The way in which you position yourself at the start of your modeling career will dictate the kind of work you can – and cannot – pick up later on. Clearly, then, you’ll need to think very carefully about how you present yourself to potential clients right from the start.
Although it may seem logical not to close any doors or burn any bridges in your career, in reality a model who tries to offer something to everyone is more likely to end up meaning not a great deal to anyone at all. Just as photographers need to find their own unique style to set themselves apart from competitors, in order to become a successful model you will also need to establish a clear and focused public image of your own. This means finding your niche, and owning it.
That’s all very well in theory, but just how does a model go about carving out a unique and appealing sector of the market all of their own?
This article explains all.
Regardless of what your natural instincts might be, there will always be a side of modeling that requires you to be outgoing, talkative, and easy to get along with. Certainly few jobs get given to those who are overly reserved, unapproachable, or just plain rude.
In this respect modeling is no different from any other profession, in that people who are naturally chatty and extrovert will find networking and public relations relatively easy – if not actually a pleasure. Meanwhile, more shy and introvert models would probably prefer not to have to deal with this side of things at all. That’s life.
Yet whether you enjoy being the center of attention and schmoozing powerful industry players or not, it is a core part of a model’s job simply to be friendly, charming, and approachable. So if you want to be successful in your career, you will have to learn to at least give the appearance of being sociable and easygoing – even if in reality you’d much rather be at home in bed reading a book.
When it comes to finding your style as a model though, you will need to take a quite different approach. Here it makes no sense to fight your true instincts. Instead, the process of developing an authentic and convincing personal style goes hand in hand with understanding yourself as an individual and being fairly true to this.
Only once you have an objective idea of your personality, and a clear understanding of the things that really excite and interest you as a person, can you begin to develop these into a unique, strong, and coherent personal brand.
Developing a personal style is a little easier for a photographer than it is for a model; for photographers it largely comes down to technique and creative choices. For a model though, it can be more difficult to control how you are photographed and styled. What you can control however, is the attitude you give off and the way you present your personality.
In fact, in today’s modeling industry, personality counts far more than ever before. It’s not enough to be just a pretty face, instead you need to draw upon all your assets in order to make yourself stand out. Today’s successful models are memorable not only for their physical looks but also for their charisma and distinctive public personas.
However, while personality clearly plays an important part in modeling, it goes without saying that models get hired primarily for their physical appearance. Clearly then, in order to develop a coherent image as a model, it’s essential that you gain a detached and objective understanding of your look, and where it might best fit into the market.
You may be wondering why this is so important. Surely it’s better to put yourself out there, showing what you can do, and let the market decide your niche for you?
In fact, why limit yourself to a specific area of modeling at all? What sense is there in ruling out the possibility of certain jobs right from the beginning? Isn’t it better to keep your options as wide open as possible?
Although these may seem like sensible objections, in practice there are just too many models working at any one time for you to be able to successfully compete with them by offering a little bit of everything. Instead you will need to develop an image that is relatively specialized and unique.
There are many sub-sections of the modeling industry, each with its own particular requirements. Just as an author of radical poetry would be unlikely to land a book deal with publishers of romantic pulp-fiction, you’re probably not going to get too many modeling jobs if your look is distinctly edgy or quirky but you only ever go to castings for washing detergent, toothpaste, or low-fat yogurt ads. Instead you will need to focus on a specific segment of the market, and provide exactly what that segment needs.
Obviously though, this must be the right segment of the market for your particular look and talents. Some models make the mistake of having a portfolio that is too diversified, hedging their bets in the hope of picking up jobs from all sectors.
On paper it might seem logical that you would want to avoid narrowing down your potential opportunities unnecessarily. In practice though, the models who perform best in their careers tend to be those who have developed a clearly recognizable style for themselves.
By trying to cover too much of the market, all you will succeed in doing is confusing people. If a client needs an athletic and sporty model for an activewear shoot, there are literally thousands of people they can choose from who do this, and only this. And do it well.
Similarly, if a magazine is looking for a more moody, mysterious, or glamorous look, they will have no shortage of options to choose from either. Typically from people who have turned themselves into the “go-to” model for precisely this niche.
Why would they book a model who does a little bit of everything, but specializes in nothing?
You will likely be more successful if you direct your energy towards one or two carefully chosen and highly relevant sections of the industry. In order to do this, you will need to gain a clear understanding of two very important things:
Only by understanding this will you be able to work out where you fit into the modeling industry.
Only once you know what kind of work you might potentially be able to get can you begin to target that area of the market by establishing a tailored personal brand.
In developing a personal style as a model, the trick is to find a balance between your physical appearance, personality, and personal interests; while also taking into account the demands of the market and your potential niche within it. So although it’s important to make a feature of your personality traits and passions , it’s also essential to be realistic about your physical characteristics.
Of course, part of the reason for developing a distinctive personal style is precisely to tweak your physical assets so that they better coincide with the area of the market you’d most enjoy working in. But there’s a limit to how much can be achieved by changing your haircut, altering the way you dress, or varying the kind of images you use in your personal branding.
For example, you may love editorial fashion photography of the kind that appears in cutting edge style magazines, and dream of one day appearing on the cover of i-D or Dazed. But although you may be able to align your style to fit better with an editorial look, rebranding can only achieve so much. So although your personal tastes might be very alternative and grungy, you may have to face the fact that you are better suited to working in a more commercial area of the market. I.e if you are a more classically attractive model with a sporty physique, magazine shoots of the edgier kind will likely have to remain an unfulfilled dream; you are simply not what this particular area of the market is looking for right now.
In short, while your personal style as a model is definitely something that you should consciously and deliberately develop, in order to be effective it must be based upon your actual physical attributes. There is no point in trying to be something you are not. On the contrary, finding your market and style means making the best use of everything you’ve got.
Once you’ve understood your main strengths as a model – both physical and regarding your personality – you will need to build upon and develop these assets in order to create your own “visual universe.” In practice this means putting together a portfolio that reflects your personal style while aiming squarely at the segment of the market where you think that your talents will be most widely appreciated.
This can be as simple – and as passive – as just choosing not to include certain images in your portfolio. For example, leaving out overly clean and commercial lifestyle shots if you are more suited to something edgier.
But it may also mean commissioning photographers to produce specific photos for you that will help to reinforce your chosen image. For example, until now you may have mostly done studio work, and feel that it would be beneficial to add some grittier location shots to your portfolio. In this case booking a photographer to shoot a series of urban-themed portraits of you might help to better focus your style in the direction you want to go.
Of course, not all the images you share on Instagram and elsewhere will necessarily be photos of yourself. Many people’s IG feeds feature numerous photos of the places they go; the people they meet; the things they do; and the food they eat. There’s no reason why your social media accounts shouldn’t include this kind of material too.
However, unlike the average user, you will need to consider very carefully the photos of this kind that you do and do not share online.
Everything you post should in some way help to reinforce your brand image. If it doesn’t fit, or in some way detracts from that image, then it has no business being there.
For example, if your physical look is quite delicate and refined, and you are aiming to get booked for shoots for upmarket clothing brands, your personal style needs to be every bit as classy as your target market. In this case it wouldn’t make sense to post a photo of a burned-out abandoned car that you saw on the way home, or a photo of your half-eaten fast-food lunch.
Having just recommended that you should narrow things down to a distinct niche, it might seem somewhat contradictory that we now offer the advice that you should diversify your portfolio as much as possible. In actual fact though, there is no contradiction here at all. Because what we’re urging you to do is to try to cover as many different bases as you can within your niche.
I.e. having identified and developed your personal style and target market, it’s now time to show people that you totally rule this sector: despite being dedicated and focused upon this area of modeling, you are in fact extremely adaptable, versatile, and multi-talented.
For example, if you’ve developed a personal style that is quite natural and healthy looking, the next step is to show prospective clients all the ways I’m which this natural and healthy look can be applied to their brands and products.
Admittedly everything we’ve discussed up until now may all seem rather abstract and non-specific. It’s all very well saying that a model needs to understand their physical and personality traits so as to best adapt and target them to a specific area of the market, but what does this actually look like in practice?
Let’s consider one of the top male models of the moment, Richard Biedul. This is a man who has carved out a very successful niche working for the world’s most elegant luxury menswear brands. Interestingly, this achievement partly comes down to the fact that Biedul has made very good use of something that for another model could have meant the end of their career.
What do we mean by this? Well, despite being only in his mid thirties, Biedul’s beard is mostly gray, and noticeable streaks of white punctuate his hair. If Biedul were to push himself to the more youth-oriented streetwear market, these premature signs of aging would likely present a serious obstacle to success. Yet while his gray hair lends hims the authority and elegance of a somewhat older man, Biedul is still very handsome and youthful looking. This unusual combination has made him the default choice for those brands catering to a more mature market who are in need of a model offering a dashing gentlemanly look.
Instead of opting to remain clean shaven and dyeing his hair to hide the increasing gray strands, Biedul has instead made a positive feature of his encroaching middle-age. In doing so he’s established a persona that recalls the eccentric and arty English aristocrat of old. Fittingly, you’ll be hard pressed to find images of Biedul wearing anything but a suit: that’s his niche, and right now nobody can touch it. It also makes him instantly recognizable: not just another disposable chiseled jawbone with toned pectorals, but a rakish old-style charmer.
This doesn’t mean that you necessarily need to make a feature of your “faults” too. But hopefully it illustrates the fact that, by gaining a good understanding of both your own assets and the needs of the market, you can potentially create a distinct and highly desirable personal brand that people will easily remember and – most importantly – also want to buy into.