I've been a bodybuilder for some time, and I'm now interested in getting into fitness modeling. I'm 24 years old and I feel modeling is something I'd do really well in. I no longer want to be that "big moose" of a guy anymore - I want to stay shredded and pleasing to look at. I wanted to know what the best steps are to get into this industry. Can you please give me some advice?
Although I did a few magazine spreads for Natural Bodybuilding, Muscular Development and Men's Exercise back in 1996- 1999, I never really got into fitness modeling. I veered into fitness writing instead. However, from my brief experience with photo shoots and my interactions with magazine editors, I think I can help.
First, being a fitness model means you stay in shape ALL YEAR ROUND. If you're used to the bodybuilder's practice of having a "cutting season" and a "bulking season" say goodbye to the bulking part. You have to stay lean all year round or you will miss photo opportunities. When the magazine editors call you, they want you NOW! If you're not ready, you lose because someone else always IS ready. You can't say, "ok, I'll do it, just let me go on a diet for 12 weeks first."
So the first step is to get lean and plan on staying lean, no matter what it takes. Because staying "ripped" all year round is difficult, you might need to find a happy medium between your previous off season and contest shape. For example, if you competed at 4% body fat, and went up to 10% in the off season, you might set a goal to stay at 6-7% all year round. Then when you get the call, you might have anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to "tighten up."
Once you're in great shape, I think the best place to start is to create your own photo portfolio. Research physique photographers in your area and ask to see samples of their work. Also find out whether you get to keep the negatives. Some photographers give you the negatives and then you can make all the copies you want and use them for anything you want. Other photographers give you only prints and if you want more copies, you have to buy them. This is a common practice and I respect the reasons why the photographers do it, but I'd recommend finding someone who gives you the negatives. They're out there. Find out the deal beforehand to avoid misunderstandings. Also get written permission to have the photos published and you'll make sure the photog gets a credit in the magazines (the photographer gives you the negatives and you'll get their work in the magazines with a credit... sounds like a good deal to me!)
If you're not in shape now, I'd recommend you set a date for the shoot 8-12 weeks from now (or however long it takes you to get in shape). Then pay the photographer in advance and tell them to keep the money if you don't show up (I'm not kidding - that's called "leverage!"). If you pick a photographer who specializes in fitness, bodybuilding and physique photography, they'll be able to help you regarding what to wear, how to pose, and what backgrounds/locations to choose. However, I wouldn't leave it up to the photographer if I were you. Go get a big stack of bodybuilding/fitness books and magazines and clip out all the shots you like (Muscle Media sometimes has some pretty cool shots in their "centerfold" section). Bring your folder of samples with you and be the "director" of your own shoot. You're paying for it, so don't leave it up to someone else (unless they're a seasoned professional physique photographer).
I'd recommend you get black & white and color shots. When you get color shots, you'll need tanning dye (Pro tan, etc) just as if you were competing, or else you'll look as pale as an anemic ghost. If you're getting shots taken indoors (like in the gym), make sure your photographer has experience with indoor shoots, because to make you look good indoors, lighting setups are a major production. When the film is developed, you usually get a whole roll printed out on a "contact sheet," which is a single page with a miniature of every photo in the roll. Look through the contact sheets and pick out the best photos to get developed into prints. You might have to go through 20 mediocre pics to find the perfect one (which is why you should have a LOT of pictures taken, by the way). Get at least one 8 1/2" X 11" print of your best shots. Put these into a portfolio binder and also scan them into your computer. Now you're ready to approach the magazines.
Go to the newsstands and grab one of every magazine you'd like to see yourself in. Look for the publisher's information, which is usually in the first few pages. Create a contact data base of all the pertinent information, including their name, address, editors and e-mails. For a small publication, you'll probably address your cover letter and photos to the editor in chief. For larger publications, there's usually a full time creative director in charge of photography and art. Now, write a letter, in your own words, to the effect of:
"I know you're always looking for new faces (bodies) to use as fitness models in your magazine, so I'd like to introduce myself and submit several of my photos for your consideration.... The shape you see in those photos is representative of how I look all year round, and I am available for photo shoots at a moments notice. If you like any of the photos I've sent you, you'll notice I've also sent you a release form from my photographer giving you permission to publish them as long as the photographer gets a credit, of course...."
These days, e-mail seems to work fine, but keep in mind that some editors/creative directors won't open attachments because of the virus problem. If you want to be 100% sure your letter gets read and your photos get seen, send it FED-EX. Yeah, its expensive, but when was the last time YOU didn't open a FED-EX letter?
In the beginning, be willing to hustle. The magazines ain't comin to you, you have to go to them. It's worth it to offer use of your image for free the first time if necessary, because once you get that first break and you've been in a magazine, it gets easier. The next time you send your stuff to a magazine, you include your previous magazine spread, giving you instant credibility as a published fitness model. That's when you approach magazines higher up on the "circulation totem pole" and start commanding higher fees. Before you know it, the magazines are calling YOU! Who knows... maybe they'll call you with a paid assignment to shoot with Monica Brant on some tropical island! Good luck... I'll be looking for you in the mags soon!
PS If you're in the New York City/ New Jersey Metro area, I can recommend several excellent photographers and even steer you to some editors looking for talent.
EDITOR'S NOTE FOR PEOPLE READING THIS ON THE "ASK TOM" Q & A COLUMN:
If you're not a bodybuilder and/or have no intention of ever being a fitness model, I would still highly recommend setting a goal to get in peak shape and get photos taken. I'm often questioned by my clients and Fitness Renaissance website visitors about how to set goals that motivate them if they have no desire to compete. Capturing yourself in your best shape in photographs is a fantastic goal. Set a date just as if you were going to compete (think of photo shoot day as "the contest") and then train for the photo shoot. Believe me, you'll be highly motivated (especially when you pay the photographer in advance!) Go outside and do some really COOL photos in some cool places... not just boring studio stuff. Go do it! Capture yourself on film for posterity - you'll be so glad you did.