The first, and perhaps least expensive, option is to hire a friend or family member. Photographer Gale Zucker often hires “real people” to model for shoots she’s doing with knitwear designers.
If you choose to ask a friend or family member to model for you, consider hiring a professional makeup artist and hairstylist for the shoot.
“When I work with ‘real people’ models I do my best to insist on professional makeup and hair to elevate the production values,” Zucker says. “It makes a huge difference to the overall look, plus it is fun for these generous souls who are posing.”
Beyond friends and family, another option is to hire a model that is just starting out and is not represented by an agency. Model Mayhem is a popular site for finding models at this level. Although it is possible to find excellent models on Model Mayhem, it takes some patience. Many profiles are outdated and some veer toward pornographic. Expect to pay models you find on the site $100 per diem and up to $50 per hour. Zucker has found that Model Mayhem models can often do their own makeup, which may save you money in the end.
“When I lived in Boston I hired via Craigslist,” Sheridan says. “Most of them were agency models working on the sly. I usually paid $50 per hour.”
Now that she lives in a more rural part of the state, though, Sheridan says Craigslist is no longer a good option: “Craigslist out here is mostly amateur porn modeling.”
“If you can hire a model with lots of experience, your shoot can go very smoothly and quickly,” Sheridan says. “Experienced models know to change their pose after they hear the click of the camera, they’ll ask questions about what sort of look and feel you’re striving for, and they will take direction well. That’s the benefit — you’ll pay more money, but you’ll save time and effort to get the photos you need.”
“Only one of the models I have worked with was a professional model with substantial experience,” Kingstone says. “Though the amateur models I have worked with did a great job in the end, the difference when working with the experienced professional was incredible. The amateur models require much direction and training, with lots of time spent on getting and maintaining desired poses and facial expressions. By comparison, shoots with the professional model were slick and easy with noticeably better results.”
— Ann Kingstone
Kingstone’s brand is strongly aligned with her home in Yorkshire and she wants the images that show off her patterns to stay true to the people in that area.
She also had great feedback on patterns that were shown on a model that wasn’t skinny.
“The adult model I have worked with most is a UK size 12, at least one size larger than is generally used in the fashion industry,” Kingstone says. “Among others, I have also worked with a much larger model than this, and I’ve received very positive feedback from knitters about this.”
For Amy Thomas, editor of the popular UK-based Love Sewing magazine, finding models of the right age is key.
“I need models who look appropriate for my audience, which is predominantly aged 40-plus, but don’t alienate my younger readers,” Thomas says. “They need to look like women, not girls, but that’s the opposite of the majority I see.”
“It’s an investment for all parties,” Strong explains. “The photographer donates his time, the model his, and I just supply the garment. I’m all for working for exposure. It’s how I built a successful full-time career.”
Other designers feel differently. Kingstone insists on paying her models, no matter their experience.
Sheridan agrees: “I know there are a lot of models that will work for portfolio shots in exchange for modeling, but I’m not cool with that at all. I expect to get paid, the tech editor expects to get paid, the pattern author expects to sell the pattern, why wouldn’t the model?”
Sheridan also makes the finished shots available to the model to use in a portfolio and provides tear sheets as well.
Sheridan also recommends giving them your website to check out.
“I always share my website and previous work examples, too,” she says. “Part of hiring typically youngish women on the internet is making sure they know I’m legit and not some creeper.”
Zucker recommends that you ask your models “what their current hair and size status is, and ask about tattoos or piercings. Specifically, ask about bra size and height too, so you get no surprises by models who do not look at all like their portfolio shots.”
“The biggest nightmare I’ve had was someone who showed up clearly high, with his hair color drastically different from the photos he’d shared, who would light up a cigarette the instant you turned your back. In the hand knit sweaters! We had to ask him to leave,” she says. “And when he did, he tried to take the sweater with him.”