16 Different Types of Modeling

BY Myron Edwards | LAST UPDATED: August 31st, 2023

The world of modeling doesn’t stop at the end of the runway. Between fashion modeling and commercial modeling, there are jobs and career paths available for all shapes, sizes, and niches. 

The growth of the industry is a testament to the ever-evolving nature of brands and an increasing desire for diverse representation. Ready for your close-up? See if any of these 16 types of modeling categories may present the right opportunity for your next industry move.

Body-Part Modeling

Body-part models are hired to have their handsfeet, legs, eyes, teeth, or hair shown in an ad. As a body model, you may hold a product in your hand or show off a perfect smile in a toothpaste ad. For hand models, long, slender hands are generally desired. Sometimes, smaller hands may be used when shooting an ad for a children’s toy. Rougher-looking hands may be desired for tool or machinery ads.

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Catalog Modeling

Catalog models are hired to appear in a wide range of mailed publications. Opportunities range from outdoor shoots for brands like REI and L.L.Bean to shoots in a doctor’s office for medical catalogs. The abundance of options in the market present commercial models with a wide range of opportunities.

Child Modeling

Kids aged 12 and under are considered child models. There are many types of jobs available; the key is to make sure your child wants to be a model and is comfortable meeting and working with new people. In some states, there are no age restrictions for babies to work on sets; in California, a child must be at least 15 days old.

Commercial Modeling

There are multiple categories within commercial modeling, including catalog, fit, and editorial. Commercial models are the beautiful, “real”-looking people you see in ads, except for editorial photos that are used in fashion magazines. Commercial modeling gigs are available for many ages and body types.From lifestyle catalogs to medical brochures, commercial modeling jobs are abundant. Many successful commercial models are actors; if you can convey multiple layers of emotion for the camera, this category may be a good fit for you.

Editorial Modeling (for Commercial Models)

In the world of commercial modeling, editorial photos are shots that go along with an article in a magazine. The photo may be on the front cover or run alongside the article itself. For example, a shot may show you feeling excited if the article is about marriage proposals or looking unwell if the piece is health-related.

Expecting Modeling (for Pregnant Models)

Maternity models are always needed for parenthood and baby brands. Look for agencies that specialize in representing pregnant models for commercial modeling ads and TV spots.

Fashion Modeling

Fashion models walk the runway, promoting high-end designer clothes. They are also hired to do editorial work. In the fashion industry, editorials are still shots of fashion models wearing designer clothes. These are seen in magazines such as Vanity Fair, Elle, and Vogue.

Fit Modeling

Fit models are not seen in ads. Your job is to help the designer and the manufacturer find out how sizes fit on a human body before the garment is produced. This type of job can provide steady work for models.

Fitness Modeling

Fitness models need to have athletic bodies and be in great shape. They’re hired to do ads for a wide variety of companies, including gyms and those selling health supplements or workout apparel. 

Freelance Modeling

Most models do not pursue modeling on a full-time basis. They have other sources of income and periodically get work in their field. Though many freelancers find work on their own, some of them do have agency representation. As a freelance model, you need to market yourself in order to find go-sees (modeling auditions) and jobs. It is imperative that freelance models have strong portfolios. Know what the typical rates are in your area so that you can negotiate properly. Sometimes, the title “freelance model” can mean that you work with a number of agents and are not signed by one agency. 

Lingerie + Swimwear Modeling

Swimsuit and lingerie models are generally not as thin as fashion models. These models also book work for many related products, including undergarments, pajamas, workout attire, and other products where a well-toned body is needed. 

Mature Modeling

Mature models are also considered commercial models. There’s lots of work available if you’re a model aged 40 or older. This market has grown steadily in recent years, since people are often living longer and have the income to purchase products. 

Petite Modeling

Petite models are generally between 5'1" and 5'7". Although you may not be walking the runway, you could be considered to model lingerie and swimwear, as well as body parts.

Plus-Size Modeling

In the commercial world, plus-size models are typically size 12 and higher. These models must have good proportions and be well-toned.

Promotional Modeling

Promotional models are mostly hired to work at live events, trade shows, and conventions. Jobs can vary from pretending to be a patient at a medical show to gathering attendees to bring to a company’s table to sharing information about the company. 

Stock Photography Modeling

Stock photographers create generic photos that look like ads, and they hire models to be in their “test” shots. Photographers then place the shots on stock photography websites, where companies and organizations can rent or buy images. It’s a huge industry. 

However, many models refuse to do stock photography, since they often have no control over how and where their image will be used or who buys the image. This can also present a problem for noncompete disclosures tied to future non-stock modeling jobs. Legal issues could arise if you unknowingly accept a booking for an ad with a competitor. As with any modeling contract, read the fine print and seek additional guidance from your agent—or outside counsel—when necessary.

How to Become a Model

Of course, you've heard of Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, and Brooke Shields. They were the world's first supermodels, after all. But if you’re wondering how to become a model nowadays, a lot has changed since the ’90s—not least the introduction of the internet and social media platforms like Instagram. Modeling is still a highly competitive field, but these days, there are opportunities for people of all shapes and sizes to break into the industry. We consulted agency heads, casting directors, and professional models to create an in-depth guide to becoming a model—whether you want to become a fashion model, a fitness model, or anything in between. Keep reading to learn how to find a modeling agency, what to expect at your first model casting call, and how to build a modeling portfolio that slays.

How to become a model in five steps

Although the path to becoming a model is different for everyone, here are the five most common steps to begin your career:

  1. Choose a type of modeling to pursue. You may be surprised how many avenues there are for professional models: fitness modeling, curve modeling, editorial or commercial modeling, parts modeling, and more. You’ll need different skills—and a different look—depending on the type of model you hope to become. 
  2. Practice diligently. You can practice modeling at home by watching videos of established professionals and studying their movements and poses. Try posing in front of full-length mirror. Seek constructive criticism from others—professional feedback, particularly in the early stages of your modeling career, is vital. Otherwise it may be difficult to determine your best angles, poses, and facial expressions. Test shoots are a great place to get experience—and get more material for your portfolio.
  3. Build a portfolio. Start by taking a headshot, a full-body shot, and (in some cases) a swimwear shot. You can hire a professional photographer or try and find an up-and-coming photographer on Instagram who’s willing to work in trade.
  4. Go to casting calls. Subscribe to an online casting platform like Backstage for listings of local model castings and open calls. Once you arrive at a call, you’ll sign in for a slot—and then it’s up to you to impress the casting team.
  5. Get an agent. Once you’ve built up enough experience to approach an agent about representation, it’s time to do your research. See which agencies represent models like you, as well as what they want in a submission. With an agent on your side, you’ll be able to book bigger, higher-profile modeling jobs.

We've broken down each of these steps in more detail in later sections of this guide—keep reading for more industry insight into modeling headshots and what to expect at a casting call. We’ve also put together in-depth guides to becoming a model in two industry hubs: NYC and Los Angeles.


How to Get Into Modeling With No Experience



What does it take to become a model?

Modeling is an industry about beauty in all shapes, shades, and sizes. It’s not only about being traditionally “good-looking”—MSA Models’ Los Angeles agency director Francis Arden takes a more holistic approach. “If you have a quirky personality, we want to know that,” he says. “You’re not just a pretty face. We want to know who this person that we’re sitting in front of is. Yes, she’s got the right measurements, but what’s in there? What’s her purpose? What drives her?”

Modeling is also about representing—and, in many cases, selling—a product. You should feel excited by the prospect of being the face of a new fashion line, makeup brand, or hot tech gadget. Natural ease and confidence in front of the camera are also key.

“You’re not just a pretty face. We want to know who this person that we’re sitting in front of is. Yes, she’s got the right measurements, but what’s in there? What’s her purpose? What drives her?”
Francis Arden
MSA Models
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You should be prepared to maintain a healthy lifestyle of eating well and exercising regularly in order to meet the physical demands of your line of modeling. You’ll also need patience and stamina to stay fresh through a long day of auditions or photoshoots. Models don’t have a regular 9-to-5 schedule, so expect to be called into work at all hours. A client needs a night shot for their product? Expect to be shooting at midnight. If you thrive on routine, life as a professional model may not be for you.

In the end, your passion to succeed should be at the forefront. That means being realistic about the different forms success can take. Just like acting, a modeling career isn’t something that happens overnight. “Passion is definitely one of the key deciding factors because that motivates the individual to want to do what it takes,” says Jack Maiden, director of Mavrick Models at Mavrick Artists Agency. “If they want to pursue it, they’ve gotta get out there and find out if there’s an agency that suits them. They’ve gotta go for it.”


Types of modeling gigs

Although many people associate models with catwalks and high fashion, that is far from the only type of modeling work available—there are also fitness models and parts models and everything in between. Yes, the supermodels of the world do walk the Paris and New York Fashion Week runways and strut their stuff at the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. But there are also commercial models you’ll find in video and print ads for major retail brands like Target and T.J. Maxx. Understanding what casting directors are looking for in each market is key, says Cheyenne Brink, a print agent at LA’s Bella Agency. “Are you in the right market, submitting yourself to the right stuff? How is a company going to envision you in their ads?”

Below, we break down several different types of models:

  • Runway modeling: Though many dream of walking the spring collection for Tom Ford and Marc Jacobs, it’s the ultimate destination of very few. It’s not the easiest pill to swallow, but it should be said: You’re either born to be a fashion model or you’re not. Traditionally (and we hate to say it!), female models who are signed by major agencies and jetted to fashion weeks around the world are a size six or smaller, between 14 and 20 years old, and between 5’9” and 6’ tall. Male models tend to be 6’ to 6’3” tall and have a 30’’ to 32’’ waist. 
  • Commercial and print modeling: You can still make a living as a model even if you don’t fit the physical template above. Commercial models, in particular, are meant to reflect the everyman and everywoman. While fashion modeling is generally limited to the body types that fit into designer clothing, commercial casting directors have fewer restrictions: “On the commercial side, it’s more like, ‘We want brunette hair and great smiles,’” Joe Thompson of Abrams Artists Agency explains.
  • Parts modeling: Are your slender fingers and immaculate nailbeds your calling card? Consider hand modeling. (That career path wasn’t just good for a punchline on “Seinfeld,” we promise!) The same can be said for foot models—if you’ve got the ankles, might as well put them to use.
  • Fitness modeling: While other sectors of the profession may call for a slender figure, you’ll want to bulk up and hit the gym more regularly than the average person if you’re pursuing a career in fitness modeling. The hard work can certainly pay off and prove lucrative across commercial modeling gigs for sportswear ad campaigns, fitness videos, underwear and lingerie gigs—the list goes on.



How to Become a Plus-Size Model


Requirements to be a model

There’s no training required to become a model—in fact, the professional models we consulted were split on the importance of formal coaching. But there’s no harm in taking classes at a modeling school or enrolling in a workshop, so long as they’re reputable

Understand how to look good on camera

“Modeling is truly an art form, and you have to respect it and do the research and the work,” says Liris Crosse, a leading plus-size model and former Project Runway winner, who also runs a model workshop and masterclass. It’s not enough to be physically attractive, she explains—you have to understand how to look good on camera. “I think it's important, especially for new models, to get information from people who have actually done it. I see people who offer classes and I’m like, ‘I’ve never seen you in an ad.’ I have the actual credentials to back it up. And I’m still working, so I'm continuously backing it up. I'm giving you the shortcut of what took me over a decade to get myself.”

Lots of practice

On the other hand, NYC-based curve model Denka Obradovic said she learned by doing. Early in her career, she paid close attention to what was going on at castings and did a number of test shoots. “My first job I was like, ‘What’s happening? What do I do?’” recalls Obradovic (now represented by Wilhelmina Models). That said, she does recommend taking a runway class ahead of a shoot.

Build formal modeling experience

And no matter your opinions on modeling school and workshops, practice is still key to advancing your career. Get all the experience you can in front of a camera before approaching an agent with your headshot and DIY portfolio. Even if you’re an unsigned model, you should try to work with a professional photographer for test images. Without external feedback, models don’t necessarily know their best angles, poses, and facial expressions. Practicing in front of the mirror is important, but having someone on the other side of the lens telling you “yes” or “no” will bring you up to speed on what works and what doesn’t. “That’s the stuff that you can’t really teach someone until they actually are doing it,” MSA Models’ Los Angeles agency director Francis Arden says.


How to make a modeling portfolio

If you’re looking for a traditional job, you’ll need a résumé; if you’re trying to become a model, you’ll need a modeling portfolio (also known as a “book”). To create your portfolio, start with a headshot. These can be can be taken from the waist up, or show just your head and shoulders. Avoid heavy makeup or elaborate styling, since agents and scouts are interested in your natural look. 

That said, modeling headshots tend to be more artistic than acting headshots. “They say less about who a person is and more about how they are capable of appearing,” explains L.A. headshot photographer Marc Cartwright. “There is a greater emphasis on the mood, lighting, and artistic merit of the photograph. Makeup, lighting, composition, and retouching are used to creatively flatter the subject and remove the flaws.”

You’ll also need a full body shot. Generally, your outfit should be simple and form-fitting—a tight white tank or T-shirt paired with dark skinny jeans or tailored pants. Women should wear heels, while men can slip on casual dress shoes.

When it comes to finding a photographer, start by doing your research. Ask your peers for recommendations, or search the Backstage Yellow Pages. Once you've come up with some options, figure out how long a session lasts, how much they charge, and how many photos you’ll walk away with. Sometimes this information can be found on their website; other times you may just need to give them a call. It’s also important to find someone who will make you feel comfortable during the shoot. “I have watched many headshot sessions crash due to the same thing: the wrong mixture of personalities,” warns image consultant Tom Burke.

If you’re worried that a professional photoshoot might be out of your budget, make the most of Instagram. Aspiring models often use the app to connect with new and emerging photographers who are actively looking for subjects to practice on. “No one has to pay anything, [so it’s] beneficial to both parties,” says Bella Agency's Cheyenne Brink. And be sure to keep your profile curated and up-to-date, she adds. “Instagram is such a huge factor now. It’s an extension of your portfolio.” 

Your headshot should be featured prominently on your literal calling card, known in the industry as a “comp card” (or a composite card, z card, zed card, or sed card). It should also include three to five additional photos from spec shoots or previous professional work, as well as your basic measurements, your modeling agency info if applicable, and your own contact information. Just like with an actor’s headshot, a model’s comp card is the best way to make a great first impression in the casting room.



How to Create a Modeling Portfolio


How to get a modeling job

To get your first modeling job, use an online casting platform to find casting calls that are a good fit based on your look.

Particularly as an early-career model, it’s going to be difficult to land high-profile work without an agent. But for those early credits that will give you experience in front of the camera and on the runway (and, ultimately, increase your chances of snagging an agent), an online casting platform like Backstage can be an excellent resource. The Backstage Yellow Pages can help you find a headshot photographer in your area; the database of talent agencies helps you narrow down your options for representation; and the Community Forum makes it easy to connect with other aspiring or established models for advice. 

But, most importantly, subscribing to Backstage gives you access to online casting notices. Each one is broken down by type of production, compensation, location, the age range for talent sought, etc. Search results can also be filtered based on your preferences. Once you find a project that interests you and fits your type, check the notice for information on how to apply—or, if in-person go-sees are being held, timing for the open call or additional information on how to schedule a time with casting will also be available.


What to expect at a model casting call

Model casting calls (or “go-sees”) are basically interviews for models—but, unlike most interviews, there are usually no set appointment times. Instead, there will be a sign-in sheet that dictates the order in which models have their photos taken.

“Don’t sign in until you are 100 percent ready,” actor and model Aaron Marcus warns. “You don’t want to be in a situation where you sign in, start doing work on your hair or makeup, they call you, and you have to tell them you’re ‘almost done.’” Once you’re fully prepped, add your name to the sign-in sheet. You’ll probably be asked for your agent’s contact information and your wardrobe sizes, as well. Casting may also request that you bring along your modeling portfolio, or “book.” Books are increasingly presented as digital files on iPads, but a printed binder is also perfectly fine.

Just like with acting, strong choices matter. “Don’t ever try to play it safe by giving a generic look in order to avoid giving the ‘wrong’ look,” Marcus says. That kind of approach to auditioning never works well. Even if you’re not provided with a ton of information, pick a specific look based on what you do know. That ability to decide and commit will give you a tremendous advantage while attending a go-see.”



How the Modeling Casting Process Actually Works


How to find a modeling agent

To find a modeling agent, you should start by researching potential agencies and figuring out what they look for in prospective clients. For instance, Jack Maiden, director at Mavrick Agency, noted that most female models he signs are 5’8” to 5’11” or just under 6’ in height. He usually looks for male models who are 6’ to 6’3”.

You may already be familiar with agencies like Ford, IGM, Wilhelmina, and Elite—these are the top-tier modeling agencies across NYC and L.A., after all. But as a model in the early stages of your career, you should focus your energies on agents and agencies that are dedicated to emerging talent. To help narrow your search, we’ve put together a list of the best NYC agencies for new models, as well as the L.A. modeling agencies you should have on your radar. (And for aspiring models on the other side of the pond, these are the seven London modeling agencies you should know.)

Outside of NYC or L.A., one of the best ways to research the modeling agencies in your area is through Backstage’s Call Sheet resource. All you have to do is check the modeling categories that interest you, type in your desired market, and filter for preference from there. Check the Better Business Bureau for complaints against any smaller firms, and network with other models on Instagram or message boards to learn more about their experiences with specific agencies.

Once you find an agency that interests you, it’s time to show them what you’ve got. Many agencies’ websites will include online submission forms that usually require a modeling headshot and three-quarter to full-body photo. Requirements differ depending on the agency—for instance, JAG Models co-founder Gary Dakin told Backstage that interested parties should “send digitals of just your face without makeup and one full-body in a bathing suit, preferably, and your hair pulled back.” Agencies will also include open-call information on their websites, which generally happen weekly.


How to Find a Modeling Agent


How to know if a modeling agency is legit

Here's how to recognize a casting scam:

  1. Reputable modeling agencies are highly selective. If you show up and they’re immediately willing to sign you regardless of your experience, question their motives—especially if they ask for money.
  2. Bona fide agencies don’t require you to take their classes or use their photographers. They may provide a list of recommended coaches or photographers in your area, but they shouldn’t pressure you to use a specific one or try to sell you something in their agency agreement.
  3. Legitimate agents make a commission off the gigs they find for you. If they engage in hard-sell techniques for classes, photos, contests, or representation, beware. That’s how they’re making their money, not by finding you work.

The modeling industry is notorious for taking advantage of young, inexperienced talent with inflated promises of success and glamour. “Bait-and-switch is a common technique used by scam artists,” casting director and Backstage Expert Lana Veenker says. You may be promised one thing from an ad or open call, but when you show up to the proposed talent agency, “no one seems interested in your background or skills (or alternatively, they rave about how amazing you are without knowing much about you). Their true goal, you discover, is to sign you up for expensive ‘talent competitions,’ classes, or photo packages. They use the lure of fame and fortune to cloud your judgment and get you to open your pocketbook.”


How to make a living as a model

When talking about making “a living” as a model, we’re primarily discussing how to make financial ends meet. You probably won’t be making a livable wage as a model straight out of the gate. That’s where the appropriately-titled “survival job” comes in. Waiting tables, walking dogs, tutoring, nannying—it’s unlikely these are your passions in life, but having a flexible schedule is key to finding time for photoshoots and go-sees.

When searching for the right survival job, you’ve got to consider wages and hours, sure, but also where your natural talents lie. “What other skills do you have? Is there a job (or two or three) you can do that makes you happy (or at least that you can tolerate) while you are pursuing your dream?” asks acting coach and acting coach Matt Newton. “To achieve this might mean some creative thinking.”

Even if you do have a steady survival job and are starting to book modeling jobs, you may still find yourself pinching pennies. The first step to financial success is knowing how much money you need to make ends meet. To find your “make-or-break” number, add your bare-bones cost of living for one month (housing, food, public transit), then add another 10 percent to that number “because life is always more expensive than you anticipate,” says personal finance author and finance writer Stefanie O’Connell.

Straightening out your finances and finding a survival job that best fits your needs are essential steps in making a living doing this modeling thing. Unfortunately, models aren’t protected by a performers’ union like actors and dancers—but organizations like the Model Alliance are working to change that.


An Actor’s Guide to Survival Jobs


Key modeling terms

Like all professions, modeling has its own industry jargon—and it’s important to be familiar with the most commonly-used phrases before your first “go-see.” We’ve listed a few of the most important below:

  • Book: Another term used for a model’s portfolio.
  • Cheating to the camera: When the model slightly turns his or her head and eyesight away from an object or the other model and closer to the camera. This gives the illusion that the model is looking straight at the other person or object but also allows the camera to see more of the model’s face.
  • Composite sheet (comp card or zed card): The model’s business card. Unlike an actor’s headshot and résumé, a composite sheet shows a variety of the model’s photos along with his or her stats (height, eye color, hair color, etc.).
  • Go-see: A model’s audition. When a model is contacted to attend a go-see, he or she goes to a photographer’s studio or a casting facility to be looked over.
  • One-plus-one: When a model is booked for a one-hour modeling job with the possibility of working an additional hour. Models must hold the additional hour in case the shoot runs longer than expected.
  • Square to the camera: The photographer will make this request when he or she wants the model’s face and body positioned straight into the lens.
  • Tear sheet: A copy of a commercial modeling ad. This proves the ad was published.
  • Test shot: A photo that’s not being used as an ad, but instead for a photographer’s or model’s portfolio.