How I Got Into Modelling

This is a question I get asked almost as often as "How tall are you?!"...which is normally followed by "Oh my goodness, your parents must be really tall!" or "Wow, you should be a model". So, I'm going to explain how I got into modelling in the first place and a little bit about my 6 years as a model.

So I turned 6ft at 12 years old and then grew a further inch between 12-16 years old (I was always a tall child, I didn't have a particular growth spurt like many people do). So from a very young age, I was always told "You should be a model". When people first said this, I didn't think much of it, but as I got older, I became interested in the fashion industry and started watching programmes like America's Next Top Model religiously. I quickly became obsessed with the idea of getting into modelling. So at 14 years old, I took some photos of myself in my bedroom and applied to a website called Models Connect. Within around a week, I got a phone call asking me to come to their studio in London and do a photo shoot with them (and obviously they had to get permission from my mum because I was under 16 years of age).

So in a month, I went on a crazy diet and lost around a stone and a half before travelling to London for my first ever photo shoot. I had to bring a range of clothing and heels (I'd never worn heels at this point!) and they had some amazing make up artists, hair stylists and a lovely photographer. The shoot took around 5 hours I think, with 3 outfit changes, 3 hair and make up styles and some photos in their studio and outside. I was not paid for this shoot and I did not pay for the shoot, but my mum was given the option afterwards to buy some of the photos if she wanted to. In order to build up a portfolio for me, she did purchase a few photos. The agency said I had a natural talent in modelling and with some experience, I could do well. My height gave me an obvious advantage!

These are some of the photos from that first photo shoot, back in 2009.

After this shoot, I started researching online how I could build my portfolio more and get some experience and I found out that there were photographers all over the place who would do a shoot for free, known as TF in the modelling world - which stands for Trade For, back in the day, it would be TFP (trade for print) or TFCD (trade for images on a CD) so you don't pay the photographer and they don't pay you, you are both working for free to get experience and build up a portfolio. So the next few shoots I did were TF shoots, the first one was in London before I found a ton of photographers based in my area (Southampton) through modelling networking websites like Net Models, Purple Port and some others I can't even remember now.

This photo here was taken in London on a TF shoot, back when I had severe acne and still had braces! But... I did have a pretty decent figure with an almost 6 pack from how much swimming and going to the gym I used to do!
The photo below was my 3rd photo shoot, in the area I live in with a local photographer (who I went on to work with many times in the following years). I had to walk through my local shopping centre in that outfit with heels on (making me about 6ft6). That definitely turned some heads!

So after probably around 2 years of TF modelling, when I turned 16, I spoke to a few photographers and asked if they thought I was ready to start charging for photo shoots. Most of them said they were surprised I wasn't already charging, so I decided I would charge a very low amount to start off and increase it if I was still booking lots of work. Bearing in mind when I was 14-16, I was still in school full time, then 16-18 I was at college and I also played netball 3 nights a week and taught swimming 3 times a week. I was a busy girl!

To start with, I charged £15 an hour for fashion and offered a reduced rate for a booking over 3 hours and if I had to travel for the shoot, I asked them to cover my expenses. The first paid job I ever had was actually a job for Lynx (the shower gel brand). They paid me £65 for about an hours work in Bournemouth, doing a promo job for a new shower gel release back in 2011. We set a world record for the most people in a shower at one time and were featured in a TV advert chasing a man down the beach (you might remember those adverts).

After that, I started doing a ton of paid fashion shoots, with the odd TF shoot if it was an interesting shoot but it was always part time. I did some crazy shoots in this time! They were usually for photographers wanting to build their portfolio with experienced models or sometimes it was for clothing brands, magazine articles and uni projects. The photo below on the left was for a T-Shirt brand called 'Design By Numbers'.

I did approach a few agencies and had agencies approach me to sign me. I met with a few agencies and was put on their books when I was around 15-16 years old, however, when I had other commitments, I actually found agencies to be counter productive. They emailed me regularly asking to attend castings or jobs during the weekdays when I was at school. After I had to repeatedly turn down jobs because I was in school, we agreed I wasn't best suited with an agency. I always knew that modelling was not a long-term thing, unless you are super successful, a lot of models retire around 25 years old. So I wanted to ensure I did well in school to have an academic career afterwards - I couldn't prioritise modelling. But I think I did alright without an agency! One of my favourite modelling jobs of 2012, was for a charity Cancer Research calendar, which involved wearing a bald cap and sticking rhinestones all over our faces!

 In the summer of 2013, I modelled full time because I had finished college and wasn't starting university until the September. This was the time my modelling sky-rocketed (well for me anyway!) I was earning a ton of money, charging £25 an hour for fashion and I started lingerie modelling too, which I charged £30 an hour for plus travel. The photos I got from this time in my life are still some of my favourite to this day!

So after some more shoots here and there, I was blessed enough to receive some publications in magazines and online articles as well as book jobs for more clothing companies.

Shortly after that, I moved to Scotland in January 2015 with my (now) husband and decided to start modelling again full time. When I first moved up, it was a whirlwind of shoots, turned out, many Scottish photographers liked Southern models because we are a 'better breed' according to many of them, so everyone wanted to book me because I was all new and exciting. This led to a crazy amount of amazing shoots, publications and fashion shows.

However, since then, my husband and I had to move from the area we were living in (which was close to Glasgow) to about an hour and a half away from Glasgow. Unfortunately in Scotland, there are no where near as many photographers in general as there are down South. All the photographers there are in Scotland, seem to be based in the major cities, like Glasgow and Edinburgh. When we moved in September 2015, I decided to get a normal job in retail so that I could have a regular income and wouldn't have to travel to Glasgow every day.

Overall, modelling is not as easy as it looks. It can give you a massive confidence increase, when you see nice photos of yourself, but at the same time, you can see horrible images of yourself that make you feel ugly. You have to stay in shape constantly, you have to make sure your hair is regularly dyed so you don't have roots showing (in my case), look after your skin religiously, you have to have a very large collection of shoes, clothes and accessories and always purchase new stuff so your portfolio doesn't look the same, you have to spend a lot of time emailing and messaging photographers and companies, a lot of time travelling and a lot of time prepping for shoots. Also, photo shoots can be physically and mentally draining, some poses can hurt every muscle in your body, wearing heels all day can hurt your feet, having to stay focused on a camera for hours on end and stay energised and bubbly. Not every photographer is friendly and chatty, you are putting yourself at risk every time you turn up to a shoot. It's not as easy as people think it is.

My advice for anyone who is interested at getting into modelling would be to do your research on every photographer you speak to and ensure they have good reliable references, work hard to build up a portfolio based on TF work. Attend model & photographer networking events and join networking websites or facebook groups / pages. In my case, because of other commitments, it took me about 2 years to be ready to start charging for shoots (some of this was based on my age too), so don't expect to do one shoot and be experienced enough to be paid for shoots. A lot of people struggle to find paid work, especially around Christmas time when everyone is skint, and this is also affected by where you live, as I found out.

I do miss modelling sometimes and I still kept all the clothes and stupidly large collection of heels that I used for modelling in the hope I might model again one day, but for now, I'm okay with what I'm doing.

Sarah (aka. Pale Princess) x