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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Portfolio Mills/Photo Mills: Why They Should Be Avoided at all Costs in Modeling

It's unfortunate that there are many agencies out there that would rather make profit for themselves than book legitimate work for their models. I've talked rather extensively about how legit and reputable modeling agencies operate and what signs people should be on the lookout for to tell the difference between a real opportunity and one that is a scam. However, I've yet to talk about portfolio mills and the "agencies" that run them.

Also known as "photo mills," portfolio mills are businesses run by people passing themselves off as a legitimate modeling agency. BUT what makes these types of "agencies" different from the ones that are the "real deal" is the fact that they use the loopholes in the industry (or downright just break the rules and hope not to get caught) to focus on getting money out of its models for expenses related to photography and portfolio images. They choose this route because it's a faster, easier way to get money from naive models, instead of relying solely on the commission they get by booking paid work for their models. BTW, commission is supposed to be by law in the United States (not sure about other countries), the ONLY way modeling agencies are to earn a profit.

So what does a portfolio mill operation look like? It goes something like this (not all mills operate exactly the same way so this is just a general description):

- A new, unsuspecting model gets "discovered" or "accepted" to model for an agency.
- Before being offered a contract or similar type of agreement, the model is told by the agency that the most important part of the process is for the model to build a strong, professional portfolio.
- In order to do that, however, the model has to use the agency's in-house photographer(s), who will help them put together their portfolio. They are not allowed to find their own photographers.
- The model is then required to pay hundreds to thousands of dollars for a "professional modeling shoot" to get images for their portfolio and comp/zed cards.
- The model pays the money--usually by credit card online--and does the shoot with the photographer(s).
- The agency uses the photos to promote the model on their website but usually doesn't end up booking them any work or making any further effort to help the model pursue a serious career

What makes photo mills so terrible is the fact that not only does the "agency" and its photographers make a killing off the money models pay them, the quality of the photos from the shoots are often not top quality or the right kind that would actually give a model a shot at getting hired by a legitimate client. Oftentimes, the wardrobe, makeup, hair and setting are below par so even if a model wasn't with that agency anymore, the photos they've paid for would be useless to submit to a legit agency.

As if that isn't the worst of it, these "agencies" are famous for signing up people that in reality, do not have a realistic shot at being a serious, professional model. I hate to say it, but we all know that modeling is not for everyone and to take a person's money and build them up with false hopes of starting such a career is just cruel.

How does one spot a portfolio mill? There is no set list of criteria exactly but I will say that most times, agencies that operate using the portfolio mill method typically are the ones that label themselves as "online agencies." This means you don't go to a physical agency office location...everything is done virtually. Does that mean all online agencies are scams? No, but it's a much easier way for shady people to do business without being caught...at least not right away because of the anonymous aspect of being online.

If you happen to be in contact with an online agency that tries to get you to sign up with them, be wary if they use a hard sales push and constantly try to persuade you to pay tons of money just for comp cards and portfolio pictures. Also be suspicious if they require additional fees for things like producing more comp/zed cards, enlarging certain images, etc. All it translates to is more money going from your wallet straight to their pockets.

"Agencies" that focus too much on getting a portfolio together and insist that models only use the photographers they have on staff, are major red flags of a portfolio mill. Check out the model photos they have on the site. Do they look like glamour shots that could have been taken at a photography studio in a shopping mall? Are the people in the photos clearly not modeling agency quality according to the industry's standards? Do the quality of the photos look like some average Joe took them with a fancy point and shoot digital camera? Then this is clearly a company you need to stay away from.


Anonymous said...

This has been extremely helpful. Do you know anything about "agencies" saying you don't need a portfolio, per se, but it all has to be put up on a CD? No matter what I have researched, nothing says anything about putting your pictures on a CD...

Dania Denise said...

Hi, Anonymous! You'll find the answer to your question in its own post, titled "Answering a Reader Question #408," which can be found on my new blog: "Modeling 101 - Answering Readers Questions."

Please visit this link: http://amodelsdiary-readerquestions.blogspot.com/ and you can view your post there. Thanks for reading!