Dec. 26, 2020

The Economics of Being a Model - Paid by Photographers

This came up in a podcast, and I realized it needed it's very own blog post where I could dive a little deeper into the math.  

Our question - Can you make a middle class living by being a full time nude model?

Our assumptions:

  1. This estimate is for models shooting with photographers (I'd like to look at Patreon and Onlyfans in another blog post)

  2. Middle class is around $100,000 (According to Pew Research, middle class is between $48,500 - $145,500.  I've seen other numbers in other places, and your number will vary based on where you live).

  3. Average per hour charge of $100 (I've seen models charge between $40 [though not for nude work] to $250 an hour).  

  4. Average shoot length of 2 hours.

Alright, so we want to make $100,000 per year, we only want to work with photographers, and we're charging $100 an hour.  Simple math tells us we need to work 1,000 hours per year.  In fact, that's HALF of what normal full time workers usually do in a year (2000 hours).  Sounds like being a model is super easy!

In this case the math lies.  There is a giant confounding factor for models that does not exist for more typical occupations.  Finding the work.  If the average shoot length is two hours (there are probably some 4 and 8 hour shoots, but they're not all that common), then the model would need to contract with either 500 separate photographers, or some smaller number multiple times. 

That is a lot of meet and greet's, a lot of messages on Model Mayhem or Instagram, a lot of rejections.  That is also a lot of travel time to and from locations.  

So let's turn this around, how much should you charge, with a reasonable number of shoots?  I don't recall who, but at least one model I interviewed stated that she typically scheduled 2-3 shoots per day when traveling, but she was not traveling all the time.  This makes sense, as there's travel time to and from each shoot, and I certainly prefer to shoot with a fresh model, not an exhausted model who's already been working 6-8 hours.  If I recall, she traveled 3 weeks per month, and 1 week was for admin work, and scheduling.  That seems a reasonable assumption.  

So, for the math.  Let's assume 4 weeks time off (we're attempting to be middle class, and middle class comes with the assumption of holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving, and maybe a summer vacation), and 3 weeks shooting, 1 administative in the other 48 weeks of the year.  There is the question of whether or not to take days off while shooting.  Models at this level are unlikely to take the weekend off, that's when a lot of hobbyist photographers are available!  We'll assume two days off from shooting though, to emulate a middle class job.  

5 days a week x 36 weeks x 2 shoots per day x 2 hours per shoot = 720 hours shooting and 360 separate shoots.

If we divide our target $100,000 salary, that is an hourly rate of $138.89.  Interestingly enough, that seems just about what I've seen for traveling nude models.  Certainly in the range.

Of course, there's still the hurdle of arranging 360 separate shoots.  There's a reason almost all full time models travel.  There's not many cities with enough photographers whose interest matches any one specific appearance, and can afford to hire a model often enough to make a salary.  In fact, if we assume a response rate of 10%, a model may need to reach out to nearly 4,000 photographers to fill out their schedule!  This is a place I would love to have more data from models.  

Just for fun, let's take a look at salaries with the same number of shoots, but different hourly rates:

  • $40 hourly x 360 shoots x 2 hours - $28,800

  • $100 hourly x 360 shoots x 2 hours - $72,000

  • $250 hourly x 360 shoots x 2 hours - $180,000

Unfortunately, modeling is not similar to many other professions in that with more experience your salary just goes up.  The rate you can charge in modeling IS partially reflective of experience, but it also a derivative of the type of work (photographers generally pay more for nude and fetish work) and current supply of available models.  Simply upping your rate, while changing nothing else, can work to a point.   

Of course, this analysis doesn't include travel costs.  One interviewee told me that she budgets around $1,000 for travel costs for each trip (although I don't recall if that was for a week or three).  This can be wildly variable, based on where you stay and what you eat.  Do you travel with another model to cut costs?  Do you own a van with a bed in the back?  Can you sleep at a friends place, or couch surf?  

So what can we conclude from this?

If you're a model, make sure you're charging enough to make it worth your time.  What's your desired salary, are you full time or trying to be full time?  What type of work are you willing to do?  Whatever type it is, discuss with other models what the general pay rate for that is, and charge near the top of it if you can (due to experience or a unique look/take).  If you don't have the experience or a unique aesthetic, can you create one to increase your rate?  

If you're a photographer, there's a lot going into this that you're not seeing, but still have to pay for.  Travel time and costs, administrative time (how many photographers did they have to screen?), aesthetic and fitness time and costs.  If you want to hire a full time, professional model, expect to pay minimum $100 an hour, and if you're looking for a specific aesthetic or model, you will need to pay for it.