How Much Does Freelance Modeling Cost?

Freelance modeling isn't for the faint of heart. It takes time, dedication, networking, luck and know-how to establish a professional career in the freelance world. 

Although models who work for themselves don't have to pay commission like agency represented models do, that doesn't mean this approach is free. 

It's difficult to say exactly what the price tag of freelance modeling could be due to the variety of factors, not to mention that no two people's journeys are exactly the same.

There are a few basic ways to break down certain expenses as a starting point. Keep in mind any price ranges mentioned here are not set in stone.

Also consider the fact that the actual expenses/costs incurred will be different from market to market.

To get the gist of this type of scale: New York, Los Angeles and Miami are considered examples of "large markets" in the US. The industry professionals you may encounter will have their own set price ranges based on their portfolio, years of experience, market/location, etc.

SUBMITTING TO MODELING GIGS

There are several ways to submit for modeling gigs completely free of charge, while others require membership to a casting site or other online resource.

A few examples of ways to find and submit to freelance modeling jobs that don't involve your wallet include: 
  • Facebook modeling groups 
  • Networking sites like Model Mayhem (the free profile version allows you to use their Casting section for no cost)
  • Instagram postings for model castings (make sure it actually is free and doesn't require an upfront cost or similar fee)
  • Sites like Craigslist (I do NOT recommend using this site to search for legit modeling work but it is a free resource that lists castings so I included it for common courtesy).
Examples of casting sites that give you the option of a limited, free profile or the opportunity to upgrade to a paid version include but are not limited to:
  • Casting Networks
  • Actors Access
  • Casting Frontier
  • Backstage
Although some of these sites may seem geared towards acting jobs, there are modeling castings listed as well. The key is to create and maintain a strong profile and search for/submit to castings at least once a day. Upgrading to a paid membership on these sites is recommended simply because it gives you much more access to quality castings, unlimited or expanded portfolio photos you can upload, etc. 

Free versions almost always charge you a small fee (like $0.99) to submit to each gig. That might not seem like much money but if you're actively submitting on a daily basis, it's more cost-effective to upgrade and get unlimited submissions.

The costs for paid profiles/memberships on these sites vary widely but range anywhere from $15/month to $75-$100 per year. The good news is you can upgrade anytime or revert back to the free profile, with the option to upgrade again in the future, if finances end up being a challenge later on down the line.

PORTFOLIO BUILDING

You can't be considered for modeling jobs if you don't have a solid portfolio to showcase. The beauty of test shoots is that they're commonplace in the industry and don't cost anything. Networking with quality photographers, makeup artists, hair stylists and local designers is crucial to a freelance model's career. Setting up a handful of test shoots is a great way to build a portfolio with little to no upfront costs.

Of course there may come a time when you have to pay a photographer and hire additional pros to help with certain shoots and that's totally okay. The cost of a photographer is going to range widely and will depend on factors such as the type of shoot, duration, location, number of looks/outfits, etc. The market you're in will also be taken into account. A professional photographer in New York is going to have a very different pricing structure than a professional photographer in Seattle, Dallas or San Francisco.

In most cases, you can expect to pay $150+ for photography services.

Makeup artists and hair stylists also have a wide range of pricing. You have to factor in how long they'll be needed for (i.e. are they just doing your hair and makeup and then leaving or do you need them to stick around for touch ups or to change your hair and makeup?). There are also "kit fees," which cover the costs of their products, which they often have to repurchase/stock up on.

In most cases, the price range for a professional makeup artist can be anywhere between $90-$500.

Hair stylists (unless you get lucky and find someone who does hair and makeup) can charge between $60-$100, depending on what you need.

PHOTO PRINTING

It helps to have a hard copy portfolio (aka "modeling book) but these days it isn't mandatory. If you're on a budget, you don't have to make this expense a priority. It is totally acceptable (and free!) to post your portfolio images on social media. Got a modeling website? Then obviously you'll need to post your portfolio photos on there as well.

But if you're in the market to start printing, there are online services that specialize in printing quality photos at affordable prices. Sites like Mpix.com charge very reasonable rates based on the size and quantity you want. 

I would not recommend going to a photo printing machine (like the ones found at FedEx Office, Walmart or other drugstores). The prices might be cheap but the quality isn't always the best and anything you put in your modeling book should be top notch quality from the paper stock to the finish.

Or you could invest in a photo printer. The most basic ones typically start around $150 (there are plenty of sales to look into!). The upfront cost isn't always pleasant but you'll save a ton of money in the long run, not to mention the convenience of printing on demand what you want, when you want.

MARKETING MATERIALS

The costs of printing comp/zed cards and business cards is also much more affordable than they used to be. Because you don't need to print a ton of copies, that will also cut down on costs as well. Sites like Vista Print and PS Print charge less than $20 for up to 100 business cards (you definitely don't need that many, however). 

Many online comp card printing companies charge less per comp card if you order a higher quantity. For example, you can choose to pay $6.95 for one comp card or $1.75 each if you order between 10-15.

To keep costs down it helps to do a lot of shopping around and price comparisons.

WARDROBE

Certain gigs require models to bring their own wardrobe options. This is especially the case for print models. It's a good idea to start purchasing basic wardrobe items that can fit the various roles you could be portraying for shoots and other related modeling projects.

The costs for wardrobe obviously vary from store to store. It's always a good idea to look at places like Walmart, Target, Ross and even the local thrift shop. This isn't about purchasing designer brands--in fact, you'll want to stay away from logos, brand names and graphics/patterns in general. A model's clothing for gigs should be solid colors or simple patterns that aren't super busy/distracting and free of advertisements for brand names.

Freelance models specializing in fashion/runway/editorial are an exception to this rule and can have a few outfits that don't follow some of the rules of thumb listed above. However, it's still important to have neutral, basic outfits, including "the model uniform": skinny jeans, heels and a solid color, fitted tank top for female models and jeans, loafers/boots/rubber soled dress shoes and a solid color, slimming tank top or t-shirt for male models. These wardrobe items also don't have to cost you an arm and a leg.

MAKEUP & HAIR PRODUCTS

Unless you never wear makeup and don't style your hair, chances are you already have makeup items and hair products you use in a regular basis. Budgeting for those shouldn't be difficult when it comes to modeling, especially for male models since most don't require nearly the same amount of hair and makeup attention as their female counterparts do.

Female models keep in mind that the more castings you attend and the more work you book, you'll eventually wear down your makeup inventory over time. Same with the hair products.

When it comes to skin care products, both male and female models should have an established and effective daily beauty routine. You will be using these items frequently so budget wisely because only a model with healthy skin (not perfect...there's no such thing!) has less to worry about when it comes to their money maker.

TRAVEL COSTS

The expenses that come with getting to and from castings and booked gigs will depend entirely on your mode of transportation and where you live. Freelance models living the city life will undoubtedly save on transportation and parking costs because they're more than likely just a bus, subway or train ride away. Those living in the suburbs or rural areas where you have to drive everywhere will need to learn to budget for gas, parking and any applicable tolls.

There are other miscellaneous fees I'm sure I could include in this post but I wanted to focus on the major ones. As you can see, freelance modeling isn't free. But that doesn't mean you can't have a thriving career that won't break your bank account. With time and experience, you'll master the tips, tricks and shortcuts that will allow you to have the best of both worlds professionally and financially--especially once those paid bookings start adding up!

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