators like Skype, WhatsApp, Line etc.), and of course photos. From time to time, various girls send me questions about whether they could be models – it’s almost unbelievable how often these messages do not contain a single photo.

Agencies often respond only to selected girls. If they like someone, they will most likely inform her within a maximum of a few weeks (patience is very useful in this profession). Then it’s time to come to the agency for a scheduled meeting. At the meeting, measurements and height will be checked, and a short conversation will be held, including topics such as school, travel possibilities, etc.

Kitty from Belarus / A1 Models – Bangkok / Thailand


As I mentioned earlier, everything starts with a girl sending her photos to modeling agencies. However, this does not mean party pictures or cute photos with a bottle of bleach and a toilet brush in the background. Aspiring models need to provide their polaroids. All other photos will end up in the trash, so it’s better not to include them – at this stage, no one wants to sift through them. Even professional photoshoots are of little use; only polaroids count.

A polaroid is an unretouched photo, in this case showing the person without makeup and styling. The first shot presents the face from the front, the second one is a profile with hair tied back in a ponytail. Such photos (of the face only) must be taken from a distance of at least 1 meter (about 3 feet). You can use optical zoom and focus on the face or crop the face from a wider shot if the camera allows for it while maintaining the appropriate quality. If the camera is too close, the girl will send a caricature of her face instead (with an oversized nose, a large forehead, and ears folded somewhere at the back of her head). The next photos should show the entire figure in a bikini – from the front and profile (and ideally also a third one – from the back). These photos should be taken against a uniform background. It doesn’t have to be studio-like – an orange bedroom wall will suffice.

model polaroids

Agencies also take polaroids of their models. You can find many examples on Google.


What happens next depends mainly on the agency, while work and earnings depend specifically on the agency one ends up with abroad. However, the mother agency must send the model there, and it can vary. Simply getting into an agency does not mean starting a “career.” It’s just the very beginning. Many girls stay in their home country, doing nothing. But it’s essential to try. Career stagnation often occurs because of school – education and exams block many girls. Sometimes it’s possible to negotiate with the school administration, sometimes not.

It’s very likely that everything I wrote in this article is obvious to you – after all, if you’re reading my blog, you’re probably somehow involved in this industry. However, almost all “normal” people have a completely wrong understanding of what modeling looks like.