Modeling Tips: What You Need Know About the Industry

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The term “modeling” is certainly evocative, but it doesn’t just mean runway or couture. These days, there are tons of opportunities in print, commercial, and beyond, perfect for an actor contemplating becoming a model, or talent that’s new to the business altogether. Before getting started, though, heed the below words of wisdom from the experts on getting into the modeling industry.

In commercial modeling, there’s room for all.

“Unlike fashion modeling—which requires women be between 5’9-6’0 feet tall with 34/24/34 measurements, and men to be 6’0-6’2 feet tall with a 40 jacket size—commercial modeling is open to a much more diverse array of people. It’s rare for fashion models to have real success without a very specific look desired by the agency, and if a person is older than 21 and hasn’t already been working in the fashion industry for a few years, it will be very difficult to get signed by an agency and hired for fashion shows.

“But if you don’t have any interest in working as a fashion model or, like most of us, you weren’t born with the DNA and stats needed to work in the fashion industry, I have some great news for you.

“Meet commercial modeling: a whole division of the industry that doesn’t have height, weight, or age restrictions. Where all types of people are needed. Where kids, teens, adults, seniors, and even infants are hired. That offers many categories and roles. If you can believably look like the doctor, nurse, grandparent, banker, real estate agent, athlete, yoga instructor, student, mom, teacher, biker, patient, etc., you will be considered for commercial modeling work.” — Aaron Marcus, actor, model, and author of “How to Become a Successful Actor and Model”

Know the difference between acting and modeling headshots

Modeling headshots typically feature performers wishing to be cast in fashion and beauty advertising. An amazing model is going to be skilled at communicating through their eyes, knowing how movement and light shapes their face. Editorial and fashion modeling is about selling a lifestyle. The goal of fashion or beauty ads tends to be about creating fantasy around a product versus having the audience relate to the person in the advertisement.

“Modeling headshots tend to be more artistic and flatter the subject. They say less about who a person is and more about how they are capable of appearing. There is a greater emphasis on the mood, lighting, and artistic merit of the photograph. Makeup, lighting, composition, and retouching are used to creatively flatter the subject and remove the flaws. There may or may not be eye contact in the model headshot.” — Marc Cartwright, L.A.-based headshot and editorial photographer

The camera can detect your confidence (and lack thereof)

"Wait until you’re really confident and love yourself for who you are on the inside and not just what you look like. Sometimes you’re being picked over other girls and sometimes you’re not. It can [turn into], Why didn’t they like me or want me? You need to be strong or else it’s not going to help your confidence. Start searching for agencies that have working models on their board. Google agencies and you’ll see people who say they’ll put you on their board if you pay $1,000 for your book. You don’t need to do that. If an agent likes you, they’ll pay for your book up front and as you work you pay them back. [When submitting] take polaroids with no makeup whatsoever. You want to be a blank canvas.” — Chloe Marshall, working model

Know the modeling industry and yourself

“Educate yourself. Try to speak to as many people who are in the field [as] you can to get advice. There’s a lot to learn. You wouldn’t go to a volleyball tryout without having any kind of training...

“If you have a quirky personality, we want to know that. You’re not just a pretty face. We want to know who this person that we’re sitting in front of is. Yes, she’s got the right measurements, but what’s in there? What’s her purpose? What drives her?” — Francis Arden, MSA Models’ Los Angeles agency director

Modeling requires you to work on your craft

“It is a craft so you should be looking in magazines and in catalogs, and seeing what the girls are doing. Practice in the mirror so you know your angles and your body and where your body looks best. The best models practice. It sounds awkward and weird but get in front of the mirror. Get your friend to take pictures of you.

“Your hands are the most awkward part of you. No one knows what to do with their hands. Figure out how to do it so your hand doesn’t look like a claw. When a girl is testing I immediately look at the hands because that’s what shows me she knows what she’s doing.” — Gary Dakin, modeling agent

Know your look, accept your look, embrace your look

“I feel when people first get into the business they don’t understand what they might get booked for. If a producer wants a cheerleader, they’re going to get someone a lot closer in age, not a 40-year-old mom trying to relive her cheerleading days. [Similarly], a 25-year-old is not going to play a CEO of a Fortune 500 company. People come in sometimes with a three-piece suit—when are you realistically going to use that? Whatever your look is—trendy or bookish or studious—that’s what your look is.” — Joe Thompson, agent at Abrams Artists Agency

Acting skills can make you a better model

“If the ad is for a pharmaceutical product and the model needs to show pain, feel uncomfortable or show relief, then the actor/commercial model needs to tap into all of his acting skills and not only show that look, but give the photographer many choices. All of my years of acting classes kick in during photo shoots. I treat commercial modeling jobs like any acting job. I will talk with the photographer and find out exactly what is happening with my character, figure out exactly what the character is thinking and feeling, and then transform that information into a variety of layers of emotions and expressions. And, keep this going for hours at a time. I view commercial modeling jobs as acting gigs without words.

“Possessing these acting skills will allow the photographer and creative directors from ad agencies to concentrate on the technical aspects of the shoot, and not be worried if the talent can capture the look that is needed for the ad. This is why photographers love hiring actors for commercial modeling jobs.” — Aaron Marcus

Ready to get out there? Check out Backstage's modeling audition listings!

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