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Establishing Pay Rates

When entering the modeling industry, many models make the mistake of doing modeling work without payment. Since they are new and usually unrepresented by an agency, they don’t always consider themselves qualified enough to receive payment for their work. They are also often unsure of what rate they should even charge since they don’t have an agent to guide them.

In this post, I’ll explain why you should always charge for your modeling work, regardless of your experience or representation status, and give some guidelines on determining your rate.

Female model in a suit jacket in front of a blank wall.
Photo by Joe Zlatnik

For new models, it's essential to understand that, like any other profession, you should be compensated for your work, regardless of your experience level or agency representation status. Just as you wouldn't be expected to work for free in any other job, even entry-level, modeling should be no different. If your image is used to sell a product or promote a brand, or if you’re booked to walk a runway, you should be paid to do that job

Many people try to use a model’s level of experience as a reason why they don’t think a model should be paid, but when a model signs to an agency, they automatically get the same rate as all the other models, even if they’ve never modeled before. Booking jobs on your own is no different.

Now, it is important to note that collaboration (TFP) shoots are different scenarios. If you’re collaborating with a photographer to execute a specific concept that you both agreed upon and one that is usable for both of your portfolios, payment to either party is usually forfeited since the shoot is mutually beneficial. In this scenario, experience levels do come into play because for it to truly be a mutually beneficial collaboration, the photographer and model should be on equal experience levels. A highly experienced and successful photographer shouldn’t be expected to do a free shoot with a less experienced model and vice versa. 

However, suppose the photographer wants to do a concept shoot that isn’t useful for your portfolio or promotes a brand or product. In that case, you should definitely charge a rate for that photoshoot because they will be making money off of your images. 

Now that we’ve established you should be getting paid to do modeling work, determining what you need to charge can be complicated as there are many things to consider. If you are agency-represented, your agent will be the one to set your rates and negotiate with the client if the rates are different than their typical standard. It’s always a good idea to be aware of your general rates so that if you get asked personally about them, you can give a ballpark answer. However, it is always best practice to send any booking/payment inquiries straight to your agent! 

If you’re freelance, below are a few things that you should consider when setting your rates:

  • First- does the booking benefit you? If you're not getting paid, is it good exposure, and/or would the images be usable for your portfolio? Many publications don't pay much or at all, but doing them despite the lack of payment can be beneficial. On the flip side, even if it pays well, you may not be interested in doing it.

  • What type of booking is it (e.g., fashion, commercial, swim, boudoir, runway)? This is important because you can adjust your rates depending on the type of booking. The general rule of thumb: more skin = more money. 

  • What is the client's budget? Sometimes, they will give you their budget for an hourly rate, and other times, they will provide you with a flat rate for ‘X’ number of hours. If that doesn't fall within your pricing, you can attempt to negotiate.

  • What will the images be used for (publication, web or social media branding, internal marketing), and how long will they be allowed to use them?

  • Other important factors:

  • How long is the shoot?

  • Is it local, or do you need to travel? If travel is involved, who covers those expenses?

  • Is wardrobe and styling provided? 

  • Is hair & makeup provided?

The answers to the above questions will affect how much you should charge for a booking. If travel is involved and the client isn’t covering it, that is an added expense you have to decide how you want to cover. The same goes for things like wardrobe styling and hair & makeup. If you have to do your own, you can raise your rates to cover the time and products needed to do those tasks. However you choose to handle it, consider those varying factors and be consistent in how you charge. It could be as simple as adding an additional styling charge and mileage to your base fee. 

Not everyone will be on board with paying the rates you have set for yourself, and there may be times when you will be passed over for a model that doesn't charge as much as you do (or for models that work for free). Once you start charging for your work, you will see a decline in the number of booking offers you get- and that is ok! It is much better to be highly selective about your collaboration opportunities and ensure you’re getting paid for anything outside of the collaborations than to continue working for free when others are making money off of you. If a potential client isn’t able to pay your full rate, ask them what pay range they feel would work for them and then decide if the opportunity is worth negotiating. I've been booked for many jobs with low pay, but they threw in perks like taking home some of the products we were shooting (clothing, hair products, etc.) to help compensate for the lower pay. I’ve also turned down many bookings because even though it seemed fun, it didn’t benefit my modeling career.

Ultimately, if you want to make modeling a career instead of just a fun hobby, you must set rates and stick to them. While it may be tough to establish yourself at first, in the long run, it will benefit your career more than continuing to work without payment.


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