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Modelling Scams

Updated: Aug 16, 2021

Male fashion model in all saints leather jacket in london
Model - Benny Young @free2byoung

The thing I get messaged about the most is how to get into modelling, people want to know where to start, how to spot a scam, when it's ok to pay, when it isn't. I have done lots of social media posts on the subject but wanted to put all the info into one, permanent blog so aspiring models and their parents can refer to it, save it and share with others to stop anyone else getting ripped off.

I'll start by saying that no one should feel stupid for being taken in by any of the companies or tactics I'm going to talk about. These companies and practises skate on the very edge of what's legal and use your lack of industry knowledge and your desire to reach your dream against you.

The most common modelling scam often calls itself a "modelling platform". You will see adverts across all social media platforms announcing "models wanted". These companies are often the top of search results when you type in "model agency" or "child model". You send in your details, and they call back often within only a couple of days telling you you have made it through the first round, that you have been "successful" and inviting you in for a test shoot. This tactic is a confidence trick. You feel like you have already come out on top of hundreds of other applicants and you don't want to miss the 'opportunity'.

They usually offer a 'free test shoot' or trial shoot, or something described as an assessment of some sort. Hair and make up is often offered, it all seems super exciting and very glamorous. This is your first red flag.

Real agencies may call you in to see you in person, they may take some test shots of you but this will be a two minute session with a polaroid camera or I phone against a wall in their offices. There would never, ever be hair and make up, it would never be described as a test shoot or a trial shoot. An in person meeting a genuine agency will usually just involve filling in some forms with your height and measurements, some fashion/ editorial agencies may ask you to walk in heels, if you have a portfolio they'll take a look through it. A very quick chat about your current location and availability (usually only if they are thinking of signing you) and that will be the end of the meeting. In my experience you'll be there no more than 30 mins and that is at the very most and probably including waiting time.

blonde female model with Gucci top with flowers
Model - Lauren Pascolutti on a portfolio shoot week in Nice @laurenpascolutti

On the other side, if you book a genuine portfolio session with a photographer they would never ask you to submit photos before hand. You are a paying customer, you don't have to meet a certain requirement or look to book a shoot with a portfolio photographer. The normal process would be to find a photographer who's work you really like, contact them for prices and talk through what you are looking for from the shoot. Hair and make up may be offered but a good portfolio photographer will know that some of the key shots agencies will be looking for are very minimal make up headshots. This is especially true for models under 16. There definitely won't be any full on glamour looks for an agency submission portfolio, you may want to add something like this onto your shoot, for yourself and your instagram but I always advise models who come to me for a portfolio aimed at agency submission against including heavily made up shots to their application. You'll book your time and date with your photographer, usually you would be the only one at the studio for the time of your shoot. For me I occasionally have two portfolio clients overlapping to make the most of hair and make up time but there certainly wouldn't be a conveyer belt of aspiring models lining up. Most genuine portfolio services would agree a price and package ahead of your booking so you know what you are paying for and don't get any hidden surprises. There are photographers who do not operate like this and I will talk about this a little further along. Getting your final price agreed on before your shoot is something I personally really recommend doing. Personally my portfolio clients would be with me around 3-4 hours.

Another popular way these companies get people into their studios is through 'competitions', these will sometimes be street marketers and sometimes online, either way everyone 'wins' the test shoot, often including one free image. These can be for family shoots or portfolio shoots etc etc. All you need to know is that the shoot will not be free and once they have got you down there and your shoot done you will be pressure sold the images at the end of the session.

Once you get down to a scam studio you will do your "free shoot". Many times the hair/ make up and photographers are not experienced. This is not their fault, I have seen adverts many times on websites advertising for photographers and other creatives to work in these studios for very little money. I have even seen ads saying that potential photographers don't need their own camera. What level of "professional" photographer do you imagine foist own their own camera?!

The studio itself is the one pocketing your cash, which is much worse because not only are you paying massively over the odds for your images you are also working with a relatively inexperienced team for huge money.

The shoot, although often rushed and providing images which aren't suitable for the purpose of agency submission isn't, worryingly close to being the most problematic part of the experience.

Malaysian model at sunset in ibiza
Model Safia Pixi on a portfolio shoot week in Ibiza

Following your shoot you will be ushered into a room to view your images with a "viewer". A viewers role is to sell you as many images as they can for as much money as they can get. They will tell you everything you want to hear, that you were the best of the day, have the most potential they have seen in a month, a year. Some will go as far as saying they have got agencies and brands lined up wanting to work with you.

They tell you they can't keep your images after the day for security and privacy reasons, this is entirely untrue. It is just there to put the pressure on you to make the purchase on the day. They theorise that the longer you have to think about it, research it, ask other peoples advice on it, the less likely you are to part with your money.

They will tell you that the more images you have in your portfolio, the more professional you will look. That if you go to a casting and another model has 20 images in their portfolio and you only have 10, they will be the one to book the job. Of course this it total garbage. In actual fact it looks pretty unprofessional to have multiple images obviously from the same shoot in your portfolio and highlights your inexperience rather than raising your chances of booking a job.

blonde female model next to a canal in Venice glamorous
Kes Neale on a portfolio shoot week in Venice @kes_neale

They will take what they can get from you. They may have offered you a free shoot with an image included but they don't make any money if you leave without buying a an image package.

They will price their images according to what they think you can afford. If they think they can get £4000 out of you that's what they will recommend. Another person could have the same number of images suggested to them for £500. I spoke to someone last week who had been to one of these studios and the more she insisted she didn't want to buy the images, the more the price went down. She left without buying additional pictures and now months later the same studio is contacting her regularly offering the same image package that they tried to sell her on the day for £1500 for £100.

They call themselves "modelling platforms" which, won't surprise you is something made up by them to legitimise what they are doing. Commonly the closest these companies will get you to an agency introduction is a list of model agencies. Anyone with the tiniest bit of industry info could give you this. You could find it yourself with a little research on the internet. Another person I talked to who had an experience with a company like this said they had suggested registering on which is a fantastic platform for new and existing performers, but also one that quite literally anyone can upload a profile onto and start applying for castings. The employees who work at these studios can't help you get into the industry, they can't give you good advice because they know nothing about it themselves.

They work from a script and their only aim is to sell you the images from the shoot.

teen model in the uk laughing in the sunshine in a lilac dress
Model - Eva Phillips @eva13phillips

A lot of these studios offer to build you a 'modelling webpage' which may seem like an exciting prospect but, yet again, shows their lack of any type of basic knowledge of the industry they pretend to represent. Big model agencies usually require sole representation, meaning a client could only book you through them, (this isn't always the case, but often). Having your own website, would probably be discouraged by a legitimate agency and sometimes outright banned. Most working models do not additionally have their own modelling website.

Unfortunately these studios are not the only companies you need to watch out for. There are now a growing number of agencies who offer a portfolio service to clients. Some of these agencies even have some models on their books who are getting paid work which makes them so much more dangerous to aspiring models as they seem by all intense and purpose, to be above board. The sad truth is that a lot of agencies who were making their money through commissions from models working for them have branched out to selling portfolios to aspiring models to make more cash.

An agency can easily add a profile up on it's site after they have taken money from you for a new portfolio, it makes it seem like you weren't scammed after all, but these agencies can have tens of thousands of models 'on their books' . You're not guaranteed work from them and the sad truth is it's easier for them to make money from new faces, desperate to become models, than it is to go out there and find work for the models they have. Many rely on the fact that for a lot of young models and parents of child models, it can be enough for them to see their face on an agency website. It's true that no agency can guarantee a model work, but genuine agencies would only ever take on models that they are confident would book jobs.

The same goes for joining fees at agencies. Legitimate work coming in or not, no agency should be asking for an upfront fee from new models. The only way an agency should be making money from you is through commissions they take from paid work they find for their models. Some agencies will charge a nominal annual fee but this should be taken from the first payslip of the year and not required to be paid upfront.

blonde model in at sunset on road in ibiza yellow basketball top
Idge Wood @idgemakeup on a portfolio shoot week in ibiza

So with all your tips on where not to go, where should you head to shoot your portfolio if you want one? Do your research, find a photographer you love the work of. I always say to my clients whether they end up with an agency or not, they should have beautiful photos to keep forever.

Take your time, look at photographers work on instagram, check out the photographers that professional models are working with. Get recommendations, I really advise against using google as a tool to hunt down your perfect photographer because so many scammy services also spend fortunes on keyword optimisation, ensuring they come up top of search results.

Look at a photographers facebook reviews, so many of these companies don't have FB pages because they would never get a booking if anyone saw their customers reviews.

Talk to your photographer, make sure they know what an agency submission portfolio should include and what it shouldn't. I know tonnes of brilliant photographers who wouldn't know the first thing of what an agency would need from a portfolio shoot. Many photographers bandy around the term portfolio without really knowing what is required from the images.

Don't be afraid to ask questions, to make sure you know what you are paying for before you get there, and crucially, what's not included.

Carly @carly.rh represented by IAL Agency

I talked earlier about pressure sales at the end of shoots. This can apply for some photographers too. I don't want to call out fellow professionals but some of the talk I see in certain FB groups particularly of boudoir photographers is shocking. Photographers, taught on online courses to pressure sell thousands of pounds of images to clients who came in for a freebie or a very nominal charge, showing off how they made $9k sales. Celebrating massive charges put across credit cards. Whilst not all photographers who do the shoot and then sell the images are like this, I would be very careful of anyone not being totally upfront with the cost of your shoot and images before the event.

The cost will vary depending on experience, quality, location and what's included (hair and make up, styling, number of edits), but for a photographer with experience and knowledge in that field you will be looking at between £300 and £800. Some may be a little more some a little less. It's not always true that you get what you pay for but I cant emphasise enough how important it is to work with someone with legitimate agency portfolio experience. Any old photoshoot no matter how much you love the images, does not equate to a strong portfolio for an agency.

If you have already been signed to an agency they will tell you the shot list of images you will need for them, and the style, you can relay this to your photographer.

model in bikini laughing in the sea in ibiza with wet hair
Alex Anderton @alexandria_anderton represented by

I would love to hear your experiences and warnings in the comments below, if your story saves another person from spending £1000 on photos which aren't fit for purpose this is a job well done.

I'm happy to answer your questions, and would love to know if there are any other areas of the industry and getting into it that you would like me to talk about in more detail.

Thanks for sticking with me until the end, I never ask for you guys to share my blogs but in this case if you have two mins to share with a person, a facebook group or anyone else you think it would help, I am dying to see the end of people getting ripped off by these disgusting companies.

Below I have added a link to a BBC Watchdog show about one of the studios I have talked about in this article.

See you next time my loves.

Sam x

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