How To Make A Living As A Freelance Model

What is a freelance model? Sample pose art from 19th century.
Hurry Up and Take The Picture!

Editor’s Foreword: This next piece is written by one of our contributors who has built a career in music promotion, modeling, and event hosting. Here’s a walk through of how she built her freelance modeling career using several websites and social media. We’re also going to take a quick look at some other common modeling gigs (art, promotional, hair & makeup).

There’s more to the world of modeling than being a runway model or print model. While becoming a commercial model is life changing, there are many modeling industry opportunities in freelance work. Modeling doesn’t stop after the fashion show. It carries on by helping consumer brands tell their story, helping craft visual narratives, and providing a face for worthy causes. Or even having a bit of fun as a glamour model or social media celebrity.

What is a Freelance Model?

Modelling is a career that many associate with conventional appearances, youthfulness, and higher connections in the business. However, in my 10 years as an amateur freelance model, I learned that the most important criteria for making money as a freelancer was learning quick and finding the right clients who fit your creative vision as well as their own. Many people have asked me “why didn’t you sign to a modeling agency?” The answer has always been simple: I was able to make my own money on my own time and work within my own comfort level.

How I Started – Creatives & Photography

My friends and I were always taking pictures of each other while growing up in a social media boom. We would stage mock photoshoots and post our pictures online, armed with only a cheap camera, internet connection, and creative ideas that would get us noticed on popular platforms such as Myspace and Deviant Art.

As a shy and awkward adolescent, I found myself in the background of school plays and overlooked in the hallways of my high school. But in front of the camera, I could be a supermodel and director all at once. I quickly became comfortable with posing my body and finding flattering angles that not only looked great in photos but soon became a sort of dance routine that boosted my confidence as well as my popularity on social media, much like influencers you see today.

Freelance Modelling On Social Media

A fan suggested I check out a website called Model Mayhem, an 18+ website for models, photographers, makeup artists, and stylists to post their portfolios and connect with others in the industry. The members of this site ranged from amateur to professional talent, and registration was free with messaging options and a gallery to post your photos. I chose the best from my photo shoots with friends, filled out a simple form including my physical characteristics, a list of jobs I was interested in, and quickly landed my first professional modeling gig.

What is a freelance model? Sample photo sheet from 1940's. Public domain.
A Sample Shoot (1946)

Jay* was a local photographer who was looking for a model to test out lighting. This type of modeling job is called TFP which stands for Time For Pictures (aka tfp shoots). Essentially, I agreed to model for Jay for free and receive pictures that boosted my portfolio that I could post on the website. After two hours in a professional studio and three outfit changes, I received files of high resolution photos that led to my first paying job after only one month on the website.

I had noticed other models list their hourly rates and decided to go for it and pursue paid gigs. $25 per hour was the basic standard for a fashion shoot so I was thrilled when a photographer named Michele* was willing to pay my rates for three hours, plus transportation, as long as I was willing to provide my own wardrobe and do my own makeup during my time in the studio. Michele’s creative vision provided me another batch of photos to use on my model portfolio. I had signed a small contract detailing I could post the pictures as long as I didn’t make more money from them.

What is a freelance model? Australian fashion model, 1930's, public domain

This was the photo shoot that launched me into mild fame on the Internet modelling market. Suddenly, I had multiple messages a day from photographers who were just starting their career and wanted to hire a model who had experience. Another sector of photographers were known as “hobbyists,” those who just enjoyed taking pictures and showing them off on their social media platforms. My hourly rates rose from $25 to $50 and I eventually grew a large enough portfolio to request a 2-hour minimum from the time I showed up to the wrap of the photo session. As an aspiring model this was a great start.

As a part-time college student, I was able to fit in 2-3 photo shoots a week. Many new photographers and promotional companies would provide transportation cost, wardrobe, and professional makeup to get the pictures looking right. I would still work occasionally TFP or TFCD (Time For CD of digital images) for those I felt would help enhance my portfolio and photographers who had a creative vision they wanted to use on their own.

Networking played a key part in this process. A photographer would recommend me to a friend and post my images, leading to another photographer that would soon contact me. However, I always stuck to a few safety standards to make sure the person was who they said they were. No matter how enticing a potential client is, you need to follow some basics rules to stay safe.

Safety Tips For New Models

1. Check references

Model Mayhem was a great start as it allows you to view a prospective clients page, contact other people they’ve worked with, and see if there’s any red flags. You can pay more for a broader portfolio; however, a few favorite pictures still can get you noticed.

2. Bring an escort

Most photographers and models do not want another person in the room while they’re shooting photos. However, trustworthy photographers don’t mind if they’re waiting in another room or at a coffee shop nearby knowing where you are and that you’re safe.

3. Verify their identity

Even if a photographer doesn’t have a professional site set up, they should be able to verify themselves through social media or their real name. You should be able to log their information and leave it with a trusted friend who knows exactly where you are and who you’re there with.

4. Watch out for scams

When scouring listing sites such as Craigslist, you can encounter many offers that are always too good to be true. You shouldn’t always expect to be paid right away when you’re starting as an amateur model. Be sure to use your search engine and see if the person’s name or company shows up under the Better Business Bureau, as many scam modelling agency types will rope you in for an interview and expect you to pay for a professional photo shoot up front.

Alternate Modelling Jobs

One thing I learned was to find your niche in the modelling world in order to make a career that can pay upwards of $50 an hour for a steady side job. There is a whole world of opportunities out there that can cater to your interests.

Art Modelling

What is a freelance model? Commercial model from the 19th century.
I Can Stand Here All Day…

No matter your shape or size, height, weight, or age, the art world is always looking for a model for life drawing classes. My friend Kay* wanted to make a quick buck for a single session of art modelling which required her to pose for a drawing class for $20 an hour with breaks to adjust her pose and she created a lucrative career through recommendations from professors for her patience. Kay soon became a professional art model with $50 an hour for a two hour class, four times a week. This type of modelling does generally require you to be in the buff to help art students learn how to sketch, paint, or draw natural bodies for art projects.

Promotional modelling

A local brewery in my area was looking for promotional models to put on their yearly calendar with the option to work for them. Many promotional companies I’ve worked for paid me in apparel and merchandising; however, my cousin Jessica and I were chosen to hand out samples at local stores for $50 an hour plus commission if we were able to sell the product. Promotional modelling is a great choice for social butterflies who know how to market their audience.

Fitness Model

Healthy lifestyles are big business! Fitness modeling is a cross between being a promo model and a fashion model, helping brands pitch their products as part of a healthy lifestyle. It’s a good match for expressive people who are into athletics and sports. Your modeling career can be a springboard to broader opportunities as a social media influencer. Look at posting a few pieces from your modeling portfolio to a social media account to build up a following.

Hair/makeup model

What is a freelance model? Example of fashion show modeling from mid 20th century. Public domain after copyright expiry.
Well Someone Has to Show off The Fall Collection!

Cosmetology is a big industry with a lot of new students and professionals who look for volunteers to give a free haircut and makeover in exchange for their portfolio. This helps the stylist or makeup artist attract clients. However, these photo shoots can also be published in hair and makeup magazines which can lead to royalties for your pictures and you not making a dime out of them. Make sure you read the contract and don’t sign if it states that you waive all rights to your copyright.

Independent model

There’s also a market for people who like to stay at home and take their own pictures to stay even safer and create a career by themselves as a model and photographer. Websites such as Shutterstock create prints and merchandise from model’s photos for you to sell online within your own price range. The company does take a small percentage but this could easily net a yearly income without much effort. A successful model can build a strong following in this space and enjoy a more flexible schedule than a professional model or print model.

The Bottom Line

An amateur modelling career is a great gig as long as you stay safe, stay smart, and keep up with messages and recommendations to create a wider network. If you create your own boundaries and hourly rates, a successful freelance model can easily earn upwards of $50 an hour depending on your comfort level and contacting clients whether they’re returning or new after checking out their references.

Modelling may be a safe and secure career that can lead to a steady job. The only tools you need is a drive for creativity and the willingness to learn and succeed. Along with the maturity to be your own boss. There are no rules for a creative venture – just find the right photographers and shine with your personality!

Author Bio: Evangeline is a freelance writer with a knack for finding high-paying side jobs, including but not limited to music promotion, modelling, and event hosting. She believes passion and creativity are the two key tools for creating an independent business.