The Complete Guide to Instagram Modeling


So, you want to try modeling? Or you just really want to step up your social media game? Whatever your angle, Instagram modeling is a huge platform for increasing your exposure to an audience across the globe. You've probably never seen an article like this one because frankly, it's a secret that many insta-ladies don't like sharing. Why? Simply put, it's a resource that is readily available to you already--you just didn't know it! 

Everybody's path is a bit different. For me, it began as a way to gain exposure in a big city and to get noticed at auditions as a St. Louis transplant. I would have never imagined that the whirlwind of Insta-modeling (and modeling) would have resulted. In the beginning, I booked shoots with almost anybody who contacted me (within reason). I didn't have a guidebook, so I made many, many mistakes and then wrote my own. 

Below are five steps to get you started in the world of Insta-modeling, as well as 12 pro-tips from yours truly on how you can knock it out of the park. I started Insta-modeling last year, and I can't tell you enough how many opportunities have found their way into my inbox. From performance opportunities to freelance gigs, it has transformed my artistic career and enabled me access an audience I had previously thought impossible. The steps below are purely from the model's perspective, as that's how I started on my journey before later catching the bug and investing in my own camera. I now do portrait photography, as well as jump in front of the camera on a regular basis. 


Step One: Improve your self-created content. Gone are the days of relying on a professional camera for a good picture. If you've never modeled before, chances are that you've got an Instagram account full of everything from your adorable dogs to last night's french fries. While a varied feed can be a positive thing, don't vary content so much so that it's hard for the viewer to recognize who you are, what you do, etc. If you're marketing yourself as a model (or potential model) you need to have plenty of pictures of yourself on your feed, ideally flattering. Do not upload unflattering, blurry, and/or grainy photos. Think about your feed as a portfolio, as photographers will visit  this space first to determine whether or not they'd like to photograph you. 

PRO-TIP: Invest in a cellphone tri-pod to help you capture moments when you may not have somebody there to take your picture. Even now that I have a nice camera, I still use my cell phone tri-pod on a regular basis to capture things on-the-fly. They are cheap, fit in your pocket, and incredibly handy. Here's a good one!

PRO-TIP: Show off your style in your Instagram posts! Many times in Insta-modeling, you'll be supplying your own wardrobe. Experiment with fashion trends and bold colors and patterns. Photographers love photographing unique subjects--so don't be afraid to stay true to your style and personality.

Step Two: Grow your Following. One of the main reasons a photographer would agree to photograph you without payment is to expose their work to an entirely new audience. Therefore, it would be wise to grow your following at the same time you're preparing to reach out to photographers about collaborating. There isn't a set number of followers that you'll need--really this up to the preference of the photographer. Some will work with models that have a few hundred followers, while others require at least 10,000 followers for a collaborative shoot. There are hundreds and hundreds of posts out there about how to grow your Instagram following, and I will no doubt add my own eventually, but I will recap briefly below. 

Instagram is a give and take platform, and the currency is likes and comments. Start with the people you know--your friends, family, coworkers, etc--and work outwards to your city, state, region, country, etc. Find high-volume, well performing hashtags by searching Instagram with key words that are similar to your content, and like/comment on these photos/accounts. For example, one of the largest Saint Louis hashtags is #stlouisgram. Any posts using the #stlouisgram hashtag will be collected here, so it's the perfect place for me to find other active IG'ers in my area. I use this hashtag on all of my posts so they are collected here too. The goal is to make it into one of the "top performing posts' section, so any time somebody visits this hashtag, your content is listed first! This is how your posts will separate you from the pack.  

PRO-TIP: There are two camps of people: those who focus on likes and those who focus on followers. In this context, likes are king. Followers will come naturally, but it's far more impressive to have 350 likes with 2000 followers than the same amount of likes with 10,000 followers. Although the #followforfollow  or #likeforlike trend is tempting to boost your numbers, this actually doesn't do much for your engagement long term. Growing your following isn't an overnight process, so don't be discouraged--an authentic, engaged following is so much more rewarding (and beneficial) than a bunch of ghost followers!

Simply put, the more social media influence you have (ie. following), the more attractive you will be to photographer who may potentially photograph you for trade. 


Step Three: Find photographers that consistently create work that you admire. Search for photographers in your area by searching different forms of the hashtag: "#[yourcity]photography" (for example: #stlphotography, #stlphotographers, #nashvillephotography, etc). There are tons of photographers (of all skill levels) on Instagram because it's the perfect creative platform for sharing visual content. As such, there are a a variety of different styles out there- lifestyle, boudoir, product, editorial, fine art portraits, etc- each requiring a little different approach from both sides of the lens. Spend some time finding imagery that connects to you and consider what type of image you'd like to project into the world. Only contact photographers that align with your vision and respect your boundaries. 

Once you've found a photographer (hopefully a few) in your area that you'd like to work with, follow them and like/comment on their work first before then reaching out with a Direct Message. Many models looking for collaborative shoots ignore this step, and it can send a message that you aren't supportive or inclusive of other artists and their work. Being supportive from the beginning shows you're easy to get along with and communicates you're serious about working together! 

I understand the panic you may feel-- "...You mean, follow before they agree to shoot me?"  If you are meticulous about your followers/following ratio, there are tons of apps out there that track your followers--get one, and if they don't respond and/or follow back within a week, unfollow them. Just as you're demonstrating support of their work, so too should the photographer show support of yours. 


In your Direct Message, compliment their work and style, and communicate that you would love to collaborate and/or shoot. Be prepared for the photographer to quote you normal prices. Not all photographers photograph based on portfolio trade, and can be selective about who they photograph for free (based on following, look, etc).

In this case, respond with something along the lines of, "I completely understand your time is valuable, but I unfortunately I only have the resources available to offer  portfolio trade at this time. Please let me know if you are in the need of a model in the future!" It is imperative you respond here, guys. If you message a photographer for free work, and you fail to respond after they quote you fair prices you come off like a real J-E-R-K. They have every right to a decent wage-- thank them for their response and move on. 

If the photographer is interested, you'll move forward with scheduling your shoot. He/she should provide you with a location and styling/aesthetic notes, often including inspiration photos to give you a visual idea of what the concept for the shoot is. For example, is it grungy-punk or girl next door? 

PRO-TIP: Some photographers will post on their Instagram feed and/or story when they are in need of a model for a particular shoot. If you didn't reach out initially and/or the timing wasn't right when you messaged before, follow-up now! Sometimes it's just a matter of needing a model available at a certain day/time--

PRO-TIP: There are a bunch of inexperienced and/or questionable photographers lurking on Instagram. Choose wisely when deciding who to reach out to and/or agree to shoot with. It is without question that an unflattering picture of you will undoubtedly surface (it's part of the game), but you can minimize the amount of times this happens by being highly selective abut who you work with. If the photographers that you're reaching out to keep turning you down, revisit to the steps above (improve your self-created content and grow your following). Don't settle for photographers that produce work that is over-sexualized in a way you don't respect, blurry and/or low quality, or otherwise unflattering. It sets the tone for your work as a whole, and you can bet other photographers judge your work based on who you shoot with. Please guys, don't just shoot with any creep with a camera. 

PRO-TIP: Depending on how successful you are with step one and two, and how active you are in seeking out photographers in your area to follow/support, it is possible that photographers will start reaching to you without any prompting. Consider this a sign that you're on the right track. As long as their work is something you can get behind, book the shoot! 


Step Four: The Shoot. Finally! The day you've been waiting for. When you both agree on a date/time, do not be late. Since you're both giving your time freely, it's important that you do not waste it (and vice versa). This is the fun part! When you start posing, remember that each time you hear the shutter click you can transition into a slightly different pose, perhaps lifting up an arm or poking out a hip. Often the photographer will show you a few of the images he/she is getting straight out of the camera so you can adjust accordingly and/or get a better idea of what the framing looks like. This is incredibly helpful, so don't be afraid to ask for a peek. It helps both of you! 

PRO-TIP: Take a friend or family member with you! It goes without saying that meeting strangers (even strangers who take beautiful pictures) is dangerous. Always do your homework before meeting up and enlist a close buddy to be your wing-man to avoid any dicey situations.

PRO-TIP: In general, options are always nice. Bring a backpack with a few pieces of back-up clothing in case you'd like to photograph more than one look or if the outfit you started in clashes with the overall setting and you have the ability to duck into a bathroom to change. Unless you've agreed upon an outfit to start in, show the photographer what options you've brought and move on from there. 

PRO-TIP: Sometimes it can be difficult to change up your posing, especially if you've found one or two poses that work for your body/shape. You'll wonder how many ways there truly are to hold your limbs. Research fresh pose ideas on Pinterest, and create a board exclusively for pose inspiration. I've pulled out my phone mid-shoot many times to get a quick zap of inspiration from my posing board! 

PRO-TIP: Each photographer will be a little different about how soon he/she edits the photos, as well as what format they are delivered in. Try to give them ample time to edit the photos before following up. Since these shoots are typically personal projects, you'll often need to wait until they have personal time to edit them (this can be scarce for everyone)!

PRO-TIP: If you plan on sharing outside of social media (printing for your portfolio or otherwise), you'll want to tell the photographer this before he edits the photos. Many editing software applications out there will lower the resolution in your photos, making them less than ideal for printing (ex. VSCO, My Color Story, etc). Let them know ahead of time, and eliminate any re-editing they may need to do to in the higher-resolution format. 


Step Five: Posting the photos. When sharing a photographer's work online, never add additional filters or your own editing to the photograph without explicit permission from the photographer. There are a combination of reasons for this, including intellectual property rights and artistic integrity. Tag the photographer in their handle in both the picture itself and the caption. This is common courtesy, and is the easiest way for your followers to learn more about the photographers you're working with. Even if the photographer chooses to hide your particular photo from his "tagged photos," the link is still helpful to anybody finding the post organically. Don't be afraid to brag about them and/or their skills, as this helps funnel your followers more directly to the photographer's work. Make an effort to support and promote the photographers you work with! 

PRO-TIP: If you're serious about modeling, you may want to consider adding "Model" to your profile drescription and/or converting your Instagram profile to a business account once you've gotten a couple shoots under your belt. This sends a clear message to the photographer that you have experience and are serious about modeling. Converting your account to a business profile also enables Instagram Analytics, which will gives you all sorts of handy information including the peak times to post, insights on trending content, etc. 

That's about it: My Complete Guide to Instagram modeling. Do you have any tips to add? Leave me a comment below!