The Difference Between a Model and a Professional Model
Back before social media was around, one of the only ways to become a model was to be discovered by someone in the business. That usually meant you either approached an agency or an agent, or you just happened to be at the right place at the right time and had gotten discovered. These days it has become a lot easier to get noticed, or at least more accessible. Social media has become a major player in the fashion industry - even large agencies have been pressuring some of their consistently-booked models to keep up with their Instagram and Facebook in order to stay relevant.
"Being a professional model does not mean that you have to be with an agency."
So of course, with these new opportunities of being not only noticed by agencies, but directly by companies themselves, can't anybody really claim to be a model in hopes of being noticed and hired? There are two technical definitions of a person who is a "model" - 1. "a person whose profession is posing for artists and photographers." 2. "a person employed to wear clothing or pose with a product for purposes of display and advertising."
Now, when most people think of a model, they think of the second definition. However, when most people end up becoming "models," they only fit in the first definition and not the second, and this is where the difference lies between a model and a professional model. These models have their photos taken by photographers of them either in a natural, relaxed state, appearing sexy, doing something goofy, amongst countless other things. It's great for Instagram and Facebook likes, sure, but if you do a hundred shoots like that, does that make you a professional model?
Well, that's tricky, but my answer is no. It could make you a "professional Instagram model" in a sense, where you gain enough followers in order to earn endorsements from companies (where you post yourself using their products to your followers and you get paid), but that can be extremely difficult. The difference between a model and a professional model is the ability to sell.
"Being a professional model does not mean that you are just pretty and get your picture taken, but that your posing, emoting, look, and great photos can help SELL PRODUCTS."
These can be cosmetics, clothes, hair products, gear, equipment, anything! This is what clients look for. When clients are looking for people to represent their brand, they are looking for talented, professional, good-looking models. For cosmetics, they look for those with strong facial features and good skin. For hair products, they look for those with good hair (and a good skin too, since the face will be showing). For clothes, they look for tall, slender models. For commercial products, it is a model's good, friendly appearance that would draw their audience in. It is whatever good qualities the model has that will help the product look even better.
With that being said, however, it is important to remember all professional models start off just as models, so don't be discouraged if you aren't considered a "professional model" just yet! Nobody jumps right into the field selling their modeling services to clients. You have to build a portfolio. And what better way to start than having photographers take photos of you in all the different states mentioned above, to show off your talent in posing, emoting, and talent? This is something you have to invest in, by hiring photographers to create a portfolio for you. Test shoots are another option, but that really depends on the person you are asking.
With a great portfolio that truly represents who you are and what you can do, you can prove that you are marketable to a general audience to your clients and start getting booked. With time and experience, plus a great reputation (this is so important!), you can consider yourself a professional model and so will your clients.
"And of course, being a professional means never flake (no show), be punctual to any shoot you book (test or paid), stay in contact to confirm details for a shoot and always carry yourself in a professional manner."
I can not stress this enough. Reputation is very important, especially if you are not with an agency, and if you want a client to rebook you, it is important to appear professional at all times (emails, phone calls, social media). Word gets around, and I can assure you photographers' and clients' biggest turn off from a model is when they don't show up to a shoot without contacting the parties involved. It is a waste of their time and money, and it won't be difficult to replace you for another time.
Any one who gets in front of the camera is technically a model - great, you're a model. Cool. Now what? What makes you stand out? Why should they hire you instead of someone else? Stand out and show your clients that you are marketable, that you are worth every penny they spend hiring you, that you would sell their products, and that you would represent their brand the best.
Disclaimer: Some professional models choose to find work from photographers rather than companies, and that is totally okay too!