The Model Call – A “Bait and Switch” Tactic?

A lot of questions about model calls have been coming my way, asking what they are, what you give the models, and how you handle the process… while these have been geared mostly at newborn portraits, the model call has been a staple of the photography business across all ages for portfolio building and practice and experimentation.

But, is it being misused these days to get ‘clients’ into the studio rather than for the photographer’s personal growth?

Here’s what I’m seeing a lot of:

“Business is slow, so I want to do a model call to show I’m busy and get more clients in the door.  What should I give them to get them to book the model call with me?”

This is different than “I want to practice ______ and need some babies/pregnancy mamas/etc. What should I give them for their time?”

The first question isn’t a model call – its called a “promotion” or a “deal” or a “special” –  your goal is clients and money.  (not that there’s anything wrong with either).  But this is where the “bait and switch” attitude towards the modern model call is coming in – the photographer is giving the session for free, but the ‘model’ needs to purchase everything they might want to have from the session.  Or they get one 8×10 for a newborn model call.  So yes, it’s free… but not, not really, not if you actually want anything.   This isn’t a true model call – it’s a desperation call for paid work at a discount.

People aren’t stupid, so if you basically plan to do a session at a discount, take out the “model call” verbiage that implies you NEED them.  Make a promo for newborns, or standing babies ages 7-14 months or something specific that you want to showcase more of and have a “limited time offer.” In doing so, you’ll be getting clients who are planning on purchasing (and appreciating a deal) rather than people who are ‘doing you a favor’.  (Now, making it an insane deal of super cheap proportions… that’s a different issue with a whole different set of problems that will hit you. So balance that).

For instance, if I want more newborns in my portfolio, I might run a promotion where my session fee is paid ahead of the session like normal. But instead of it being gone, it will be converted into a print credit for the ordering appointment! This is a “deal” – and the goal is clients that will buy and spend more than the print credit. (and then come back for the rest of the baby’s milestone sessions, and holiday card images… and become real full clients because I wow’d them with my work and customer service and gave them a great photography experience)  .

A true model call first and foremost for the photographer’s growth and needs. I make sure my model calls are about me – aka they dress how I say and do what I want. Not clients wants. I ask for complete creative control if the session. Anything less and it’s a client session and they pay regular rates.

I also always give something in return. My maternity one was free mini + five digital images.  I made sure it wasn’t an open ended call for everyone – I said I was looking for 3-5 women and required that they email in a belly shot for consideration.  They came out of their half hour session with me with 5 images of their choice for their time, with no obligation to buy anything (but a 20% discount if they did want prints, and a discounted price on additional files).   They were truly ‘doing me a favor’ but at the same time, they were being done a favor. There’s a balance to it that works.

A true model call  should also be specific: aka “need one newborn boy model to showcase a new prop/outfit” with the date… aka, not a full session…. or “looking for pregnant women due between June and July to test new locations for maternity photography sessions”   Have a specific goal in mind: bean bag images of newborns, trying out the buckets and crates posing that you’ve been really wanting to practice, doing a cake smash for the first time before trying it with an actual client….  But whatever it is, articulate it.  And then stick to JUST THAT.  If they’re coming in for the cake smash free session and they tell you they want 3 outfits and two background changes… that’s a paid separate session!

Here’s some more model call phrasing that works:

“Looking for 3-5 (or 1-2 aka a specific low number) _______ (pregnant mama between 26 and 32 weeks, newborn boy under 3 weeks at session, teenage girl ages 15-19 for __________ (maternity location session, newborn prop test shoot, high key lighting shoot).  In exchange for your time, if selected, you will receive ________________.  You then have them ‘submit’ for your consideration. Samples of my fill in the blanks can be anything you want for anything you want, but having a specific ‘call’ makes it less like “I need to shoot people ’cause I have no clients!” – and more of an exclusive club…. .

So what should you give your models for their time? The good thing is that a model can be compensated with whatever you want to give.

You can charge a reduced rate, or you can do free + goodies/credit – and the amount and all is determined by you.   But if you’re doing the model call to get practice, then be generous in what you give.

And if you really are doing it to get business… then, make a special promotion/offer and advertise it that way…Disguising a promotion as a model call is, IMO, a bait and switch.


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