Does Modeling Cost Money?

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If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: “Never pay to become a model.” It’s true that you should never have to pay for a modeling application or to be signed by an agency—but there are legitimate fees you should expect if you’re pursuing a modeling career.

The exact fees will vary slightly depending on which agency a model signs with, their market or region, and the types of jobs they book. However, there are some standard modeling fees—ones you should budget for accordingly, whether that’s on a monthly, yearly, or one-time basis. From modeling agency fees to the cost of studio equipment, here’s how much it really costs to become a professional model.

Website Fees

I’m sure you’re well aware that by visiting agency websites you can quickly browse through the thumbnails of all the models in which the agency currently represents. This allows clients to be able to sort through model images, select some of their favorites, and request said models to meet the client at a casting (or even direct book the model from their photos).

As a result, a large percentage of agencies will charge a web fee in order to host your modeling portfolio on their site. This is a one-time, yearly fee that’s generally taken out of the first paycheck you earn through the agency. It’s not typical for this to come out of your pocket if you haven’t booked work yet. Yearly fees for agency websites tend to range from $150–$300 on average.

In addition, some modeling agencies require their models to upload their portfolio to websites for use in submitting the model to castings. These sites are typically on a monthly subscription or the model can pay annually. Generally speaking, the monthly fees are no more than $25.

Portfolio Development and Comp Card Fees

Your portfolio is what sells you as a model. A client needs to quickly be able to flip through your modeling portfolio and see that you have the ability to deliver a myriad of poses, facial expressions, and that you fit their brand identity. So the biggest bulk of a model’s investment for the year tends to be for their test shoots. Test shoots are shoots conducted as a way to develop and update your portfolio and you’ll often pay for a test shoot 2–3 times a year to refresh your book.

Portfolio development test shoot fees can range from $500–$1,000 per shoot on average depending on a range of factors such as the level of the photographer, whether the shoot is in-studio or on-location, whether it’s beauty or full body shots, etc. Be sure when discussing fees that you find out if the rate the photographer is charging includes a make-up artist and a stylist as a package deal. For new aspiring models, I generally don’t recommend you spend more than $700 to begin your portfolio.

Once you have updated portfolio images, it’s often a good time to get new comp cards made with some photo updates. Your agency will often print your comp card for you and take the fees directly out of your paycheck or you can use a print service to print them yourself. Comp card fees for the year are typically no more than $100.

Wardrobe Fees

It goes without saying that as a model, you’re expected to look stylish to play the role. But not to worry! This doesn’t mean you need to break the bank. However, there will be times when you need to update your wardrobe to include basic pieces. Such wardrobe essentials include skinny black heels, skinny jeans, solid color tank tops and fitted t-shirts, white Converse or Keds type sneakers, a simple black or brown backpack to toss in your daily items for castings, etc.

You can typically achieve your basic everyday wardrobe needs for castings and potential bookings for $500 or less per year unless you push the envelope and go designer.

Basic Studio Equipment

Although this next suggestion is not a must, it’s becoming more standard for clients to have models and actors self-tape from home to limit in-person auditions. As a result, it’s highly recommended that models make a one-time investment by purchasing either a large ring light or softbox lights. Softbox lights typically come in a set of two. This allows for higher video and photo quality to take your updated model digitals, introduction videos, and auditions tapes when requested by your agency. A ring light and softbox can be purchased for around $80 each.

It would also behoove you to buy a basic white drop cloth which you can find for around $40 to use as a backdrop should you not have a solid white wall at home where they can do your photos and tapings.

While other small ad hoc fees may pop up in the year, these are the general costs of modeling you should expect. Fees may fluctuate from year to year depending on the agency or agencies you’re signed with, what updates are needed to your portfolio, and what items you may have previously purchased that are already crossed off your list from the year prior. Since some of these fees are never directly out of pocket and are taken from what’s earned through the agency, the overall yearly fees to pursue your career are generally able to be handled with proper planning.

Looking for remote work? Backstage has got you covered! Click here for auditions you can do from home!

The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

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Kamla-Kay McKenzie
Kamla-Kay is a professional agency-signed model in the USA and Cape Town, South Africa. She has modeled for brands such as The Ritz-Carlton, Disney, Stella McCartney, Atlantis Bahamas, IT Cosmetics, and Ashley Home Store to name a few. Kamla-Kay is also a modeling coach where she teaches aspiring models through her social media channels and private masterclass course how to increase their odds of getting agency signed, avoid scams, and build a strong model portfolio.
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