Modeling Photography Scams

"Our prior modeling cases were all about photos; you thought you were being selected as a model, but all they were trying to sell you was photos, these expensive comp cards." -- Robin Spector, Attorney, Federal Trade Commission

"The number one problem we see is big money wasted on useless photos that were sold to an 'unsuspecting' model thinking he/she was getting great photos." -- GO International Modeling Agency

"A legitimate agency does not charge money to be a model. You may pay for some test pictures, but it won't be more than $300 for the entire shoot and everything." -- Joel Wilkenfeld, President, Next Model Management, New York

"If you are signed by a model agent, they will recommend 'test' photographers for your portfolio. Test photographers charge a lower rate since they are looking to build their own fashion portfolio." -- Nina Blanchard, The Nina Blanchard Agency

"Consumers may submit snapshots to agencies for review; however, agencies themselves do not produce portfolios 'in house.' Additionally, consumers should always pay the photographer and the printing company directly for any work done." -- BBB

"The agent should not recommend one photographer, and you do not pay the agency, you deal directly with the photographer." -- Nina Blanchard, The Nina Blanchard Agency

"According to talent agents, portfolios are developed over the course of a person's career. Therefore novices do not need expensive portfolios." -- BBB

"Do not get a portfolio before getting an agent." -- Nina Blanchard, The Nina Blanchard Agency

"Beware of photo pushers. They are seemingly legitimate talent agencies who make money by receiving kickbacks from photographers. The agent's advice may sound helpful, but the photo 'deal' will cost an exorbitant amount of money." -- Erik Joseph, Author, The Glam Scam

"If a so-called talent agent sends you to a particular photographer for pictures, hold your wallet tight and run for the nearest exit! Chances are the 'agent' is a phony who makes money splitting the photographer's fee." -- Los Angeles Office of the Consumer Protection Agency of the Federal Trade Commission

"Steer clear of modeling companies that require you to use a specific photographer. Compare fees and the work quality of several photographers." -- Federal Trade Commission

"Never spend money on a portfolio for a baby or young child. In three months they will look different. The pictures in your wallet will do just fine." -- Eve Matheson, Author, The Modeling Handbook

"Don't let anyone sell you a thousand-dollar portfolio. You only need a couple of snapshots to find out if an agent is interested. Then a good headshot is all you need to get started." -- Tim Tew, Photographer, Orlando, Florida

"Think your child is model material? Bogus talents scouts do. And they'll gladly set up a professional photo shoot to allegedly help you get modeling and acting jobs for your tyke. Of course, they don't tell you that the market for infant models and actors is very small. What's more, because an infant's looks change quickly, the photos become outdated. In truth, few infants are marketed with professional photos. Legitimate agents, advertising agencies, casting directors and producers generally ask for casual snapshots of infants that have been taken by family members or friends." -- Federal Trade Commission

Some of the biggest modeling scams are modeling photography scams. There are modeling scam artists making millions from modeling photography scams. They travel across the United States, hitting many cities, finding 100 people in each city to pay $1,000 for modeling photos.

The basic idea of modeling photography scams is potential models pay for modeling photos but they do not get modeling work. The bottom line in all modeling photography scams is aspiring models pay for photos which do not pay for themselves.

Modeling photography scams are probably the modeling scams most likely to trick model hopefuls. Aspiring models already know or quickly recognize the importance of photos to launch their modeling career. Photos, after all, are what modeling is all about. However, many times the models and their parents know neither how many photos they need to get started, nor the kind of photos required.

There are four basic quality and quantity issues at the heart of modeling photography scams: photo quality is too low; photo quality is too high; photo quantity is too low; photo quantity is too high.

How many photos do you need? What is the necessary quality?

The fundamental issues which determine the necessary quantity and quality of modeling photos is the purpose and target audience. There are really only two purposes and two targets. The purposes are model discovery and model promotion; and the targets are modeling agencies and the clients of modeling agencies.

Model Discovery

One of the big myths which drives modeling photography scams is professional photos are needed to be discovered by a top agency.

Professional photos are not needed to be discovered by a top agency. It is the same for agencies which are not top agencies. Photos taken by a professional photographer are not needed for an agent to determine if the agency would be interested to represent a model.

A good agent only needs a few Polaroids, one of the face (headshot), and one of the body (bodyshot).

Top agencies do not ask for professional photos. They don't need them, and they don't want them, and they may even prefer not to have them.

Joel Wilkenfeld, President of Next Model Management, one of the top modeling agencies in New York, has said they don't want professional pictures because they can hide the real person.

There is usually makeup on the model in the professional pictures which were taken in a studio or elsewhere, but they don't want to see the model with makeup.

Polaroids of models without makeup do not hide the flaws. They supply what the agencies want: an accurate representation of the model.

Asked where aspiring models could go to seek representation, Joel Wilkenfeld said: "If you live near a major city where there are modeling agencies, you can go in and see them or send Polaroids to the modeling agencies."

Asked about the type of pics to send into an agency, and whether they needed to be professional, he said: "Agencies do not look for professional pictures, nor do we want them. We would like to see Polaroids with your hair pulled back and no makeup!"

After saying they preferred Polaroids, he was asked "Why do you only prefer Polaroids for pictures?" And his response was: "Because on Polaroids we can see all of the imperfections and we can see what you really look like. If you send us regular pictures, we will ask for Polaroids."

Model Promotion

Model promotion after a model is discovered does require professional modeling photos. There are basically three kinds of photos used to promote models: comp cards, portfolios, and tear sheets.

Clients of modeling agencies want to see comp cards, portfolios, and tear sheets. Comp cards are an industry standard; so are portfolios; and so are tear sheets. Therefore modeling agencies ask for them.

There are modeling photography scams at both stages: model discovery and model promotion.

When models are trying to get discovered by a modeling agency they may be offered the opportunity to get professional pictures, which are not necessary.

When they are trying to get promoted after being discovered they may also be told they need to get professional pictures, which are necessary.

The difference in this second case is the claim is true (professional pictures are necessary), but the agency is not willing or able to find the models work.

Agencies which make money from modeling photos may be running modeling photography scams. Instead of getting money from commissions after the models get work, they are paid from photos before the models get work. This is the same as being paid up front.

It is a huge conflict of interest. Modeling agencies should not make money from modeling photos. They should only make money from the work models get.

Scam modeling agencies make all their money or a significant amount of their income from modeling photos, not modeling jobs.

Thus the scam is recruiting models to get signed by the agency knowing they will not get work, and the amount they pay for photos will never be paid for by modeling work.

Scam modeling agencies therefore have low standards on the type of models they select. They do not have to be selective. It becomes a numbers game: the more people they sign up, the more models will pay for photos, the more money they will make.

The incentive for an agency to find models work when it earns money from their photos even if they don't work is not the same.

The modeling photography scam of requiring professional photos to get discovered by an agency is not very subtle. It is a black and white issue, and it can easily be disproved by contacting an agency, or reading what agency leaders have said.

The modeling photography scam of requiring professional photos to be promoted by an agency is very subtle. It is not a black and white issue, and it cannot easily be proved by contacting the agency.

The difference between these two scenarios is the difference between proving the present and the future. You can prove if at present an agency requires professional photos to be discovered. You cannot prove in the future an agency will not get a model work after the model paid for photos.

That difference makes the second modeling photography scam much more insidious. It makes it very easy for a modeling agency to scam the model, and very easy for the agency to get away with the scam.

They may add the disclaimer in the contract, "There are no guarantees of work." But this is not the issue. The issue is what percentage of models the agency represents already got work. How many of the models who signed with the agency found work through the agency?

Modeling Photography Expenses

One indication of a modeling photography scam is modeling photography expenses which are not commensurate with the type of modeling the model intends to get. Not all modeling pays well. Not all modeling agencies can get models high-paying work.

Paying $1,000 for comp cards to an agency which is a promotional agency, not a modeling agency, is ridiculous. Promotional "modeling" pays $15/hour. Therefore The model may never make more from modeling than the cost of the comp cards. In fact, the model may never even make anything. The model would have to work for more than 65 hours at $15/hr just to break even and to pay off the $1,000 comp cards.

Paying $1,000 for comp cards when represented by an agency which gets many of its models high-fashion or high-paying work is not ridiculous. The cost of the photos can be paid by the first modeling job.

There are modeling agencies where models do not have to pay for their photos until after they work. It comes out of their first paycheck. This is the only way to check and balance expensive modeling photos. It does not put the model at risk or in a financial hole.

Child Modeling Photography Scams

In her book, The Modeling Handbook, Eve Matheson writes: "Never spend money on a portfolio for a baby or young child. In three months they will look different. The pictures in your wallet will do just fine" (p. 120).

Tim Tew, a photographer in Orlando, Florida, has this advice for parents: "Don't let anyone sell you a thousand-dollar portfolio. You only need a couple of snapshots to find out if an agent is interested. Then a good headshot is all your need to get started" (p. 155).


The credibility of a modeling agency and the possibility of a modeling photography scam can be evaluated to some extent based on whether only one photographer is required or recommended. Reputable agencies should give a list of top photographers but they will not require one photographer.

The credibility of photographers can be checked by looking at the history of the photographer who is required or recommended. Get the photographer's name. Find the photographer's experience. Visit the photographer's website. Look at samples of previous work.

Below the BBB record for IMTA the BBB offered sound advice: "According to the Screen Actors Guild, a legitimate talent agency does not charge an advance fee for registration, resumes, public relations services, screen tests, photographs or acting lessons.... consumers should always pay the photographer and the printing company directly for any work done."

Photographers Split Fees

There are unscrupulous photographers who split fees with modeling agencies.