The Truth of How I Hired My Last Model For a Major Ad Campaign

You book a commercial job and the client wants a beautiful face to grace their next ad. The client relies on you, the photographer to help with the process of hiring the model. The crew you hire rely on you to select the right candidate for their needs. That's great, right? Get the most radiant face, possibly the one with the highest social media numbers for that extra bump and you're set! Is that how it works?

I wish the process were simple but there are other factors, more important than a gorgeous face that increase your odds of a successful photo shoot. Being that you are the lead consultant for the brand and crew, they are relying on your expertise to guide the process.

First of all, beauty is subjective but in a town like Los Angeles, good looks are more common than a gluten allergy. I can throw a rock and hit a beautiful person, but finding one that is perfect for the photo shoot is a bigger undertaking.

The campaign that I developed for Michael Todd Beauty featured Wilhelmina Models talent, Vanessa Curry. Hiring Vanessa came with a long list of requirements that she fulfilled which made her the brand's final choice. 

How can you go through a more thorough vetting process? Decide what you are selling and what the intent of the photographic campaign is. In our case with Michael Todd Beauty, it was about creating a lifestyle brand that is within reach of every consumer. We wanted to elevate the current images and dictate that the consumer for this brand was successful, great to look at, knowledgeable about important products and had enough of an income to purchase quality goods. In addition, the company wanted a model that would appeal to multiple ethnicities. 

Ad 1 for Michael Todd Beauty

Knowing that important bit of information, I found the modeling agency who cater to this type of talent. I opted for Wilhelmina as they focus heavily on commercials vs. high fashion, though many models can cross over. Some jobs reach out to multiple agencies and others reach out to only one, the correct way of doing this is making sure you have enough options for the client.

In this case, we had great options with Wilhelmina and when you consistently book with one agency it does help with negotiating as a "return customer". This will save your client on their budget, not to mention makes them happy that you have solid relationships around town.

The modeling agency will send a "package" (online gallery of options who fit your criteria for this particular job). In viewing the package, I look for the following:

  • Can the model give a series of emotions or do they have one or two looks? In the event the client changes creative, you want to be prepared.
  • How do they move and showcase the variety of material and products in their portfolio?
  • Can they be both sexy & respectful? There's a fine line and your project will determine exact needs.
  • Do they understand their angles and in relation to the brand? 
  • Keep the makeup artist & hairstylist in mind when reviewing facial features they'd be working on. Are you making their job easier or harder?
  • Have they worked with other brands before? (Why this is critical)
  • Is the model sample size or what specs do they have? What are the specs because this will decide your wardrobe stylists' budget and efforts.
  • Review their digitals to see the real person vs. retouched portfolio images
  • Review their social media (This is BIG and it's not for the reasons you think)
  • Are they new or seasoned and worked with many photographers?
  • Are they pleasant to have on set? (This applies to your entire crew)

Capturing the perfect image for your client is only the tip of the iceberg. Setting them up for a successful shoot, creating a campaign they can build on and providing an on-set experience for everyone involved is also the duty of the photographer and producer.

Walid Azami's picture

Walid Azami is a Photographer/Director and creative consultant from Los Angeles. He got his start working with Madonna + Co by contributing to her many projects. It was then he realized his place in the creative world & began teaching himself photography. He has since shot Kanye, Mariah Carey, Usher, Bernie Sanders, JLO, amongst others

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Great video. Incredibly to the point.

PS: Are we still allowed to use word “sexy”? ;)

Thank you so much! :)

Thank you for your time creating video. For me most interesting was the last part, about having a lot of selfies and being a teamplayer. Got one question thou - usually agencies trying to sell their models best they can, and they know how to sell them well. Don't you think that casting in real life would suit your need better? For example I know how to direct even inexperienced model to look like an experienced one, but it will require just more time. However when you just browse a model's portfolio you don't usually see how much work was put into create that kind of portfolio, so I'm curious :)

Anyway, thank you for great inspiring video, and have good day :)

First of all, thanks so much for the comment and thoughts on the video. Yes, I stand by the selfie rule. When I see someone's IG and it's full of selfies it just screams "I think about myself first and I'm insecure". I understand that may be offensive to many but it's my experience. The reason why I try to avoid people with a majority of photos being selfies is that I feel they'll be more interested in taking the best photo of themselves on set vs. doing their job. I'm not here for that!

When a client puts their trust and money on my production, everyone must be on the same page. I also want to employ crew members who are confident in their craft. In my experience, the most confident people shine a light on others so they don't usually post as many selfies. Harsh right?

Casting in real life would be amazing! However, we have to factor in client budgets on time and money. I would in some cases bring it down to a handful of models and then meeting in person makes sense. The other issue with castings are that they're widely shared. You can ask for one type but you'll likely get ALL types walking in. That's why I rely on reliable agencies to help with the casting. If the package they send does not qualify, then I will move it to another agency for that job. Final choice is a wide casting. However, you're guaranteed a large amount of IG DM's, comments, Facebook messenger comments, phone calls, emails and more. I don't mind the hustle but a lot of times it's about time, organization and money.

Finally, I had hired Vanessa once before. I can vouch for her and that made everyone comfortable. I told the agency to give me a particular type of package and please add Vanessa in there. If it was a brand new situation, a live casting or Skype session would also work.

I think your questions were awesome, thanks!

Thank you for detailed answer - yes, indeed, casting usually takes quite lot of time, and when you were already working with Vanessa makes it more easy as you know how she work and what to expect. Usually I trying do the same and usually I pick model for editorials from the ones I already work with before. This way I'm sure about his/her character that It's pretty difficult to know from elsewhere (but IG is a great tip, haven't though about it that way). Again thanks for the video and happy shooting!

This is one of the best articles I've seen on Fstoppers laying out a real scenario that could properly prepare someone who is coming-up, for a real production.

*from experience

awwwwww thank you so much Kurt! Happy that you found it helpful. I'll write some more.

This video is helpful for photographers and models alike.

Thanks Sergio! You're right.... models should see it from the other side also.