What Photographers Look For in Models

Today I spent a significant amount of time browsing ModelMayhem.com in search of a model in the Orlando area for a future shoot. It’s been just over a year since I joined Model Mayhem and because the site features a lot of amateur models I have had to develop some techniques to figure out which girls are the best ones to work with. This article describes those techniques and should be helpful for photographers seeking models, and for models looking to improve their chances of getting booked by a professional photographer online.

The Profile Photo

The first piece of advice concerns the first impression that you make online: your profile photo. A model’s profile photo should convey natural beauty, body shape, and a model’s ability to make a shot interesting. It’s difficult for a model to convey all of these things in one image that’s under 100 pixels wide, but it can be done. I aim to demonstrate how all three of these elements can be improved just by you following this guide. When I use the term “natural beauty” I am referencing a model’s facial features, and how well they photograph. Just because a girl is beautiful in person does not guarantee that they will be beautiful on film. Even if you don’t photograph as well as you would expect, there is room to improve through practice. Models who frequently practice poses and facial expressions in the mirror will produce consistently better photos because they become familiar with their looks. Practice makes perfect, even in the modeling world. Another important factor that should be considered is lighting. I’m sure many models have heard the phrase “find the light” either in real life shooting scenarios or on the TV show “America’s Next Top Model”. Models should have a basic understanding of how they should model in relation to the light source (or sources).
Heather demonstrating height

This photo uses all 3 of my below recommendations. Tall heels, a wide angle lens, and a low angle make this model appear taller than she really is.

The average height for a female in the United States is currently around 5 feet 5 inches tall. Runway models are usually 5’9″ or above, but fortunately you don’t have to be tall to look tall in photographs. One trick that models use is to photograph themselves from unusual angles to make themselves look taller. Photographing with a wide lens, or from a low angle will sometimes give the illusion that you are much taller (not to mention skinnier) than what you actually are. Elongating the neck with a v-neck shirt to gain an extra visual inch. My last tip for models concerning height, and what will undoubtedly be every model’s favorite, is to get a nice pair of pumps! Shoes with tall heels will elongate your legs and also help tone your calves in photos.
Profile Picture Pose Examples

Here is an example of good and a bad poses for profile images.

Above I have two example images to demonstrate good and bad poses for profile pictures. The example on the left is good for a number of reasons. First, the model is making eye contact with the camera. While this isn’t one of the most important features that makes this a good photo, eye contact will draw the viewer in and create a more memorable photograph. Second, the model is wearing a form fitting dress that allows the photographer to see the basic shape of her body. This is especially difficult to do while in a sitting pose, so bravo to this model. Next, the model’s body and face are both making a connection with the camera, drawing the viewer in. Finally, the composition of the photograph makes it easy for the viewer to see her facial features. Onto the second image, designated as the “Bad” photo. While this image on it’s own is a great shot, it would not make a great main profile image. The main reason for this is because the dress and pose completely hide the figure of the model. I am not going to advocate that all models use bikini shots as their profile picture, but you should use form fitting clothing so that the photographer can have a good idea of your body type. Bulky clothing like gowns and flowing dresses make it difficult for a photographer to tell if your body shape is right for the position they are trying to fill. Another negative aspect of this image is that the model’s face is small in the frame, making it difficult to get a good idea of her features from a thumbnail sized image. Lastly, the model is not looking into camera so you don’t feel the same connection that you get from the first image.


A model’s online portfolio shouldn’t stop at photographs. Take a few minutes to polish up your online profile with details about yourself to win over photographers. Believe it or not, a little personality will go a long way in earning a booking. Models should document who they have worked with (photographers, agencies, brands, companies), if they have any skills (dancing, juggling, acting, etc.), or special training/education related to the industry. If I am looking for a model for a paid gig I am far more likely to hire a model who has a background related to that gig. For example if I am shooting an ad for a tennis racket, I would rather hire a model who knows how to handle one than someone who has no experience playing tennis (or any sports for that matter). If you have any piercings or tattoos, document them in your portfolio! Model Mayhem doesn’t have a dedicated input field for this type of information (unlike OneModelPlace.com), but it’s important that photographers know about any small details like piercings, tattoos, scars, birthmarks, etc. Sometimes disclosing this information on your profile may even benefit you. In the age of Photoshop, it’s not difficult for photographers to remove a scar, piercing, or tattoo during post-production so don’t be afraid to be open about it. When reporting your identifying marks make sure that you leave a description of where they are located on your body. An added bonus to providing all of this information on your portfolio is that it gets indexed by search engines. As a result, a Google search may end up leading a photographer to your portfolio when they type in “juggling model with tattoos”.


Don’t strike the same pose or facial expression in every shot. There are a number of profiles on Model Mayhem that contain several images, and in every one of the model uses the same pose, angle, and smile. Every model has more than one angle, so there is no reason why every one of your portfolio shots should be identical. Show some variation in your work so that photographers can see how versatile you can be. Pacing is very important when posing for a photographer. I prefer to work with models who allow me to capture about 2 or 3 shots of each position before they make small, subtle adjustments. Some girls that I’ve worked with either move between poses much too fast, or they stand completely still. When working with a photographer for the first time you may want to ask them to give you some verbal feedback early on so that you can match their tempo. It is important that a model understands lighting enough to know that they can’t move around so much that they lose the light. Usually photographers give models about a 2×2 foot size area for them to move around in for close up shots. That gives them just a little room to lean side to side or forward and backward. Anything outside of that box may cause the light to be too bright or dim. It’s okay for a model to ask a photographer how much room they have to play with, so feel free to ask. If you are interested in fashion modeling, subscribe to Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, or Elle. If you want to do beauty modeling, pick up an issue of Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, or Redbook. You will stand out from other models when you actively study and learn from professional models in magazines. The knowledge gained from this type of research may also prove useful when a photographer asks you to strike a pose like Coco Rocha or Giedre Dukauskaite. Of course you don’t have to stick to printed media, I use Tumblr and Pinterest to find and share inspirational images.

Be Personable

Not only do you need to look good on camera, but models should be personable and fun to be around off camera. These people skills are essential not only when working with photographers, but also when meeting designers, agents, and other industry members. A model with a warm and inviting attitude will book more repeat shoots and find jobs through personal connections made at gigs and parties. .

2 Comments. Leave new

Thank u for all the information given,greatly appreciated. Quick question is photo modeling the same as beauty modeLing? I’ve stop modeling about 8 years now but would like to do strictly photo modeling. Any more information or advice ill be thankful and grateful.


I would probably consider ‘beauty modeling’ to be a specific genre of photography modeling that features the face. Beauty photography primarily focuses on people with perfect skin and symmetrical facial features, where other forms of photography are more open to more quirky features like big eyes (like Lily Cole) or large foreheads (like Tyra Banks). Because of the emphasis being on the face, beauty modeling is primarily used in the makeup industry.

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