If you’re making the transition from an amateur to a professional photographer, and your passion is fashion or portrait photography, you’ll need some people to photograph to include in your portfolio. So, do you pay your models, or should they be compensated with free photographs?

So, here’s the answer: Since both types of professionals need each other for portfolio items, It depends upon which person needs to hire the other to expand their portfolio of images. Alternatively, they could just trade the time for the mutual benefit of both people.

In the professional world, models need photos for their website, online profiles, or physical comp card. Typically, they pay a photographer hourly for professional shots to boost their career, and usually choose one based on the photographer’s portfolio. Conversely, a photographer may be expanding into fashion or portrait work and would then need to pay an hourly rate a quality model they have located that fits their needs. Or they swap, no charge.

Typical Fees

Typical Model Pricing

Fees that photographers can expect to pay to models can vary drastically, based on age, gender, and level of professionalism. If, for instance, a photographer chooses to locate a model over 18 years using Craigslist or another online source like Instagram, hourly charges will likely be much less than locating one from a professional agency. Some examples follow:

  • Over 18 models booked directly from an online source typically cost $50-100 hourly, plus expenses.
  • Some direct-book older models will require a specified minimum amount of hours
  • Typical older model rates from an agency are $100-200 hourly, plus expenses
  • Agencies will add up to 20% on top of the model fees, but an advantage is they could likely invoice the photographer net 30 days for added time to pay.
  • Child models booked directly through their parents or family typically get paid $40.
  • If a child is already a professional with an agency, a photographer can expect to see the rate climb by up to 50%

More information on model pricing for photographers can be found here.

Typical Photographer Pricing

The fees that photographers charge for photoshoots can vary dramatically, depending on what type of a shoot you request, how many poses and “looks,” how many hours you requested, the time of day requested, and what type of finished product you wish to receive.

While a model can just bring their good looks and a great personality, photographers must deal with a lot of equipment for each photoshoot, based on the desired output (film vs. digital, print vs. digital), time of day, lighting concerns, and ease of posing from the model. Some average base costs for photographers in the United States are shown below:

Average Photographer Cost in the U.S.Per Hour
National Average Cost$175
Minimum Cost$25
Maximum Cost$500
Average Range$94 to $262

Keep in mind these are basic costs, to bring a camera and lighting gear, travel to the shoot, and take the photos. These costs do not include any “post-production,” which includes darkroom work for film shots and screen editing for digital shots.

Related Questions

Do models pay for test shoots?

Agencies never require their models to pay for photoshoots. However, all models must pay fees as their career progresses, by reimbursing their agency.

How do I take photos for my Portfolio?

  1. First, look for creative inspiration
  2. Set up the frame for your image
  3. Find the correct focus point
  4. Confirm your camera settings
  5. Play around with different shots

Should people have a portfolio if they want to become a model?

Although it is not expected that a new model will pay for professional-level photos from the beginning, it is expected that he or she will have some type of introductory images to display different looks and styles to an agency to launch a career.

How Much Money Do Photographers Make Shooting Models?

Beginning fashion and commercial photographers might only charge $500 for an entire day of shooting a model, while top-shelf professionals can charge well more than $10,000 to get complete a shoot.

On a more everyday level, high school senior portrait photographers typically charge around $125-$300, while this rate is dependent on many factors, such as the number of physical locations, wardrobe changes, and final prints package that you chose and, of course, digital versus film costs vary greatly.

Photography of local sites for your company website can range from $25-$150 per image and is almost always in digital format

Do Models Pay for Test Shoots?

In the world of fashion photography, a test is a quick shoot for the sake of adding to a portfolio, experimenting, fun, or as a test for light and color readings in setting up for a later large professional shoot.

Although a test is technically not a paid shoot, it they can pay off in the long run, as a model or a photographer adds to a portfolio, including new and different concepts and compositions.

How Much Should an Instagram Model Charge for a Photoshoot?

Instagram models do not typically charge photographers for a photoshoot, since they stand to make a lot of money online. They typically are paid through “monetization” which is essentially a payment for huge numbers of followers and views for advertising.

Another way these models make money is directly charging some companies for advertising, on a per-view basis.

Considering all the ways Instagram models make money online with their photos, it may even make sense for a photographer to have an agreement to not charge for shots upfront, but to share a percentage of revenue from Instagram with the model.

What Do Photographers Look for in Models?

Before your photoshoot, be sure that you have visualized the final result you’d like to achieve. Plan out the concept, overall theme, and a story you want to convey. This way, when agencies or models themselves send you their portfolios or comp cards, you can be more critical and in deciding whether a certain model’s look is right for your vision.

There is a standard “pyramid” in the modeling industry, with top international advertising campaign models at the top, fashion agency models in the middle and independent models at the bottom, speaking both of pay-scale and fame.

It’s important to explain that just because a certain type of model is at the top of this pyramid, with looks chiseled by the gods, they may not always be the right model to fulfill your vision and concept, just as there is the right photographer for every different job.

A photographer may require a model from the top of the pyramid for a major advertising campaign, these models are usually chosen either by an agency or client by way of an in-person casting.

A local marketing campaign would require a photographer to pick from standard modeling agency models, comparatively located in the middle of the sample pyramid. Local modeling agencies usually provide models through in-person castings as well, but they likely have elements of their look or style that fits a specific locale.

If a photographer is just starting out, or only interested in producing images for online use, it would make sense to contact and hire a model from the base of our pyramid, where the newest and largest demographic of independently represented models, including online models, exists.


Model costs and photographer costs can be similar so services can be traded or other arrangements can be made. But as we’ve seen in the pyramid model, photographers are the ones who typically scale well.

Therefore, as you rise in ranks and require more models, don’t hesitate to pay for the talent you’re looking for!