10 rules to finding models online

by Ben Heys, July 12, 2013


The models in the picture above are just a small handful of the hundreds of models I’ve sourced online for various projects over the past couple years.  Read on to find out how I did it, even as a beginner photographer and how you can do the same.

This is an article I first published a couple years ago on a site that no longer exists now.  I got a good response to it though, it seemed to be information that people appreciated so I figured it was worth a republish:

In this article I’m going to talk about how to go about conducting an online model search for artistic or fashion nude models.  I’m concentrating on nude models mostly because my own work often focuses around the nude and also these can be the most challenging models to find (assuming you want a GREAT model!).  Also any potential problems tend to be magnified with this style of work.  However the following article is just as relevant for fashion or non-nude shooters looking to get into model work.  All the concepts are exactly the same.

In the old days finding models was tough.  You could run newspaper ads but then how to get a model’s photos to you?  you could ask them to send in portfolios but that almost never happened.  And so you’d have to arrange a time and place to meet up for a face to face, but then you’d be scheduling in meetings for half the week, half of which didn’t show up and most of the ones that did would prove to be unsuitable.  Then you could approach women on the street or at the beach but if you aren’t incredibly gifted in the ways of the gab, then this method is doomed from the start. But the internet and web 2.0 changed all that.  Now finding beautiful, suitable models for any project is as easy as spending a few minutes searching online and in this article I’m going to give you a quick and dirty rundown of the procedures I myself use to find gorgeous models on the internet.  Plus I’ll be giving you lots of tips on how to communicate with models online in order to maximise your chances of the model replying to your work offer and then showing up on the day.

Model Mayhem

The first site I turn to these days when I need to search for a model is model mayhem.  The model search area can be found under the “browse” section of the main menu.  From there you can search for models by name or country and filter results by whatever criteria you wish: height, weight, age, ethnicity, hair colour etc.  More and more these days we are seeing professional models and shooters pop up on this site yet it’s still completely open to amateurs, thereby catering to online models and photographers of all levels.


*edit 2013*  Since I first wrote this article a few years ago facebook has risen to prominence in a way that’s hard to ignore.  It took me a while to really get into facebook but from the first time a popular model shared my pics of her on facebook and I promptly received about 3 paid work offers I  realised something was up there.  These days in fact it’s probably about even with model mayhem in terms of overall usefulness for networking with models.  Although I personally still prefer the tailored model specific search functions of Model Mayhem and so therefore tend to still find most models I initiate contact with on MM, however the amount of models that find/contact ME on facebook in the last couple years far exceeds any other network.

Other model sites

There are other portfolio sites out there that allow you to search for models and photographers and they all more or less work the same way as MM, although with all the new social media out there they tend to be turning more and more redundant.  Some you have to subscribe in order to be able to perform advanced model searches (like search for models that will shoot nudes etc) but pretty much all of them allow at least a basic gender & location search from which with a bit of time and effort can yield some surprising results at times, these sites include:

onemodelplace.com – I used to be a big fan of this site several years back but they have since overran their members with ads for rubbish like their clothing range and the fact that they are so limiting with what idle browsers and free/low price users can do or search for just makes you want to look elsewhere.

net-model.com – not a bad site at all with much more powerful free online model search abilities but new users there seem to be waning, this site almost seems to be dying a slow death.

musecube.com – I haven’t been there for a while so I can’t really comment but once again you get the same type of online model search tools the other sites have, the best way to see what they (this goes for all the sites I mention) have is to go check them out yourselves.

You can also do some exploring on sites like dA (deviantart.com) who may not have any actual online model search abilities but DO have a solid community with a lot of models that post their pictures there.  Conducting an online model search on a page like dA isn’t as simple as some of the sites more targeted toward that behavior but they can sill uncover some gems. I found one of my best ever models searching through dA.

Once you get past the first few folio sites/networks though diminishing gains start to kick in and you start to see only the same folios over and over (the hard core models that want to be on all the sites so as to get all the work they can, you know these girls are more likely to be reliable though as they have more of a work ethic and put more effort in to developing their network.  For new faces though you have to put in more and more effort for less and less pay off.  The other sites I’d really recommend being worth the time though are the localised sites, for instance in Australia we have ozmodel a localised modeling portfolio site and ausmodels a glamour/nude specific modelling folio site.  I’m sure other places in the world have their own localised modelling communities, a quick bit of googling should yield the results you need.

First contact

After you’ve successfully conducted your online model search the first contact can be a daunting affair for those without too much experience in this area but by following a few simple rules you should be able to maximise not only the first impression you make but also your overall success rate with getting the models you want for the rate you want.  As lets face it, the search itself is only the first stage of organising work with an online model.

#1 The first rule of nude photography is BE PROFESSIONAL

#2 The second rule of nude photography is BE PROFESSIONAL

#3 The third rule of nude photography is if ever in doubt, see rules #1 & 2 Seriously, I just can’t stress this hard enough and you wouldn’t believe how often then girls get hit upon by total strangers that know nothing more than what they look like through the eye of a professional photographer after a half an hour of photoshop…don’t be one of those guys.  Not only do you not stand a virgin’s chance in a prison riot but you only make yourself look like a total douche bag.  Save your pick up lines for the dating sites if you at all want to keep a reputation.  Because yes, just as the fairer sex does everywhere, online models talk…and the creeps get talked about more often than perhaps anything else.  Desperados aside the amount of stories models come back with of other “online photographers” bad behavior is amazing.  From shooters demanding models only work with them – no other photographers, to others becoming true nude photographers (in both possible meanings of the phrase), to outright sulking and petulance, edits never being delivered and so forth.  Like I said…models talk…

#4 make it personal.  Nobody likes to talk to or feel like they are being talked to by a machine, this extends to “mass emails”  you know, when you search through the sites and find a half dozen models that you think might suit a project and you want to approach each one to feel them out for interest/rates etc.  So in these cases I find it helps to have an overall template that I use for the part of the message where I talk about the work but BEFORE that I like to personalise each message to each model somehow, ie.  “Hi there Jane,  love your portfolio.  I especially like those nude silhouettes you did with Jack, they show your figure off beautifully.  You really have more of a fashion model’s body rather than the typical glamour look you see a little too much around the place these day and I would absolutely love to use you in a project I have coming up….”  blah blah blah This makes the model feel like you have personally chosen her specifically, which leads to a little ego rush and makes them feel good about themselves – everyone likes to feel good about themselves and everyone likes to be around people that make them feel that way, by using this little “trick” you’ve now substantially increased the odds that the model will reply to you and take interest in your project.  Don’t overdo it though and end up being sleazy…remember that guy we mentioned earlier?  you still don’t want to be him.

#5 Be as specific as you can. If you are shooting for a particular project then give the model a brief outline of it.  Let her know what is required of her in no uncertain terms, ie, shoot date(s), start and end time, wardrobe she’ll need to bring, will she need to do hair and makeup or will an MUA (make up artist)/stylist be available, will she need to be nude, topless, implied nude (where the model is nude but posed in such a way that nipples and genitalia are hidden from view in the resulting photograph), what reimbursement are you offering, whether they will have to sign a release, where will the shots be used etc etc Now sometimes you wont know the answer to all of these, in fact most of the time a good many of these will be up in the air, for instance the shoot date for my own shoots is always flexible, I never care when I work and so I fit in with when the models are available.  Also I shoot for stock so I never know where the work might end up, so, and this is important, I TELL THE MODEL THIS.  Believe it or not 99% of models don’t care if you shoot for stock, or if they have to sign a release, or if their shots may end up in a nude gallery somewhere.  If they like your work, you conduct yourself with professionalism and are open about yourself, your work etc then they will be far more likely to work with you than if you are guarded and try to keep back any details.  Remember you are building relationships and networks here because the models WILL TALK to each other so always keep that in mind and remember that other eyes, many other eyes, other than just the model you are contacting may read your communications with her.  If you’d be uncomfortable with a model showing her mother your message to her then it might be time to re-draft it.

#6 keep it relevant. It’s ok to throw in a little small talk to keep it friendly but don’t go overboard.  Remember at the end of the day this is a business relationship you are after and even though you may end up to be great friends with many of the models you work with it always helps to keep things short and focused mostly on business when you are just beginning to talk to a new model.  Also the good looking girls get A LOT of dodgy job offers and platitudes of love etc, wading through all of that can get to be tiring, so please don’t add to it.  Keep your messages short and centered around business and the model will appreciate it.

#7 tailor your folio. Obviously you can’t tailor your folio to each and every individual model contact but you CAN tailor it to a genre specific to the work you most often cast for.  If you are normally approaching models for art nudes then does it do any good having a folio that’s heavy on landscapes?  Now I know you might have some very pretty landscapes that you really want to show off…but this is 2011, there are a million free folio hosting sites out there, if you can’t find a few solutions to tailor target different folios to different markets/clients/projects then there’s something very wrong somewhere.  Personally I do quite a bit of travel photography, however I keep those images out of my Model Mayhem profile because they just don’t suit.  Likewise if I always wanted models for nudes it wouldn’t do much good having a folio full of only fashion (though that’s better than landscapes!)

#8 In a folio less is often more. I don’t know how often I see a great shot somewhere and think to myself “man, this guy is a seriously good shooter” only to navigate to his page and find a mass of lower quality images with only the odd pearl to be found here and there….I give up looking very quick.  However the photographer that amazes me with a dozen beautiful shots and leaves it at that leaves me wanting more, much more.  As a model his folio says to me “this guy isn’t going to display just any old crap….if I take a bad shot with him he’ll delete it”.  A folio where the weakest link is as high a quality as it can be is a folio that inspires the most confidence it can in a model.  Yeah that might be a cute bum on that girl in that snapshot you’ve just taken but if you post it hoping a few of the other boys will appreciate the cute butt, totally ignoring the fact that the model is halfway through a sneeze….well…do you think the next model to whom you direct your folio will have confidence in your ability to cull out the crap?   Getting rid of the “folio filler” can be the quickest and one of the most effective ways to instantly appear more professional.

#9 Follow up. After contact with a model, if an arrangement is made you should always get a phone number.  Give the model a call and just go over all the information you’ve already gone over by email.  Often you’ll find that something you’ve written that is as clear as day to you the model has taken a completely different meaning to…you’d be surprised.  Also being able to talk to her puts a human voice to the otherwise abstract lumps of text on a computer screen, at this point you have the model interested and you are obviously interested in working with her so the goal is to maximise the potential of the shoot happening.  As before you have to maximise her confidence in you so just as a quick refresh, see rules 1&2.  If the shoot is a few weeks off I like to call once a week or so, just keep that line of communication open and keep the model reminded of the work and that there is another human depending on her, remember at this stage we want to make the shoot actually happen and minimise the chances of the model pulling a no show.  Then a couple nights before the shoot anther call to go over everything and then sometimes (depends on what sort of feeling I’m having about the model) a call the night before as well.  I know this sounds like a lot but you can keep it short and sweet and just mention some extra development to the shoot, a new little idea you’ve had or another piece of wardrobe you’d like her to bring etc.  Once again don’t go overboard, but a call a week plus one or two in the days leading up to the shoot isn’t overboard so long as it’s kept…you guessed it…professional.

#10 I lied. There’s no 10th rule, it just made a snazzier title…


So there you have it.  We’ve talked about some of the ways in which you can conduct your online model search, the best places to search for your online models and some guidelines on how to communicate  with your model after you’ve done the online search and found your star to be.  If you have any questions or comments please do leave them below and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.  Thanks for reading and good luck with you online model search!

- Ben



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