How To Find Models For Photography (Both Free And Paid)

Last Updated:

How To Find Models For Photography

At some point in your photography journey, you’ll need to find a model. Whether it’s required of a client or you’re looking to build out a certain part of your portfolio, you need people to photograph! What you (and many others) may be getting stuck on is where to find models for photography. Even if you have no connections in the modeling world, there are a ton of places you can begin looking!

How To Find Models To Photograph:

  • Find local models through Instagram 
  • Reach out to local dancers or actors
  • Ask your friends to model for you
  • Reach out to a modeling agency
  • Local Facebook groups
  • Ask your friends if they know of someone

With those ideas in your head, let’s dive a little deeper into each one and how you can use them to find models.

Where To Find Models To Photograph

1. Instagram

Instagram is the ultimate social network for photographers looking to find models to photograph. Most models will be extremely active on social media and share a lot of images from previous work they’ve done. This makes it easy to see the level they’re at with modeling and if their look suits your project. You can spend a few hours and come across a ton of different professional and amateur models that you could reach out to in most cases.

To get in contact with a model on Instagram, you can send them a DM to introduce yourself and ask for their availability. Make sure to be extremely clear about what you want to photograph and share your ideas for the shoot. You have to remember that you are a complete stranger to these people, so you want to make a good impression.

In my past experience, the work on your own Instagram feed can make or break whether a model replies to you. Some models (especially females) are overwhelmed with DM’s asking to shoot. If your Instagram feed is just a few selfies and a phone photo of your pet fish, there’s a slim chance they’ll think you’re for real. So before you start reaching out on Instagram, make sure to freshen up your profile and share some of your best work. That way, when any model sees your feed, they can get a feel for your work and whether or not it interests them.

– Where To Find Local Models On Instagram

There are a few different ways you can start finding local models on Instagram. The easiest way is by using a location tag.

Go to the explore page and set the search result to “places.” Type in where ever you’re located and begin browsing through. You’ll see a ton of photos from random people, but occasionally you’ll notice something of higher quality. Images that appear to be more posed or taken by an actual photographer are the types of shots you want to look for. Explore any of the profiles that these images come from and look into whether or not this person is actually local. Sometimes these photos are out of towners just visiting the area.

The other option you have is to look at who other local photographers have photographed. If you aren’t already in tune with who the local players are in your area, this is a great opportunity to familiarize yourself. Browse through other photographer’s profiles and look at models they’ve worked with for other shoots. You don’t want to look for engagement or event photos, but rather more posed images. See who the tagged model is in the photo and try to send them a message!

2. Local Actors Or Dancers

The great thing about using actors or dancers as models is that they’re extremely expressive. They’re far less camera shy and tend to look a lot more natural in front of the camera. There are actors and dancers just about everywhere you look. If you have a local theatre, look at their website and see who performs in their upcoming shows. As for dancers, look into different dance companies and find an instructor to reach out to. More often than not, the instructors will have a headshot on the website, making it easy to see if they’re a good match for your project.

– Email Template For Reaching Out To Models

Most actors and dancers love to have images of themselves to use in their portfolio. More often than not, they’re extremely excited to take photos and jump at the opportunity for a creative shoot. Since you probably won’t find these models on social media, you’ll likely have to resort to email.

In your email, make sure to introduce yourself, who you are, why you’re emailing them, and include a link to your portfolio. For example, if I were to write an email to an actor or dancer, it would look something like this:

“Hey (First Name),

My name’s Brendan and I’m a photographer from the __________(your location) area. I have a project coming up where I’ll be photographing ________________ (general project outline), and I thought you’d be a perfect fit for it. I came across your headshot and found your email from ___________ (source), so I thought I would reach out to see if you’d be interested. Currently I’m planning to shoot around __________ (these dates) in ___________ (this location).

If that sounds like something you’d be interested in being a part of, I’d love to share more details about the project with you!

Please feel free to explore my portfolio to see some of my past project and my style of work: _____________ (your website link).

Looking forward to hearing back!


In your initial email, you don’t need to spill all the beans about the project. If they aren’t interested, you’re just wasting your time typing it all out. Instead, send a feeling email first to see if there’s a potential of working with this person.

Now, if you are struggling to find people from dance companies or theatres, look into nearby universities and reach out to students in dance or theatre programs.

3. Ask A Friend

If you can’t figure out how to find models to photograph, then look no further than the people right in front of you. Your friends are the perfect people to ask to model for you since you’re both already familiar with each other. Especially as a beginner photographer, it takes the pressure off significantly when you’re just photographing your friend. Instead of feeling like there’s a certain way you need to present yourself, you can just be yourself and focus on the images you want to capture.

Even if your friend has no prior modeling experience, this creates the perfect opportunity for you to test your directing skills. As you work with more amateur models, it becomes easier to direct them into the pose and angles you need. At first, you might not know what you want, but you’ll know the exact types of poses that will work for a situation as you progress. Ultimately, calling on your friends to model for you is a fun and more comfortable way to find models to photograph.

4. Reach Out To A Modeling Agency

If you have a budget for hiring models, a modeling agency is a solid avenue for finding models to shoot. These agencies represent hundreds of models, and all of them can be found on their website. With a simple google search of “modeling agencies _______(your city)” you’ll find a bunch of great options.

There are pros and cons to working with agency represented models. Since the agency is involved, there is more in terms of the hiring process and how rates work. It’s extremely unlikely that you’ll find any agency represented model that will work for free. Since the agency is a business, they expect to get a cut from every job the model works. Since there’s a bit more going on compared to someone who’s individually represented, you have to consider if the agency route is worthwhile.

If you’re just trying to photograph something for fun, this probably isn’t the best idea. However, if you have a budget and require a certain level of quality, agencies are a fast way to find professional models quickly.

5. Facebook Groups

The great thing about any industry filled with creatives is that people love to network. That’s why photographer and model Facebook groups are such a common thing no matter where you live. In these groups, you’ll find heaps of models of different experiences interested in creative projects. By creating a post in the group sharing the types of models you’re looking for and the project details, you’ll likely get a bunch of replies.

If you aren’t already a part of one of these groups, go to Facebook and look up “__________(your city) photographers and models.” Some type of photography community will appear in the results and offer a great way to find models to photograph.

6. Ask Your Friends Who They Know

There’s no better network than the network you already have. Chances are, you already know someone who knows someone else that’d be perfect for your project. Start asking your friends if they know of anyone interested in modeling and that you need someone. People might not have an answer immediately, but if you continue to mention your model search to people, something usually comes up!

You never know who you’re only one degree of separation from. Since a common friend refers you, it’s far more likely that the model will get back to you about the project!

Should Photographers Pay Models?

Now that you’ve figured out how to find a model to photograph, the big question comes down to whether or not to pay them. Although many tend to struggle with the choice, it really shouldn’t be difficult.

If you have the budget, always pay the models and anyone else working with you. Their time is equally as valuable as yours. If you’ve been hired by a company to photograph a campaign, make sure to include a section in the budget for model fees. Although some people try to undervalue the work of a model, the truth is, there’s nothing to photograph without them. By paying the models you work with a fair rate, you build your professionalism and leverage working with more professional models.

With that said, I understand that not every shoot you do is paid. I’ve wanted to do shoots for fun and needed to find models to work with for free. In situations where you’re only taking pictures as a creative outlet, it’s not unreasonable to not pay the models. If that’s the case, you need to make sure you outline that when you reach out to a model. You must be transparent with what’s going on and your reasoning for not paying. Most models will still be interested if they like your idea.

After all, models are creatives just like you, and they’re excited to shoot something fun in their spare time.

– The Difference Between Paying Models Versus Not

When you pay a model, there is a higher level of expectations on both sides. When you’re paying someone to work with you, you know they’ll arrive on time, not flake out, and do their best during the shoot.

When you don’t pay a model, you’ll end up dealing with all kinds of flakes, late arrivals, or forgetting to wear the colors you wanted them to. However, the thing is, you can’t get mad about this. Since they’re doing it pro bono, it’s totally their choice how they want to treat it.

If you end up dealing with a lot of flakey models, consider hiring someone more professional. This way, you’re far more likely to work with someone who actually cares about the job and wants a good result.

The Advantage To Working With Professional Models

As someone who’s just beginning to work with models, working with professionals can offer a huge advantage. Since professionals are more comfortable in front of the camera and know how to pose better, they’re easier to direct. If you are really stuck and don’t know how to direct them, a professional model will have a lot more initiative and naturally try different options.

Especially if you’re trying to build a pitch deck for future use, having a professional model can truly make your image great. The subtle expressions and body positions of a professional are very noticeable compared to an amateur model. These are the types of things that will take your image to the next level.

In that case, paying a more professional model is a perfect way to guarantee quality from the images you capture.

Why Working With Amateur Models Is Still A Good Idea

With that said, there are still a lot of advantages to working with an amateur model. Just because someone doesn’t have the experience doesn’t mean you can’t help them look amazing. When you find a model to work with that isn’t as experienced, it’s a perfect opportunity to refine your directing skills. Things like explaining a pose clearly, giving accurate feedback to help improve your photos, and doing things to keep them feeling comfortable.

Especially when someone’s completely new to modeling, they can get a bit camera shy when the lens comes out. Working on your directing skills makes it easier to bring the best out of even the greenest of models. This is an extremely valuable skill that will help the quality of your images whenever you find a model to photograph.

How To Approach Models

Once you’ve found a model to shoot with, you need to make sure you’re giving off the right impression. As the conversation progresses and you share more information about the project, make sure to do the following.

– Have A Clear Plan For Your Shoot

Without a clear plan, people might think that you’re not actually serious about what you’re doing. Make sure to have a definite location, style, and goal for the shoot. When you’ve put together an actual plan that you’re excited about, it’s far easier to get others on board. Make sure that the model has the clearest idea possible of what they can expect from the shoot.

– Be Professional No Matter Who You Work With

Whether you’re working with a professional model, an amateur model, or one of your friends, treat them all the same. Set a certain standard of professionalism that you maintain from the planning phase all the way to photo delivery. Even if you are totally new to working with models, practicing your professional persona is crucial to making it feel more natural. If you’re polite, organized, and do things better than other photographers someone’s worked with, they’ll remember you.

Who knows, maybe a model you work with ends up hiring you to take photos of them in the future!

– Build A Mood Board To Share With The Models

A mood board is just a collection of photos to help display the style of image you’re going for. These photos can be ones you found on Pinterest or Instagram and don’t need to be yours. The point here is just to convey your creative intent in the clearest way possible. Below is an example of a mood board I created for an outdoor travel campaign.

How To Interact With A Model As A Photographer

When it comes time to shoot, it’s important you interact with the model the right way. The last thing you want is to make them feel uncomfortable or not want to work with you again. Here are a few tips to make any shoot a total success!

Be Chatty And Ask Questions About The Model

Especially when it’s your first time meeting someone, keeping the conversation flowing is an easy way to relieve any awkwardness. You might be tempted to talk about yourself since it feels more natural, but show interest in the model and what they do instead.

Ask them questions about what they’ve been up to recently, the work they’ve done, or things they have planned for the future. The types of questions that aren’t too personal, but help you get to know a bit about them. Showing an interest in what they do makes you feel more genuine compared to just talking about yourself.

Don’t Be Creepy

This should go without saying, but there are a plethora of creepy photographers I’ve seen working first hand. Always remember to adhere to personal space boundaries and never touch the model for any reason. Even if it’s just to adjust their hair or get rid of a loose string, just don’t do it.

Instead, mention it to them and ask if they can fix it themselves. If they can’t get it, politely ask if you can fix it. Otherwise, there should be no reason to be in their personal space.

Show The Models The Photos You’re Excited About

Rather than snapping photos and telling them how great it looks, actually show them! Sharing some of your favorite photos as you capture them is an easy way to get your model excited too. Since they can see what the final product looks like, they can start to feel motivated about putting their all into the photos to come.

Be Encouraging

One of the easiest ways to make a model feel comfortable in front of the camera is to be encouraging. Make sure they know they’re doing a great job and always give feedback in a positive tone. You want them to feel like every photo you take of them looks absolutely flawless. This is a great way to improve the model’s experience, and encourage them to work with you again in the future.

Figuring out how to find models to photograph is a tricky part of photography that you’ll get better at over time. With the tips outlined in this post, you’re well on your way to finding great models for your next shoot!

– Brendan 🙂





Photo of author
I'm a Canadian photographer and photo retoucher turned founder of bwillcreative.com. Around here I help you to decode the mystery of photo editing with no-fluff videos and written guides to help you achieve your creative goals. Outside of shooting photos and my passion for educating, you'll find me mountain biking or on the trails with my dog, Sunny!

Continue Reading:

How To Use The Eraser Tool In Photoshop (Complete Guide)

Learn how to use the Eraser Tool, Background Eraser Tool, and Magic Eraser Tool in Photoshop to remove unwanted areas of any layer.

How To Invert A Selection In Photoshop (Step By Step)

Learn the importance of learning to invert a selection in Photoshop with the help of simple keyboard shortcuts and several other methods.

How To Use The Gradient Tool In Photoshop (Complete Guide)

Learn the ins and outs of how to use the gradient tool in Photoshop with useful tips to help make the most of this impressive tool!

What Are Embedded Previews In Lightroom + How To Use Them

Use this guide to help you understand the use of embedded previews in Lightroom along with tips to help you use them in your workflow.

Adobe Lightroom System Requirements For Mac & PC

Here's a breakdown of the system requirements for Adobe Lightroom Classic and Lightroom CC to make sure it will run smoothly on your computer.

How To Add A Watermark In Lightroom Classic & CC

Learn how to add a text or graphic watermark to a photo in Lightroom Classic and Lightroom CC to protect your photos from theft.

How To Make A Background Transparent In Canva

Learn how to create and export images with transparent backgrounds in Canva to open up more design options and creative styles.

How To Use Frames In Canva (Ultimate Guide)

Here's how to use frames in Canva to creatively add image elements to your designs in just a couple of clicks.

How To Make A Table In Canva (2 Easy Ways)

Learn the ins and outs of how to make a table in Canva along with tons of customization options to make your table look perfect!

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments