If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time now, you know that it’s no secret: If you want to get ahead in this industry, you need to be located in a major fashion market. If you’re not, you need to find a way to get there. But what to do in the meantime? Not everybody has the capacity to uproot themselves and move across the country or the world. Don’t fret. There’s still a lot you can do to get the ball rolling.
You can start building a portfolio right where you are now.
If you live in or near a medium to large sized city, chances are there is a modeling or talent agency you may be able to get started with. It may come as a surprise, but not every great model comes from Europe or Brazil or New York or Los Angeles. Lindsey Wixson is from Kansas. Karlie Kloss grew up in St. Louis. Arizona Muse hails from…. you guessed it, Arizona. But apparently she grew up in Santa Fe. Doesn’t matter because many great models get started at smaller agencies that often wind up placing them with larger agencies in the major markets. Call ‘em up. Let them know you live in their area and are looking to test with some of their models. Testing with these smaller agencies is a great way to start building your book and working with better models. The other potential benefit is a result of your local agency placing models in larger markets. Chances are the booker in your city may place their next best model in a major market and perhaps if you build a solid relationship with them, they will be willing to connect you to other agencies in the cities you are interested in pursuing.
Shot on Location in Dallas
Forgo your poolside vacation in Cancun in favor of a
week of tests in a major market.
So you’ve been shooting tests with some of the local models and you’re starting to put together a book? Ready to take the next step? It’s time to put yourself out there. Try planning a short trip to New York, Los Angeles, or maybe Miami to do some shooting for your portfolio. But how do you go about booking models in another city? Same as back home. Call the agencies. Email them. Reach out and tell them you’re going to be in town and are looking to shoot a few tests while you’re there. Before I took my first trip to LA, I called every agency I could think of. Some said no. Some never even responded. But a couple said yes. And there’s the foot in the door.
Attitude is everything.
In my experience, how you approach people will heavily influence the outcome. My first agency experience started from a “what can I do for you” standpoint. If you walk in the door making demands and expecting the booker to cater to your wants and needs, you’re probably not going to get very far. Being from a non-market, you’re already starting out in the hole. Don’t make it worse by having a bad attitude. Ask them who they have that need pictures. Does he or she need a new headshot for his or her comp card? Does the model need a cute smiley picture? Is her book too heavy on a particular style and lacking in another? Don’t get me wrong. What works in a model’s book may not be the best thing for yours, but there has to be a trade off. Get that simple, clean headshot out of the way so the booker is happy; then shoot something that’s going to look great in your portfolio. They’ll love you that much more. And maybe for your next test, they’ll send you a package with more experienced models. Win-win situation. I highly recommend doing this in every major market if possible. This will give you a better feel for which city might be the best fit for your style and for you personally when the time comes that you are ready and able to move. Yes I know travel can be expensive. But if you plan well, maybe you can go to a different city a couple times a year and cram several shoots into a week or even a long weekend. And if you’re good at bargain hunting, it’s definitely possible to do it fairly cheaply. And when you leave, stay in touch with the agency so they don’t forget you.
Worry about what you can control.
It’s easy to get discouraged about things out of your control, especially when you’re first starting. Yes, it’s hard to gain access to good models and good wardrobe, particularly for an unknown from the middle of nowhere. But if you continuously push yourself and your pictures get better, you will eventually gain access to these things. Good stylists want to work with good photographers. Keep working relentlessly on YOU and the rest will come with time. During those times when you’re not visiting your soon-to-be new home, you can still shoot and improve. Maintain the relationship with that local agency. Find a model in your hometown and try out some new lighting ideas. Constantly building up your skill is only going to make you that much better prepared for the day you can finally move.
Show your book as often as possible.
Every time you visit an agency or meet someone, you should be showing your book and graciously accepting criticism. You’re going to have to develop thick skin. It’s never easy being told something isn’t good, but it’s going to happen. Get used to it. Get to a point where you thrive on it. Take the feedback, make the changes, and go back and see what they think about the changes you’ve made. But seriously, show it to anybody that will look at it. Other photographers. Bookers. Editors. The models. Always take the critique, but don’t take it personal.
A few final thoughts.
These are merely my thoughts on what it’s like to try and get started as a fashion photographer when you don’t already live in a major market. I’m not shouting from the mountain top either. I’m on the same journey and what worked/is working for me may not work for everybody because there is without doubt, no set path to success in this business. Times are going to be tough. Trust me. But don’t get discouraged. Keep pushing yourself to get better, and if you want it bad enough, it’ll happen. And trust me when I say, this is me telling myself these things as much as I’m telling all of you.
This post was written by Denver based photographer Dana Pennington who studied photography at Metropolitan State College of Denver and The Art Institute of Colorado.
All Images are Property of © Dana Pennington Photography 2012