Learn how to run a photography model call to grow your business

When you learn how to run a photography model call, you create an opportunity for growth in your business. Use a photography model call to build your portfolio, practice new skills, create social media buzz or even grow your clientele.

In this tutorial, we will talk all about the photography model call…what it is, how to run one and how it can benefit your business!

What is a photography model call?

A photography model call is a call for new subjects to serve as models for your work, usually with the expectation of some type of perk for participating. Essentially, you ask new or existing clients to participate in a session with you, either for free, for a discount or for some other special incentive.

You can run a call for models for any type of session you want to shoot…family, maternity, boudoir, cake smash, Fresh 48 or even birth photography. If you want to show it but need to shoot it first, a model call may be your answer!

how to run a photography model call

Do photography model calls require professional models?

Most photographers don’t require professional models for their photography model calls. They simply want new people (subjects) willing to participate in a professional photography session.

Some photographers, like high-end fashion or commercial photographers, might require professional models for their shoots.

But for our purposes, we’re going to treat a model call in this tutorial as a simple call for new subjects to work with, not professional models.

Why should run a photography model call?

There are really a lot of great benefits when you run photography model calls.

Build your portfolio

New photographers find themselves needing images of clients to build their portfolio. But they also need portfolio images to attract new clients. ARGHHH!

Photography model calls can help with this dilemma. Photography model call sessions give you images for your portfolio that demonstrate your style and skill. Because the session is free or deeply discounted, you can usually find willing subjects to participate. After the session, you can use those images for your portfolio or marketing efforts to attract new clients.

Model calls can also show your audience the type of images you want to shoot. If you want to start doing glamour girl and horse sessions but no one really understands that that looks like, a model call can help. You complete the session with the model to achieve your vision for the session. Then you have images to advertise and display the type of future work you want!

New photographers aren’t the only ones who run a photography model call, however. Many successful, established professionals use them as part of their business as well, for any of the reasons we list here.

Practice skills

Run a photography model call to practice your photography skills. Think of a photography model call session as a dress rehearsal. You can rehearse any type of skill or practice with your gear before the curtain is up and the audience is full of paying ticketholders. Model calls are a great way to try new equipment, work on new poses, get comfortable hosting clients or trying new techniques.

Build a clientele

Model call sessions will get new clients in your door. Because the session is usually free or deeply discounted, there is an incentive for new clients to try your business. They also encourage existing clients to try a new type of session with you. You’ve removed or reduced the barrier to entry (cost!) which gives clients a low risk opportunity to work with you.

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Build buzz

Model call sessions can help you create some buzz about your business. You’ll get traction from the model call itself and hopefully from the subsequent images as well.

I don’t shoot a lot of themed sessions, for example, if I’m needing to generate some buzz about my business, I’ll organize a model call for a really specific shoot to get people talking.

Fill the slow months

If you find yourself with some downtime and no clients to shoot, run a photography model call. These short sessions can easily help fill your schedule and keep you working. There is an opportunity to still make money on these sessions (see below) and you keep your skills current and have session images to market and add to your portfolio.

use contracts for all your photography sessions

How to run a successful photography model call

There’s no one right way to run a model call session. But here are some general guidelines.

  1. A photography model call should benefit you and your participants. You need to make sure you are getting some benefit out of the session (portfolio images, experience, word-of-mouth advertising) as well as provide some incentive to your participants (free images, free session, special perks, etc.)
  2. Identify your goals. This sets the stage for who, what and how you’ll advertise. If you just want new clients, for example, you’ll approach the model call differently than if you want to upsell the gallery to increase your cash flow.
  3. Set clear expectations. Be specific with your audience about the details of your model call. Specify who you want, what the session entails, when it needs to take place, what clients will receive in return for their participation and any other obligations they must meet for their “perk.” I’ll include some sample model call language below!

    Be extremely clear about all the details and stick to your guidelines. Don’t pull a bait and switch on the customer by advertising one thing but not following through. And don’t let a client talk you into a kind of session you don’t need. This is your model call and it should benefit you!
  4. Treat it like a paid session! Always treat a model call as you would a paid session. Use a contract, questionnaire and model release. Send them your marketing material and welcome guide.
  5. Follow up on your end of the bargain! Be sure to provide your models with all the products, images, etc., you agreed on in the contract and in the time frame you discussed. This builds trust and confidence in your business.

    I also provide my model calls with a small thank you of some sort, just like I would a paying client. That way, they really get a taste of what it’s like to work with me!
make money with photography model calls

How to make money when you run a photography model call

Model call sessions can actually generate income for your business. If you are an established photographer with a good client base and market recognition, you could run a photography model call for a discounted session. That way, you are still generating some income for your business while trying something new.

If you’re a new photographer and just want people in the door, you could run a photography model call for a free session but leave yourself room to upsell products after the session. Here are some examples of what that might look like:

  • The model receives a free session but has to pay for images or prints.
  • The model receives a low number of free images but has to pay for additional images or prints.
  • Your model receives a free gift (gift card, large print, hair and makeup styling, etc.) but must pay for images, prints or products.

Any of these scenarios gives you the potential for generating additional income for your business.


You need to be okay with a model taking their images, not making additional purchases and not becoming a loyal client. I see too many photographers getting angry or disgruntled when a photography model call doesn’t produce financial results. That’s not a healthy mindset and can leave you bitter and jaded.

Run your photography model call in a way that it still benefits you even if the client doesn’t make an additional purchase or become a permanent client.

what's a model call in photography

Sample Model Call

If I ran a model call on my page, it might look something like this!

“Calling all DRW Photography friends and fans!

I’m looking for fresh new faces to grace my new babies and kiddos portfolio!


When: Saturday, April 10 from 9-11 am at my studio

Who: Babies and kiddos, ages 6 months to 3 years old. Children must be able to sit on their own.

What: Complimentary spring themed mini session. You will receive 1 free digital images and a free 8×10 print credit for your time!

Signup: I only have room for 6 models! If you are interested, please e-mail me at [email protected] You’ll be added to my list of interested families. I will follow up to let you know if you have secured a spot.

Hurry, these spots will go fast!

In order to participate, you will need to sign a model release agreeing to let me use these images in my portfolio and marketing material.”

Remember to be specific!

You can run a call for models on your own social media pages. If you don’t have much for reach or want to reach new people, you can post in for sale sites, mom’s groups, specialty groups or even run a paid ad.

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how to set up a model call

Other questions about photography model calls

Should I require a deposit?

That’s a decision only you can make. A deposit ensures your client has some sort of financial investment in the process so they will follow through on participation. That way she shows up for the session and follows through with the other requirements, like sharing on social media or leaving a review.

If you have a significant cost to the shoot (studio rental, background, props, etc.) a deposit can be critical to help ensure compliance from the model and protect your investment.

But for some people, a deposit can be a barrier to entry (even if it’s refundable.) They might feel like you are trying to trick them or that you’ll cheat them out of that deposit somehow.

Do what feels right for you and your business.

Do I have to accept every person who applies?

No! You can accept the respondents who best fit your parameters. You are not obligated to accept every recipient as a model call. Some photographers choose to use an application to help determine which models will be a better fit for their business. Just make sure you aren’t turning them away for the wrong reasons, like race, religion or disability. That’s a quick way to wreck your business and turn off clients and the community alike.

The more specific you are about who you need, however, helps eliminate how many potential models you have to sort through. If you need images of young children ages 1-3, specify that in your model call.

Can I ask for someone to model without running a public model call?

Yes! I use model calls very strategically to get community influencers through my door and talking about my business or to get just the right personality to match my session.

What’s better a model call or a contest?

Both model calls and contests can work and provide similar benefits to your studio. My feeling is that a contest tends to garner more excitement and enthusiasm because of the “winner” factor. A model call, however, is more subtle and low key.

I run a contest when I want something visible with lots of engagement and I don’t necessarily have specific goals for the session. I run a model call when I have a specific vision for the session and I need a model to achieve that vision.

Can clients upgrade or change their model call?

People like to get the most value they can, even out of a free shoot. It’s not unusual to have your model ask to upgrade their free session to something else, say from a kids session to a family session.

Here’s my advice…your business, your rules. I personally am very strict with my model calls. They aren’t transferable or upgradeable because I have a very specific goal and time frame in mind.

But that’s what’s best for me. Do what feels right for your business but don’t let anyone take advantage of you. It’s okay to tell a potential client no. Boundaries are a good thing.

I have a potential model but she doesn’t want her images released. What do I do?

What were the goals of your model call? If your goal was to shoot images to add to your portfolio and share online, then she isn’t the model for you. Tell her a model release is part of the requirement for the session and if she isn’t willing to sign it, she’s not eligible for the session.

I really need reviews for my business page. Can a model call help with that?

Absolutely! Make an honest review part of the requirement for the free or discounted session. Require the client post a review on your site before you release any of the files or products to him.

What do I do with all of the potential models I turned away?

Having more potential models than sessions available is a great problem to have! Here are some ideas:

-Tell your potential model the sessions are full but to follow your social media for other opportunities.

-Ask if they’d like to be put on your email list to receive information about future model call opportunities.

-Offer them some sort of perk for booking a full session with you instead! Give them a free print or images, offer a discount or provide a complimentary gallery upgrade if they book a full session with you.

I had someone participate in a model call with me and tell me she loved her images. Now I see where she’s done a paid session for someone else. Should I ask her why?

My best advice in this situation is to simply let it go. It was a business relationship. If she fulfilled her end of the agreement (showing up for the session, leaving a review, etc.) that is where your business relationship ends. It may feel hurtful, believing that she picked another photographer over you. But let that client go and focus on all the people who do want to work with you and remain loyal.

It’s okay to ask for feedback or constructive criticism about your work so you can do better. But leave the other photographer and session out of it. Frankly, that’s none of your business and will only serve to put the participant on the defensive and ensure she’ll never be your client.

using models for your photography business

What should I provide for the model call in terms of props, backgrounds, etc.?

My rule of thumb is to duplicate the client experience even when I run a photography model call. So whatever I normally provide for a session is what I provide for model calls. I also provide whatever props are necessary to make the session a success.

I won’t buy props or a background specific to that model call participant, however. If I run a photography model call for little boy cake smashes, for example, I’ll provide a background, decorations, and a small cake. But I choose those details. I don’t let the potential participant tell me she’s having a construction themed birthday party so I’ll need to provide a construction themed session. This is my model call, not her paid session. Establish and maintain those boundaries.

What does TFP mean?

TFP is short for Time for Prints. It can also mean trade for prints or test for prints. It’s a term typically used by professional models or photographers working with professional models.

According to the Model Scouts website, the photographer agrees to shoot an agreed number of photographs of the model and provide the model with a limited license to use the best photos chosen from the shoot.

Choosing to run a photography model call can help grow your business, your confidence and sometimes even your bottom line. It can also be a way to meet new clients and generate buzz about your work. If you’re a new photographer trying to build your portfolio or a seasoned pro who needs to change it up, give a photography model call session a try!

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